Friday was National Siblings day and so I’ve decided to devote my blog post this week to siblings, specifically the roles they play in my books. In many women’s fiction novels, a character’s relationship with her brother or sister is featured as prominently as the love interest. In some cases, the sisters are estranged; in others the sisters are as close as best friends; in other books, there is an underlying competitiveness and so on. Emphasis is often placed on the order in which the siblings were born because, as anyone who has a sibling knows, our younger and older siblings often have a huge impact on our personalities.
In Just Friends with Benefits, there is not much attention paid to Stephanie Cohen’s relationship to her older brother Sam, except that Stephanie feels she somehow disappointed her mother by being single post-thirty while her brother got married and had children in his late twenties.
“Why don’t you try one of those speed dating events?” my mom asked.
“How do you know I haven’t?”
My mom smiled brightly, her sky blue eyes twinkling with hope. “Have you?”
“Probably not.” I looked away before I could witness my mother’s smile fade and her eyes go dull. I figured she was silently lamenting her only daughter’s failure to graduate college and beyond without earning her “MRS.” Sam had done his job getting married nine years ago at the socially acceptable age of twenty-seven.
In A State of Jane, much attention is paid to Jane Frank’s close relationship with her older sister, Claire. Unlike Stephanie, Jane is actively searching for her “soulmate.” But, like Stephanie, Jane’s older sibling is happily married. Jane loves and admires her sister, but at one point, things get very heated between them:
“You have Kevin. You have a baby on the way. Mom likes you better. You have everything and I have nothing.” I blinked away the tears burning the corners of my eyes.
Claire stood up and flung her purse over her shoulder. Facing me, she said, “You must be kidding.”
Sniffling, I looked up at her and said, “No. Not kidding.”
“I think it’s very convenient how you recreate history, Jane. Again, to make it all about you. Who was the one in the gifted and talented classes all through grammar school and junior high while I had to go to the Huntington Learning Center for one-on-one training? Who had a nine-year love affair with practically the first boy she ever kissed while I went to the senior prom with my best gay boyfriend? Who was daddy’s little prodigy while I had to intern at his law firm just to get a little attention? I have everything? Please. Get over yourself. You’ve been single for less than two years of your adult life. Deal with it.”
“This is my apartment and I don’t have to deal with anything.” I stood up and placed my hands on my hips defiantly.
“Then I’m leaving your apartment.” Claire put her coat on and walked to my front door. Turning around to look at me one more time, she said, “No one has the perfect life. No one,” walked out and closed the door behind her.
In Blogger Girl, Kim Long has very little patience for her younger sister, Erin. Probably because Erin idolizes Hannah, Kim’s high school nemesis, despite how Hannah treated Kim. It doesn’t help that Erin sees no reason to hunt for a new job after being laid off, choosing to live a life of leisure while her husband brings home the bacon.
“Anyhoo, you know I don’t read chick lit, but if Hannah wrote it, it’s probably great.”
Normally, I would defend chick lit, especially since Erin read almost all historical romances, which did not exactly qualify as The Great American Novel either, but I was more bothered by the second half of her statement. “The book will be great because Hannah wrote it? Based on what? She wasn’t even in honors English classes in high school and as far as I know, has no writing experience.” She wasn’t in honors English yet managed to get into Brown. Of course she did.
“Well, she majored in fashion design and spent a semester in Paris and her book is about a fashion designer in Paris. Why do you hate her so much? I noticed you guys aren’t Facebook friends.”
Raising my voice, I said, “I don’t hate her, Erin.”
“What? You still upset she made fun of your last name?”
“It was your last name too.”
Yeah, but I’m not really short,” Erin giggled.
“Okay, so I called to wish you a happy birthday and I did. I should get back to work.”
“C’mon Kim, I’m only teasing. It was so long ago. She’s a sweetie now. But anyway, thanks for the birthday wishes. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
Although I doubted Hannah was a “sweetie” now, I didn’t bother to argue the point with Erin. “Sounds good, bye.”
In How Do You Know?, Maggie Piper is an only child. Having grown up sharing a room with her first cousin, Cheryl, she looks up to her like an older sister and values her opinion above almost all others.
“I adore Doug, Mags. He feels like family and always has. But if he’s not the right guy for you, then he’s not the right guy for you. You’ve never been completely certain, so maybe it’s for the best. And remember, I might have married younger than you, but I didn’t have kids until later in my thirties. You have time.”
All I wanted was Cheryl’s blessing and she’s given it to me, along with reassurance I’m not five minutes away from menopause. “Thank you. The lingering doubts suck, though. I wasn’t sure he was the one when we were together and now that we’re not together, I’m not sure he’s not the one. I wish I could see into the future.” I run a hand through my hair and let out a loud sigh. “Argh!”
“Sorry, Magpie. No crystal ball here. There are no guarantees in life. Even the most passionate relationships sometimes fizzle. And sometimes the couples who seem perfect to the outside observer are not what they appear. Life is all about risk. You take a leap of faith and hope for the best.”
My stomach sinks. “So are you saying I should have taken that leap with Doug?”
Cheryl stands up. “This goes beyond you and Doug. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect couple.’ It takes a lot of patience and compromise to maintain a happy relationship for the long haul even under the best of circumstances.”
As you know, my next novel is a follow-up to Blogger Girl. Although I’ve already given you some insight into Kim’s relationship with her younger sister, I’m going to treat you with an excerpt from Novel Girl. As a disclaimer, the excerpt is subject to change during editing:
“I have a great idea!”
“What is it?” I held my breath, allowing myself to believe Erin could really help me.
“Why don’t you ask Hannah for advice on getting an agent?”
I felt my face get hot. “No way!”
“Why not? She’d probably be a good source of information since she’s already experienced everything you’re going through.”
I wondered how many agent rejections Hannah got before Hilary Grossman of Grossman and Gold Literary took her on. I estimated less than ten. I hadn’t queried her yet, even though she had a great reputation and, according to Agent Query—a popular research website for authors seeking representation—she was accepting submissions in chick lit. I didn’t trust how my fragile ego would handle being told by the agent who fell in love with Hannah that “my book didn’t engage her as much as she would have liked” or, worse yet, getting a form rejection. It was one thing to confide my despair over fighting with Nicholas in a moment of weakness, but to voluntarily seek advice from Hannah about publishing? No fucking way. “I’ll think about it.” When a monkey flies out of my ass.
“You do that! Okay, I’ll let you get back to work. Days of our Lives starts in five minutes and I need to throw a load of laundry in the dryer. Gerry threw his boxers in with my delicates!”
My happily unemployed and unencumbered baby sister led such a tortured life. “You better go then. I’ll tell you about me and Nicholas next time.”
I heard Erin suck in her breath. “Wait. What about you and Nicholas?”
“Next time. Kiss kiss.” Before she could respond, I hung up with a satisfied smile. In the future, maybe she’d think twice before interrupting me right as I was about to tell her what was new in my life. But probably not.
And finally, the most important family of all: Mine. I’m the youngest of three girls. In some ways, we live up to the stereotypes of how the youngest, middle, and eldest child is supposed to behave, but in many other ways, our personalities defy these generalizations in a big way. But that’s for another blog…