An Interview with Ellen Meeropol, Author of Her Sister’s Tattoo

What is your novel about?

Her Sister’s Tattoo (Red Hen Press) is about two sisters who are arrested together at an anti-Vietnam War protest in 1968 and are torn apart by the impossible choices they must make—prison or testifying against each other. These choices profoundly affect them, their families, and particularly their daughters, over the next 35 years.

What were your book launch plans pre-Covid? 

I had a lovely book tour planned between April and August, over 30 bookstore events, house parties, radio interviews, book group visits, and library readings. 

Where were you when you heard your book tour/launch was cancelled? 

It has been a gradual understanding of the need to cancel events, kind of a rolling thunder of disappointment.

Are you and your publisher doing anything special/ different to promote your novel? 

We are creating as many virtual readings and gatherings as possible. I’m also writing long-read essays and doing online events, trying to get the word out.

Can you tell us bit about the path to writing and selling your book?

This book has been twenty years in the writing. It started as a short story in 2000 and wouldn’t quit. I’ve put it away multiple times, writing and publishing three other novels. When I finally felt that I got this one right, my editor at Red Hen Press accepted it. 

Do you have any quirky writing rituals? 

Not quirky, but maybe something other writers will identify with. I never know where a book is going, never outline. I write using the Kurt Vonnegut method. He once said that the way you write a novel is to jump off a cliff and develop wings on the way down. I often imagine myself in free-fall, or cartwheeling down a hill.

What was the hardest cut you made from your book, your favorite Dead Darling?

Over twenty years there were a lot of dead darlings, including a whole generation of characters. But the hardest was cutting the frame story, a layer of narrative set in the current day, which my editor felt made the story too long and too complicated. She was right, but oh did that hurt. Luckily, I was able to re-imagine that frame as a short story and it will be published later this spring, but I still mourn it in the novel.

Where can we buy your novel?

The book can be purchased through the publisher here. Or, of course, from your favorite indie bookstore!

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