Sarah Pekkanen is more than a pretty face—way more! She’s smart, witty, and determined. She is also one heck of a storyteller. I’m certain many of you have read her work, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you do. And speaking of witty and determined, Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she wrote part of her novel at Chuck E. Cheese. It’s true! I laugh every time I think of it.
Sarah’s latest novel Skipping A Beat will be launching on February 22nd and I can’t wait to read it. To watch her book trailer is enough to be thoroughly hooked. I asked Sarah if she’d have time to stop in at BRAVA, and I’m so glad that she said yes! So please help me welcome the delightful and talented Sarah Pekkanen and read how she found her way to becoming a writer again…
My mother loves to tell the story of the time she kept me out of school so she could bring me into her office for the day. She was in charge of a big meeting, and a constant stream of people kept coming up to her for instructions and advice. My mom later told me she’d exposed me to that day so I would realize women had power in the workplace. She wanted me to know I had the potential to do whatever I wanted.
“When you grow up, do you want to work in an office like me?” she asked as we drove home.
I shook my head firmly. “Nope. I want to stay home and sit on the couch like Daddy.”
My father is a writer, and I figured out early on that it’s a pretty sweet gig.
I began as a newspaper reporter, covering Capitol Hill – an odd choice for a person who has zero interest in politics. All that yelling and favor-trading and posturing! For a peacemaking middle child like myself, it was traumatic. So quietly, on the side, I began to write the kind of feature article I’d always dreamed of penning. It was the story of a congressman from Virginia, whose young daughter had been diagnosed with cancer, and his family’s extraordinary and ultimately successful effort to save her. I spent hours interviewing the congressman’s wife and the little girl’s doctors. My father helped edit the piece before I submitted it to The Washingtonian magazine, and during those hours by his side, I learned more than I did during all of my years reporting on Capitol Hill.
The article was published, and it led me to a dream job at The Baltimore Sun newspaper. They wanted me to write features about ordinary people facing extraordinary situations. For the next eighteen months, I hopscotched the country, reporting on painful but important stories. I wrote about an aimless boy who turned into a hero during the Columbine school shootings, and a female police officer grappling with the aftermath of a car crash – one that she survived, but that claimed the life of her fellow officer and friend. I spent a night in a house that was built atop a graveyard – something the owners discovered after eerie things began happening in the household (it wasn’t the basis for the movie “Poltergeist,” but it could have been).
Then I had a baby boy – a sensitive little guy who refused to take a bottle and cried whenever he left my arms – so I quit the paper to free-lance. Less than two years later, I had another baby boy, and suddenly, I didn’t even have time to shower, let alone write the occasional newspaper article. My husband was working long hours at a new job, and we’d recently moved. Life was pure chaos.
Saying I missed writing doesn’t do the emotion justice. I ached for it. I felt like my best friend had suddenly disappeared, without leaving a forwarding address. But how could I juggle spending as much time as possible with my young boys with an all-consuming journalism job – one that required a long, traffic-snarled daily commute and frequent travel? I couldn’t. But I could reach back into my memory and wrap my hands around an old dream. I could see myself as a child, writing Nancy Drew-style books and short stories on three-ring binder paper and mailing them off to publishers in New York.
So one night when the kids were asleep, I brought a glass of wine to the computer for courage and began to type. A few months later, I had a hundred pages. Then one evening, my family went to visit my husband’s parents for dinner. We came home a few hours later, opened our front door, and stood there in shock as thick gray smoke pored out. Although firefighters managed to save our house, many of our belongings, including our computer, were destroyed.
My family was safe, and even our beloved dog had been out with us, so I couldn’t lament the loss of something as relatively unimportant as my half-finished manuscript. But I was too discouraged to start over. We had to move into a hotel room for a couple of months while our house was repaired and to top it off, my husband contracted pneumonia. Who had time to write? I was scrubbing out sippy cups in the bathtub and racing to the drugstore for medicine and submitting piles of paperwork to our insurance agency. I laughed about it so I wouldn’t cry: Could the fire mean God was an editor, and was telling me what he thought of my book?
A few years later, when my kids began elementary school, I finally had time to unpack the final few boxes of our belongings that had been in storage since the fire. And I discovered a back-up copy of my half-written novel.
It wasn’t bad, I realized.
It wasn’t good enough to get published, but it caught the attention of a literary agent who told me to write something else. So I did. Nine months later, I sent her The Opposite of Me, and she submitted it to editors. She sold my novel about twin sisters who are complete opposites at auction to Atria Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. And a week later, my agent sold the rights in Italy and Holland.
A year later, I’d produced a third baby boy and a new manuscript (and you’d better believe I carried a back-up of it on a zip drive attached to my key chain every time I left the house). Atria bought that novel, too – it’s titled Skipping a Beat– and it will hit stores on February 22. It’s the story of a woman whose husband changes into a completely different man after a sudden medical trauma.
I’ve noticed something about my novels: I’m drawn to telling the stories of women who get chances to step into entirely new lives. And I think I know why the theme resonates with me: I’ve been given that chance, too.
Being published is wonderful, but it’s not the part of my journey that reshaped my life. The real shift began with that glass of chardonnay and the blank screen of my computer, on a night when I took a deep breath and began to move my fingers across the keyboard. It was when I found a way to become a writer again.
Please visit Sarah’s website HERE. And, when you click on “THE BOOKS” at the top of her page, you’ll be able to read a sample chapter and watch the book trailer for Skipping A Beat too!