The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Sarah Pekkanen and Skipping a Beat

February 14, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

From the book’s front cover:

“Original, engaging, and soulful.” –EMILY GIFFIN, New York Times Bestselling author of Heart of the Matter

When Sarah Pekkanen debuted with The Opposite of Me last March, she did so by telling a story of twins — undoubtedly the most intense of sibling relationships. For her second novel, Skipping a Beat in bookstores next Tuesday, February 22, 2011, the author chose to examine an even more complicated relationship — marriage.

Of course the storyline is not about just any marriage. Sarah’s idea for the book began with her desire to write about a married couple forced to reexamine their relationship after the husband’s near-death experience. Change is a constant in life, yet in this urgent crisis mode the couple must decide to accept almost immediate changes if their marriage is to survive. That means before moving forward they must look back at the big and small decisions that turned a marriage of love into somewhat of a business partnership. As already mentioned, it’s complicated. However, for a bit of clarification, here’s the synopsis for Skipping a Beat:

What would you do if your husband wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?

Julia Dunhill, a thirty-something party planner, seems to have it all: Married to her high school sweetheart and living in a gorgeous home in Washington D.C., she imagines her future unfolding very much as it has for the past few years, since she and her husband Michael successfully launched their companies. There will be dinner parties to attend, operas to dress up for, and weddings and benefits to organize for her growing list of clients. There will be shopping sprees with her best friend, Isabelle, and inevitably those last five pounds to shed. In her darker moments, she worries that her marriage has dissolved from a true partnership into a façade, but she convinces herself it’s due to the intensity of their careers and fast-paced lifestyle.

So as she arranges the molten chocolate cupcakes for the annual Opera benefit, how can she know that her carefully-constructed world is about to fall apart? That her husband will stand up from the head of the table in his company’s boardroom, open his mouth to speak, and crash to the carpeted floor… all in the amount of time it will take her to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts Michael’s heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man, with an altered perspective on the rarified life they’ve been living and a determination to regain the true intimacy they once shared. Now it is up to Julia to decide — is it worth upending her comfortable world to try to find her way back to the husband she once adored, or should she walk away from this new Michael, who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his change of heart?

The early Praise (see left sidebar) for this novel is wonderful and Emily Giffin’s “Original, engaging, and soulful,” description is spot-on.

Also there is an immediacy, an intimacy to Skipping a Beat that offers a universal appeal to everyone no matter what their relationship status. In fact experience this for yourself by reading an Excerpt of Chapter 1.

That sneak preview alone indicates that Sarah Pekkanen has taken the traditional storyline of a protagonist struggling to grab the brass ring of great job, great love, great home and literally flipped the premise over to a read about someone who already has it all and wonders about now what? Not only is this refreshing but as the author says, “I do like the sense of coming full circle, and of looking at the issue of what we want versus what we need from different perspectives.”

That sentence could well account for the truth that this is much more than Julia’s story, it is also Michael’s. Attracted to and firmly intertwined by their dysfunctional family backgrounds, the young couple dream big and leave home after high school to achieve success. Although only in their mid-30’s at the beginning of the book, their young love appears to have been replaced by the demands of excess and success. Sarah confirms this shift by explaining:

“I definitely wanted to convey that Julia and Michael’s love had been bulldozed by their ambition. Their reasons for craving success and security were understandable, but they took it to an extreme – and their relationship couldn’t survive in the face of their skewed priorities.”

Unless, of course, something enormously overwhelming would shake up their world, forcing them both to reconsider those priorities. Obviously this is the main theme of the book, though not the only one. Understanding one’s own background and how it shapes our decisions and behavior; the powerful influence of friendship, and the healing effects of forgiving someone — all three are relevant and necessary in the telling of Skipping a Beat.

Even more thought-provoking though is that as dramatic and intense as the novel might feel, these themes apply to us all as does the author’s message: “…that love is the most important thing in this world. At a time when there are so many competing demands for our attention, and so many external stressors in life, it’s easy to lose sight of that.”

Sarah Pekkanen had great expectations to live up to after her popular debut. And so she put her heart into effortless, flowing writing and created something very personal. Not that this is Sarah’s story, but all the emotions — sprinkled with wit and humor — resonate with her and she hopes with readers. TRUTH: Skipping a Beat is a Valentine from and about the heart….a book that you’ll love!

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[The Divining Wand sends out heartfelt congratulations to Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and Caroline Leavtitt (Pictures of You) who made the New York Times Bestseller List for the second consecutive week in a row as of February 13, 2011. Brava, ladies!!!]

