Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen, THE GOLDEN COUPLE

Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen, THE GOLDEN COUPLE

#1 New York Times bestselling duo Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen return to talk with Zibby about their latest novel, The Golden Couple, which grew out of a title suggestion from their editor. Greer and Sarah share why they love writing about complicated relationships and dynamics, where they pull their inspiration from in their real lives, and what it was like to co-write together during the pandemic. They also reveal why there is no secret formula for a successful book or writing partnership, and offer a very diplomatic answer for whether or not this book will make it onto the big screen.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” this time to discuss The Golden Couple: A Novel. Welcome back.

Greer Hendricks: Thank you, Zibby.

Sarah Pekkanen: Thanks for having us.

Zibby: I get so excited now when you have new books coming out because we’ve discussed your process so much that I can now visualize how you two have written the book, or I assume I know how you have written the book. First, let’s start by you explaining a little more what The Golden Couple is about. I want to know if you had a model couple for Marissa and Matthew, if you had pictured in your head people you actually knew. I feel like I could picture a couple I kind of know for who they are.

Sarah: I think we all know those couples. The Golden Couple is a story about a maverick therapist. In fact, she’s such a maverick that she’s no longer a licensed therapist. She has created a method that’s all her own. It is a ten-step method. Basically, what she tells clients when they walk through the door, whatever they bring, whatever problem they’re grappling with from childhood, from work, from today — she will assess them. If she knows she can fix them in ten sessions, she will take them on as clients. Here’s the catch. They have to do whatever she says during those ten sessions.

Greer: The story’s told in dual perspectives. We have Avery, the therapist, and then Marissa. I’m not giving anything away when I say that Marissa convinces her husband to go meet with Avery. He thinks they’re walking in to talk about their eight-year-old son, Bennett, who has been bullied in the past. He comes in reluctantly. Then literally on page three, Marissa’s like, “Actually, we’re here to talk about something else. I cheated on you.” It’s like a bomb has gone off in the office because Matthew is completely blindsided. Avery has this great way about her. He agrees to this therapy to try to repair their marriage, which is important to Marissa. It goes from there.

Zibby: I should say, the first person talking was Sarah. Sarah, just say hi or something again so they can hear your voice.

Sarah: Hi. It’s Sarah.

Zibby: Then the second woman was Greer.

Greer: This is Greer.

Zibby: Good, just so people can follow who’s saying what. I feel like I will never look at a crushed cup again the same way without thinking about Matthew and his rage at finding out about what happened with his marriage. Plus, these nontraditional methods of Avery, the idea of having the person who has just been cheated on suddenly have to recount an amazing sexual experience they had with somebody other than their spouse, I was like, okay, where is this going?

Sarah: She’s not your ordinary therapist, for sure.

Zibby: How did you two conceptualize this, this ten-step plan? By the way, when the book starts out and you say that Avery is a non-licensed therapist now, you just assume it was something so horrible, but I actually see the value in what she did because she was trying to help someone. I don’t want to give it away if you feel like that is giving things away. I feel like it was all in service of her client’s greater good, essentially. I know it’s not totally kosher, but I thought it was pretty creative, what she did.

Greer: What’s funny, when Sarah and I have been talking and promoting this book, we’ve been asking anyone we talk to, would you see a therapist like Avery who could solve whatever problem you bring to them in ten sessions? Almost unanimously, people have said yes. Within the capable hands of someone like Avery, yeah, it’s not going to be easy, but boom, ten sessions. People spend ten years in therapy. I’m glad that you connected with her and sort of understood why she does believe she’s doing things for the greater good.

Zibby: That said, I don’t think I would sign up with Avery. I would not. No.

Sarah: You’re one of the few, Zibby.

Zibby: Really? Oh, man. I don’t know. I don’t really like surprises. I don’t like “you do anything I say” for even one hour. I don’t like that.

Sarah: Given the kind of characters and storylines we write and what happens to a lot of characters in our book, you’re probably wise to step back.

Zibby: Seriously.

