Face Time: Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Author Photo -- CREDIT Josephine Sittenfeld

In her new novel, “Sisterland,” best-selling author (and one-time Washingtonian) Curtis Sittenfeld (“Prep,” “American Wife”) follows twin girls with psychic abilities from adolescence to adulthood ($27, Random House). Tensions build when one of the sisters predicts an earthquake in their hometown of St. Louis. Sittenfeld was just in D.C. for a reading, and we caught up with her on the phone.

How did the reading go?
It was the third time I’ve read at Politics and Prose. I wish all of my readings were as great. My older sister lives there, and she came with a bunch of friends. And enough strangers came to make me feel like a legitimate writer.

You lived here for three years. How did that impact your work?
I didn’t write “American Wife” [her novel loosely based on the life of Laura Bush] while I lived in D.C., though I’m not sure I would have written it if I hadn’t spent time there. I probably would have thought I wasn’t qualified to write about it. It’s not like I worked on Capitol Hill, but I would go running and regularly saw the presidential motorcade.

In “Sisterland,” you really capture the adolescent experience, from slumber parties-gone-bad to first loves. How do you write about it so accurately?
I don’t want to say it’s because I still have a 15-year-old girl inside me, but I probably do. I’m a fiction writer, so I like to make things up. I like to try to figure out details that will be really convincing.

“Prep” was influenced by your time in boarding school. Are any parts of “Sisterland” autobiographical?
I’m one of four siblings, and I’m definitely interested in how family relationships change in adult life. I live in St. Louis. And it’s sort of based on a real-life incident: In 1990, a climatologist predicted there would be an earthquake on a certain date. It didn’t come to pass, but it seemed like a really intriguing premise for a novel.

How’s the reception to the book been so far?
I’ve had a few twins tell me I nailed the twin relationship. And after one of my readings, a psychic came up to me and said it was very convincing. It felt like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

What makes “Sisterland” a good summer read?
I feel like you want your beach reads to be at least a little bit juicy, whether that means a little sex or a little conflict. You want it to engross you. It shouldn’t feel like homework.

How would you describe your books to someone who hasn’t read them?
I would say that I write literary fiction, meaning that instead of my books being defined by plot like a thriller, there’s more of a focus on character and language. But I do care about plot, too.

Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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