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Q&A with Sarah Pekkanen - Gone Tonight


Gone Tonight

By Megan Coote


We are thrilled to welcome Sarah Pekkanen to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release Gone Tonight, released on the 1st of August 2023.


Catherine Sterling thinks she knows her mother. Ruth Sterling is quiet, hardworking, and lives for her daughter. All her life, it's been just the two of them against the world. But now, Catherine is ready to spread her wings, move from home, and begin a new career. And Ruth Sterling will do anything to prevent that from happening.


Ruth Sterling thinks she knows her daughter. Catherine would never rebel, would never question anything about her mother's past or background. But when Ruth's desperate quest to keep her daughter by her side begins to reveal cracks in Ruth's carefully-constructed world, both mother and daughter begin a dance of deception.


Gone Tonight

Firstly I wanted to say how much I enjoyed Gone Tonight. I finished the book in a couple of sittings and I am so excited for everyone else to read it when it’s released in August. The story was unpredictable and unique - where did the first spark of inspiration come from for the concept? Was this a story that you had in mind for a while or a fresh idea?


I’m very happy you loved Gone Tonight! There are so many thrillers out there (some of which I’ve written!) where the threat seems to come from the husband, or neighbor, or friend… but I’ve never read a mother-daughter thriller in which it’s unclear if the danger is coming from one of the women, or from the outside. I also wanted to explore the concept of how mothers completely change identities when their child arrives. It’s almost as if their lives are split into the before and the after - and of course, the only version we truly know of our mothers is in relation to us. In Gone Tonight, it was important for me to build characters well and infuse the storyline not just with tension, but all the other emotions that go into a close relationship as well. As for a spark of inspiration, it came from my grandmother Lucille Pekkanen, who dropped out of high school and worked as a waitress into her 70s, just like my character Ruth Sterling. My grandmother was a fiercely protective and devoted mother, and she was ambitious for her children, in the hopes that they would have an easier life than she did.


I would love to write a book myself one day. For all the aspiring novelists out there do you have any top tips? And do you have a standard writing routine that helps you focus?


The best tip I have is this: Try to write a page a day. If you do, you’ll have a draft of your book in a year. I love cheering on aspiring writers, because I remember so well what it was like when I was composing pages and doubting myself and wondering if my books would ever be published.


My routine switches up depending on the book, but for Gone Tonight, I’d awaken at 4 or 5 a.m. and go downstairs to the couch to curl up with my dog and laptop. I thought about this story nearly every waking minute. And - this was the first time this ever happened to me - I dreamt I was inside a scene, talking to Ruth and her daughter Catherine!


Coming off the back of writing The Golden Couple in collaboration with Greer Hendricks did you find it hard to go back to a solo project?


Not at all, because I’ve written eight solo books! Gone Tonight is my thirteenth novel, and my first solo thriller. I enjoy all forms of writing - whether it’s cowriting, writing alone, or working on books, short stories, or screenplays. The main difference is when I’m writing alone, my thoughts flow into my fingertips; it’s a very internal process. When I’m cowriting, I need to articulate my thoughts and discuss a scene before writing - so there’s an extra step in the process.


I love the dual perspective approach in novels as this gives you the chance to see different characters perspectives and motivations. In Gone Tonight you alternate between Catherine and Ruth’s perspective. Did you prefer writing for one character over the other and which of the two women did you find yourself relating to more?


I absolutely loved writing both characters. I always say it’s like picking a favorite kid - you simply can’t. Each character has her own flaws and challenges and quirks and lovely traits. Once you get to know them as a writer, and fully understand them, you’re always rooting for them - even when they do things that seem dangerous or ill-informed.


The plot was very unpredictable. Did you have Catherine and Ruth’s endings planned right from the start or did both characters reveal themselves to you as you were writing?


Both! I have a general sense of where I’m going when I’m writing a book, and I typically now write a five-page synopsis before I start a new manuscript. But the magical and best moments in writing come when your characters surprise you, and the book twists and turns in ways you hadn’t planned.


At one point during the book Ruth is watching a true crime documentary. Do you watch much true crime yourself and do you ever take inspiration from real life cases?


I don’t watch much true crime, but I do read some. I have not specifically been inspired by a real life case, but your question makes me realize there are some great possibilities there - and I will begin watching more!


A topic which comes up throughout the book is Alzheimer’s. How did you set about researching this to ensure accuracy?


As a former reporter, I love digging into research. So I read up on the topic, devouring books like STILL ALICE, and had long conversations with friends who have parents afflicted with Alzheimer’s, and went to chat rooms to listen to what caregivers were saying about the cruel disease and how it manifested in different individuals. It was very important to me to not only get the details right, but to make sure my characters in the Memory Ward were treated with dignity and compassion by me.

The ending did tie everything up nicely but still left me wondering what’s next for the characters - is their room for a sequel or do you prefer to stick with stand-alone novels?


I generally prefer stand-alones, but I grew so attached to Ruth and Catherine that I deliberately left the door cracked open in case I want to write a sequel someday.


What is your current read and do you have any all-time favourite books and authors that you would recommend?


I’m about to dive into Demon Copperhead and as for my favorites, I adore Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Sally Hepworth, Jennifer Weiner, Karin Slaughter, and far too many others to name!


Gone Tonight

SARAH PEKKANEN is the #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of four novels of suspense including The Golden Couple and The Wife Between Us, and the solo author of the thriller Gone Tonight. A passionate volunteer for rescue animals, she serves as an Ambassador for RRSA India and works hands-on in India to heal and vaccinate street dogs. She lives just outside of Washington, D.C., with her family.


Sarah's Instagram: @sarahpekkanen



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