By: Nick Santangelo
It's not every day that someone releases a novel that gets compared to the work of writers like Tana French and Dennis Lehane and hailed as one of the most anticipated novels of 2020 by the media. But that's exactly what College of Liberal Arts English and Creative Writing Associate Professor Liz Moore accomplished earlier this month with Long Bright River.
Professor Moore's fourth novel, Long Bright River, received high praise from publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and O, the Oprah Magazine. Readers have also responded positively, propelling the book to number six in the New York Times' best sellers List as of January 17. Some have even predicted that the book will attain as wide a readership as books like Gone Girl or Girl on the Train, perhaps because—like those books—Long Bright River is a crime drama with a propulsive plot and a female protagonist.
And tomorrow, January 24, Professor Moore will appear on Good Morning America in a segment filmed here on campus and in Philadelphia's nearby Kensington neighborhood where the novel is set.
In the interview, Professor Moore talks about the book's long journey from idea to reality. Writing a novel usually takes her four years from conception to completion. It's now been two years since she sold Long Bright River to Riverhead Books, and it's since been optioned by Hollywood for a movie adaptation. Releasing the book to such high praise and media attention has been a happy but hectic experience for Professor Moore.
"I've got two little kids. I teach full time," she says. "I feel good in this moment, and I also always have this other awareness that the book is about the pretty serious subject of addiction and all the things that go hand-in-hand with that. Also I feel a little bit subdued when I think about what the book is about, and so I kind of swing back and forth between those two emotions."
As Professor Moore mentions, Long Bright River tells the story of two sisters (Kacey and Mickey) who experience the opioid epidemic through two different but entwined perspectives. As the book opens, the sisters are estranged with Kacey living on the street and addicted to opioids while Mickey works as a Philadelphia police officer. But when Kacey goes missing, Mickey becomes increasingly obsessed with finding her at all costs.
Kacey's spiral into addiction is based on everything the author has learned about how people with addiction move from prescription pills to narcotics like heroin and fentanyl. Writing about the opioid crisis was "quite therapeutic" for Professor Moore, who has a history of addiction within her family. It also gave her the chance to humanize a massive problem and to focus on what's right and wrong from a moral perspective, not simply a legal one.
"Sometimes people are scared to look addiction in the face," Professor Moore says, "but we shouldn't be scared."
To create such a face, Professor Moore reflected on her family's experiences with addiction, spoke with two police officers about the opioid crisis and went on a police ride-along through Philadelphia. She also became intimately familiar with Kensington by conducting a photojournalism project there in 2009 and having performed community work teaching free writing workshops at a women's center in the neighborhood.
The result of all that research is the author's first book that's being categorized as a crime drama. Writing about police work was "an interesting experiment" for Professor Moore, but all four of her novels have had some sort of twist or puzzle to them. She describes her characters as always being set on long paths to resolve problems they can't overcome at the beginning of each novel.
The characters aren't the only ones searching for answers, either—Professor Moore comes to understand her protagonists the more she writes about them. That means she sometimes is as surprised at where they end up as her readers are.
"Unfortunately for me, I never know the plot twist either," she explains.
One twist Professor Moore is happy to have experienced in her own journey is landing here on the College of Liberal Arts' faculty. She describes her in-laws, who are local to the area, as being "big Temple fans" who were "thrilled" when she accepted the position.
Having previously only taught Temple grad students, the professor is teaching Temple undergrads for the first time this semester. In the classroom, she offers her students some sage wisdom about one day potentially becoming novelists themselves.
"There's a lot of work to do independently before you start to think about sharing your work outside of a university context, but you shouldn't let that stop you. You should just do all the work of being a writer and embody the role of writer, by which I mean develop a daily practice or a weekly practice where you're writing consistently. Write a novel-length work if novels are what you're interested in, and then start thinking about, 'Is this novel-length work the first work that I want to share with the public? Or is there another novel that I need to write first?'"
Whatever novels Professor Moore's students may go on to write, the College of Liberal Arts will be excited to see how they continue the professor's impressive legacy.