Photo credit: Les Kaner
Describe your latest book.
I am super excited to be introducing and promoting The Undertaker's Daughter
. This is an especially exciting series for me, as it’s the first storytelling I’ve done that is set in the USA. I’ve traveled the world and am always intrigued and often dazzled by other countries and cities, but I felt an immediate affinity for America. While doing book tours here over the years, I’d often thought about living here, and that crept into my creative mind. I wondered how a Danish woman might navigate these regions I was enjoying getting acquainted with.
I’m happy to report that I now call New York my second home, and the USA my adopted second homeland. I am delighted about the opportunity to bring these two countries I love and adore together. It’s been a blast, and my readers have really connected. For that, I am profoundly grateful. I must admit that this was a scary and risky step for me. I worried my beloved Danish readers might not understand, but they’ve been loving the ride.
The idea for this series emerged after my parents’ deaths. It was the first time in my life that I had to work with undertakers. It was eye-opening, enlightening, and striking. What important, sensitive, and difficult work they do, helping to prepare and honor the dead, while making the devastating transition as bearable as possible for surviving loved ones.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I was captivated by The Famous Five
, an amazing series by the masterful Enid Blyton. Her storytelling transported me. I was inspired, entertained, and riveted. I loved how she handled the element of the mystery, and her characterizations were magical. I wanted to be one of her figures — even the dog. As long as I could be somehow involved in the wonder of it all.
When did you know you were a writer?
It’s funny — I never, even in my dreams, thought about being an author. I was working as a journalist years ago, and had no plans to write books and tell stories in long form. And then, an idea was born in my imagination, and it started to consume me. It stayed there, simmering, for some time. I played with and developed it, simply for my own entertainment. Well, all I can say is that this tale exploded in my head. I knew then that I had to write it and share it. The rest has been glorious history.
What does your writing workspace look like?
While I can write from almost anywhere (my desks at home, hotel rooms, etc.), there are certain tools and resources I positively rely upon. I keep cards on which I capture the development of my characters and plotting, and then, creepily I know, I have my “killing wall.” This sounds crazy, but is a part of my process about which I can’t divulge much more. It helps me to keep track of and make the right decisions about the fates of the people who inhabit my books.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
I’m completely obsessed with details and getting things right. Exactly right: organic, believable, natural. It is crucial for me that my characters be persuasive and able to jump from the page and into living, breathing life. And that the journeys they go on, the work they do, and how they interact with others is authentic. I am a total people-watcher, and research is an imperative part of the way I work. For me, it makes all the difference in the world.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
Well, this story is one of those “small world” stories that make us think that the truth is stranger than fiction. I had a lovely but bizarre experience this past summer. I was in Copenhagen, having lunch with a journalist. We were at a beautiful restaurant. From the table right next to ours, a woman turned around, looked at and studied me, and then asked if I were Sara Blædel. She was visiting from Boston, and had picked up and been reading one of my books. She’d started it while still at home in the States, wanting to read a Danish author before heading to the country. What were the chances that she would sit right next to me, the one Danish author she’d read? She was lovely, and it was a truly fabulous and fun experience.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I have a license to operate a motorcycle. Years ago, I got a new one and hopped on for a ride with my then boyfriend. I was too short to reach and drive properly, and so he had to remove six centimeters for me so that my feet could reach the ground. I was humiliated after thinking I was so cool.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I have been a fan of the incredible Karin Slaughter for years. She is a master of plotting, which excites me and leaves me in awe. I’d recommend The Good Daughter
as a first read of hers.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I treasure and cannot live without my cherished collection of gardening tools. I have all sizes, even big, heavy, industrial ones. I’m not into shoes or bags or amassing jewelry, though there’s nothing wrong with that fabulous stuff.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
My pilgrimages all relate to the research I do for my books. As I’ve mentioned, for me research is crucial in every way. It’s kind of a "method" thing. I go to the very spots where my characters live, work, and even die. If they stare out of a window, for example, I’ve been there first, which informs what they see, feel, and hear. Among my favorite research locales are London and Racine, WI.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Running out of time! Rushing for a storyteller is dangerous, and, for me, getting it all in is absolutely mandatory. I feel compelled to be at my best every single time I write, and so I am strict about blocking my calendar for writing. I won’t let anything get in the way, and won’t even try to multitask or quicken my pace.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
As I said earlier, I never thought I’d be a writer. Plus I’m dyslexic, which makes this amazing trip I’ve been on all the more exciting and surreal. The title of my biography should be: The Humble Bee Who Thought She Couldn’t Fly.
Describe a recurring nightmare.
In my recurring nightmare, I’m booked as a guest on a TV show that I love. I’m excited about the interview, but everything starts to go wrong before I get there. I’m running late and start freaking out. The more I try to catch up, the worse I fall behind. One thing after another comes up. Ultimately, I don’t get there. It’s anxiety-ridden from start to finish. I wake up in a sweat, exhale, and am instantly overjoyed and relieved that it wasn’t real.
Do you have any phobias?
No way! If one exists for me, I haven’t met it yet.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
My only guilty pleasure is eating food I love that isn’t exactly healthy. My very favorite treat is a traditional Danish fried pork dish: Stegt flæsk, a luscious, crispy, intoxicating pork belly prepared with scrumptious potatoes and topped with a mouthwateringly delicious parsley cream sauce. If you haven’t yet experienced Stegt flæsk, you MUST!
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received came from my mother. Short and simple, but meaningful and inspiring: If you really
want it, you can do it!
Write a question of your own, then answer it.
Sara, do you happen to have a horse?
So funny that you should you ask me that. Now, because of Ilka, my protagonist in The Undertaker's Daughter
, I’m completely into the sport of horse racing. I’m all in — I love and find it exhilarating and spectacular.
My Top Five Thrillers.
These commanding and extraordinary titles and authors have all resonated with and captivated me. All thrillers, they represent wonderfully different approaches and some of the most skillful artistry I’ve had the pleasure to devour. I heartily recommend each and every one of these stirring, unforgettable reads:
The Good Daughter
by Karin Slaughter
by Jennifer Egan
I Remember You
by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
by Alafair Burke
by Riley Sager
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is the author of the #1 international bestselling series featuring Detective Louise Rick. Her books are published in 37 countries. In 2014, Sara was voted Denmark's most popular novelist for the fourth time. She is also a recipient of the Golden Laurel, Denmark's most prestigious literary award. She lives in New York City. The Undertaker's Daughter
is her most recent book.