Many students dabble in writing throughout their years in school, whether it be through English class, writing for the literary magazine or the school newspaper. Sarah Pekkannen, an author living in Bethesda, has always loved writing. She made the transition from occasional student journalist to professional newspaper journalist to freelance writer and finally, to the author of three bestselling novels, with a fourth one to be released April 9.
Below is an interview with Pekkannen, covering topics from life in high school to her experiences as an investigative journalist to her upcoming book.
Q: What is your new book about, and who is the intended audience?
A: My new book is titled The Best of Us, and it’s the story of four friends from college who reunite for a vacation in Jamaica. They stay at a luxury villa and it’s this vacation they all desperately need for one reason or another, but as they arrive they learn there is a hurricane arriving. There is this turmoil that reflects all the turmoil inside each of them, because each have something that they’re dealing with. The intended audience is generally women, from teenagers to older women.
Q: Did you do any writing in high school or college?
A: I went to school at Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC), and I did a little bit of writing for the paper, but not much at all. I went on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but I technically graduated from the University of Maryland. After I graduated, I worked for a bunch of newspapers, including the Baltimore Sun. When I had my first child, I turned to freelance, and after my second child I turned to fiction. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and it was just the form that shifted.
Q: Your bio on your website mentions you worked on Capitol Hill as a journalist. How was that experience? Any funny or memorable stories?
A: One story I am pretty proud of is when I covered a very corrupt congresswoman. She was crazy; she would set up a scholarship fund for impoverished children and use the money to buy mink coats. I investigated her for a year, and she ended up getting booted out of office. There were federal investigations against her. But I felt that Capitol Hill was very combative, and I didn’t like that; it didn’t fit my personality. I love writing about ordinary people, because everyone can relate to that. I like writing about ordinary people who have extraordinary stories to tell.
Q: How has living in Maryland influenced your writing?
A: Our area plays a part in all of my stories. I love working in cameos of places I’ve visited, restaurants I like, playgrounds I’ve brought my children to. All of my characters have a connection to Maryland, including The Best of Us, because two characters are from the D.C. area. My first book, The Opposite of Me, was mostly based in Maryland, but all of my books are connected to Maryland.
Q: Where else do you draw inspiration from for your books? Do you have any particular subjects that you most enjoy writing about?
A: Conversations with friends, things I observe, things I read. Getting ideas for books is like soup; you have a pinch of this, a dash of this, add some conflict, you let it simmer and see what it turns into. I tend to do a lot of research for my books too, probably since I have a background as a journalist.
Q: What is your process or method for writing a book?
A: My process has changed. I usually outline first, but I outline more rigidly when I get strict deadlines for my books. For my third book [These Girls], I had index cards all color-coded, but for The Best of Us, I didn’t really outline it at all, I just let it flow. Understanding the basics is good whether or not you utilize them.
Q: How do you balance being both a mom and a writer?
A: Right now, I am at swim lessons with my three kids, and I just called Domino’s to order dinner. I have my laptop here, and I am working on a book. I just write whenever I have a snatch of time. I really blend the writing into my life.
Q: What was your time at B-CC like?
A: It was good; it’s changed so much, and it’s grown, and the school looks so different now. One of my best memories was being on the field hockey team, and I still remember Churchill always beating us—still a little bitter about that!
Q: Of the books you’ve published so far, which one is your favorite, and why?
A: My editor’s favorite is The Best of Us, and I think it may be mine too. It was just the easiest to write, and I felt more confident about it.
Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring journalists or writers?
A: I would just say write as much as you can. Writing is like exercise, because you have to do it consistently to get the results. Write anywhere, keep journals, write for your school paper, do whatever you can to get the experience.