Insightful Maryland novelist – and mother of three boys – Sarah Pekkanen creates breathtaking fiction in her witty, weepy take on contemporary marriage, Skipping a Beat. Having made the O “Pick it up Now” list, and been described as “original, soulful and engaging” by no less than Something Borowed author Emily Giffin, this novel should not to be skipped.
Thelma: How old were you when you came out of the closet as a writer?
Sarah: I began to write books and send them off to publishers in elementary school. I still have a few of those old books, written on three-ring-binder paper and tied up with red yarn. I think my masterwork is The Lost Gold, which is pretty much a rip-off of the Nancy Drew mysteries. I was in awe of Nancy and her speedy little roadster.
T: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
S: Probably a teacher. I’ve always been drawn to kids, because they say the most outrageous things, and they have a completely fresh way of looking at the world.
T: OK, every one always wants to know: How long did it take to write this novel?
S: Skipping a Beat took about a year, and I popped out a baby (my third son) mid-way through the writing. He slept on my chest while I wrote many a chapter.
T: Rate on a 1-10 scale how much of your writing is done with an eye to earning money (vs for The sake of The Art or for its own sake)?
S: 1 AND 10. Half of my brain is devoted to the business side of publishing, and half to the craft of writing. I don’t write certain books because I think they’ll sell well – I can’t imagine any author being able to do that – but I do market my books with the intention of having them sell. So that means hiring an outside publicist to help supplement my publisher’s efforts, doing blog tours, and holding giveaways on Facebook to thank my readers.
T: What’s your process? Morning or evening? Quiet or distracted? Computer or long-hand? How has this changed since your children were born?
S: I don’t have a set process – I write in little snatches of time as well as big spaces. Right now, I’m typing this on my laptop from the front seat of our minivan (the passenger’s side) while we drive to Pennsylvania for the weekend. In an ideal world, I’d wake up early and pound out a thousand words with my first cup of coffee, but I have three young kids, which means there are Rice Krispies to be poured in the morning. So I write when they’re at school, when my little one is napping, when I have a babysitter, when I’m the first one in the house awake, and sometimes, at night. Though I greatly prefer watching bad reality TV shows.
ABOUT THIS BOOK:
T: Do you outline?
S: I had only a very rough outline for my first novel, The Opposite of Me – a few lines scrawled in a notebook. For Skipping a Beat, I outlined more extensively. And for my third book, which I just turned in, I had about forty-five color-coded index cards filled with plot points. I deviated from my outline for all three books, but I liked having the guide in place in case I needed it.
T: Did you start out with the same title? If not, what were the others?
S: Nooooo…I am the WORST at titles! My editor used to ask for my thoughts on titles, and I’d toss out a few clunkers. She’d write back something cheerful, like, “Hmmm…these need just a bit of work!” and then she’d title the books herself, usually out of self-defense. I still don’t have a title for my third book. I seem to have a mental block!
T: Did you get stuck at all as you wrote it? If so, how did you break through? What are your techniques for writers’ block in general?
S: I do get stuck at times, and I’ve learned that it means something isn’t working. I have to go back through my completed pages and figure out where I’ve veered off track. For example, the book I just finished is the story of three very different women who become roommates in New York City. The book is told from their alternating points of view, but about half-way through the writing of it, I got stuck. Finally I realized that one of the women wasn’t as well developed as the other two. I needed to flesh out her character and her conflict before I could get to the second half of the book.
T: What’s the most useful piece of advice you ever received about writing? And about marketing and selling your book?
S: I’m a former journalist and I tend to research everything. So, even before I sold my first book to a publisher, I knew that succeeding as an author is very, very difficult these days. Most books don’t earn back their advances. I can’t remember where I read it, but someone recommended hiring an outside publicist, and that was the best piece of advice I’ve received about marketing and selling.
T: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
S: Flying would be really fun. Plus then I’d never have to step on an airplane. I get so nervous when I fly that I have to pop a Valium, and then I end up snoozing against the shoulders of random strangers. They just love that.
T: What’s your go-to guilty pleasure read?
S: I don’t feel guilty about it, because it’s so delicious – Bridget Jones’ Diary. It’s so witty, sharp, and just plain brilliant.