I love joining book clubs when they’re reading and discussing my books, as I learn so much about women and their thoughts, opinions, and feelings through book club visits and call-ins. I’ve learned through the years that I don’t ever truly understand the novel I’ve written until I hear it discussed from the reader’s perspective, and it’s the reader’s opinion that does matter, because what I create has to resonate with readers, or they won’t enjoy what they’ve read, and certainly won’t come back for my next book.
One of the things I was frequently asked this year when doing book club call-ins for the first two Brennan Sisters books, The Good Woman and The Good Daughter, was how did I come up with my Irish-American Brennan family in San Francisco?
My fictional Brennans were inspired by my younger brother’s wife and her family. My brother Rob married a stunning San Francisco girl named Andrea Callen. Andrea’s father is a fourth generation San Franciscan, as well as third generation firefighter, serving the city with his grandfather, uncles, and brothers. Over the years I’ve gotten to know Tom Callen, and I respect his commitment to his family, the San Francisco Fire Department, and his community. Tom’s dedication and passion, coupled with the heroism of the NYC fire fighters on 9/11, made me want to tell a story about good people, people with integrity, strength, and courage. Before I knew it, the fiercely loyal, loving, Brennan family with the four Brennan sisters, sprang to life, and once those sisters started talking, they wouldn’t be quiet.
I always find it interesting how characters are born. Some need a little work—prodding and poking and shaping—while others literally leap onto the page, full formed, with edges, quirks and fierce passions. My Brennan sisters were like that. The oldest, first born, Mary Margaret, the ultimate good girl, responsible for everything and everyone. My fraternal twin sisters, Brianna and Catherine, who are as different as can be but get along quite well, even though Meg and Brianna can’t even be in the same room together. Younger brother Tommy, who also becomes a fire fighter, but over in the East Bay due to hiring quotas, and then the baby sister, Sarah, who is the family beauty and an accomplished athlete.
While I had inspiration for my patriarch, Tom Brennan, The Brennan ‘family’ came to me through the parents—Tom and Marilyn Brennan, and the rest of the family just came from there. I never really know where actual characters come from but once they’re born in my imagination, that’s who they are. I don’t even end up tweaking them a lot. They arrive into my mind as whole, real people, and it’s up to me then to tell their stories to the best of my ability. I didn’t have role models for them. Just those pictures in my head and their conversations…because, as I said, once the Brennan sisters started talking, they wouldn’t shut up.
This was brought home to me quite strongly with Sarah Brennan’s story in The Good Wife. If you’ve read the first two books in the series, you’ve met Sarah already and you know she’s the youngest Brennan, beautiful, smart, and strong. At least that’s who I thought she was until I sat down to write her story. That’s when she had my full attention and showed me her true self. She might be a tough cookie on the outside, but on the inside, she’s vulnerable girl and still madly in love with her husband Boone.
Sarah is the sister who has it all – two beautiful kids and a gorgeous, sexy husband, Boone Walker, a professional baseball player. They have a comfy, well-off lifestyle thanks to Boone’s success but living apart for most of the year, due to Boone’s schedule puts a huge strain on their marriage. Sarah loves her husband fiercely but he made a mistake three years ago that she’s still finding it hard to forgive him for. Now Boone is facing yet another career change and it makes things even more tense for their marriage until Boone gives Sarah an ultimatum. Either get over the past to forgive and forget, or they go their separate ways. Sarah has to decide if her marriage is worth keeping or if it’s time to walk away.
The Good Wife was a hard book to write. I’ve lost count of the number of times I threw whole chapters out or tore them apart again and again so I could get each scene, each conversation right. But all that hard work, all those long hours at the computer were worth it. I fell in love with Sarah and Boone and their determination to make their marriage work. I’ve also introduced another pair of sisters in book and I have to say I love them just as much as I love the Brennan girls.
The entire Brennan family is important to me and I’ve gotten to know them quite well. Now I’m looking forward to hearing how my readers view Sarah Brennan and her tumultuous relationship with Boone! Should you decide to pick up a copy of The Good Wife, do write and let me know what you think!
[Join the conversation below! Each comment counts as an entry to win two of Jane’s novels: The Good Woman and The Good Daughter. Contest ends 9/9/13, 11:59:59pm!]