One sweet book
Q&A with Ann Pearlman
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Ann Pearlman, a psychotherapist and Pulitzer-nominated author, based her first fiction work, The Christmas Cookie Club on her Ann Arbor cookie exchange. CBS Films optioned the book before it even hit bookstore shelves on Oct. 20.
You'll find Ann Pearlman's pecan butter balls — made from her grandmother's recipe — at Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor. You will also see her debut novel, The Christmas Cookie Club, in bookstores.
The Ann Arbor native, psychotherapist and Pulitzer-nominated author based her first fiction work around a familiar premise, her cookie club. On the first Monday of every December, Pearlman and 11 friends meet at a member's home in Ann Arbor to exchange cookies, recipes and discuss the year's events with each other. It's a sort of women's support group, Pearlman said.
Each member makes 13-dozen cookies, one dozen for each member and another dozen to be taken to a local shelter.
The club was 10 years old when Pearlman joined in 2000.
“When I was a cookie virgin, I thought this was the only cookie club in the country,” she said. “Through writing this, I've learned they are everywhere.”
Pearlman, 67, said fans from around the world have contacted her via Twitter and her Web site, annpearlman.net. She's now working on a national cookie exchange via her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=169381853767.
“Bloggers have really run with the idea,” she said. “All of these people are coming forward to tell me about their cookie exchanges, and the Internet is making that happen and it's phenomenal.”
Pearlman said writing The Christmas Cookie Club was different from her previous three books, all nonfiction works on the subjects of infidelity, marriage and gang life.
Inside the Crips, published in 2005, tells the story of former gang member Colton Simpson. The book, documenting Simpson's criminal past, led to police charging him for the acts he committed 25 years before publication. The book was logged as evidence and Pearlman was subpoenaed to testify.
Pearlman's words led to Simpson's punishment, as he was sentenced to 126 years to life in the California Penal System.
“It was an awful experience,” she said. “I did everything I could to get them from using the book in the trial.”
Infidelity, published in 2000 and nominated for a Pulitzer and National Book Award, exposed Pearlman's brush with betrayal. Her grandfather, father and husband all had extramarital affairs. The book was optioned by Lionsgate and made in a Lifetime movie in 2004.
The Christmas Cookie Club isn't all sugar and spice, either. Although it's based around the motherly embrace of chocolate chips and cinnamon, the book is about life's trials and how women share the pain with each other.
“Some of the characters have lost their jobs or are losing their homes,” she said. “This economy certainly affects all of us and affects my fictional characters, too.”
Pearlman's editor at Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint and publisher of The Christmas Cookie Club, said there was a bidding war to snag the rights to Pearlman's new book. It's too early for sales figures — it hit shelves on Oct. 20 — but 100,000 copies were shipped to bookstores worldwide.
“We picked it up because we fell in love with it,” said Emily Bestler, vice president and executive editorial director for Atria. “Ann has a very warm, intuitive writing style that we felt would connect very well with the legions of women out there looking for great, smart fiction they can relate to.”
CBS Films optioned the book before it even hit bookstore shelves. Robert Harling, playwright and screenwriter of “Steel Magnolias,” is writing the screenplay, and Oscar winner Wendy Finerman, producer of “Forrest Gump” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” will produce the film, Pearlman said.
She received an option payment and will receive another undisclosed payment if the movie makes it to production.
How did you first get published?
While working in a private practice with other women, we decided to write a book (Keep the Home Fires Burning) in 1985. We got an agent, he sold our book and then it was published. I learned the business, right then and there. Thank heavens for agents; I would hate to do all the work.
How did you find an agent?
I found mine through query letters to agents interested in books like mine. I got those names from a literary agent directory.
You're a mother of three, a grandmother, a practicing psychotherapist and an author. How do you juggle all of these responsibilities?
I'm not taking any new patients and only see the 10 that come once a week. It's cleared up time for writing and book promotion, so I might keep it that way.
But, I'm like a hyperactive kid. I love what I do so I don't feel burdened by any of it.
You have two jobs, which is more lucrative?
It's been different every year for the past decade. I've made more money as a therapist some years and more as an author others. This year, I will certainly make more as an author. I have two fallbacks and two things that I love to do. I'm fortunate or blessed or lucky or whatever.
You've been nominated for a Pulitzer. Why not give up psychotherapy and move to New York to become a fulltime author?
I love being a therapist and am reluctant to give up something I love.
I also live in paradise: a secluded house nestled in an oak and aspen forest, only 10 minutes from downtown Ann Arbor. Michigan is a beautiful state and you can't beat it spring, summer and fall. But, a beach house in California during winter is tempting.
Why did you base The Christmas Cookie Club in Ann Arbor?
The cookie club I belong to is here. Ann Arbor has been my home for more than 30 years, and I particularly enjoy writing (and reading) books in which actual people, events or places are mixed with the fictional. Thus, I'm used Ann Arbor, so its stores, restaurants, parks and events are settings for scenes in The Christmas Cookie Club.
You said this experience was much different than Infidelity and Inside the Crips. Are you giving up nonfiction?
I enjoy the freedom of fiction. Right now that's what I imagine writing, but I haven't given up, or made a decision to never write nonfiction again. I'm open to seeing what happens and where my interests lead.
What advice for those who aspire to be an author?
Don't give up your day job.
I've been writing for 20 hours a week for a quarter of a century and I could not have raised my family on a writer's income. I would suggest setting a schedule. People don't realize how much time it takes to write; they think it's easy, but it takes at least three hours to write a single page.
I am finishing up How to Have Your Own Cookie Party, a workbook chock full of recipes and ideas for cookie exchanges. It should be out sometime in 2010. I'm also writing the sequel to The Christmas Cookie Club, which should be out in 2011.