In You Were Always Mine by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, Cinnamon Haynes, a Black woman, finds an abandoned child whose mother, Daisy, a white woman, has only met Cinnamon a couple of times. Their connection with the child brings a reflection of their fraught lives and threatens who they want to become.
My interview with Christine Pride and Jo Piazza includes writing this layered story, the purpose friendship serves, and further themes in the story.
1) What is your definition of feminism?
For us, the foundation of feminism is ensuring that women have choices and agency; when women can choose their own path, make their own decisions about their bodies, their minds and their futures, when they can strive for equality, independence and actualization without fear for their safety or of retribution.
2) How did you both collaborate to give this layered story of motherhood, reproductive health, and racial issues justice?
We try to do a lot with our novels, to touch on all these issues that are important to us with nuance and empathy. We don’t want to lecture the reader, or push an agenda, but we do want to put our characters in situations where they have to wrestle with complicated scenarios in a way that (we hope) allows readers to consider different perspectives and experiences. Too often people end up screaming at each other about abortion or police violence or vaccines or affirmative action or fill in the endless blanks, or we get lost in the headlines or the statistics or the think pieces– and our goal is to cut through all that to show a slice of humanity behind all the noise and polarization.
3) Bluebell, Cinnamon, and Daisy all have multiple names. How did their names tell the timeline of their lives?
This is a great question and one we haven’t been asked before. The act of naming is so incredibly powerful and we wanted to use that concept to show how names can hamstring us and also free us and allow us to access our agency. Cinnamon lied about the origins of her name growing up because she was embarrassed of the way that she got it, and in that way it becomes a symbol of the shame from her childhood that she carried and tried to hide. For Bluebell, it comes down to who has the right to name a child. Cinnamon doesn’t think it’s hers and wants to save the honor for the baby’s “real” mom– that they end up doing it together is then especially meaningful. But it’s also endearing for Bluebell to have a nickname– we all love to give babies and kids special little nicknames. In Daisy’s case, she chose her name as a step towards claiming her independence and as a way to connect with the mom she never really knew. In all these cases, we tried to show how much meaning names carry.
4) Lucia is Cinnamon’s friend. What purpose did the friendship give to the story?
Lucia is Cinnamon’s person and in a lifetime of isolation and loneliness, finding a friend like Lucia is a game changer for her. We wanted to show that, how one friend, ally, witness, sounding board can make a huge impact in your life along the way. That Cinnamon comes to love, trust, confide in, and be vulnerable with Lucia is an important part of her growth and emotional journey. We believe wholeheartedly in the power of female friendship and the fact that friends are often the backbone of your life, sometimes even more so than a spouse. And as with the case with marriage, their friendship is imperfect, as all friendships are, but is one of the most meaningful relationships of her life.
5) Empathy is an anchor of this story. What themes and emotions do you want the reader to take away?
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, someone who may be 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 and connections.
6) How did you both craft the men in the story, particularly Jayson?
At the start of shaping a character we try to take gender out of it and think about them as a human being first and foremost. What motivates them, what scares them, excites them? How do they move around in the world? Next we layer on relationships and how they interact with the people close to them. So obviously we thought about Jayson in relation to Cinnamon. How is he as a husband? And then to Bluebell, how is he as a potential foster father figure. And finally with Abigail, what is he like as a son?
Doing that gives us a much more well-rounded view of the character than just thinking about him as a “man”.
7) What organization is important to each of you that you would like to amplify?
Jo – Philabundance – These guys are one of the biggest hunger relief organizations in the Delaware Valley. They are absolutely incredible. Not only do they distribute millions of pounds of food a year to those in need, but they also do job training programs for the food services industry for those in need of work.
Christine – I’ve been volunteering for an amazing organization called Haven for many years now– it’s a network of volunteers who host women in our homes who are coming to New York City to access abortion services.
Thank you, Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, for speaking with Feminist Book Club!