Sandra A. Block graduated from college at Harvard, then returned to her native land of Buffalo, New York for medical training and never left. She is a practicing neurologist and proud Sabres fan, and lives at home with her husband, two children, and impetuous yellow lab Delilah. She has been published in both medical and poetry journals. Sandra is the author of three highly acclaimed Zoe Goldman novels – Little Black Lies is her debut, The Girl Without a Name and The Secret Room. Lisa Scottoline says, “Sandra Block’s heroine is smart, heartbreakingly vulnerable, and laugh-out-loud funny. I am a forever-fan of the Zoe Goldman series and will read anything Block writes. You should too.” The New York Times Book Review also has high praise for Sandra ~ “A psychological suspense story smartly narrated…Zoe has a quick wit that emerges in wickedly unexpected ways.”
Heather Gudenkauf: As you know, I’m a huge fan of your Dr. Zoe Goldman series, suspense novels featuring a caring but quirky psychiatrist. I think I read LITTLE BLACK LIES in one sitting. Your newest Zoe novel was released this spring and you were kind enough to let me get a sneak peek of THE SECRET ROOM. Thank you!
I read that you are a practicing neurologist, that you are married, a mom of two and that gave me more reasons to be thoroughly impressed with you! Your character of Zoe Goldman, a brilliant, passionate and complicated young doctor, immediately leapt off the page for me. Where did Zoe come from?
Sandra Block: Hello! First of all, thank you for your kind words about me and Zoe! I’m honestly not sure where she comes from, probably my subconscious somewhere. We’re alike in some ways, and very different in others. She’s above six feet (I’m vertically challenged) and she has ADHD, which I don’t. But, we are both doctors in the brain field (though I’m a neurologist, as you said). When I was thinking of the character, she spoke to me loudly…very loudly. She would not be ignored. I figured out her diagnosis by her voice, and the rest was history. Plotting the books was sometimes a challenge, but the voice was always easy.
So, Heather, question for you! Let me first say that I am a great admirer of you and your writing. Little Mercies was a fave, though I really enjoyed Missing Pieces too and anxious await Not a Sound on May 30th. (Starred Publisher’s Weekly Review?? You go girl!) Anyway, here’s my question, and I hope it doesn’t sound silly. Your books often feature a beloved dog (which you cleverly allow your readers to help name 🙂 Why do you think pets are woven into many of your books? Do you have a favorite pet or pet memory that stands out for you? (Pics are kindly encouraged)
Heather Gudenkauf: Not a silly question at all! I’ve always been an animal lover and growing up we always have had pets of all sorts. And when I say all sorts I mean ALL sorts. Over the years we had (but not all at the same time) dogs, guinea pics, hamsters, hermit crabs, cats, birds and even a tarantula. But to be fair, for awhile my mom didn’t know about the tarantula.
When I was ten we got a black miniature poodle named Raven. My mom wasn’t a fan of that name so she changed it to Foo Foo. Foo was a sweet, silly dog who was afraid of her own shadow and of birds. She would duck whenever a bird flew overhead. True story: after we had Foo Foo for several years my mom decided to change her name to Emma – she thought that sounded more dignified. Needless to say, Emma – Foo Foo – Raven was confused for a while.
Currently, we have a very spoiled German Shorthaired pointer named Lolo and who is my constant companion and I know you have a yellow lab named Delilah that you describe as impetuous.
Anyhoo, I’ve always included dogs in my novels I think because they can provide such comfort and companionship, something that I think many of my readers can relate to. In my newest novel, NOT A SOUND, I feature a service dog named Stitch who plays a major role in this story and also provides some comic relief.
Heather Gudenkauf: THE SECRET ROOM is your third novel in the Zoe Goldman series and with all the twists and turns you had me guessing to the very end. So what’s next? Do you have more in store for Zoe or will your next novel take a different direction?
