Friday, February 26, 2010

Interview with Pam Jenoff

I’d like to welcome our guest today, Pam Jenoff. It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

I understand you have a new release out called Almost Home. Can you tell us a little bit about your fabulous new book?

Almost Home is the story of Jordan, an intelligence officer with the U.S. government. For the past decade, she’s traveled the world on dangerous assignments, but has always managed to avoid England due to the painful memories of her boyfriend Jared who died tragically when they were students. Now, she finds herself compelled to take an assignment in London to be near a terminally ill friend. Once there, she is contacted by a classmate who tells her that he doesn’t believe Jared’s death was an accident and asks her to help find out what really happened. So she finds herself drawn into that mystery as well as an important government mission.

Almost Home is a very interesting title. How did you arrive at that name?

Titles are such a fascinating topic to me. They almost always change. For example, my working title for this book was Forever England, which comes from a Rupert Brooke poem. But my editor wanted a title that was more universal, so she, my agent and I brainstormed and came up with Almost Home, which I like better. It works on so many levels, referring to Jordan’s quest for the truth, as well as her uneasy relationship with England. Interestingly, in the UK, where the book is being released in March, it has a totally different title: The Officer’s Lover.

Would you describe your book as a cozy, mystery, suspense, or thriller?

I call it romantic suspense.

What made you decide to write in this genre?

I actually don’t choose particular genres in which to write. I write what interests me and the genre is secondary. For example, my first novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, was labeled romance, historical, and a number of other genres, depending on who was speaking about it and when, and I followed it up with a sequel, The Diplomat’s Wife. But when I wanted to do something different and write Almost Home, I didn’t let genre stop me. I do think it has many of the same elements (history, romance, suspense, international intrigue) that drew readers to my first two books.
Where did you get your idea for this particular book?

I was traveling through Spain with two friends while living in Europe and one night as we lay awake in our pension (place to sleep pronounced pen-c-own KW) I began brainstorming the idea of this young American woman who had gone to Cambridge (as I had) and now worked for the government internationally (as I did at the time) but avoided England because her boyfriend died there (mine did not.) The story just kind of took off from there.

Do you have all the key suspense/mystery elements thought out before you begin writing?

It actually varies from project to project. Some I am just writing blind and others I have a very specific idea of where I am going. I would say Almost Home was a bit more of the latter; because I’d wanted to write it for more than a decade, I had a good idea of the major plot points. But there were a few twists, including some of the end, that came as a big surprise to me.

Did you have to do a lot of research for the book? What are your favorite research books or sites?

Each book is different in the nature and variety of the research required. One day I might be researching ethnic conflict in Bosnia and the next it might be yachts and wine, so the books and sites are always different. Friends and acquaintances who are experts on subjects are also good resources. And some of the books, like Almost Home, draw a lot on my personal experiences, like Cambridge and the State Department and living abroad. For Almost Home, I needed to do a lot of what I call “walking research” – going to a place and answering questions: when you are on the banks of the Thames at a certain point, what do you see on the other side? When walking up Fleet Street, when does St. Paul’s Cathedral come into view? Fortunately, I had the chance to go to Britain a few times for the releases of The Kommandant’s Girl and The Diplomat’s Wife, which allowed me to research these things.

Which character did you like writing about the most, and why?

The obvious answer is Jordan, because she shares some similarities with me, but is much cooler and more enigmatic. But I also liked writing about her best friend, Sarah. She seems like she is weak and watching from the sidelines, but I think her quiet nature is misleading, and gives her the chance to observe things other people miss – and she knows Jordan like no one else.
Tell us about how you develop your characters. Do you create character sheets, do interviews, that sort of thing? How does your research affect your character development?

My characters really evolve through the writing of the book. I don’t do any character sheets or interviews ahead of time, because I really like to get to know them through the plot as it develops. Later, after I am well into the first draft, I might go back and do some interviews or exercises to learn more about them and their backstories.

Do you have any authors that inspired you?

I read a lot of historical fiction growing up: John Jakes, Herman Wouk, Leon Uris to name a few. More recently I’ve enjoyed authors such as Tracy Chevalier, Kate Atkinson and Anita Shreve. There are also some books on writing I really like, such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.

What do you feel is the most effective promotion you have done for your book?

A few years ago, I did an hour long radio interview on public radio WHYY Radio Times and I still hear from people who heard that interview. And I’m hoping this blog tour will be very effective.

What do we have to look forward next?

The sequel to Almost Home is called Hidden Things and it will be out this July. And I’m working on something next about which I am super-excited. It brings together elements of all of my other books. It’s tentatively called The Anniversary Clock, but it’s really too early to say more beyond that☺

Thanks, Pam!

To celebrate her book release, Pam is offering a free book of Almost Home to one lucky commenter on today's blog. (please check the blog Monday night to see who won. Chances of winning determined by the number of entries.)

She will be around all day today. I'm sure some of you have questions or comments for her, so please ask away...

Check out author’s website at



Anonymous said...

Good morning Pam. Thanks for joining us today. I'm running a bit slow this morning, so your plate of chocolates will be arriving soon. I find it interesting that the UK changed the title of the book. Is the cover art different, too? Do you have any say in this or is it strictly on the publisher level? Enjoy yourself, and let me know if you need anything.

pam said...

Hi Kim
The covers are almost always different in the UK although this time we interestingly borrowed the UK cover for the US paperback. I just wrote a guest blog last week at Melissas Bookshelf on the topic of covers and titles

Estella said...

I love romantic suspense!
You are a new to me author and your book sounds great.

Tia Dani said...

Hi Pam, Really enjoyed getting to know you and your books. And, congratulations on your new release, ALMOST HOME. Romantic suspense is my favorite read right now so I'll be sure to get you on my, to be read pile! Very interestng how this story idea came to you and how you research.
Another great interview, Kim.


Carolyn Matkowsky said...


Your book sounds great. I love England. I love how you write what you want without thinking of the genre. It totally works for you. You've had an interesting life. Good luck with the new book.

Carolyn Matkowsky/Cara Marsi