Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interview with Sarah Pekkanen

I'm happy to share an interview with the fabulous Sarah Pekkanen. I really enjoyed, These Girls and Sarah's insights into the process of writing the book!

These Girls is your third book. What are some of the differences in writing/working on a third novel and what have you learned along the way?

The biggest difference is These Girls is the first book I ever wrote under a deadline. I had a contract for it before I typed a single word, and I felt the tiniest bit anxious about that. Even though I don't get blocked when I write (years of training as a journalist keep me from ever feeling like I can't put words down on a page), I worried a bit about making my deadline. But I turned the novel in two days early! One of the things that helped is I studied plotting very, very carefully and thought through the entire novel before beginning to write. I detailed scenes on index card, using a different color card for every main character (Abby got blue, Renee was yellow, and Cate was rose) and laid all the cards out in order on my dining room table so I could see the structure of These Girls at a glance. I've never done that with a book before, and I think it really helped me see problems before they cropped up 100 pages into my manuscript.

These Girls looks at the tentative formation of female friendship. Why is this a subject you wanted to write about?

I wanted to write a novel celebrating female friendships for a number of reasons: First, it seemed like the natural progression in my books, since all of my novels focus on the important relationships in a woman's life. My first book, The Opposite of Me, is about sisterhood and my second, Skipping a Beat, is about marriage. These Girls, my third novel, is about female friendships, another vital link for women. And because friends are so important to me personally, I was eager to plunge into the creation of three very different women who become roommates in New York City and form an incredible friendship. My novel is told from alternating points of view of Cate, Renee, and Abby, and each of these women is carrying a painful secret. They end up finding the emotional lifelines they need in each other, just when they need it the most.

Which of the girls do you most relate to?

There are bits and pieces of me in all three girls. My characters are never based on anyone I know (even though people have suspected they're the inspiration for them!) but in terms of how I relate to my characters, I"d have to say that I'm probably the most like Cate. She and I both love writing and stories, and we're both pretty driven with regard to work. Sadly, though, I lack her love of exercise! My editor once asked me which character was my favorite, and I had to tell her it was whichever one I was writing at the time!

A lot of women express how difficult it is to form meaningful friendships as adults. Do you have any tips for making friends in your late twenties, early thirties?

It is hard! But my two closest friends now are women I didn't meet until my 30s. One is another writer I went to high school with (Laura Hillenbrand, whose fabulous book Unbroken is soaring atop the bestseller lists) and another if a fellow Mom from my kids' school. Laura and I had our old school connection to reunite us, but with my friend Rachel (who These Girls is dedicated to), I took a chance and invited her out for a drink. I was probably as nervous as a guy asking a girl out on a date for the first time! But she seemed warm and funny and nice, and we'd been sitting in the back of school buses together on field trips and had gotten to know each other a bit. We hit it off like crazy, and now I'm so glad I took that chance. So my advice: if there's a woman who seems friendly, invite her out for coffee or a drink!

These Girls is set in the magazine world. Have you worked there before? What is your favorite magazine?

I interned for The Washingtonian magazine years ago, but never worked for one full-time. But I did get to sneak into the headquarters of a glossy New York-based magazine for research for These Girls! A staff writer took me in one morning before the office opened, and I got an amazing tour and some even better inside information. You can bet some of that worked its way into my novel! My favorite magazine... hmm... for guilty pleasure, nothing beats People. I also like O Magazine because I feel really good when I read it!

Can you give us a tease about your next book?

Sure! I'm thrilled to say my editor called me just this morning to say she'd finished reading my manuscript and really liked the book! I felt so relieved....Here's the description I sent her along with the manuscript:

When a messenger knocks on their doors to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime invitation, a group of friends from college leap at the chance to spend a week at a private villa in Jamaica, celebrating the 35th birthday of one of their old classmates. Tina desperately wants to reclaim the part of herself that is drowning under the demands of mothering four young children. Allie, who has just received some shattering news about a genetic mutation that runs in her biological family, needs to escape from the knowledge that her life might take a sharp turn in a dark, new direction. Then there's Savannah, who discovered private messages on her husband's Blackberry that led to their separation - something she hasn't yet told her friends from college, even though she knows showing up for the vacation without her spouse will force a conversation she isn't ready to have. Rounding out the group is Pauline, who spares no expense to throw her husband an unforgettable birthday celebration, hoping it will gloss over the cracks that have begun to form in their new marriage. Even though the women's lives couldn't be more different, the week begins idyllically, filled with languorous days of soaking in the sun, gourmet dinners, and late nights of drinking and laughter. But as a hurricane approaches the island, turmoil builds within the house, too, forcing each of the women to re-evaluate everything they've known about each other - and themselves.

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