Sandra Block: Ah yes, dogs can certainly provide comic relief! As for Zoe, she’s going on a hiatus for a while. I can’t say if or when she’ll be back, but I’ll never say never. I think her arc has come to a good close, and I wouldn’t be too sad if this were her last hurrah. She got her chance to speak…I have a new book coming out with a new publisher for the summer of 2018 however! It’s psychological suspense but a departure from the Zoe novels. It’s about a young woman named Dahlia who was attacked at a college party and has no memory of the event. But when a tape resurfaces of the attack five years later, she and her computer-savvy (and handsome 🙂 coworker decide to take cold, vigilante-style revenge. I like to call it a “revenge love story”!
Now, here’s a writer-to-writer question for you. I’ve noticed from some of your Facebook posts that you seem to be a full-on plotter (as am I). I saw you even provided an actual map of the book’s area, complete with post-office and local creek. Can you tell me some of your “tricks of the trade” for plotting and outlining? The tried-and-true ones as well as the “Heather specials”?
Heather Gudenkauf: Though I’ll miss Zoe, I CANNOT wait to for your newest – it sounds right up my alley! I am intrigued by the technology twist to the novel – it seems that cameras are everywhere and everything we do is archived whether we want it to be or not.
My writing process has definitely evolved over the years and varies from project to project. I found that in my current work in progress I really needed to have a plot plan. The novel is told in multiple points of view with a pretty compressed time frame so I had to make sure that the timeline was accurate – thus the massive timeline I have affixed to my wall! I also created a map of the town where the story is set for my reference and referred to it often as I wrote.
However, there are times when the story just takes on a life of its own and the characters have zero respect for my careful plotting and do their own thing. I’ve learned to that when this happens to just go with it – my characters can be pretty insistent when they need to be.
I also have a writer-to-writer question for you. When do you let others see what you working on? Do you have beta readers take a peek at your novel or do you get the entire novel down on paper first?
Sandra Block: Haha! I love it when characters have zero respect for their author!
As for letting others read my work-in-progress, I don’t actually do it. I don’t have beta readers or a writing group or critique partners. I’ve just never worked that way. However, I do show my final draft to my agent. She has an excellent editorial sense, and will give me both broad and specific feedback that I find extremely helpful. I trust her judgement absolutely. But, having said that…If you are ever looking for a reader-friend, I’m available! (I’ll show you mine if you show me yours 🙂
Anyhoo…moving on…another question for you. At this point, you have an oeuvre. (For those who don’t know, that’s a fancy name for a body of work. I like that word because it makes me sound smart). Anyhoo again… out of this oeuvre, do you have a favorite book? If so, why? Is it a specific character or scene? A memory of a joyful time while writing it? Do tell!
Heather Gudenkauf: I love learning something new! Now I’m going to use the word oeuvre as often as I can. It is so hard to pick a favorite book ~ there are some things that I love about each and some aspects that were beyond challenging. I guess if I had to choose, I do have a soft spot for Amelia and Stitch ~ the dynamic duo in my newest novel, NOT A SOUND. I love their relationship and how they lean on one another.
One last question for you, Sandra. What reading material is on your bedside table right now?
Sandra Block: Funny you should ask! I’m currently reading Charles Todd’s Racing the Devil. (Shout out to Murder On the Beach Books for getting me a signed copy!) I love this historical mystery series. The WWI England setting is soft and moody with a fascinating main character, who has shell-shock from the war. I just finished the latest Alexander McCall Smith’s, Precious and Grace, from Africa – another series that I adore. Before that, I inhaled I Let You Go, which was addictive and so twisty that I almost got dizzy. I tore through What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan before that, and couldn’t stop until I found out what happened to Ben. Then, yesterday, I was shopping at Wegmans and the weirdest thing happened. Something jumped into my shopping cart!
Heather Gudenkauf: Books do that to me too ~ a strange phenomenon! Thank you, Sandra Block, for taking the time to be my pen pal and I’m hoping that one day we’ll be able to meet in person!
Readers – you can connect with Sandra too!