As promised, it is my pleasure to introduce Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters, to all of you wonderful blog readers! Along with being a fabulous writer, I found Ms. Brown to be a friendly, intelligent and engaging person, and I hope everyone out there gets a chance to read her book! Any author who can capture so perfectly the love of books that permeates a reading family, is incredibly welcome on Her Book Self!
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer?
I've always been a reader and a daydreamer, and at some point I figured out that I could write down all the stories I made up in my head, which was a great excuse for daydreaming even more! I wrote short pieces for a long time - essays and short stories, mostly - and then when I turned 30 I decided I wanted to take a crack at writing a novel. I wrote some really, really terrible novels in a number of different genres, and was about ready to give up, until I decided just to take a number of things I was trying to figure out and write a story about them, and that became The Weird Sisters.
How did the concept of The Weird Sisters develop?
I'd had an idea for a story about three sisters kicking around in the back of my mind for years, but I never really figured out how to make it happen. What I really wanted to explore through those sisters was birth order theory, the idea that where we are born in our family influences the people we become. As I wrote, I incorporated other things I was interested in or trying to figure out, like what it means to be an adult, and how families communicate, until I had a complex enough story to really call it a novel.
Did you have quotes from Shakespeare in mind to use for certain conversations in the book or did you look them up as you wrote the story? Or did you - like the Andreas family - pull them from memory?
I had a long list, culled from extensive research I had done before I started writing, of quotes I wanted to use. Most of those got tossed to the wind, however; I realized that I couldn't write a scene just to use a quote, and I wanted to limit the number of 'famous' quotes I used, because this is a family whose knowledge would extend beyond the ones anyone can name. So ultimately I ended up doing a lot of running back to my Complete Works and looking for something appropriate to the conversation. I wish I could quote extemporaneously like the Andreas family can!
As the youngest child in my family, I recognized certain attributes of Rose, Bean, and Cordy in myself and my two older sisters. To which of the three sisters do you most relate? Which one was the most fun and which the most challenging to write?
I'm so glad to hear you found them recognizable! I relate to all three of the sisters - part of writing about them was an attempt to try to reconcile the parts of me that are often at war - the little bit of me that wants independence versus the part that wants to be taken care of, or the part that wants adventure and drama with the part that desires safety.
Rose was the most difficult to write because it would have been easy to have her just come off as bossy and controlling. I wanted the caring, supportive aspects of her to be equally strong. I found Bean and Cordy easier - though their difficulties are of their own making, they also have positive qualities that were easier to tease out.
I found the voice in the book to be unique and refreshing. The "we" and "our" pulled me into the story and hooked me from the start. At what point in your writing did you decide to compose in the first-person plural form?
From the start! I'd tried to use the first-person plural voice before, but I didn't have the writing chops to pull it off yet - it's tricky. But the first line ("We came home because we were failures") came to me before I even started writing and the rest of the voice flowed from that. I'm glad to hear you liked it - I know for some people it will turn them off the book, but I felt it supported one of the points I was trying to make about the way we carry our families with us no matter how we feel about them, and I felt strongly enough about it to keep it there.
Along with being a book about family, friendship, and self-discovery, The Weird Sisters is about dealing with cancer and the effects of treatment on an individual as well as those around him/her. I work in cancer research and I was impressed with how accurately you chronicled this journey. What type of study went into this portion of the story?
I refer all compliments on accuracy to my wonderful experts - cancer survivors and oncology professionals, who were gracious enough to read early drafts and answer questions. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in high school (she is celebrating her 21st year as a survivor) and I have been trying to write out what that meant to her and my family ever since. It was difficult, because I knew I didn't want that storyline to be central, but I didn't want it to be an excuse, either. Nonetheless, the more I saw people around me fighting cancer, the more I knew I wanted to be part of the conversation about how it impacts families.
I loved that libraries played an important part in the book, too. Do you have a favorite library memory from your youth?
I have tons - libraries have been a lifelong sanctuary for me, and I owe so much to the librarians who placed books in my hands over the years and transformed my life in the process. My family vacationed in the mountains in Maryland, and the branch we visited there during the summers (the Ruth Enlow Library in Garrett County, MD) was where I discovered Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, among others. It's also the building on which the library in the book is modeled. I can still remember the way it smelled!
Shakespeare being the obvious one, what other authors would you say have inspired or influenced you?
My idols are varied - Pat Conroy and Alice Hoffman for their painfully beautiful writing, Maeve Binchy for her warm voice, Jodi Picoult for her complex plots. I really love contemporary fiction and think there are so many wonderful things happening; I'm just happy to be part of the conversation!
What projects are you currently working on?
I'm very superstitious about talking about works in progress, so I'll just say I'm working on another family story, this one centered more on love.
Where can we find more about you and your work?
Visit me on the web! I'm on Facebook (www.facebook.com/eleanorbrownwriter), Twitter (www.twitter.com/eleanorwrites) and I have a blog that I update far too infrequently at my site (www.eleanor-brown.com).
Thank you so much for your time and for writing your lovely book!