Authors Say Writing Novel Inspired by Their Own Interracial Friendship Felt 'Impossible' at Times

·4 min read

Julia Discenza The authors

Christine Pride and Jo Piazza first met when Pride worked as Piazza's editor for her latest novel, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win. Fast friends, their conversations about race and their own interracial friendship inspired them to write a novel together, We Are Not Like Them, which will be published by Atria Books in October. Told in alternating voices, the novel follows best friends Jen and Riley, whose lifelong connection is challenged when Jen's police officer husband is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager and Riley, a barrier-breaking news anchor in their hometown of Philadelphia, is assigned to cover the big story. Just like their protagonists, Pride and Piazza's friendship was also tested as they wrote their propulsive, deeply felt tale of race and friendship. Here, they share how their own bond was stretched — and strengthened — during the writing process.

Writing a novel is hard. Writing a novel with another person is fraught. Writing a novel about race with a person of another race is both of those things and often feels impossible. When we set out to write our book, We Are Not Like Them, we underestimated all of that (or maybe we were just radically optimistic). Christine has a two-decade career as an editor behind her. Jo has written nine books. We're both avid readers. And so we really believed in the power of storytelling to tackle important issues. That's how and why we started writing our novel about race and friendship and the complexities when the two are intertwined.

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Simon & Schuster

We knew it would be a unique approach to write together as a Black woman and a white woman, each bringing our personal experiences and perspectives, and capturing a friendship on the page that's so rare in real life. The statistics show that 75 percent of white people have no friends of another race.

What we didn't know is how our relationship would be tested. We had been working together as an author and editor for two years, publishing two novels together at Simon & Schuster. But writing a novel about race was a different story; we both brought a lot of our own baggage and biases to the creative process with us. Before we started writing a book together we had fun dinners out where we talked into the night. Suddenly we had hours and hours on the phone together dissecting microaggressions and misunderstandings and we could no longer laugh and be so polite. Our conversations sometimes ended in tears.

There was one day, early on, where Jo was trying to explain just how scared she often was to talk about race. She was terrified of getting something wrong, of seeming stupid or ignorant. Christine pushed back with the fact that only white people have the luxury of avoiding the topic. How could the two of us possibly stay close friends, let alone write a book together, if we couldn't have these conversations? It was the first step in acknowledging that we would have to "go there" and admitting how hard that was going to be for us and for the characters we were writing. Jen and Riley, our main characters, aren't us, but they are like us in that they are a white woman and a Black woman trying to come to grips with how race seeps into and changes our most intimate relationships.

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Julia Discenza Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

We started this book in the fall of 2018, shortly after a rash of police shootings that year including Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose and Emantic Bradford Jr. We finished a final draft shortly before George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Heartbreaking bookends but a reminder that what we hope to achieve with this novel remains timelier and more urgent than ever, especially in the wake of our national reckoning about racism, social justice and policing. We want people to have frank, hard and vital conversations, the kinds we had been having for a few years now. But it's intimidating: we recognize that. It's also completely worth it; every confused feeling, misguided question, and difficult confrontation brought us to a better understanding of how the other person experiences the world. It's a lesson our characters had to learn. It turns out we did too.