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The Family Three

In Eleanor Brown's novel, sisterhood isn't all hugs and Hallmark cards.

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Author Eleanor Brown will share advice with would-be authors at the James River Writers conference this weekend.
  • Author Eleanor Brown will share advice with would-be authors at the James River Writers conference this weekend.

"See, we love one another. We just don't happen to like one another very much."

So say Cordy, Rose and Bean, the titular siblings in Eleanor Brown's bestselling 2011 novel, "The Weird Sisters." The three sisters, who spent their childhoods buried in books just like their Shakespearean scholar father, are drawn back to their hometown when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. At home they fall into their family-assigned roles — but also must reject them as they discover, at last, their adult selves.

"I think there's something so unique about a sibling relationship," Brown says, "and how it can be one of the most wonderful and most terrible relationships in our lives." Brown's in Richmond this weekend for the 10th James River Writers Conference. Style Weekly spoke with her before the show.

Style: You confessed you wrote a few bad novels before finding the story of the Andreas sisters. What was the moment you knew this was the story you were meant to tell?

Brown: I kind of had been batting around a story about siblings and birth order for a number of years. I had tried to write it in a couple of different ways, but it just never really felt right. And at some point, after I had written all those other really terrible novels, the first line of the book — which is, "We came home because we were failures." — that line just kind of popped into my head. And I somehow matched that line with this idea about a story about adulthood and siblings and birth order. ... I couldn't put it down. It was the story that I couldn't walk away from.

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You've said the Andreas sisters have "never bothered to discover what they love about each other." Did you have a moment you realized that was true about your own sisters?

[I don't know] if I can pinpoint one moment, but it is something that I do think about a lot. When you are in a relationship with somebody — be it family, or a friendship, or a marriage, or anything like that — there comes a point where you've been in the relationship so long that you kind of forget why. ... Family is assumed, right? That relationship is assumed. And so we don't spend a lot of time thinking about why it works or why it doesn't — sometimes until it goes horribly wrong. ... Why am I connected to my family other than that they're my family? ... Why do I put up with them besides the fact that than that I'm related to them?

What's it like being in a relationship with a novelist and writer [J.C. Hutchins]? Do you work together?

We joke that we're going to go on a book tour one day, and we're going to call it Fireballs and Feelings. Because he is all about the car chase and the explosions and the fireball, and I am all about the feelings. Sometimes I would really rather have my characters just kind of sit around and talk about their feelings for 300 pages. But that's not a very interesting read. So he is really helpful to me in sort of working out plot, and kind of, "Oh yes, Eleanor, that's very wonderful and very touching, but what happens next?"

Tell me about the novel you're working on now.

So the novel I am working on now also takes place in a small town in the summer. But over the course over the summer, everybody gets the thing they have always wanted. Which turns out to be not as wonderful as you might think. And that's all I'll say about it for right now. S

Eleanor Brown appears at the James River Writers conference Oct. 20-21, at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. For registration and information, visit jamesriverwriters.org.

For information about the Library of Virginia's Literary Awards Celebration featuring Tom Robbins, visit literaryva.com.

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