Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Q & A with Sara Hammel

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1.    Did you always dream of being a writer?

Well, when I was young, I thought I already wasa writer because my teachers acted so excited to read my work. But seriously, I was addicted to reading from a young age and that began to inspire me. I absorbed the structure and rhythm of a novel and the peaks and valleys of storytelling, and when it was time for me to start my first book, I was ready.

2.    How did your writing career develop?

I first became a journalist in college and wrote every week for the school paper. From there, I got my first professional job at a daily newspaper in Massachusetts and began my first novel, Looking for Lucy. (I never found an agent or publisher, so it went in my drawer, where it remains to this day as a necessary and valuable form of practice).

3.    Your newest novel is calledvFamous Last Words,what is it about?

The tagline on the back cover is, “Can 107 celebrities solve one impossible murder case?” It is a book about Hollywood, glamour, beauty, murder, and secrets. 

The book’s heroine, Augusta Noble, is suffering from amnesia and runs away from her real life in order to figure out what happened to her and her best friend one terrible night in New York. 

While the story resembles The Devil Wears Pradain that it looks at the cutthroat world of celebrity journalism through a fictional lens, I’ve woven in many of my best truestories from the years I spent covering the stars, from George Clooney to Chris Hemsworthto Chrissy Teigen, Oprah and evenAnglina Jolie. 

Ultimately I hope this is a killer beach read where people can learn something new about what the stars are reallylike, while also being captivated by a twisty mystery and an enduring friendship.

4.    What was your inspiration for the book?

I spent fourteen years as a reporter for Peoplemagazine, covering stories in nine different countries and at least a dozen big cities, and it was all the celebrities—around 300 at my latest count—I encountered that gave me a perspective not too many people have, not least because the stars are so hard to get to. Working for a magazine like Peoplegave me exclusive access few people ever get.

5.    Can you tell us more about the main character(s)?

Augusta Noble is a 29-year-old woman trying to solidify a career as a hard-nosed investigative journalist. Like so many of us, she considers herself a “serious” person but can’t help being a little obsessed with celebrities—in part because when times got hard throughout her life, all she had to do was watch a movie, read a magazine or look at the posters all over her room, and suddenly the beautiful, perfect celebrities made everything okay…for at least a little while.

6.    Where and when do you write your stories?

I start in my home office, then sometimes move out to the patio if weather allows. Sometimes I’ll head out to write in coffee shops or cafes; I find walking away from my office and creating a change of scenery helps motivate me and shake me out of any writing ruts.

7.    What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?

Rescuing dogs and walking the two pit bull mixes we have now.

8.    If you could switch places with a characters from a book, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Laura Ingalls Wilder—but only for a short time because I’m nowhere near as tough as the pioneers were! I’d love to go back to simpler times, meet Ma, Pa, Mary and Almanzo and the gang, experience life on the frontier, and then come back to my Internet and coconut milk cappuccinos (wink).

9.    What books have influenced your life most? 

That’s a hard one. The Strangerby Albert Camus stuck with me for decades. It was so hard for me, who is all about the feelings and empathy, to try to understand this cold, unfeeling character (as I saw him at a young age). On a lighter note, The Time Traveller’s Wife inspired me because—I know some people won’t agree—but I thought her writing and storytelling was so advanced and clever I could only dream of being that good. 

10.    What are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing a novel based on a true story about a group of “ordinary” women who volunteered for a brutal, punishing U.S. Army experiment to test women’s strength in the 1990s, and what they went through to try to make things better for the women serving in our military now.

11.     What do you enjoy most about writing?

How I can lose myself, how I can create good on the page in front of me when things seem so bad in the real world, and those times my characters fully come to life and I get to know them.

12.    Pick three authors you want to have dinner with and tell us why.

Laura Ingalls Wilder—what an incredible storyteller. 
Susan Isaacs—smartest women’s fiction writer I ever read, and her book Almost Paradise is one of the most underrated books ever. I’ve read it about 10 times.
Ernest Hemingway because I read The Sun Alsorises at a very formative time in my early 20s, when I was all about Europe and learning what absinthe was. (I’ll get back to you on this choice in the future, though, because the more I get into animal rights, the less I am impressed by his private life).

13.    Imagine Famous Last Words would be turned into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

There has been a LOT of discussion in my life about this question, because actors arethe characters! It’s fun to think about. Who would play John Travolta? Or Jennifer Garner, or Jennifer Lawrence? It’ll be a tough one to film. I would say Augusta Noble could be played by….Jennifer Lawrence! But then who would play Jennifer in the book? (see what I mean? It’s a tough one).

14.     Can you tell us more about your first book The Underdogs?

That was a true labor of love, a murder mystery for young readers based at a tennis club during one of the hottest summers on record, with one major twist only a few readers ever see coming. It was published in hardback in 2016, and paperback in 2017 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

15.     How do your own experiences influence your writing?

I’ve learned in my forties that if I hadn’t been busy living life, traveling, trying new things and having terrible heartbreaks over the decades, I wouldn’t be writing the kind of novels I am now. You have to have a life before you can try to create a believable one on the page.

16.    Coffee or tea?


17.    Paperback or e-reader? 

Depends on my mood and location! Paperback at the beach, always.

18.     Mountains or the sea? 

I’m a Pisces—always the sea.

19.      Summer or winter?

     SUMMER. Is this a serious question? ;)

20.     Sweet or salty? 

If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d have to say salty wins out in the end.


Where to buy in paperback, eBook or Kindle:

Link to The Underdogs: (in the Q&A)

Award-winning journalist Sara Hammel has spent two decades covering topics including crime, culture, celebrities, sports, the military, politics and women’s issues for People, U.S. News & World ReportIn Touch WeeklyThe Sunday Times Magazine (UK), GlamourShapeNewsweek  and The Daily Mail. Her first novel, middle-grade mystery THE UNDERDOGS (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR), is on sale now. She also contributed—along with such writers as Judy Blume and Gloria Steinem—to the feminist anthology LETTERS OF INTENT (Simon & Schuster, 1999). A hybrid author, Hammel hired a freelance editor (a veteran of several major publishing houses) and self-published her latest novel, FAMOUS LAST WORDS, available May 29, 2018 as an eBook and in paperback. 

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