The author of “Prep” and “American Wife” brings us more deliciously detailed characters and their challenges, this time with twins anchoring the plot. In “Sisterland,” out June 25, Kate and her sister Violet have what they call “senses” – what others consider being psychic or, at times, creepy. Kate is convinced it is the latter, and she strives to never be connected with being psychic. Meanwhile, her sister makes her living performing readings. But the topic lurches to the forefront when Vi senses a huge earthquake will hit their St. Louis hometown, threatening not only to disrupt the carefully constructed suburban lifestyle Kate has with her husband and two children, but also to bring a city to its knees. Sittenfeld, who was inspired to write the plot after reading about a 1990 earthquake prediction, tells Metro about writing psychic readings.
How did you decide to focus this book around having senses, which is what the characters call being psychic?
There is kind of this built tension when something is supposed to happen by a certain date. Either it happens, or it doesn’t happen. After I heard about [the 1990 earthquake prediction], I thought it would be so interesting to think of what that time would be like, from the point of view of not the person who makes the prediction, but the person close to the person, that has an ambivalence about it.
Did anything surprise you while you were writing this?
One day, after I had finished the book … I went to this trinket store to get some stocking stuffers, and there happened to be a psychic giving readings in the back. It was a weekday in the suburbs, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s a sign, I’m meant to go sit down and have a reading.’ … and then I look over and I see that there’s a line of 10 people waiting to see her, and I was like, there is no way I’m going to wait in line. Then I thought, was it a sign, or was it not a sign? … Things happen in your life and then you attribute meaning to them, so I was like, ‘This psychic is here to meet with me,’ and then I was like, ‘No there’s a huge line, this psychic is not here to meet with me, I’m off to run my other errands.’
What is your writing process – start to finish? Do you, for example, know where the characters will be at the end of the book?
For the most part, I write chronologically. … As the book got longer and longer, I took every chapter and laid them out on the floor of the office. Each chapter was a stack of papers. Then I could see what was missing, I could realize I needed to insert something. It helped me because I could visually see it.
If you go
Reading, signing and Q&A
June 26, 7 p.m.
Upper West Side Barnes & Noble
Reading, signing and Q&A
June 27, 12:30 p.m.
35 E. 76th St.
$125 per person