Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Author Interview: Sarah Pekkanen

Photobucket We are so excited to have Sarah Pekkanen featured today, along with her newest book These Girls that released today. Over the last few months I've read all of her books and have found them simply wonderful.

GJR:  These Girls is your third novel and while it didn’t reduce me to sobs like Skipping a Beat, I found that I identified with each of the girls at different points. Who inspired Cate, Renee and Abby? Which character is the closest to who you were in your late 20s?

Sarah Pekkanen (SP): Thank you! My characters aren’t based on anyone I know, but there are bits and pieces of me in each of my characters. I drew on my love for my kids in describing Abby’s scenes as a nanny, and my work ethic corresponds to Cate’s. And Renee struggles with the self-image issues so many women share, but she also likes to connect with friends and laugh (as do I!). My editor asked which was my favorite, and I told her it was whichever character I was writing about at the time. I was probably the most like Cate in my late 20s, since I was working as a journalist, but sadly, I lack her rigorous devotion to exercise.

GJR: Abby’s story is perhaps the most heartbreaking of the three. How many boxes of tissue did you go through writing the scene with her parents? What drove you to move her story in this direction?

SP: For me, Abby was the most extreme example of one of the important themes in the book – that sometimes friends become the family we never had, but desperately need. I literally felt sick to my stomach while writing that scene with her parents, and I dreaded writing it, which has never happened to me before. It surprised me, how deeply upset I became while creating that scene.

GJR: Is there a specific reason that you decided to not reveal Cate’s past to anyone other than your readers?

SP: Cate’s secret was a big deal to her, but I don’t think her friends would have felt it was so shocking. So it was more pivotal for Cate to accept it, than to publicly reveal it.

GJR: How hard was writing that specific ending for Cate? Did you think about doing a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type ending?

SP: I knew Cate’s story had to end that way – it was a strong sense I developed mid-way through the book. When my editor first read the manuscript, she had some concerns about the ending, and we had several conversations about that scene before I finally added a tiny bit of ambiguity and hope for the future. For me, it strengthened the entire book and is a great example of how the author/editor relationship should work – it’s a true collaboration.

GJR: In each of your novels you focus on essential relationships in our lives: sisters, husband & wife, friends. Do the relationships guide the story or does the story guide which relationships you write about?

SP: The relationships guide the story – I’ve been circling around the important relationships in a woman’s life, as you mentioned, and exploring them in turn with each new book. So I start with that – which relationship should I focus on next? – and then develop the plot. 

GJR: Are you currently working on a 4th novel? If yes, what writing stage are you in?

SP: I can hardly believe it, but I just finished my fourth novel! My deadlines for turning in my manuscripts are April 1, which makes the spring a very busy time, since I have a new book coming out then, too. My new manuscript is now in the hands of my editor, and I’m anxiously awaiting her feedback! And of course, since I’m anxiously awaiting reaction to THESE GIRLS, I’m a wreck. Chocolate helps to soothe my nerves, luckily. I may need to move into the Hershey factory.

GJR: You have a young family, how do you find time to write and maintain focus with kids running around? Do you write when they are in bed?

SP: I’m usually too exhausted to write at night, since my youngest is 3 and he wakes up very early, but I grab snatches of time whenever I can and I do write in unorthodox places, like the waiting room of the orthodontist’s office. Now that I have a book-a-year contract, I’ve hired a babysitter to help with my little guy, but my kids go to three different schools, which means a lot of schlepping and different holidays and complicated schedules. Basically, I’ve given up on showering. I wear a lot of baseball hats.

GJR: Do you feel that being a journalist prepared you for being a novelist? If so, how?

SP: Yes, it helped tremendously! The main thing I learned is that I can’t make writing too precious. When you’re assigned a story to fill a hole on page A-23, you’ve got to write it, fast. So I don’t usually get blocked or have trouble putting the words on the page. I also learned to write in noisy newsrooms, with constant interruptions (like the political reporter shouting across the room, “What’s another word for ‘corrupt’?”) which is a good thing, since I now have three boys who don’t exactly tiptoe around the house!  
But I think at first, being trained in non-fiction held me back a bit, because I tended to question myself and limit my plot twists – I’d always think, “Could that really happen?” I had to let my imagination loose and free myself from the restraints of reporting just the facts.

GJR: How do you feel social media has helped publishing and/or reading in general? What about for yourself?

SP: Personally I adore it. I love going on Facebook and twitter and chatting with readers and bloggers and other authors. Since my job is very isolating, it’s a great way to stay connected to people, too. And in think in terms of the broader issue of publishing, social media has been a huge blessing. As we see newspapers and magazines fold and we lose those opportunities for traditional coverage and reviews, it’s amazing to be able to still get out the word about new books on social media. And bloggers have stepped in and become a force in promoting books and alerting readers to new authors, which is incredible.

GJR: You’re having an author get-together aka: a dinner party.  Who’s on the guest   list, which recipe would you grab, and why?

SP: Oh, I’d have to invite Eleanor Brown, because she’s so funny and charming and I adore her, and then I’d throw in J.K. Rowling because I’m curious to see how her mind works, and the reclusive Anne Tyler, who has always been one of my favorite writers. And I wouldn’t cook – are you kidding? I’d order out for Thai food so I could spend the entire time sharing conversation with these amazing women!

Thanks to Sarah for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions.

You see Julie's review of These Girls here.


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