[With the hope of offering something different to The Divining Wand, today’s post was submitted by Sarah Pekkanen (Skipping a Beat and The Opposite of Me) whose third novel, These Girls releases on Tuesday, April 10, 2012.
about writing, motherhood, and the magic of female friendships…
Jodi: These Girls explores the nuances of female friendships. How hard was it to create a sense of realism between your main characters – Cate, Renee, and Abby – and how much of that came from your own personal experience in your relationships with female friends?
Sarah: Female friendships are vitally important to me, which is why I dedicated These Girls to my girlfriends, especially one I call my “frister” (a friend who turned into a sister). I’m surrounded by wonderful guys – I have two brothers and three sons – and I adore them. But female friendships nurture and uplift me, and I find them so textured and fascinating, which is why I’m drawn to writing about them. I love it that my girlfriends and I – often aided by a bottle or two of wine – can hopscotch from serious to silly to painful topics during the course of a single conversation, and end the night feeling as if we could’ve talked forever. I drew on all of those emotions while writing These Girls.
Jodi: Your main characters in this book come to reevaluate what’s important in life as they navigate the complications of careers and love. As someone with three young children, and who has enjoyed a bit of success now as a novelist, how do you prioritize what’s important in life? Has this changed as you’ve grown older?
Sarah: I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a little girl. After college, I covered feature stories for The Baltimore Sun newspaper, but when my first son was born, I left that job because it required a long commute and frequent travel. And when I suddenly stopped writing, I felt as if I’d lost a crucial piece of myself. But I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my need to write with my need to be with my children. Then one night after the kids were asleep (by then I had two young boys), I sat down in front of on my computer and began to type. The words poured out of me, and turned into my first novel, The Opposite of Me. I never forget for a moment how lucky I am to have a flexible job that I adore, and it’s fairly easy for me to work in writing time around my kids’ schedules. My family is my priority, but I know I’m a happier – and better – Mom when I’m writing, too.
Jodi: As someone who has twists in books all the time, I get asked about my endings a lot. These Girls, too, has quite a surprise in store for the reader. Did you know it would end this way before you started writing the book, or did that evolve?
Sarah: I love books that contain twists (which is one reason why I’m a big Jodi P. fan!), and I knew even before I wrote the first line of These Girls that it, like my previous two novels, would pack a big surprise at the end. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries and sometimes I even deconstruct them, studying how an author put together pieces of the puzzle and used tension-building techniques like foreshadowing. It’s my hope that readers feel as if my books have the same page-turning quality as a thriller – but with less blood and mayhem, of course!
Jodi: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break into writing as a career?
Sarah: Treat writing like exercise – you need to do it nearly every day to get results. For people who say they’re too busy to write a book, I’d encourage them to search for little windows of time in their day. Maybe wake up half an hour earlier than usual, or carry around a notebook and write a few paragraphs on the bus ride into work. Jodi, I remember that you and I once chatted about how we both wrote in car-pool pick-up lines outside of our kids’ schools because it was one of the few quiet times we could carve out of the day. I’d advise other writers to fight for those little snippets of time, and the page count will pile up, slowly but surely.
Jodi: What is the most bizarre fan encounter you’ve ever had?
Sarah: I love that you asked me this question, because it was the very first question I ever asked you! Years ago, I was writing a newspaper article on strange things that happen to big-name authors at booksignings, and you told me about the time someone asked if you’d ever consider writing non-fiction. You replied that it seemed daunting because one had to be meticulous about getting every single fact straight… and then you brought up James Frey, who got into trouble for making up parts of his memoir A Million Little Pieces. And a few minutes later, the librarian in charge of your booksigning brought over two audience members to meet you: James Frey’s parents. This was during the time when Oprah was eviscerating him, but you merely brought up his situation as an example and didn’t pass judgment or make a joke. I thought it was very classy, and even his parents weren’t bothered by your comment, which says a lot.
So… as for my most bizarre fan encounter, I’d have to say it was the time when my husband and I took our three kids out to dinner at a busy restaurant. One of our sons was very tired and cranky – we later learned he hadn’t eaten lunch at school that day – and while we were waiting for a table, he completely melted down, crying and whining. We quickly left, and then my two-year-old tripped and fell on the sidewalk and he started crying too. So there we were, this hot mess of a family, and suddenly a woman stopped and pointed at me and yelled, “Aren’t you Sarah Pekkanen? I love your writing!” And that remains, to this day, the first and only time I have ever been recognized in public. (And I’m still kicking myself for not answering, “No! I’m J.K. Rowling!”)
“Sarah Pekkanen’s latest celebrates the healing power of female friendship for three very different young women sharing a NYC apartment. At turns bittersweet, laugh-out-loud funny, and painfully real, you’ll wish you could move in with these girls.” —
Announcement: The winner of Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF is: Kim W.. Congratulations! Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and the book will be sent out promptly.