Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Q&A with novelist Sarah Pekkanen

Sarah Pekkanen
Sarah Pekkanen is the author of three novels, The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, and These Girls.

Q: How do you create your characters, and do you have a favorite among them?

A: I can't write a book until I really understand my characters - I took a lot of psychology classes in college, and I'm interested in learning what makes people tick. So I need to know what they look like, what they sound like, what problems they are facing... slowly, as I consider these questions, the characters become three-dimensional to me. But I can't ever pick a favorite. I have a soft spot for all of them!

Q: Your novels have been described as "women's fiction." Do you agree with that description?

A: I don't get too hung up on categories - I've heard my books described as "beach reads" and "chick lit" too, and it's fine with me. I share a publisher with Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, and my books often get classified in the same genre as theirs, which is a huge compliment. But as far as categories go, I'm much more concerned about what's between the pages!

Q: How has your background in journalism affected your writing? Did you get any of the ideas for your novels from stories you covered?

A: My journalism training definitely comes into play when I sit down to write a novel. I usually pick some topic I know nothing about, and I do a lot of reporting on it to weave realistic details into my books. For example, for my second novel - Skipping A Beat - I decided to have my main character create a start-up beverage company. I interviewed the founder of Honest Tea twice in his office to learn about how someone could do that.

Q: You've also written e-stories. How does that process compare with writing longer books, and will you continue with short stories too?

A: Right now, I'm writing one novel every year and one short e-story every year, and I enjoy both processes (well, when I'm not wanting to toss my computer out the window). The challenge with my e-stories is that they are all linked, whereas my novels are stand alones, with a group of fresh characters coming in for each new book. My e-stories need to fit together, and enhance each other, yet also be a satisfying read if you end up buying just one. I'm definitely going to continue writing e-stories, and actually have a new one titled "Beginning Again" coming out Nov. 27. Eventually, I think the plan is to compile the e-stories and turn them into a book.

Q: When will your next book be out, and what can you tell us about it?

A: My fourth novel, The Best of Us, will be out April 9. I just finished giving it a final read before it goes to press, and it was a little surreal, because I was hunkered down in my basement, riding out Sandy, reading about my characters - who were in Jamaica on vacation, hunkered down as a hurricane hit the island. Here's the description:

An all-expense paid week at a luxury villa in Jamaica – it’s the invitation of a lifetime for a group of old college friends. All four women are desperate not just for a reunion, but for an escape: Tina is drowning under the demands of mothering four young children. Allie is shattered by the news that a genetic illness runs in her family. Savannah is carrying the secret of her husband’s infidelity. And finally, there’s Pauline, who spares no expense to throw her wealthy husband an unforgettable 35th birthday celebration, hoping it will gloss over the cracks already splitting apart their new marriage.

Languid hours on a private beach, gourmet dinners, and late nights of drinking kick off an idyllic week for the women and their husbands. But as a powerful hurricane bears down on the island, turmoil swirls inside the villa, forcing each of the women to re-evaluate everything she knows about her friends – and herself.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Although I dream of going away to a secluded beach cottage for a week to write a book, I actually get most of my writing done while chasing around after my three boys. I bring my laptop anywhere and everywhere and pile up the page count at soccer practice, the dentist's waiting room, the line for preschool pick up... it's a little crazy, but it's the only way I can blend writing and motherhood.

Interview with Deborah Kalb

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