Sarah: The difference is, in traditional therapy, it’s kind of client-driven. They can only go into areas that they want to explore. In Avery’s method, it is like boot camp on steroids. You’re going to do what I say. I’m going to fix you. It may not be what you want, but this is going to be the right thing, and as you put it, for the greater good.

Greer: It might not be what you want, but it’s what Avery thinks you need.

Zibby: I’m sure it would be good for me. I’m just not sure I want it. I’m not ready.

Greer: She’d probably have a field day analyzing why you’re not comfortable with this.

Zibby: I’m sure you’re right. Perhaps I’ve revealed too much about myself in that admission.

Sarah: You did ask a great question, Zibby, when you talked about the golden couple. Actually, the book began with our title. Our brilliant editor, Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press, called us one day and said, “I have this great title. I can’t believe nobody’s used it.” Jen, her enthusiasm is so infectious. We’re like, “What is it? What is it?” She said, “The Golden Couple. I think you guys can write a book around that.” We’re like, all right, ding-dong, let’s go. Time to figure it out. The title gripped us. That led into, who is the golden couple? Just as you mentioned in the beginning, we have all seen that couple. They are the perfect couple that goes to all the right openings. Their kids are perfect. They don’t have dog hair on their clothes like I do right now. Every Instagram post is a celebration. They’re very enviable, but that doesn’t make for an interesting book. What we wanted to do was really dig into, what would it be like to read that couple’s diaries, to overhear their conversation, their pillow talk at night? How could we really find the tarnish? We thought if they were being maybe investigated by the police, it could be a detective who digs into them. Could be a neighbor. Could be another family member. Could be a therapist. As soon as we said that, we’re like, okay, we’re off and running. We love writing about therapists. We love digging into complicated relationships. This is that intersection. That’s our sweet spot.

Greer: We love doing complicated relationships in general, but especially marriages, like with The Wife Between Us. Then of course, Anonymous Girl also had a very untraditional therapist. Sarah and I both studied psychology and journalism. We’re both really interested in therapy. Someone asked if we had done research. I said the great thing with Avery is that she’s not a traditional therapist. Yes, we did reach out to several therapists that we both know, my mom and Sarah’s sister-in-law, to have them read the book, but we could kind of do our own thing because she has lost her license.

Zibby: I feel like if the two of you had therapists, which you don’t have to admit, they might be like, I don’t know what’s going on here. Every book is about these relationships. What’s gone on in your own therapy sessions that your whole career now is about these nontraditional therapists, sometimes, who completely go in a different direction than you expect? I don’t know.

Greer: I’ve acknowledged our — not ours; we don’t have a joint therapist — my therapist in our books when I’ve been like, but they’re nothing like Dr. So-and-so. I’ve sent them to people who I’ve worked with or whatever over the years. I’m like, not based on you, not based on you.

Sarah: I’m a huge fan of therapy. I think it’s great to get a second opinion on your life. I think that’s how Lori Gottlieb puts it. I’ve been at various times in my life for various situations and sometimes just to — the best times are when you don’t have anything urgent, kind of doing a little housekeeping. My therapist has read most of my books. She gets it. This is fiction. This is not based on anybody in real life.

Zibby: I think it would be a fun panel to have the two of you and your therapists. I would like to interview the four of you together.

Greer: That’s very funny. We got so many incredible blurbs and reviews for this book. One of the blurbs that really excited us the most was that Lori Gottlieb did blurb it. Sarah and I, we just think the world of her. She’s so smart. Our copies of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone are dogeared and highlighted. The fact that the book resonated with her was like, yay!

Zibby: That’s awesome. I love that. I really love that. I also adore her. I also really like all the backstories of the characters. I’ve always had this dream to have this amazing gift little store that I could walk into. What would that be like to just surround myself with all of my favorite objects? Coco, Marissa’s store, is a destination I would totally want to go to. I also like how you always have this haze of suspicion against any character that comes in. This poor girl, Polly, from the second she walks on the stage, I’m like, what’s her deal? What’s going to happen here? Everything in your books is a question mark.