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Sarah Pekkanen on
Is writing an art or a craft?

February 08, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Are writers literary artists or simply skilled (and talented) individuals who tell stories? In today’s guest post Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me, and Skipping a Beat coming February 22, 2011) asks that provocative question and answers it in regard to herself.]

Is writing an art or a craft?

I’m an author, but I’m not the slightest bit artistic. I don’t paint, dance, sing, or sculpt. My husband chooses the colors for the walls in our house, because if it were up to me, I’d pick Benjamin Moore’s Most Boring Beige. Don’t get me wrong; I love experiencing someone else’s art. I can appreciate Monet’s flowers and Picasso’s quirky lines and Georgia O’Keefe’s erotic flowers. And I love listening to music, anything from opera to Coldplay. I just can’t create it myself.

I don’t consider my writing art, either -it’s pure craft. Writing to me is messy, exhilarating, frustrating, joyful and depressing. The emotions all pile up on each other as I sit down at my keyboard, fighting for dominance like those swirling ping-pong balls at a televised lottery drawing. I never know which one is going to surface first.
It’s the steady, methodical side of my mind that takes control when I’m feeling frenzied and overwhelmed.

“Just write 1,000 words today,” it instructs me. A thousand words is four pages. It seems like a reasonable goal. But I’m not ready yet. First I re-read yesterday’s pages, backspacing over an ill-considered adverb and realizing a character needs one more telling detail to make him come alive. Then I try to drown out the voices in my head – they can be really mean, like a pack of middle-school girls – that tell me my prose is criminally bad, and that what I’m writing will never be published.

“Push on,” my methodical mind whispers reassuringly. “You can always fix it later.”

I get up to make a cup of tea, and think about folding a load of laundry. Sorting socks has never been so appealing. And I really need to exercise more – shouldn’t I go for a jog, then try to write?

But Craft won’t let me get away with procrastinating. It coaxes me back to the keyboard with its simple directive: Four pages. A thousand words. They don’t have to be beautiful. They really don’t even really need to make sense. I just need to pin them down on paper, because if I give in to the excuses, my book will remain unwritten.

If I were an artist, I might depend on a muse. But what would I do if she started sleeping in– or worse, developed mononucleosis? What if her fairy dust suddenly lost its sparkle?

I used to think I’d write a book when I had more time. I imagined myself breezing into the perfect little coffee shop, where, after sipping a steaming espresso, I’d poise my fingers above my laptop’s keyboard and watch as a flawless novel unfurled. I wouldn’t write the whole thing in a single day, of course – it would probably take a few weeks. But as long as the conditions were just so, creative inspiration would emerge, almost like a separate entity, and I’d sit back and watch it go to work.

Huh. I’ve since learned writing, at least for me, doesn’t work that way. I have to write when I’m exhausted. I have to write when I’m grumpy, when I’m bored with writing, and when I’m convinced I’m the worst writer in the entire world. I can’t make writing too… precious, for lack of a better word (and I’m a writer; I really should have a better word), or I’ll never get it done. It’s the equivalent of a runner faithfully getting out there on freezing cold days, on rainy days when every passing car splatters a puddle’s worth of water on her, and on days when her shin splints cry out for mercy. Sure, there will be days when she feels like she’s flying; when the sun is gentle and so is the breeze, and she could run forever. Those golden days exist in writing, too, but I know I’ll never stumble upon them unless I’ve done the gritty, painful training.

That’s why I like Craft. Unlike the muse, it’s no-nonsense; it gets up at 7 a.m., yawning and stretching, then has a solid breakfast of scrambled eggs and black coffee before heading off to battle traffic and curse at the guy who makes a left-hand turn and forces everyone to miss the light. Craft isn’t fussy. No mean middle-school girl would try to mess with Craft’s mind. Craft shows up, gets the job done, then heads home to have a well-deserved Budweiser in front of the television.

Ooh – television. Maybe I should see what’s on before I write?

(Sounds of a struggle as Craft wrestles the remote control out of my hand).

Fine. Craft wins again. Now I’m off to tackle those 1,000 words of my next novel.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Twin’s Daughter AND the entire Sisters 8 Series, including Petal’s Problems in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Lauren Baratz-Logsted and The Twin’s Daughter, Petal’s Problems. PLEASE indicate which book(s) you prefer. As always, comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Further Revealing of Sarah Pekkanen

February 02, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Last March Sarah Pekkanen became a debut author with her wildly popular novel, The Opposite of Me. In less than a year, this author has made her presence/talent known and many (of you) eagerly await Skipping A Beat, Sarah’s second book coming February 22, 2011.

