Mary Hogan is already a well-known and award-winning young adult author. Now she is bursting on the adult scene with her emotional and heartfelt novel, TWO SISTERS, from William Morrow. She lives in New York City with her husband and is currently at work on an historical novel. In our interview she opens up about the heart-breaking inspiration behind TWO SISTERS, her hopes for her writing career, and how she finally tapped into her "inner grown-up" for her first adult novel.
Tell us the story behind the story. How did TWO SISTERS come to be?
I started TWO SISTERS two weeks after my only sister, Diane, died. She'd had breast cancer, but I was never worried about her because she always said she was fine. "Doctors are trying this and that," she'd say breezily. Though she lived in California and I live in New York, when I saw her, I never noticed how sick she looked. I now know how denial can blind you.
After Diane's death, I started writing about her. I needed to understand why she chose to exit without saying goodbye to anyone. To me. Why didn't she love me?
What began as a way to make sense of personal loss morphed into a novel about an entire family consumed by secrets.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing TWO SISTERS?
The tears and the kicking myself. I felt tremendous guilt about not being a better sister.
What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?
TWO SISTERS is not a book about death. It's about forgiveness and redemption. It's about figuring out where you fit in when you feel like you don't fit in anywhere at all. I would love my novel to inspire readers to give themselves a break. Being imperfect is okay.
Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?
Unlike my other books, I had horrible insomnia while I was writing TWO SISTERS. I spent several dark mornings staring at the ceiling in my bedroom. Finally (duh!) I decided to get out of bed and go to work. I wrote most of the book from 5 am to noon. And it was GREAT. Total quiet, no phones, no distractions. Not even my dog was up. Of course, in the evening, I usually fell asleep during the NewsHour. Sorry, Gwen.
What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
My former Young Adult book editor, Amanda Maciel, wrote a teen book called, TEASE. Inspired by a true story, it's about a high school girl who kills herself after being bullied. I started reading it to support my friend, but it's really good. No kidding. The intricacies of that unique teen space between childhood and adulthood are captured perfectly. I'm actually sad that I'm nearing the end of it.
The adult book that's currently calling to me is Gillian Flynn's DARK PLACES. I love murder and mayhem. And I hear it's very dark.
Which authors inspire you?
Hands down, the author who made me want to be an author is Anne Tyler. I first read her novel, SEARCHING FOR CALEB, when I was in college. Someone left a copy in the dorm lounge. I could NOT believe a person could construct sentences so brilliantly. I read that entire book with my mouth hanging open. And every other Anne Tyler novel since!
I had a similar feeling about Louise Erdrich after I read THE ROUND HOUSE.
I wrote both women a personal note (some might call them fan letters) gushing about how much they meant to me. If I ever meet either woman personally, I'm sure they will call security.
What have you learned from this experience?
After seven Young Adult novels, I've learned that I can tap into my inner grown-up.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
It's not about how many times you get up when you're down, it's about sitting down when you're up. Writing books takes a lot of fanny time in front of a computer. Have a seat.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Imagine all the ways things can go RIGHT.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing an historical novel. It's an idea I've had for YEARS. It's such a great story, I've been terrified that someone would write it before I could get to it. But I'm now on my way. Whew. I could tell you what the story is, but my publisher would have to kill me.
Joan Didion famously explained that she writes "entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." Why do you write?
Leave it to Joan to write something brilliant. Less brilliant, but true: I write because I love it. A great sentence makes me happy. Especially if I'm the one who wrote it.
For more information on Mary Hogan, visit her website.