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Eleanor Brown's quirky and delightful debut novel, "The Weird Sisters," is about a family in turmoil. When their mother gets sick, sisters Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia -- who aren't all that weird -- return home to help, but also to work out problems in their lives.
Critics praised the book's imaginative first-person plural narration, and readers loved it; "The Weird Sisters" spent a month on the New York Times bestseller list.
Brown grew up near Washington, D.C., and graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul in 1995. "My oldest sister was in veterinary school at the University of Minnesota, so my father said I should go visit her, and then casually added that I should check out Macalester while I was there," Brown said in an e-mail.
"As soon as I saw the beautiful neighborhood and felt the vibrant energy on campus and in the Cities, I was sold!"
Her book is set in Ohio, but St. Paul is in there, too. "The coffee shop in the novel is based on my memories of Dunn Brothers Coffee and Cuppa Joe on Grand Avenue," she said.
"I picture the schools the characters attend when they are young as one of the beautiful homes on Summit Avenue, and their college library as Macalester's. And the entire idea to set the story in a college town in the summer came from a summer I spent working on campus at Macalester, where the same place that hummed with action during the school year became quiet, almost magical."
Brown will be in the Twin Cities on Thursday to read at Barnes & Noble Galleria.
Q Describe your writing room.
A What most people notice first in my office is my treadmill desk. One of the hazards of being a writer is that you spend a lot of time sitting, so I try to use my treadmill desk as much as possible. Moving my legs seems to help move my mind.
The bookshelf is mostly full of books for research -- for the novel I'm working on now and for ones yet to be. My favorite part of the office is the lampshades -- they're covered in pink fabric roses and they just make me smile every time I look at them, though I'll admit they do a terrible job of keeping things bright.
Q What is your writing strategy? Do you have rituals that you maintain?
A My writing strategy is to set goals for myself, but to keep them achievable. My daily goal is to write a thousand words.
Q How do you get past writer's block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
A I once heard Jodi Picoult say, "You can edit garbage, but you can't edit a blank page," and whenever I start to judge what I'm writing, I recite that to myself and push on. It's much easier to avoid writer's block when I give myself permission to write terribly.
The Internet is a complete blessing as a research tool, but when I'm confronting a blank page, Twitter begins looking awfully tempting. I use a program called Freedom that disables the Internet. I thought at first it would feel frustrating or punitive, but it is aptly named -- not having e-mail or Facebook notifications chirping at me regularly feels ... well, freeing.
Q Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
A S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders" amazed me endlessly. I used to finish it and immediately turn to the first page and begin again. When I taught middle-school English, I was thrilled to read that book with my students. Watching them discover it was like reading it again for the first time.
Q What books do you re-read?
A I do have a handful of books that I return to every year, usually in the summer: "Gone With the Wind," Pat Conroy's "The Lords of Discipline," "Evening Class," by Maeve Binchy and Stephen King's "The Stand." I love watching the way my reactions to the books change over time.
Q What's on your desk?
A Trick question! I have two desks. The first is my treadmill desk, where I have a keyboard and mouse, a few file folders with research material for my current novel, my to-do and to-research lists, a glass of water and lip balm. My actual desk, where I sit to pay bills and take care of business, has a docking station for my iPod, a folder with information on my upcoming book tour, and my grandmother's silver baby dish, which is currently holding a pile of colorful erasers I bought at the Wal-Mart in St. George, Utah (long story).
Q Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
A I'm sitting in the chaise by the window in my office, looking out at a gorgeous, sunny winter day.
We put out food for the birds, squirrels and rabbits, so right now there are four squirrels and a bird snacking. I don't know whether this is better entertainment for us or for our cat.
Q What are you reading right now?
A Though I don't think of myself as a re-reader, I am re-reading something right now! I read Alex George's "A Good American" and loved it so much I wrote a blurb for the cover. We're interviewing each other for Amazon, so I'm re-reading the book to come up with some juicy questions.
Q What's been the best place so far to do a reading?
A I'm lucky to live in Denver, which is home to the Tattered Cover, which I visit regularly for author readings. I read there on the day my book was released last year, and though I'd only lived in Colorado for a few months, it was a full house of friends and writers. I felt so embraced and supported by my new hometown and so many people I love -- it was a real celebration.
Q Which authors have inspired you?
A Some of the writers I mentioned before -- Pat Conroy, Maeve Binchy and Stephen King, along with Alice Hoffman, Emily Dickinson and Martha Beck. I read and write for the same reasons: to understand and connect, and I am always thrilled to find a writer who can help me do that.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune books editor.