The first thing most people ask me when hear the premise of my book (it’s about twin sisters who couldn’t be more different – or so they think) is whether I’m a twin. Nope. I don’t even have a sister.
Most people – myself included – often assume first novels are autobiographical, but mine is pure fiction. I’ve always been intrigued by the rich, complex relationships my friends have with their sisters. It seems a connection unlike any other, with threads of intense love, rivalry, loyalty, exasperation and fondness all woven together. So part of my research was just observing: Watching sisters together. Listening to my girlfriends tell their sister stories. Asking questions about their interactions and feelings.
In college, I also took a lot of psychology classes, and I think some of those lessons found their way into The Opposite of Me as well. I find the notion of identity fascinating. How is it that we all get assigned certain roles in our family – like the pretty one, the smart one, the drama queen, the peacemaker, the funny one – and what if those roles don’t fit who we truly are inside? I spun that idea around in my mind for a while, and it turned into a central theme in my novel.
In terms of traditional research, I needed to learn about the world of advertising, and several people helped me. In one of those quirky twists of fate, I’d just decided to make my main character a stressed-out advertising executive when I opened my new O magazine and saw a profile of a former advertising executive who’d quit her all-consuming job to open a new shop that sold gorgeous paper products. So I cold-called the woman – Chandra Greer is her name, and her shop is Greer Chicago – and she couldn’t have been more gracious. I interviewed her and took copious notes. I called my brother’s old college roommate, who also works in advertising, and interviewed him as well – then followed up with yet another interview with a third advertising executive. I loved learning about their world, and peppered my novel with aspects of advertising that most interested me (did you know there’s something called a Recall Test? It basically tells how many people who watched your commercial actually remembered it).
There was one other subplot in my novel requiring medical expertise, and my father – a medical writer – helped enormously with that. As a former reporter, I love interviewing people and diving into research – but sometimes, it’s even more fun to make stuff up.
Now I’m curious: What would you say your childhood role was in your family? Do you think it fit how you felt about yourself? And does your family still see you that way today?