Sarah: That’s very intentional. You can’t know who the bad guy or bad girl or whoever it is early on. For the store, there is a store called Core 72 in the exact spot Coco is. Everything in it is cultivated. It’s not quite as high-end as Coco, but it’s definitely luxurious. The owner of it, I talked to her a little bit about it and gave her a copy of The Golden Couple. She’s great. She loved it. Greer has a store in New York where she’s like, okay, this is what I’m visualizing. That is one of the best things about being a novelist, which you just put your finger on, Zibby. You get to explore other lives without the consequences of actually stepping into those lives and making those mistakes and figuring it out. You get to dip in and out and play having a little store and play going to whatever it is, some event, but you’re sitting at home in sweats typing away. It’s just living in your mind.

Greer: Zibby, if you want to know, the inspiration in my mind for Coco was Blue Tree. I kept thinking about how well-curated and how you can find the perfect gift for anyone in your life. It’s both high-end and low. There’s some more affordable products. I love the women who work there. If anyone’s listening and they’re in New York, check out Blue Tree. If you’re in DC, check out — what was the name of the store?

Sarah: Core 72.

Zibby: There was a store for a short period of time, they had all this personalized stationery and great gifts. I would always go in there for — the owner was my age. This was, I feel like, ten years ago or maybe even more. Maybe she was a little younger. Anyway, I was kind of obsessed with the store. Still to this day when I need a gift, I’m like, I’m so sad that that store is gone. I wonder what happened to that store owner. That’s the other thing, the relationships you can make with — it’s so old-fashioned — the people in your community, like Mister Rogers. There is something special to those relationships. Likewise, with the gym, I know you have Avery checking out and stalking people in various workout facilities. Tell me about that and the fun in writing that part.

Greer: We always imagine our characters, how can we get them sneaking in places? We love to write them, whether it’s putting on a disguise and going into a bar to check something out or going into a gym with a temporary membership. It is fun. We get to put on our sleuth hats and see, how would you go about doing that? What would you say? How could you make this somehow believable? Again, just another one of the really fun parts of our job is doing things that you might ordinarily not, or I definitely would not do. You’re a little more intrepid with this stuff, Sarah. You’ve had more adventures doing this.

Sarah: One of the big things we do when we write and we plot out books is we say, what is the next most interesting thing that could happen? That’s a question that constantly comes up. Zibby, I know for you too, what you’re doing in all your different businesses, what is the next thing that would make this fun, twisty, unexpected? That’s when we’re sending people into a gym with a or whatever it is we’re doing. That just grips us. It’s something exciting and fun.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so great. The other books, when you’ve discussed them, you’ve said you have this open Google Doc. You both literally are on the phone with each other for six hours a day. I think this is great. Maybe I’m getting it slightly wrong. Some shared document. For six hours a day, you have to tell each other if you’re going to basically cheat on each other by going to a lunch. You’re not allowed to do that. This is the schedule. You hold fast to it. How did this book come about? Did the pandemic change things for you?

Greer: We were on tour for our third book, You Are Not Alone, when COVID hit. Every day, we were like, should we be on the road? Should we not be on the road? We were calling our doctors. Finally, halfway through, we were like, it’s not safe for us. It’s not safe for our audiences to be coming out. We left. I retreated to Nantucket. Sarah was in DC. Our houses got a lot more crowded. We used to be alone. Now I not only have my two noisy dogs, but I had two kids and my husband. Sarah had a bunch of kids and her boyfriend. We had started The Golden Couple, but our process changed a little bit. We have these walk-and-talks. We would still talk endlessly, the what if? What if? We would plot together, but we had to do more individual writing. Sarah was also having construction. The houses were noisy. We just couldn’t be on the phone together because it was incredibly disruptive. My husband was making these smoothies every day right outside my little office. It did change and still worked, I think. We think it still worked.

Sarah: You tell us if it didn’t work.

Zibby: Did you divide the characters? Did each of you write one of them?

Sarah: No. We plotted everything, but there was no division in terms of writing the characters. I know a lot of authors do it that way.

Zibby: I’m curious, also, on the book side — Greer, you used to be an editor. Sarah, you’ve been doing this for a while. Now the two of you have become this very successful duo. There are so many authors who have been unable to break out in the same way even if they might have an equally good book. The space is crowded. What do you think it takes to get a book to really break out? What do you have to do if you’re not already a known entity? Is it possible anymore or not?

