Hey Folks, it is time for another Book Review (it is the week of reviews, what can I say?). Today I am so excited to finally talk about Sarah Pekkanen's new one, These Girls. I loved it. I previously reviewed her first two novels and I can honestly say this one is her best. She just gets better and better.
Now I do not like to give away plot points. As a librarian, that idea makes me nuts. However, what good is a review without some plotting?
Cate and Renee are roommates who both work in the fast-paced, cutthroat world of women's magazines. Both of their careers seem to be on the right track, but each woman struggles with something she feels would ruin her. For Cate, it is a secret from her past that really could end her career, and the stress of it undermines her confidence and puts up barriers in her relationships. For Renee, it is something more obvious, yet just as difficult. Unlike seemingly all of New York, the successful elite, at least, Renee is not a tiny size 2. She is a healthy, curvy weight, but as a rising beauty editor, she feels her size could jeopardize her career. Again, confidence is her enemy and she takes drastic steps to conform to her idea of beauty.
Cate and Renee's lives are also shaken by the addition of a new roommate. Abby is the sister of Renee's crush, the devastatingly handsome Trey. Once a grounded, happy graduate student and live-in nanny, Abby appears on Trey's doorstep, sobbing and lost. As Trey's job takes him out of town, Abby moves in with Cate and Renee. In the act of caring for the wounded Abby, Cate and Renee become closer and begin to reach resolution in their own struggles.
Pekkanen's These Girls is masterfully crafted. While my poor summary of the plot makes it sound like just another New York novel, that is just my inadequate descriptive skills. The characters are so real, so relatable that I felt the stress of their struggles, and the joy of their triumphs. They could easily of been friends. I was completely drawn into their lives (to the point that when I misplaced the book on a trip I felt mildly panicked!) I highly recommend this book!
As part of her blog tour, Sarah graciously answered some questions for me!
The three main characters in These Girls seem the most real, most relatable of your characters so far. When writing characters that seem so very close to the truth, do you ever have people in your life who feel they were your inspiration, whether true or not, flattering or otherwise? Has that created any unintended conflict in your life and if so, how do you resolve it when you write?
Thank you - I'm so glad you related to Cate, Renee and Abby! As for whether people suspect they're the inspiration for my character, the answer is a resounding yes. One woman told me she thought I'd based a character named Gary on her husband, because they had the same name. Another friend approached me with wounded eyes to ask if I'd created a character who baked inedible muffins as a message to her (this woman is an amazing cook and I love the muffins she makes!) It's odd, because I never base a character on anyone I know, but people definitely see their reflections in fictional characters, even if no one else recognizes them. I always explain that my characters are pure fiction, and I hope people believe me.
I think every mom/writer is asked this question, but the answer always fascinates me. How do you balance writing with parenting young children?
The kids come first - that's one of my golden rules. The other is that I bring my laptop everywhere; if I'm not carrying it, I feel like I'm missing a limb. And whenever I get a little pocket of time - say, in the waiting room at the orthodontist's office - I write. I just turned in my 4th book and was under the tightest deadline of my life; I only had about 6 months to write. So twice, I checked myself into a local hotel for one night. I did nothing but hunch over my laptop for 24 hours, and I got so much done! Plus, getting to sleep through the night without small people climbing into bed with me and kicking me in the head was blissful.
In Skipping a Beat, the female protagonist, Julia, has a scary encounter with a man that could have gone very badly. You have mentioned a similar scene from your own life where you saved another woman, a stranger, from an attacker. Can you tell us about this moment and how or if it has helped you define who you are and/or impacted your writing?
Wow, I'm impressed that you remembered! I was in college, walking home with a friend one evening. And we looked down the alleyway next to our building and saw a guy wrestling with a girl. My first instinct was that something was wrong, but then I quickly overrode that thought and told myself she must be joking around with her boyfriend (bystanders often convince themselves what they're seeing isn't actually real - it's a surprisingly common experience). Still, something prevented me from moving on. A moment later, the girl yelled, "Help!" and I ran toward them, screaming for my friend to go call the police. I hoped the guy would hear, and he'd run away. He looked up as I approached, and froze, and the woman got in a good kick, and he stumbled away. So really, she saved herself - I just assisted her. The experience stayed with me, and a few years later I became a rape crisis counselor and went to hospitals and police stations to provide support to survivors. I prefer the term "survivor" to "victim," because rapists have the potential to murder. Anyone who lives through a rape made the best, smartest possible choices during the attack - whether they fought or submitted - because those choices allowed them to live.
How has social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) affected your writing/career?
I adore social media! I go on Facebook and Twitter (@sarahpekkanen) every day and involve my readers in every step of my publishing process. The other day I was stuck for a book title for my fourth manuscript and a reader suggested a song by Billy Joel, and in those lyrics I found a title (THE BEST OF US) that my editor really liked! It may not end up on my final book cover, but for now it's the official place holder. And I'm sending that reader a signed advanced galley of my book the moment I receive one. I've had people on Facebook help me name characters, too, and Facebook is the first place I go when I have news to share (well, I do call my husband first. So Facebook is the second place I go!) Please find me on Facebook if you haven't already!
And now the question you have expected (because I asked you on Twitter): How has your writing process evolved over the course of your career?
I've studied plotting pretty carefully, since it was my weak point, and I designed a broad outline for The Opposite of Me, my first book. For my second one, Skipping A Beat, I outlined even more carefully. These Girls was the first novel I ever wrote on deadline, and that made me nervous because even though I don't get blocked, I wanted to be sure I turned in my book on time. So I plotted out this novel in minute detail before writing a single word. I bought index cards in different colors - yellow for Renee, rose-colored for Cate, and blue for Abby, because for me, each of those colors conjured up something essential I wanted to convey for my characters. I detailed my scenes on the cards before spreading them out on my dining room table. By the time my table was completely covered, I had the bones of my book in place, and I felt a lot more confident about writing! But for my fourth book, which I just turned in - the working title is THE BEST OF YOU - I veered in a completely new direction. I trusted that I'd absorbed the fundamentals of writing a book, and I didn't plot out much at all! Instead, I was constantly surprised by the things my characters did and said. It was a really neat experience, and it made me realize that there might not be one perfect process for me as an author. I have to do new things and stretch and grow - and that's also the beauty of this job.
Thanks so much for having me today!
SKIPPING A BEAT ~ "Top 10 Titles to Pick Up Now" - O, the Oprah Magazine
THE OPPOSITE OF ME ~ "Engaging, fresh" - People magazine
THESE GIRLS (coming April '12) ~ "Bittersweet, laugh-out-loud funny, and painfully real"- NYT bestseller Jodi Picoult
Thanks, Sarah! (isn't she awesome?!?) Now everyone go out there and read These Girls!