Author Mary Hogan calls “Two Sisters” her “unintentional novel.” Her publisher has labeled it her “debut” novel, despite the fact that Ms. Hogan has published seven young adult novels before this.
Whatever the description, Ms. Hogan’s talk at the Shelter Island Library’s Friday Night Dialogues on June 20, at 7 p.m., will be introduced by none other than Island funny man Bill Persky. It will have you laughing, and perhaps crying, as she tells a story of families, sisters and the power of secrets.
The “unintentional” part is easy to explain. “I set out to write a completely different book,” as Ms. Hogan recalls. “After my teen books, I wanted to write a sassy “chick lit” novel. A beach read.” Tentatively titled “Old Maid in America,” it was about a single, thirty-something New York woman, sick of the dating scene, who ventures into heartland America to find a husband.
“It had ‘Lifetime Original Movie’ written all over it,” the author recalled.
A phone call from her brother-in-law in California saying that her sister had died derailed her sassy beach read.
“I remember thinking ‘How?’” she said. “But, of course, I knew. Diane had breast cancer for eight years. Whenever I asked how she was doing, she’d say, ‘Fine.’ I know it sounds crazy that a family member could hide something as big as the final stages of terminal cancer, but Diane did. I saw my sister a few months before she died and never even noticed how sick she looked. Denial, I now see, is a cataract — it blinds you to the truth that’s in front of your face. I felt terrible guilt about not seeing. What kind of horrible sister had I been that my only sister would choose to die without saying goodbye?”
After her sister’s funeral, the thought of writing her chick lit novel felt unbearably stupid. Who cares about finding a husband when people up and die on you? So “Old Maid” was shelved and instead, a story emerged about two sisters who couldn’t be more different. A story, Ms. Hogan emphasizes, that is not about death but about the destructive power of family secrets.
The “debut” description, however, still puzzles her. “I bring this up only to answer the question that’s probably on everyone’s mind: Debut? Isn’t she a bit long in the tooth to be a debutante?” she asked.
Come laugh with Ms. Hogan and Mr. Persky at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 20. Admission is open to all and donations gladly accepted.
Next up: Members of the American Red Cross will discuss Long Island hurricane preparedness, “Be Red Cross Ready,” on Friday, June 27.