I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” For my first novel, The Sisters, the story behind the story is very personal.
When I was about ten or eleven years old, my sister pushed me into our room and whispered that our grandmother, who had been upset all day, had received a letter telling her that her sister was dead. I knew about my grandmother’s brothers, but this was the first time I’d ever heard mention of a sister. I tried to ask questions, but my sister shushed me, telling me I must never ask anyone about it—and especially not Grandma. Later, my mother repeated the same admonition, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this estranged sister.
Over the years, fragments of the family lore surrounding the sister trickled down to me—though my grandmother still kept silent. I heard the sister was a tramp and a gold-digger. Sometimes it was implied that this was why she had been cast out of the family, but other times it was suggested she had turned her back on them. I could understand how someone might reject a family member. I could understand how a person might speak badly of the one who had been rejected. But I could not understand, and I could not stop wanting to know, what kind of offense or betrayal could result in one sister’s deciding to erase another, as if she had never existed. My grandmother died without sharing the intricacies of her story, so I knew if I was ever going to have an answer to my question, I’d have to write it myself.