Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Q&A with Eleanor Brown - The Weird Sisters

I am thrilled to have Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters stopping by today for some Q and A!  This debut novel is garnering lots of press - it was a five star read for me.

Have you always aspired to be a novelist? If you weren't writing what would be your chosen path in life?

I haven't always wanted to be a novelist, but I have pretty much always wanted to be a writer. I grew up in a family that prized reading, and to me writing is just being a part of that conversation. I'm so lucky to have been able to make that part of my life on a large scale.

For a living? Wow. I suppose I'd still be doing something with reading - being a bookseller or a librarian. Occasionally, though, I do get these wild hairs to do something completely different, like become a manicurist or open a cheese shop. That kind of fantasy is good for the soul, I think.

I'm sure you have been asked this in every interview so far, but please indulge me! Where did the idea for The Weird Sisters spring from? Why Shakespeare?

Writing a novel, at least for me, isn't about a single inspiration. It's like (and forgive the cliche) rolling a snowball down a hill. So I started off with wanting to write a story about three very different sisters that explored the idea of birth order, and then other ideas started attaching themselves to that core - what it means to be an adult, whether redemption is possible, what to do when you are asked to do the thing you think you cannot, and eventually I had a novel.

As for Shakespeare, I can't remember where exactly in the snowball that came, but I was thinking about my characters' names and the way our names shape who we are. And then I wanted to write about the way families communicate, and I thought about how this very literary-minded family might speak in the words of authors. And voila, Shakespeare!

And how did you choose the quotes you used?

The quotes came in a mixture of ways. When i was doing the initial research, I made a list of great lines I came across, or ones I thought might relate to topics in the novel. And some of those I used, but more often than not I'd hit a point in a scene where I'd need a quote and didn't have quite the right one, so I'd go scrambling back to my Complete Works and scour until I had something workable.

It was extra tricky because part of the point of their communicating in these quotes is that they are completely out of context, so I couldn't search topically, I had to go more by the right words that could be taken out of context. I also made a point to avoid many of the most commonly quoted lines, so I couldn't fall back on "Out, damned spot!" every time I needed something.

I see that you are the youngest of three sisters. Did you draw upon any of your own experiences in writing The Weird Sisters? What do your sisters think of the novel?

If I hadn't grown up in a family of three sisters who happened to fall fairly strictly into the birth order stereotypes, I don't think I would have been interested in writing this particular story. But the Andreas family are all their own, and they don't bear much resemblance to my family at all.

I'm fortunate that I've heard nothing but supportive things from my family. My parents still live near Washington, D.C., where I grew up, and when The Weird Sisters hit a local bestseller list, I joked that it was because my parents had bought all the copies in the area.

The books lying about, the fantastic idea that a library card can solve anything ( I work in a public library!) all speak of someone who loves books. Was/is this true of your home? Any authors that have influenced you? What do you enjoy reading?

Oh, book lovers and librarians are my very favorite people! My parents really taught me to love books and reading - taking me to the library every week, giving me books as gifts, talking to me about literature and writing and reading to me. Like the Andreas family, I will read just about anything in a pinch, but I will stop traffic to get to a new book by Alice Hoffman, Pat Conroy, Stephen King, or Maeve Binchy. I love each of them for different reasons, but I just can't put their books down.

Are you surprised by the reception that The Weird Sisters has enjoyed?

I think shocked is more like it! As a writer, you live so much in your own head that it's kind of startling when people you don't know start talking to you about something you created. I kept my expectations modest, so everything feels like a wonderful surprise.

But what's underlying the shock is gratitude and happiness - I'm so grateful to the readers who enjoy the book and tell other people about it. And I'm happy that the book I wrote as an attempt to understand some things in my life is speaking to other people as well. It's just amazing.

I'm really looking forward to your next book - can you tell us anything about it?

Wow, thank you! I am totally superstitious about talking about works in progress, but I have been doing a lot of thinking about love and marriage and divorce. We'll just have to see where that takes us!

Eleanor, thank you so much for taking the time to stop by!

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit, and thank you even more for the gorgeous review of The Weird Sisters you posted. I'm unbelievably touched.


bermudaonion said...

What a great interview! Eleanor sounds like such a great person and I think her success is well deserved!

Mystica said...

A book I need to find! thanks for the post.