Friday, January 7, 2011

Eleanor Brown talks about The Weird Sisters

Recently, a manuscript came into my office with a request for a blurb. It was a debut, which I'm always partial to because I want to help new writers, and it had a great title: The Weird Sisters. This novel knocked me out from the first page, to the point that I couldn't do anything for the next few days but read. It's deliciously witty, incredibly smart, and undeniably moving, as it reveals the lives of sisters, the deeper meaning of Shakespeare, and the surprises of life. I fell in love with the book, and not only gave it a rave blurb, but contacted the author Eleanor Brown, who is as warm, funny and wonderful as her novel (which, by the way, is racking up the raves and the honors!) Be sure to watch the great book trailer, too!) Thank you, Eleanor, so, so much for answering these questions!

Tell us about how The Weird Sisters came about?

Like most stories, I think, it came together piece by piece. I'd wanted to tell a story about family and birth order for a long time. When I was in grad school, I was playing around with different voices and styles and I become interested in first person plural narration ('we' and 'our') and wondered what kind of story would require it. And as my friends and I floundered around in our twenties and made all kinds of ridiculous mistakes, I started thinking about what it means to be an adult and why some people have so much trouble with growing up. Add in a wonderful class on Shakespeare, a study abroad program in Oxford, a whole lot of daydreaming, and The Weird Sisters was born!

Does being a first novelist coincide with your visions of what it would be like?

I don't know that I really had a vision! I sat down to sign some books the other day and I turned to my sweetie (J.C. Hutchins, who is also a writer), and said, "I have no idea what to write." And he figured I was the only author who had never considered how she would sign her books.

One thing that has surprised and pleased me is how wonderfully supportive people are - the folks at Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, old friends on Facebook, fellow authors and writers and book bloggers and librarians and readers - everyone is just so lovely. Readers want to find stories they will fall in love with, and I'm delighted when they find that in The Weird Sisters.

Did you reread your Shakespeare as you were writing, and what was that process like?

I did scandalous amounts of research, reading, and going to plays and watching movies. It was great fun - Shakespeare's plays in particular are so rich and people have done such inventive things with them. I remember being in Oxford and seeing an open-air production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in which the production used the nearby stream to have Titania and Oberon arrive in an actual boat! It was magical.

Unfortunately, as I wrote, I realized that a great deal of my research wasn't going to be used - The Weird Sisters is about a family so immersed in Shakespeare that it's become nothing more than a sort of shorthand for them. They've already had all the exciting thoughts they're going to have about Shakespeare, so it wasn't like they were going to turn to each other in the middle of a scene and start discussing the use of numbers and numerology in the plays (yes, I actually read that article).

But I don't feel that time was wasted - it helped me understand how the family thought and functioned, I got to see lots of wonderful acting, and I fell in love again with Shakespeare's language. There's a reason that guy has hung around for a few hundred years - he's pretty good.

What IS it about sisters that is so compelling? Do you have a sister yourself?

I think sisters have the potential to have incredibly complex and emotional relationships. The love and envy and friendship and hatred that can be present in any relationship are amplified with sisters. I am the youngest of three sisters, and I am particularly interested in the way our birth order shaped our personalities and carved out roles for us that have persisted long into adulthood and re-emerge whenever we're all together.

What's obsessing you now? (And what's up next as far as writing?)

I'm thinking a lot about love and marriage and divorce and how they all fit together. I'm working on another novel that I hope to finish this year, but I'm awfully superstitious about talking about works in progress, so I won't say more!

What question didn't I ask that I should have? (P.S. Eleanor's answer shows you what kind of amazing person she really is--wonderful as well as brilliant.)

You should have asked which Caroline Leavitt book is my favorite, so I could say Girls in Trouble. I read it when I was chaperoning a trip of 120 seventh graders and I absolutely credit it with preserving my sanity (such as it is). I love reading all the authors you have in to visit almost as much as I love reading your novels.

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