Described by this one sentence question, Skipping A Beat tells a story of:

What would you do if your husband wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?

And the critics praise:

“In this compelling and satisfying read, Pekkanen offers relatable characters that move you and an ending that surprises and pleases. Highly recommended.” Library Journal, *starred review*

“A two-hanky weepy… A tragic turn of events redirects what could have been a predictable romance into a drama on the fragility of love and marriage.” —Kirkus

The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of Skipping A Beat for Monday, February 14, 2011, however — right now — let’s be reminded of the author’s background through her “official” bio:

Sarah Pekkanen’s work has been published in People, The Washington Post, USA Today, The New Republic, The Baltimore Sun, Reader’s Digest, and Washingtonian, among others. She writes a monthly Erma Bombeck type column for Bethesda Magazine, and has been an on-air contributor to NPR and E! Entertainment’s “Gossip Show.” She is the winner of a Dateline award and the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship. Sarah lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband and their three young sons.

Although The Revealing of Sarah Pekkanen provided insight, there is even more to learn about Sarah as she further reveals:

Q: What would you choose as the theme song of your life?
A: “Bless The Broken Road” because I love the message. No one’s life unfolds perfectly, nor should it. We learn from our mistakes and setbacks, and we keep moving forward, toward the place we want to be.

Q: Possible pseudonym?
A: My last name translates to “Peterson” in Finland, so I could be Sara Peterson. My parents spelled my name without an “h” on my birth certificate, but I added one in elementary school. So that’s my alias!

Q: Name three “bests” of being a published author.
A: Meeting so many amazing readers. Some of them have sent me letters about my books, and what the themes have meant to them, and I cherish those notes. I also love chatting and joking around with readeres on Facebook. And seeing my books in stores is such a thrill!

Q: Favorite book release season of the year?
A: I have to go with the cusp of winter and spring, which is when my books come out! It’s a hopeful time – we’re looking ahead to warm weather and flowers. And I think my books are hopeful, so that fits.

Q: If given the opportunity, which reality show would you be on?
A: American Idol. But only if I got a vocal chord transplant; I’m such an awful singer that my kids wail, “Mommmmm!” when I sing along to the radio.

Q: Favorite childhood fairy tale?
A: Cinderella!

Q: What U.S. city would you like to visit that you haven’t been to yet?
A: Savannah is on my dream list. I love the South – the warmth, the accents, the flowers…

Q: Your reward after a day of writing?
A: Hanging out with my family, our rescue lab Bella, and enjoying a cold glass of white wine.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are LEAST important to you?
A: Rigidity, Punctuality, and Skepticism.

Q: An author quote that inspires you?
A: “Writing is easy. Just stare at the computer monitor until blood comes out of your forehead!” (I don’t know who first said this, but it always makes me laugh.)

Q: Where do you like to read?
A: Where don’t I like to read? I read in the car, in bed, in waiting rooms, in lines… you name it. Now that I have a Kindle app for my iPhone, I’m never far from a book.

Q: Book or ebook reader?
A: Both! I’ll take books any way I can get them.

Q: Growing up, who was your teen idol?
A: I had such a crush on Shawn Cassidy! My favorite song was “Da Doo Run Run.” Okay, so the lyrics weren’t all that … lyrical. Shawn was cute!

Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
A: I’d become much more motivated about exercising.

Q: Must love dogs and/or cats?
A: Both – but I’m a dog person. Can’t imagine living without one.

Q: Which author – past or present – would you have chosen as a mentor?
A: Jane Austin. I think she’d be a lot of fun.

Q: What book did you fake reading?
A: I’ve faked a few at bedtime with my kids, when I’m particularly tired and I accidentally “skipped” a few pages.

Q: What is your favorite scent?
A: Lavender.

Q: What is your favorite movie adaptation of a novel?
A: I loved “In Her Shoes.”

Q: Name two books you always give or recommend, knowing they’ll be loved?
A: “Unbroken” by my high-school classmate and dear friend Laura Hillenbrand, and a blank journal, so the recipient can write her own story.

Q: What are five of your favorite things?
A: Assuming I can’t include people, I’ll say books, chocolate, movies, long walks with my rescue lab Bella, and a delicious vegetarian dinner prepared by someone other than myself!

If you have yet to do so, please follow the delightfully outgoing Sarah Pekkanen on Twitter and become a friend on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Caroline Leavitt and Pictures of You. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.