American journalist Sarah Pekkanen’s debut novel The Opposite of Me received rave reviews. Her second novel Skipping a Beat was released early in 2011. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three sons. You can find out more at her website www.sarahpekkanen.com. (Update interview by Jencey Gortney/original interview by Annmarie Ottman)Interviewee A to Z
What kind of ideas appeal to you when picking a subject for a book?
I didn’t realize this until my publisher pointed it out, but I’ve been writing about all the important relationships in a woman’s life – my first book was about sisterhood, my second about marriage, and my new book - which is titled These Girls and will be out next April – is about friends.
Can you tell us more about your third book?
Yes! It’s about three women who become unlikely roommates in New York. Two of them work in the world of glossy magazines, and the third has just left her hometown to flee to a new city. Each of them has a secret.
Do you have a writing partner that you share material with?
I don’t have one, but my agent reads my books and gives me good feedback. I also ask a few trusted friends to critique my books during my early drafts.
What book do you see yourself escaping in over summer?
My agent represents a terrific thriller writer named Karin Slaughter, and she just told me she’s sending over a copy of Karin’s new book, Fallen. So I can’t wait to dive into that.
What inspired you to use opera in Skipping a Beat?
One of the things I love about writing fiction is the chance to learn about new worlds. I’ve heard a few operas, and wanted to know more. So I thought by having my main character, Julia, be obsessed with opera, I’d get the chance to research it and weave my new knowledge into my book. I loved the idea of having Julia see bits and pieces of her own life being played out on stage as she hears the world’s great operas, and I loved listening to opera music while I wrote Skipping a Beat.
What are some of your hobbies?
I don’t have many – since I have three young kids and am writing a book a year, I try to focus on family and work. I do love to read, and I adore reality TV. And there are few things better than going out with a girlfriend and talking and laughing over a bottle of wine.
Tell us about your upcoming novel Skipping a Beat.
I'd love to! Here is the summary: Julia and Michael met as high school students in their small, poverty-stricken West Virginia town. Both products of difficult childhoods – Julia’s father is a compulsive gambler and Michael’s mother abandoned his family when he was a young boy – they find a sense of safety and mutual understanding in each other. Shortly after graduation they flee West Virginia to start afresh. Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarified life in their multi-million-dollar Washington, D.C. home. From the outside it all looks perfect – Julia has become a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has launched a wildly successful flavored water company worth $70 million. But one day Michael stands up at the head of the table in his company's boardroom – then silently crashes to the floor. More than four minutes later, a portable defibrillator manages to jump-start his heart. Yet what happened to Michael during those lost minutes forever changes him. Money is meaningless to him now – and he wants to give it all away to charity. A prenuptial agreement that Julia insisted upon back when Michael's company was still struggling means she has no claim to his fortune, and now she must decide: should she walk away from the man she once adored, but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his near-death experience – or should she give in to her husband's pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life?
What inspired you to write your debut novel The Opposite of Me?
Growing up, I always wanted a sister and I imagined that if I had one, she'd be my best friends. We'd enjoy the same things and be completely compatible. Then I began realizing that my friends had much more complicated relationships with their sisters - and suddenly I wondered, what if I had a sister and we were nothing alike? How would that shape us as people? I sat down to write, and nine months later, I finished The Opposite of Me.
Which sister are you more like, Alex or Lindsey?
I think I relate more to Lindsey, although she's a workaholic and I'm inordinately fond of reality TV! Like many of us in our 20s and 30s, Lindsey is still figuring out who she is - and who she wants to be.
How did you get author Jennifer Weiner behind your first novel?
It was all luck and the natural generosity of Jen Weiner! Jen and I have the same editor, the amazing Greer Hendricks, and Greer sent Jen an early copy of The Opposite of Me. Jen read it and liked it, and came up with the idea of giving away signed copies of her novels to every single person who pre-ordered my book. This took my breath away - and shocked everyone in publishing. Jen single-handedly pushed my book through the top 100 on Amazon and spent weeks signing and sending off books, all at her own expense. She wanted to help out a new author, and I will forever be grateful and in awe of her. I got to meet her a few months later, and she's every bit as nice and funny in person as she is in her books!
I loved hearing how you got your first literary agent. Can you share the story with our readers?
I tell the full story on this audio: http://sarahpekkanen.comimages/audio-clip-TheAgent4-3-10.mp3
What is your advice to aspiring authors?
Write a page a day and you'll have your book finished in a year. Sometimes it seems overwhelming to think about writing an entire book, but a page is manageable.
What did you do on the day of your book release?
I was standing in front of Barnes & Noble when the doors opened, and I rushed inside to see my book. I almost cried. I kept lurking around it, waiting to see if anyone bought it! Later that night I went back to Barnes & Noble to have my first-ever booksigning. Lots of friends and family members came, and we all went out for chocolate martinis afterwards. I wore new shoes, of course, and even had my make-up professionally done!
What has been the biggest lesson you've learned through publishing your first book?
Writing requires creativity, but publishing is a business. It's important to learn as much as possible about it. And always be thankful – because this is a dream job.
Who are your favourite authors?
Jen Weiner, Jen Weiner, Jen Weiner (even before she did the giveaway!) I adore every word she has ever written, starting with her first book, Good In Bed.
Which book do you wish you had written?
Pride & Prejudice.
What's the best and worst thing about being an author?
There aren't any really bad parts, other than the self-doubt I feel on days when the words come slowly and look all wrong on the page. But there are so many good parts - having a flexible schedule, tweaking a paragraph until it sings, and getting to work on my pyjamas!
What is your favourite memory from your days working as a political reporter?
I spent a year investigating the tangled finances of a very corrupt congresswoman from Detroit, and felt great satisfaction when the House Ethics Committee and US Justice Department launched investigations into her activities. She would do things like set up scholarship funds for poor kids in Detroit, then use the donations to go shopping. She is no longer serving in Congress, I'm happy to say.
Out of all of the international covers of The Opposite of Me, which is your favourite and why?
I love the Italian cover. It's bold and striking and I like the way the pink and black look together.
What are you working on now?
I have a new two-book contract, so I'm deep into writing my third novel, which is about three very different women who become roommates in New York. I'm having a lot of fun with it, and hope it will be on shelves in the spring of 2012.