On Saturday afternoon, January 12, 2019, I attended a book event at the Miller Branch of the Howard Country Library in Maryland. This event was to celebrate the release of Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s second novel together, An Anonymous Girl. If you are a long-time follower of BOLO Books, you no doubt saw my review of both their debut, The Wife Between Us, and more recently, An Anonymous Girl. You could say I was a fan before this event; now that the event is over, you might more accurately call me a fanatic. These two women regaled the crowded room with wonderful information – for both readers and writers – as well as much laughter and a whole lot of heart.
I just wanted to give you a bit of a sense of what this event was like. Hopefully, this will encourage you to attend similar book events in your local area. For my author followers – and I know there are many of you – this is also a look at what really works for live book events and will hopefully serve as inspiration to you as well.
As they began, Sarah Pekkanen gave a brief synopsis of An Anonymous Girl. She gave away nothing that wasn’t included in the official book description, but also didn’t repeat that information which is already available to readers. This was followed by a very short reading done by Greer Hendricks. It was barely a page, but it was perfect to whet the appetite of the audience, leaving them eager to dive into this new book.
Next up was a fascinating discussion of how these two women came to write together. For those that don’t know, Sarah had previously written many “women’s fiction” novels with Greer acting as her editor. Greer had a very successful career as an editor intent on really *knowing* her clients. Because of their connection and various similarities, Sarah and Greer formed a bond that evolved into more friendship than business. When Greer wanted to change directions in her career, she reached out for some advice about writing from Sarah, who almost immediately suggested “Let’s write something together.” Greer, the more cautious of the two, took a bit longer to say “Let’s do it!”
The next question became, what should they write. Both women went to their bookshelves to choose some of their favorite books. Turned out that they both loved psychological suspense. Some of the books they overlapped on included:
S. J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Also on those piles was Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known and Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot.
With these interests in common, they decided they would go in that direction. The first big twist in their debut The Wife Between Us was quickly developed and they were off. But unlike most co-authors, Greer and Sarah didn’t want to write alternating chapters or each take on the duties for a different character – they truly wanted to write “every single line together.” With the help of Google Docs, they found a method that works for them. From 9-4 every work day, they are connected from different states (Sarah in MD; Greer in NYC) via a shared central document and a phone line. With this method, which they can’t analyze too closely, they found something that works for them.
Since this was an event for An Anonymous Girl, they talked a bit about what they wanted to accomplish for this particular novel. They were looking for a sense of immediacy, which comes in the form of the second-person narration (which I pointed out in my review). They also wanted to look at the bizarre relationship that exists between patient and psychologist. Both authors are very interested in psychology and often discuss new developments in the field with each other with an aim towards future book ideas.
During the question and answer portion of the event, I asked about the trope of the unlikeable narrators, something we discuss a lot when it comes to psychological and domestic suspense. Since I find all of Sarah and Greer’s characters to be fairly “likeable” – at least at first, I wanted to know if they set out to intentionally break that mold. They did not. Greer said they are more focused on creating relatable characters, which means that while you might not want to always be their best friend, readers should be able to understand why they are the way they are. They also said that since they didn’t really “study” the genre in-depth before starting this writing venture, they don’t always *know* they are breaking some unwritten “rules.” We all agreed that this was a good thing.
Other audience questions led them to discuss their process a bit more. They often have an idea of what will happen at the end, but as the task of writing changes things in unexpected ways, sometimes it is not always how it turns out when the book is complete. Interestingly, and from my experience listening to other authors, a bit different than in many other cases, Sarah and Greer start with plot and then character develops from that. They have an idea of the story they want to tell and then create the people that will populate it. Of course, Sarah stressed that is a mosaic and that all these pieces come together is some unique way that is impossible to pin down.
Neither author believes in writer’s block. Because their time together is limited, they have to write, inspired or not. They stressed how important a strict adherence to their schedule is. But Sarah did say that she believes what people call writer’s block, is really a symptom of something being wrong in the book, some turn that should not have been made and going back and fixing that will often open up the creative doorway again.
Finally, I just want to mention something Greer and Sarah said that was immediately apparent throughout the entire book event. These are two women who are 100% in each other’s corner. They even say they are “better together” as a motto. Both women are fascinating, but hearing them play off of each other was a true joy and one that I hope each of you gets to experience someday.
This was a wonderful afternoon spent with two amazing women. If you haven’t read their books, I highly recommend them. Both are in development for adaptations: The Wife Between Us for a motion picture with Greer and Sarah writing the screenplay; An Anonymous Girl for a television series. They are hard at work on their third novel – no mention of its themes – so you can bet we will be hearing much more from the powerhouse duo that is Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.