The Language of Sisters: A Conversation with Cathy Lamb

August 30, 2016 | By | 1 Reply More

nIn Cathy Lamb’s beautiful new novel, The Language of Sisters , she weaves together a tale of family, following sisters, Toni, Valerie, and Ellie Kozlovsky, as they grapple with their family’s past in the Soviet Union and their own futures.

The Kozlovsky sisters find the power of love to carry them through, and readers will be swept along on the journey, too!

The Language of Sisters features such a diverse cast.  How did you pick these women to create?  Who did you have the most fun with?

I am one of three sisters. And, I’ll have to say, so peace can be maintained, and no swords will be wielded, that none of the sisters in my book are based on me or my sisters.  Truly. BUT, I do understand sisters, sister friendships, and sister dynamics. It can be a complicated and semi – crazy relationship.

I wanted each sister in the story to represent something, or many somethings, in women’s life journeys. For example, Valerie is a prosecuting attorney with two kids.  She’s juggling full time work, a demanding career, kids, and a husband.  That’s hard, it’s really tough.

Ellie Kozlovsky owns a business designing pillows.  She’s engaged, but is wrestling with whether or not she wants to be married…at all.  What will marriage give her? What will she have to give up? Does she want to give that up? Marriage asks for compromise and sacrifice. Does she want to do either? Is something wrong with her for not wanting to get married or is it perfectly fine that she is most happy on her own?  Does she want to have kids? Really? Is she allowing society’s messages to push her into marriage?

Toni, through whose eyes the story is told, is struggling with losing someone she loves, which happens to all of us, very unfortunately.  She lives on a yellow tugboat on the Willamette River in Portland, and she’s a reporter for a newspaper. She’s trying to breathe again after her life fell apart. Most of us have been there with Toni– the life falling apart and the trying to breathe again part.

Together the three sisters are part of a huge family, immigrants from Russia, with a ton of quirky and odd members who do quirky and odd things.  They’re funny. They cry. They fight. They laugh. So, it’s sister dynamics, and family dynamics, and all the complexities and laughter therein.

I had a lot of fun writing about the girls’ fiery mother, Svetlana, the Russian restaurant she owns, and how she puts the family’s problems up on the Specials board every night and admonishes her kids through her recipes for all to see.

Are secrets always dangerous?

No. Secrets aren’t always dangerous at all.

I absolutely think that some secrets should be forever kept.

Some secrets are dangerous to keep, obviously, if someone else could get hurt, there’s something illegal blah blah blah. We all know when secrets shouldn’t be kept.

But I also think that almost everyone has secrets.  Why share? What would be the point of sharing? Will it cause someone else pain? Will it wreck a life or relationship? Will it bring in more honesty, more wisdom? Does it need to be shared for comfort, for reassurance? Will it cause someone else great happiness if it’s told?

Ya gotta think of all those things…

In  The Language of Sisters  there’s a whopper of a secret. Where did Dmitry, the adopted brother, come from? No one has wanted to talk about it, no one has been allowed to talk about it. But the secret has followed the Kozlovsky family from the Soviet Union, twenty five years ago, and it’s about to explode. In a good and bad way.

What did you need to learn about tug boats to write about Toni’s unique living arrangements?

Cover The Language of SistersOh, I learned more about tugboats than I thought I would ever need to know. But, most importantly, I went to a tugboat that was being used as a home. It, too, had been remodeled. In fact, Toni’s  yellow tugboat on the Willamette River is much like the one I saw in Portland.  The crew quarters are now a closet. There’s an office that used to be the office for the tugboat captain, the bedroom was expanded, the wheelhouse has been remodeled, etc.

You write beautifully on social media about your own daughters.  What did raising them teach you about creating sisters on the page?

Raising daughters is a lovely privilege.  And it’s tricky. You want to raise independent, strong, courageous, interesting, smart daughters who absolutely will not buy into this dangerous and ridiculous media – based image of what beautiful is.

When I created the three sisters in my book, I wanted them to be as I described above. But I wanted them to be real. I never write characters that are perfect. No one is, my characters aren’t. Really, if I wrote a character who was perfect and had a perfect life, everyone would hate her, right?

The sisters really screw up sometimes. They also love to have fun. They go skinny dipping. They go to a bar and Toni does cart wheels across the stage. They go to family parties and, one time, end up in a bathtub together. There’s a fight on a floor with one cousin over a hair brush, and they sew pillows together.

They survived their dangerous childhood in the Soviet Union.  The sisters stick up for each other.  They’re great friends. They love each other dearly. That’s what I want for my daughters, and my son, that forever love and friendship.

You can keep up with Cathy on:


Twitter: @AuthorCathyLamb

Interview By:

brandithumbnailBrandi Megan Granett is an author and writing coach. Morrow published her first novel, My Intended, in 2000. Her next novel, Triple Love Score, will be published by Wyatt MacKenzie in Fall 2016. Her short fiction appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Folio, Pleiades, and other literary magazines and is collected in the volume, Cars and Other Things That Get Around. She is a proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers and the Women Fiction Writers Association. When she is not writing or teaching or mothering, you will find her on the archery range.

She can be found on Facebook

and Twitter @brandigranett



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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, Interviews

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  1. I look forward to reading this book as I’m always intrigued by the dynamics between sisters in real life (and in books.)
    As a girl with only brothers, I longed for a sister I could whisper to at night in the bedroom, someone who would understand my anger at my parents strict restrictions placed on me and not my brothers… and now as a grown woman, I got the next best thing, I got daughters. 🙂
    This sounds like a great book with intersting characters!

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