Author Squared: Eleanor Brown and Sarah Pekkanen
Two Authors chat about writing, books, and everything in between
I'm excited to bring to the second Author Squared to On the Bookcase. On deck are Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and Sarah Pekkanen (Skipping A Beat).
Skip to it, Sisters!
Eleanor: Sarah, what’s the best vacation you've ever taken?
Sarah: My husband and I took a second honeymoon to Montreal when our first two boys were about 3 and 5 years old. We hadn't been away for more than a quick night together in years, and we desperately needed to re-connect. We stayed in this charmingly quirky little hotel, featuring a grumpy parrot that muttered at us while we ate breakfast in the sun room, and we took long walks around the beautiful old city. We had rich strong coffee every morning, crepes for dinner, and spent an afternoon at a tiny little spa, where we luxuriated in side-by-side massages. It was blissfully decadent, and reminded us that we actually liked each other (despite all the squabbles about who forgot to take out the recycling, or whose turn it was to get up at 5:30 with our early-rising child). Then we came home and immediately started bickering again. Kidding!
Since we’re talking about vacations, Eleanor, what three things couldn't you survive without on a desert island (assuming you can't name people)?
Eleanor: Can I cheat and say an e-reader with a wi-fi connection so I’ll never be without something to read? And a pen and limitless paper, both so I could make up stories and send a message in a bottle for someone to come rescue me off the damn island, especially if I can’t take my sweetie and my cat with me.
Oh, and food. I should probably specify food other than coconuts, although I do have a fondness for coconuts. Sarah, while we’re on the subject of food, what would your ideal meal be?
Sarah: I'm a vegetarian (though I do eat some fish) so fresh, organic veggies would have a starring role. I'd love little bites and spoonfuls of a variety of dishes - a few sips of a roasted butternut soup, a tiny green salad with goat cheese and toasted pine nuts and a tangy dressing, and a sampling of fresh, perfectly prepared veggies. Maybe a funky tofu dish - something Asian, with noodles and lemongrass. I'd have to have a glass of crisply sweet white wine, and chocolate would need to be involved for dessert. Maybe a trio of little chocolate dishes - a mousse, a salted caramel drizzled with chocolate, and a tiny scoop of chocolate sorbet. Jeez, am I ever hungry now. Damn you, Eleanor Brown!
Eleanor: Sorry! (Except not really – that meal sounds really good!) I’ve had dinner with you two or three times, and I feel like I didn’t even know you are vegetarian. Am I clueless?
Sarah: No, because I was eating a huge steak at the time. No, not really. I had salmon the first time we went to dinner, and the second time, I’d already eaten, so I had soup. And wine.
Eleanor: I’m so not a foodie, but I keep hearing about salted caramel. Clearly we need to go out to dinner again next time I’m in D.C. so I can try some.
Sarah: We need to stop talking about food! So where and when do you get your best writing done?
Eleanor: I am so jealous of writers who say they have a lovely little office where they spend each morning from precisely 7:30 to 10 am, drinking the same tea in the same cup (now that I’ve said that, I’ll bet five dollars that you’re one of those people and I’ve just put my foot in my mouth, as usual). I have, haven’t I?
Sarah: Nope, and I’m insanely jealous of those people, too. The only thing worse is people who talk about escaping to some pristine retreat where they sit in a little beach cottage and listen to waves crashing down while they write for days and days with no interruptions. So where do you write?
Eleanor: I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants in every way possible, and writing is the same way – it’s more about whether the ideas are flowing, and that seems to happen at any date or time, especially if it’s inconvenient. My muse likes to make my life difficult.
Sarah: My muse is unshaven and surly, and usually hung over.
Eleanor: Did you know how Skipping A Beat was going to end when you started it?
Sarah: Yes. I once heard someone describe the process of writing a book as being similar to taking a road trip with a man. You know where you're going, but you're going to get lost (and not be allowed to ask for directions), you may run out of gas, you'll hit roadblocks, and you'll end up getting pretty pissed off. You'll get there, eventually, but it might not be pretty. That sums up the writing process for me. What about you?
Eleanor: I thought I knew how The Weird Sisters was going to end, and even went so far as to write the last scene soon after the first, but it didn’t work out how I thought it would at all. So I guess my writing process is more like taking a road trip where you get lost on the way and then just decide to permanently move to wherever you end up.
Sarah: What's the strangest/funniest thing that has happened to you as an author?
Eleanor: The whole thing is strange and funny, don’t you think? It’s just so startling that these people and this town that have been living in my head for so many years while I was writing The Weird Sisters are now out in the world and other people talk to me about them. It’s wonderful, but odd!
Sarah, what is the biggest challenge in writing fiction set in the now?
Sarah: Good question - I've never thought about that! For me, historical fiction would be more difficult because it would require extensive research. I was naturally drawn to writing fiction set in the now, just as I decided to write my first two books in the first person, and it wasn't a decision I grappled with. Now, titles, on the other hand - talk about a challenge! Titles are my kryptonite. I'm just terrible at them! My editor has had to title all three of my books.
Eleanor: You’re lucky she’s very good at them! Since we’re both Washington, D.C. area natives, I have to ask, what is your favorite D.C. monument?
Sarah: I love the majesty of the Lincoln Memorial. But there's also a little park in the shadow of the Washington Monument where you can lie on the green grass and watch airplanes take off from National Airport (it's now called Reagan Airport, but the locals still call it National). It's a great place to go and dream.
Eleanor: I agree – Lincoln totally wins the monument contest. I don’t think I’ve been to that park, but can I just say I still get confused when people say Reagan Airport? Growing up in DC, I’m so used to calling it National that it doesn’t seem right to call it anything else.
Sarah: How do you unwind? And please don’t bring up chocolate. I’m begging you.
Eleanor: The things I find most relaxing are working out and reading. Most days I have to push myself to go to the gym, but I know I’ll feel a thousand times better when I’m done.
But nothing, to me, beats diving into a good book. I love it when you’re reading a book so wonderful that the world just floats away and it’s just you and the story. And if I’m in or near some water while I’m reading that, all the better!
Sarah: I loved learning more about you, Eleanor. It’s very cool when an author you truly admire turns out to be a wonderful person.
Eleanor: Awww….and likewise! You already know I am president and founding member of the Sarah Pekkanen fan club, and I’m so happy to know you!
Monuments, chocolate, writing process, and "literary" road trips -- what a great conversation! Thanks so much, Eleanor and Sarah.
P.S. Born in DC and raised in Maryland and now back living in Maryland, I still called it National!