Liane Moriarty Hits Another Ace With Her New Domestic Drama 'Apples Never Fall'
Listen in as best-selling author Liane Moriarty discusses tennis, the writing process, and her new critically acclaimed mystery novel.
October 8, 2021
Note: Text has been edited and does not match audio exactly.
Katie O'Connor: Hi, listeners. I'm Audible Editor Katie O'Connor and today, I'm speaking with prolific best-selling author Liane Moriarty, whose novels include Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers, and the recently released Apples Never Fall, about retired tennis coaches Stan and Joy Delaney and their four grown children. When Joy goes missing, all eyes are on Stan, but of course, Moriarty mysteries are never that simple. Hi, Liane.
Liane Moriarty: Hi, Katie. It's lovely to be here.
KO: Thank you so much for joining me today. Many of your other novels have been inspired by things in your daily life or things you've overheard, things you've read. I was curious what the inspiration was for Apples Never Fall.
LM: Well, actually got quite a long answer to that because in this case, there were three sparks, or as somebody said to me, three seeds of this one. So the first seed, I came to podcasts a little bit late. And so I started listening, like a lot of people, to true crime podcasts. Sadly, many of those cases involve a missing woman where the husband is the main person of interest, as they say. That's what got me thinking about how would I feel if as an adult, my mother went missing and everybody was saying it was my father. And then, of course, I got thinking with that premise, ideally you would have multiple siblings, because one sibling could react in one way and one in another way and we could have factions.
So that's one seed. The second seed is that after Nine Perfect Strangers came out, I had decided that I was going to have what I was very self-indulgently calling my year of joy. That was 2019. Fortunately, it was not 2020. I had in my head that I would take a little bit of time before I started something new and I might listen to music and read poetry and that sort of thing. I actually asked my sister, who is the novelist Jaclyn Moriarty, I said to her, "Send me some writing prompts," because I thought, “I don't want to start a new novel, but I don't want to stop writing completely.”
She texted me just a few sentences describing a bike lying on the grass underneath a tree with a few apples spilled next to it. I just took that and then immediately began writing a new novel, because I'm not actually very good at writing short stories. And it's funny because I think what it clarified for me in that year of joy was writing novels does bring me joy.
Having a little bit more time to write this one, it did take a little bit of the pressure off because I was thinking, "Well, if it doesn't work, I can throw it out." I do think it's a better novel as a result of having taken more time.
The third seed is just a newspaper article I read about an elderly couple where late at night a young woman who'd been injured knocked on their door asking for help and they let her stay the night. There was a subsequent criminal case from that, which has no relevance. What stuck in my mind was the idea of a young woman knocking on an elderly couple's door. So I had my bike on the grass. I knew that I'd have Joy, that's the main character, who, by the way, I called Joy because originally I was actually calling the novel The Year of Joy. I knew Joy went missing. I knew there was a stranger who turns up, which I know is not a unique literary device, but I hadn't done it before.
"I think what it clarified for me in that year of joy was writing novels does bring me joy."
So that's my very long answer to the inspiration.
KO: That works. And I did want to ask, as one of six children did your sibling dynamics help inspire the complexities of this family at all?
LM: I'm sure they did. I'm not consciously aware of it, though. I can't even remember any particular anecdotes from my childhood. I just leaned into the idea of sibling rivalry. These are really competitive children because they're all tennis players. So I just had fun with that.
KO: I devoured this book. It was an ignore-my-children type of listen. And just the way that you tie each detail together... It's such a master class in craft, and I read in an interview that you once did with Goodreads that you don't necessarily plan out your novels. I was wondering if that is still true.
LM: Yes, I've never been a planner. I know many authors who love to have it all planned out completely before they get started. In fact, my sister Jackie spends a lot of time planning. We've both said we've tried each other's way sometimes. I've tried doing what she does. She always has notebooks and a whole lot of colored highlighters. I brought a whole lot of colored highlighters to a café, which is what she does. And I said to her, "I don't understand, I don't."
I actually can't bear to think of having it all planned out before I begin because for me, part of the pleasure in writing is thinking, "I wonder what's going to happen today?" And I find that things...just slowly evolve, and that's perfect because then it's in the story without me then having to go back and sort of...shove in a different jigsaw piece.
In this book, Joy's gone missing. I don't know where she is. I'm just writing that first chapter, having the knock on the door. And as I'm writing, I'm getting to know my characters and I'm also thinking, "So maybe this happens or maybe that happens." I'm just constantly thinking about it. And it's always such a relief when I work out what's going to happen. I can always remember the particular intersection I was at when I was driving home and I worked out how the storylines for the husband's secret come together. Once I've worked it out, then I can go back and put in the red herrings or change things that I need to change. I always have a different document as I'm writing, which is called Things I Need to Fix.
And I've worked it out because now I know this is going to happen, then therefore this can no longer happen. I never want to give the impression, especially to other authors, that I don't plan, but then it just somehow all falls into place as I write. Obviously, there's a lot of going back and changing things.
"I always have a different document as I'm writing, which is called Things I Need to Fix."
But I do appreciate the editorial process because that's where they'll pick up certain things that I will have missed, which there will invariably be. You have to make everything as believable as possible when you're creating this fictional world. That's why I'm very grateful for the editorial process.
