Friday, May 13, 2011

Author Interview: Sarah Strohmeyer

Photobucket Yesterday, I reviewed Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer. Today we are lucky to have her answering some questions for us.

GJR: Was the knowledge of martinis already yours or did you have to do research? And by research I mean, how many did you drink?

SS: Hah! Actually, I’m not a big martini drinker. What happens is I drink one or maybe two and then, suddenly, I realize I need to lie down – now! But, I do have a wonderful friend who’s been my bestie (not beastie!) since age four. She was my maid of honor, etc. and she makes terrific cosmos. So, while I was visiting her in New Jersey while thinking up this book, I turned into the kitchen to find her with a cookbook open to a cosmopolitan recipe and pouring vodka into one of those Pyrex four-cup measures. I just burst out laughing. She said, “What? I’m only following Martha Stewart.” That’s when I realized there’s something about mixing drinks with your girlfriends and being away from your family that’s kind of…liberating.

A lot of the martinis are based on my favorite flavors – ginger, lemon, chocolate. Those flavors also represent moments in our lives – spicy, tangy, sweet. So, I’d try to coordinate the flavors with what the women were going through in Kindred Spirits. Having tasted them all (and dumped about fifty in the sink) I heartily recommend the lemon and ginger. Super! The chocolate raspberry is waaaaay over the top. But for pure punch, nothing beats the old gin + vermouth. I searched for the original recipe and I think I found the classic.

GJR: I know that Kindred Spirits is a very different book from what your fans are used to. Why did you decide to break from your usual writing style for this book?

SS: The truth is my writing was leaning toward a more “mature direction,” as they say. Also, my next door neighbor, Trish, was going through chemo, etc., and I saw a story there of how she relied on her friends and also taught her friends – almost enlightened us – as she bravely met the challenge of cancer with humor, wit and grace. We got something from her and I think she got something from us. What it showed me was that women’s friendships are transcendent, especially as we slide into middle age. We value and nurture each other in surprising, subtle ways. We support with steadfastness. We diminish the pain and emphasize the glory. True women friendships are powerful and magical and very private. I tried to capture that in Kindred Spirits. That said, I’m looking forward to writing something totally lighthearted from now on.

GJR: I found pieces of myself in all 4 of the women. Who did you see yourself reflected in?

SS: Me, too. I related the most to Mary Kay because I’m horribly impulsive, a kind of love before you leap person. But, like Beth, I can be troubled by insecurities and doubts and financial worries. Carol’s a workaholic and so am I, unfortunately, and, like Carol, the PTA meetings, being forced into playing the ideal suburban mother – whatever that is – didn’t work for me. If there’s anything I’ve learned after raising kids in an environment where everyone’s trying to be the Best Mother Possible, it’s that we’re all flawed. We all suck at some part of parenting and that’s okay. Now that our kids are mostly grown, we can look at one another and ask, “Uhm, what were we trying to prove again?” And laugh. Seriously, it’s so refreshing to be out of PTA hell.
GJR: Female friendships aren’t easy. What do you think helps friendships endure over 20+ years?

SS:
That’s a really good question! Mostly, I think it’s acceptance. You just accept that you’re going to love one another and be there for each other until the end of time. You might not call every day/week/month, whatever. You might miss the kids’ birthdays. But it’s understood that in an emergency you’d drop everything to go to her and vice versa. I also think that, like marriage, you have to work at it. You have to try to get together and carve out time just for your friends. It’s hard for women because there are so many other demands on us and being with your girlfriends seems almost selfish. But it’s important. So important, that after my mother died, her ashes were mixed in a church planter where her good friends were also buried. My father’s ashes were scattered in a river in Alaska. I thought that said volumes.

GJR: I know that this book is very personal for you and that you lost a dear friend recently to cancer. What can you tell us about Trish that made her so special? What did she mean to you?

SS: Trish and I weren’t really close until she got sick. In fact, as my next door neighbor, she set my teeth on edge with off-the cuff remarks about how great her kids were or how small my house was, that sort of thing. It wasn’t until I started driving her to chemo sessions – and she started relying on me – that I understood her humor and came to appreciate her feistiness. A school psychologist with a PhD, Trish chose to work in one of the tougher school systems where she found unique ways to reach troubled children. She would sashay into chemo and brighten the whole place with her sass. I came not only to admire her, but to love her dearly and when she lay dying on Christmas Eve, I brought my quilt into the hospital and covered her thin little body and assured her everything would be okay. And everything WILL be okay with her husband and three kids because she trained them well, she gradually eased them – and us – into accepting that life is short and some of us go now and some of us go later but we all go eventually.
I miss her so, so much.

GJR: Being a brand new Sarah Strohmeyer fan, what book(s) of yours would you recommend for me to read next?

SS: I’m so glad you’re a fan! I guess my most popular book is The Cinderella Pact which became the basis of a Lifetime movie called Lying To Be Perfect. Sweet Love is more on the sweet side, about a mother who tries to correct a mistake she made years before by separating her daughter from her true love. My Bubbles Yablonsky mystery series has a loyal and rabid following – unless you’re looking for literary fiction. Jennifer Egan it ain’t – Bon Jovi, Spandex and humor it is.

GJR: What are you currently working?

SS: I’m doing revisions on a young adult novel for Balzer + Bray at Harper Collins entitled Smart Girls Get…Everything which happens to be about smart girls getting, uhm, everything. Having been a smart girl in high school and the mother of a smart girl now in college, I wanted to write the ultimate fantasy for us. It’s been great fun, full of laughs and friendships…..Just wonderful. It should come out next spring.

GJR: When you write do you have to have total quiet or background noise? Has this changed over time?

SS: Having worked as a newspaper reporter for over twenty years before I started writing novels, I was used to background noise. Now, however, I need total quiet. I wrote much of Kindred Spirits while my father was dying (it was a hell of a year) and would have to play white noise through my headphones in the hospital waiting room in order to concentrate.
GJR:What motivates you to write? How do you avoid the dreaded writer’s block?
SS: Well, I think true writers can’t help but write. When I’m not writing, I think about writing. Also, it’s my job – hah! The combination means I spend a lot of time on my butt tapping on the computer. It’s a lot easier than it looks, trust me. Writer’s block is an invention. Don’t pay it any mind. Just write. Write anything. Even if it’s lousy drek, just write it. Like Nora Roberts says, you can fix a bad page. You can’t do anything with a white one. Therefore, on days when it’s like chiseling into concrete and cleaning the bathroom grout is a tempting option, just tell yourself you’re going to bang out 1,500 words and see what happens.

GJR: If you had to only pick one kind of martini to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?

SS:
I think that would be the classic vodka martini. It’s classic for a reason – crisp, clear, no nonsense. It’s been the downfall of many a writer, though, and perhaps the muse. The trick is to know the difference!

Thank you so much;this was fun!

My sincere thanks to Sarah for taking the time out of her schedule to answer our questions.

Kindred Spirits will be released on June 30, 2011



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