Q: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood has debuted at a #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and has become and international bestseller, and your first book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, will be a major motion picture. What does that feel like?[b]
A: I'm not sure, to tell you the truth. The act of writing feels small and intimate and deeply personal when you are doing it, and the notion of having success in writing feels big and distant and hard to encompass. Sometimes I have the slightly disorienting feeling that while the writing of books is something I do, the success of them is happening to somebody else.
I guess the thought of being successful makes me feel a little fraudulent- like some giant mistake seems to have happened here. All in all, though, as mistakes go, it feels like a really lucky and nice mistake.
[b]Q: The mother-daughter bond is at the heart of this novel, which you dedicate to your own mother. What was your relationship with you mom like when you were sixteen? How has it changed over the years?
A: As a child, I saw my mom through eyes of total adoration. As a teenager, I grew judgmental. I was sharply aware of her quirks and her shortcomings - even really dumb ones, like how she carried hard-boiled eggs in her purse. I was practicing not needing her. Yet no matter how gross her purse was, I couldn't help craving her attention and approval.
Q: Can you describe a typical day in your life as a writer? Do you write better in the morning or at night? Do you ever have writer's block?
A: There is for better and worse, no typical day in my life as a writer. I seem to have two settings: off and on. When my switch is off, I can't seem to make myself do anything. I procrastinate horribly and stew for days or weeks in my own self-loathing. This would fairly be called writer's block, I guess, although I always try to pretend it's extremely dire and original rather than an obvious and well-documented phenomenon.
When my switch magically turns on, I write and write. I stay up late into the night, night after night, and I feel very happy. I feel so happy I get smug; I wonder why it took me so long to get going.
Sometimes I wish I could work several hours a day, every day, like a normal professional person. Someday maybe I will. Who knows? (I have always been an optimist.)
Q: This book has become a popular read for mother-daughter book clubs. When your daughter is old enough, what books or authors do you hope to share with her?
A: I already love reading with my daughter, and she's only three. I also love telling her stories. She'll say, ''Can you read that one again?'' And I say, ''I made it up.'' And she says, ''I mean, say it again.''
I'm excited for when she's old enough to read Frances Hodgson Burnett and Katherine Paterson and Karen Cushman and, of course, Judy Blume. I can't wait for her to read Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and eventually, Tolstoy. I hope she'll want to be in a mother-daughter book group with me.
Q: Sharing the Pants is one way the girls express their love for each other. Have you ever borrowed a special piece of clothing from a friend or family member or vice versa? Is there an item of clothing that you would never let anyone borrow?
A: My most notable clothes-sharing story would have to be my wedding dress. It came to me sort of mysteriously through a young woman named Hope. I subsequently shared it with it both of my sisters-in-law and my closest friend from elementary school. If you saw the five of us standing in a row, you would have trouble believing that one dress was worn by all of us, but it's true.
There is almost no article of clothing I wouldn't lend, but there are a few I'd hate to lose. There is the dress I wore to the hospital to have my children. It's a good-luck dress. but truthfully, it doesn't look so good at this point- I'm not sure anybody would want to borrow it.
Q: There are many special moments during the summer in which this book takes place. Do you have a favorite summer memory?
A: I remember the first summer my husband and I spent apart. He wasn't my husband yet. At that point we had only known each other for a few months. We weren't prepared to miss each other so much. I was nineteen, working in France after my first year of college, and he was painting in Maine. We spent the summer writing love letters and waiting for those letters to arrive in the mail. He couldn't figure out how to both paint and wait for my letters, so he set up his easel by the side of the road and made a painting of the mailbox. We still have that painting somewhere.
At the very end of that summer, he came to meet me in Paris. He asked me to marry him. I thought he was kidding, because we were so young and hadn't known each other very long. It turned out he wasn't.
Q: Have any of the characters- the girls or the many supporting players- turned out differently than you originally conceived them?
A: Bridget is the one who strayed farthest from my original conception. I meant for her to be a lighthearted, fun-loving character. She was supposed to liven things up when they got depressing. But I realize, in hindsight, this was a pretty shallow role to fill. Hardly anybody is wholly lighthearted once you get to know them. Bee has demons that make me cry for her.
Another surprise is Effie. Although I haven't yet given her a central role, every time I include her in a scene she begins to take over. She starts chewing up the scenery. I have a feeling I may not be able to keep her on the sidelines forever.
Q: Lena is devastated to learn that Kostos has married another woman. ''She looked at Kostos, and finally, he looked at her. His face was all different. As his eyes met hers, knowing and seeing her at last, her vision began to fuzz at the edges'' (pp. 334-335) Loving Lena as you obviously do, how difficult was it for you to put your character through such tragedy? Do you ever hesitate before plunging one of the girls into a painful experience?
A: I have one advantage over readers, which is that I know what is coming from the very beginning. I knew better than to form any real hopes for Lena and Kostos- not in this book, anyway. When it came time for the inexorable heartbreak, I plunged right in. I admit, though, I couldn't sleep at all when I was writing those parts of the book. I remember shaking in my bed with all that pent-up emotion.
Q: Each of the Sisterhood books takes place during the summer. Have you thought about what Bridget, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby are like during the school year? Are you ever tempted to touch on their lives during that time?
A: Summer feels like a blank slate, a perfect place to begin a new story, whereas the school year feels bogged down by so many social and logistical concerns. Summer has a timeless feel, where the more particular rhythms of school fix you in time and space. I may change my mind about it, but so far I am pretty happy to write in eternal summer.
[b]Q: Your next book, Girls In Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, takes place during the girls' seventeenth year, their last summer before college. Tibby falls in love; Bridget reconnects with Eric, the soccer coach; Carmen is hired to take care of Valia; and Lena must decide what dream to follow. What do you see in store for the Sisterhood in the last book? And will it truly be the last book?
A: That is a good question. I spend a lot of time asking it of myself. I know the girls will all have finished their first year of college. They will be at least eighteen. That's the part I'm sure about. Beyond that, I have so many possibilities wandering around my brain and stowed in my computer, I am not ready to pin myself (or the girls) down just yet.
As for the last book, I thought it would be book four, but now I find myself not wanting to write it for fear of having to say good-bye to these characters. I have loved writing about them, and I don't know if I'll be ready to stop. Then again, I don't want to wear out my welcome, either- with the characters or with the readers. I think I'll wait and see how we all feel after book four.