You Were Always Mine

Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

(Atria Books)

Interview by Diane Slocum

Cinnamon’s life is turned upside down when she finds a white newborn baby in the park where she usually met her friend, Daisy. While Cinnamon had no clue that Daisy was pregnant, a note reveals that the baby is hers and she wants Cinnamon to be its mother. Cinnamon’s own life that she has fabricated crashes as she gives her heart to this baby and will do anything to protect her from foster care and her revolting grandparents.

AUTHORLINK: How did you decide you would write novels together?

“… it was a real collaborative endeavor to bring the book to life in six weeks…”

Christine was Jo’s editor at Simon and Schuster for her novel, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, and a friendship was born alongside the editorial relationship.  We then worked together on a book that Simon and Schuster published, called Marriage Vacation, which was a tie-in to the television show Younger.  Christine hired Jo to be the writer for the project, while she was the editor, but it was a real collaborative endeavor to bring the book to life in six weeks– yes, six weeks. We had a blast and we realized we worked well together so we were enticed to think about what else we could team up on creatively…

AUTHORLINK: What gave you the idea for this story?  

We love premises that force you to put yourself in the protagonist’s shoes…”

We started writing our first book, We Are Not Like Them, in early Spring 2018– it was based on a germ of an idea that Christine had had floating in her mind for a while, ripped from the relentless headlines of police violence: what would I do if one of my white friend had a police officer husband who was involved in a police shooting of a Black man?  We love premises that force you to put yourself in the protagonist’s shoes and ask– what would I do?  And, of course, all our stories deal with race and its complexities.  You Were Always Mine combines both– we were intrigued by the simple but provocative premise: what happens when a Black woman finds and takes in an abandoned white baby?  We often see the reverse idea, but here we saw a chance to turn the more common trope on its head for readers to consider (and discuss!) a different (and rarer) scenario.

AUTHORLINK: From the original idea, how did it develop and how did you work together to plan it?  

Our first step was to create characters– Cinnamon and Daisy.  We knew we wanted the book to incorporate both their viewpoints in one way or another, but as the women came alive in our minds, we felt that Cinnamon owned the story.  In order to accommodate Daisy’s voice we came up with the idea of using letters since we love an epistolary approach and it worked so well for our premise.  But before we even wrote a word, we had a lot of discussions about how the woman got to where they were in their lives at the start of the story– we wanted to be clear as possible on their motivations, their flaws, their regrets, their challenges, how their friendship came to be, and on and on.  Once all that was clear in our minds– to the degree they felt like *real* people to us– we proceeded to write a detailed outline of the story, chapter by chapter so we would have a road map to follow.

AUTHORLINK: How did you share the writing of it? And the revisions?  

There were some fits and starts in the beginning, but our process has settled into a rhythm that exists to this day (we’re on book three!): one of us takes a turn creating a draft of the chapter we’ve outlined, and then we trade off from there offering notes, doing re-writes and finessing the writing until we’re satisfied with it and move in to the next chapter.  For revisions, we use a surgical approach.  Once we know what needs to be changed, whether it’s something we’ve decided or we’re responding to notes from our editor, we will divide and tackle, using a check-list, a la, “I’ll handle the rewrite of the boating scene, if you go through and address all the timeline issues,” or whatever the case may be.

AUTHORLINK: Did you always agree – or how did you handle it when your ideas differed? Any examples?

We’ve also learned to lean into and trust each other’s respective strengths…”

We actually disagree quite a lot on plot points and character development. But we have learned how to disagree well if that makes sense. Writing is such an intimate process that you have to learn to communicate well and often…maybe even over communicate. At times we almost feel like we’ve been through years of couples therapy with how much we have learned to successfully navigate friction and negotiate compromises. To be honest, we both believe it makes the work better because any disagreements force us to see and reckon with a point of view that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. We’ve also learned to lean into and trust each other’s respective strengths and that too is a gift of collaboration and a tool we can lean on during the inevitable rockier moments.

AUTHORLINK: What did you do for research? Did you take anything from your own experiences?

The stories in our books are purely fiction but we absolutely take some experiences and dialogue from things that have happened to us or that we have heard in our own lives. The value of having two of us is that there is double the real life experience to draw from.

For research we do a ton of interviews. Jo has been a journalist for 20 years so she really brings that skill to the table in our fiction. For You Were Always Mine we interviewed foster parents, foster kids and administrators in the foster system to make sure we were accurately telling the story we want to tell, and with as much authenticity as possible.

AUTHORLINK: Why do you think Cinnamon and Daisy formed such a bond when they really know so little about each other?

We don’t think you have to know everything about someone to form a bond with them. Two strangers could bond on a plane over their love of their grandchildren and yet know nothing else about the other one. The amount of care and empathy you have for another person doesn’t necessarily grow in relation to how much information you have about them. Connections are often much more emotional and based more on the heart than on the mind.  To our minds, Cinnamon and Daisy recognized that they were kindred spirits in a way– they had an intangible connection and those are often the most rich and rewarding and serendipitous.

AUTHORLINK: What do you hope readers get from your novel besides enjoying a good story?

We believe that empathy is paramount to creating connection, changing hearts…”

We hope You Were Always Mine (and all our books) foster a sense of empathy. We believe that empathy is paramount to creating connection, changing hearts and minds and bridging ideological divides. For us fiction is an incredible way to breed empathy, to step into someone’s world who is nothing like you and to inhabit their lives. When you truly feel for a person’s story it is much harder to hate them or to marginalize them. Ultimately, we hope that the reader sympathizes with our characters and that they feel hopeful about our ability to rise above our circumstances, follow our hearts and create strong bonds, connection, and community.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next- together or separately?

We’re excited to have another book together- I Never Knew You At All.  We’re deep into writing and that will come out in 2025.  AND…we both have solo projects in the works as well.  Jo has a novel forthcoming in April 2024 called The Sicilian Inheritance. It’s loosely based on the reallife murder of her great great grandmother in Sicily. But it is very fictionalized! It’s a dual-narrative book club novel rooted in family history about a long-awaited trip to Sicily, a disputed inheritance, and a family secret that some will kill to protect. Christine’s writing a rom-com about a woman who finds herself in a love triangle with two men in her twenties and again her forties. It’s about first loves and second chances.  

About the Authors: Christine Pride has held editorial posts at numerous companies including Doubleday, Crown and Simon and Schuster. As editor, she has emphasized inspirational stories but has also carried a wide range of books, many of them New York Times bestsellers. She is a freelance editorial consultant, assisting with content development, coaching and teaching. She writes a column, “Race Matters,” for A Cup of Jo. She lives in New York City.

Jo Piazza has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania in economics and communication, a master’s in journalism from Columbia University and a masters in religious studies from New York University. She is the bestselling author of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win and The Knockoff and many other novels and non-fiction books. She has been published in ten languages in twelve countries and four books have been optioned for movies and tv. She is also a podcaster and award-winning journalist. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three children.