KO: Your novels all have elements of humor and mystery and close friendships and complicated relationships. Is there an element of those that's easier for you to write than others?
LM: I feel that my strength is character. The thing that doesn't come easily to me is writing landscape. I feel I couldn't describe a landscape to save my life.
I can always remember in The Hypnotist's Love Story, I was describing a house. It's really interesting because a lot of readers came up to me at events and talked about that house in The Hypnotist's Love Story and how they loved the house. And I thought, oh, it's so interesting because I sort of managed to get myself through that because I just had to look up features. I felt a little bit fraudulent, but I managed to put together two paragraphs that somehow put an image in people's minds.
KO: Your narrator, Caroline Lee, she's given voice to so many of your novels, and the raspy tenor of her Australian accent is so well suited to the slightly sinister vibes of your stories. Have you ever spoken with Caroline? What kind of relationship do you have with her, if any? And what do you think about what she brings to your novels?
LM: I have. I think I've only spoken to her just the once. We haven't really had all that much contact. She does often send me a list of questions just to confirm how I am imagining certain characters' names to be pronounced and that sort of thing. Really what I mostly know about Caroline Lee comes from readers who tell me how much they love her narration. That's how I've gotten to know her. Through the readers saying, "LM and Caroline Lee." And I know they love her. I think it was in Truly, Madly, Guilty where they particularly loved how she gave voice to the character of Vid. I'm just grateful to her that she's obviously adding another amazing layer to the readers' experience.
KO: She really sucks you in even more to the story. You are so good at getting to the inner workings of suburbia and marriages and domestic dramas. Do your friends or your family ever make qualifiers with you before sharing a story? Like, "No using this in a novel! This one's off limits!"
LM: When they say that, it's often with something quite serious and I'm always mildly offended. And I say, "Of course! I would never use that," right? But what is more likely to happen is that people will come and say, "You can use this." They'll tell me stories that they've heard.
KO: Oh wow! That's really fascinating. I never thought about that angle of it. Like, "Hey, you're not gonna believe this, put this in a book." That's great.
Are you a tennis fan?
LM: As part of my childhood, tennis was always part of our life, but really just from a recreational point of view. Whenever we'd have a picnic somewhere, we'd often try to find somewhere with a tennis court so we could all go on and have a hit. My mother played with the tennis ladies and my grandma played. Especially my mother's generation and my grandmother's generation, which I describe in the book, tennis is very much part of Australian suburbia because we do tend to have big backyards. A lot of working-class people would have a sort of run-down tennis court in their backyard. I have to admit, I don't actually follow the sport.
I came to tennis accidentally because I had those seeds that I described and I remember thinking, "I want to give my family a family business more for the sake of convenience just so I can keep them all in one spot." In the same way that with Nine Perfect Strangers, I sent them all off to a health resort because there's nothing better than a contained setting for your characters. I was actually having a tennis lesson because I was trying to keep up with my son, who's gotten quite good at tennis. He's only 13, but he's suddenly better than me.
While I was having the lesson I thought to myself, "I know. I'll make it a tennis school." It's funny how it all sort of evolved, because then I started to think, "Well, if they run a tennis school, they're really into tennis. So I'm obviously going to have to learn about tennis. Maybe they used to be competitive players." And then I started talking to players. That's when I was really struck by the level of sacrifice that goes into a tennis career, which I actually had no understanding of. That's when I started thinking, "So what happens if you have the talent and you make the sacrifice, but then you don't make it?" Which is obviously what happens to the vast majority of tennis players.
From learning all of that, tennis then came to drive the story, which is not what I expected in the beginning.
KO: What types of research, if any, went into this story?
LM: So tennis was obviously the main thing I had to research. I had one character who's in trading, so I had to gain a bit of an understanding of that. I had a ballet dancer, so I had a tiny bit there. Oh, the migraines! I have not experienced migraines. I'd just read an article about a woman who suffered migraines, which really struck me with what this poor woman had gone through and it really got me thinking about chronic illness and how it can come to define your life.
KO: Can you talk to me about the sensation of seeing your work come to life on the small screen?
LM: It's strange and surreal and wonderful and exciting. I've never wanted to write my own adaptation, even though I have been offered that opportunity. But because, as I said, I don't plan my books and part of the pleasure for me is in finding out what happens, I would take no pleasure in writing an adaptation, because I already know what happens.
I've always been happy to hand it over and I've really loved seeing some of my lines, some of my own dialogue spoken by these A-list actors. But I've also enjoyed seeing some of the changes that they've made. In a way, sometimes it's more fun to watch those changes because they're fresh to me. It's been a pleasure, really, from start to finish.
KO: My last question for you is, what are you working on now?
LM: I'm not working on anything at all now because I'm in this publicity process where I always feel like I'm acting as an author rather than being an author. I'm spending too much time talking about my writing process, and I think part of being a writer is losing your sense of self. I could never do an interview and then sit down and write. I need to say, "No interviews, no talking about myself at all."
KO: Thank you again so much, Liane, and thank you, listeners. You can listen to Apples Never Fall right now on Audible.