Hi everyone! I hope you are all having a lovely day. Today, I am sharing with you this fantastic interview I had with Kathryn Ormsbee as part of The Sullivan Sisters blog tour!
First, here is some information about the book:
Time changes things.
That painful fact of life couldn’t be truer for the Sullivan sisters. Once, they used to be close, sharing secrets inside homemade blanket castles. Now, life in the Sullivan house means closed doors and secrets left untold.
Fourteen-year-old Murphy, an aspiring magician, is shocked by the death of Siegfried, her pet turtle. Seventeen-year-old Claire is bound for better things than her Oregonian hometown—until she receives a crushing rejection from her dream college. And eighteen-year-old Eileen is nursing a growing addiction in the wake of life-altering news.
Then, days before Christmas, a letter arrives, informing the sisters of a dead uncle and an inheritance they knew nothing about. The news forces them to band together in the face of a sinister family mystery…and, possibly, murder.
- What was the inspiration behind The Sullivan Sisters?
There were three inspirations behind The Sullivan Sisters.
First, I myself am a sister! My sister and I are five years apart, and though we’re very close now, we didn’t get along particularly well growing up. After thirty years of experience, I can attest to the nuanced and complicated feelings that often accompany sibling relationships, and I wanted to capture that experience in a novel.
Second, I am in love with the Pacific Northwest—so much so that I moved here all the way from Austin, Texas! For years now, I’ve wanted to pay homage to the Willamette Valley and the Oregonian coast, and I felt that The Sullivan Sisters was the right book for this setting.
Third, I’m a true crime aficionado, and I wanted to write a story where a mysterious vibe hangs over the plot but doesn’t take center stage.
- How did you develop each of the sisters? Did one of them come to you first?
I developed Eileen, Claire, and Murphy concurrently. They came to me fairly fleshed-out—from Claire and her messy hair bun to Eileen and her ramshackle Caravan to Murphy and her bad magic tricks. Those details didn’t change much between the novel’s conception and completion. The sisters’ personalities, and the way those personalities interact with and complement each other came together as a package deal.
As I developed the sisters, I wanted to subvert the usual sibling birth order tropes. Eileen, the oldest, is artistic and devil-may-care—the role often assigned to the youngest. Claire, the middle child, is overachieving and mothering—the role often assigned to the oldest. And Murphy, the baby of the family, is mediating and attention-starved—the role often assigned to the middle child. I wanted to play with the idea that birth order determines your personality (nonsense, I say!), and I hope I accomplished that in the end.
- What is your writing process like?
When I’m drafting a new novel, I write best in big chunks of uninterrupted time, or what my friends and wife know as my “hermit mode.” That’s when I write for hours on end, drink copious amounts of tea, and rarely shower. I’ve drafted most of my books within a one- to three-month period. It’s the revisions afterward that take the most time. I’m not an edit-as-I-go writer, so my revisions require a lot of whittling (or, oftentimes, hacking) and polishing. I take time away from my manuscript post-drafting to gain perspective, and I also go through an editorial process with my agent and beta readers. The process may be long and involved, but I like revising best. That’s when I experience the magic of altering cadence until a sentence pops, paring down dialogue until a conversation sizzles, and playing jigsaw with plot until all the pieces fit.
- What drew you to telling a story about these sisters and secrets?
As I mentioned, I grew up as a sister with a sister, so I had plenty of personal interest in writing a story that centered around that family dynamic. And I love thrillers and mysteries, so I wanted to incorporate a touch of those genre elements into my novel while keeping the story grounded as a sweet, humorous coming-of-age contemporary.
- What character do you think you are most like?
I’d have to say Murphy. I’m the baby of the family, like Murph, and I relate hard to her need to be seen and taken seriously. I also use performance and humor as coping mechanisms for my fear and anxiety. I get it, Murph. I really do.
- What do you think is the most important part or biggest struggle when writing about complicated families?
Personally, I think all families are complicated. At the heart of it, families are comprised of different people with inevitably different personalities, motivations, and desires. Place all those people in close quarters for years on end? Things are bound to get complicated. I think it’s important to highlight that reality, while acknowledging that familial love isn’t love in the absence of differences. It’s not picture-perfect, Leave It to Beaver dynamics, where life lessons can be neatly tied up in a half-hour segment. Family relationships can evolve significantly over time. Sometimes, bonds break. Other times, they’re mended.
One of my biggest struggles when drafting this novel was the characterization of the Sullivan sisters’ mom, Leslie. At the novel’s start, she’s an absent mother, but she’s very present in her daughters’ psyches and memories, and it was a challenge to convey the simultaneous judgement and empathy her daughters feel for her. There’s a lot of gray area there, as there is in so many family relationships.
- What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope readers who have their own messy, complicated families will feel a little more seen and validated. I hope those looking for a fun, mysterious plot will find it. And my big pie-in-the-sky dream is that readers out there will share the book with their own siblings. Maybe even family book club it? A girl can dream.
I want to give Kathryn a huge thank you for her thoughtful answers and Simon and Schuster for letting me do this! I hope all of you readers check out The Sullivan Sisters when it comes out next week!