Greer: That’s tough. I have to say, on Instagram when you’re scrolling — of course, most of the people I follow, or a lot of them, are book bloggers and book authors. You look and you just see how many books are published every day. So many of them, they’re terrific. I do think it is really tricky. With us for our first book, there was a lot of excitement behind it. I think our story, an author/editor team, our relationship was novel. The book itself, there was a really big, unique twist to it. Our publisher — the jacket was perfect. They put a lot of energy behind launching it. I feel like for that book, it was really the perfect storm. Every ingredient you could have to make that book a success, truly, we had, some skill, writing a great book, some little bit of luck, just the real power and energy of our publisher. We didn’t take anything for granted. There was so much gratitude every day for the success that that book became, and then launched the next three books. Sarah, what do you think? Anything else to add?

Sarah: Zibby, I totally hear what you’re asking. If there was some magic formula for breaking out, we would all be desperately trying to figure out what it is. I know so many authors who have written the most beautiful books, as you’ve said, books that are every bit as good as books that are dominating on the list. I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. People say it’s word of mouth. It’s what TikTok campaign. It’s this. It’s that. I don’t know where the lightning in the bottle is. I do know, as Greer said, our incredible support from our publisher, we had this amazing team of everybody from marketing to publicity to our brilliant editor. They put a lot of muscle and a lot of hope and a lot of work behind our books. Other books get that too and don’t launch as well as everybody might hope. I wish I could figure it out. I know we’re all trying to figure it out. It’s so elusive.

Greer: I’d just add to that, if I’m putting my editor hat back on too, that even as an editor, there were books that I was convinced were going to be the next greatest thing. As an editor and a publisher, we would put all this energy behind it. Some of it, it’s just not logical. It’s not a science.

Zibby: Yet nothing deters want-to-be writers. There’s this instinctive human need to have your story and get it out on paper, whether it’s a creative, fictious version of life or your own story. There seems to be just this pull. It almost doesn’t matter what happens. Then of course, once you get in the system, it matters. Sorry, I’m so consumed by this oversupply relative to the demand in this industry. Yet there’s no lack of production. If it was another industry, they would tamp down the production of it or something to make it more — there’s just too much supply.

Sarah: You’re right. There is this need. It doesn’t matter how hard it is. It doesn’t matter if you know the odds. It doesn’t matter if you have a tiny contract or no contract at all. If you’re a writer, you have to write. It’s not a possibility. It’s a must. You’re right. There are so many books published. So many of them, heartbreakingly, are quiet, but writers keep writing. I got an email from a friend today who was like, “After three rejected manuscripts and several hundred rejections from agents and publishes, I’m having my second book out.” Her first had come out prior to all of this. I’m like, she’s got to write. She will never stop. Good for her.

Zibby: Maybe we should take that to the therapists. I don’t know. What advice would you have for aspiring authors, those people out there who just, it doesn’t matter what’s going to come next, they’re going to keep doing it and doing it and doing it? Is it important to spend more time on craft? Is it important to find a partnership? You two have found this perfect — I shouldn’t say perfect because who knows what goes on, but really great and effective partnership where you seem to really get along great and also work really well together. Maybe you could just even talk about that. How do you find a perfect writing team? How do you know if you’re even the right type of person who wants to be in a writing team? Does that increase your odds or make it harder? What’s your takeaway from this whole experience?

Sarah: Let me take the first part of your question, any advice to writers. You could tell them, okay, don’t write. You’re going to spend two, three years writing this book. If it gets published, you’re going to make approximately five cents an hour for every hour you spend. It’s not going to stop them, nor should it. You’re not just writing for that golden ring that you’re going to grab on the merry-go-round. You’re writing for what you learn about yourself, what you’re figuring out, what you’re figuring out about the world. You’re writing for that daily struggle of, god, I got to get this scene down. It’s not working, but if I do this… Then you wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re like, oh, I’ve got it. The ride of writing is one of the most complicated and emotion-on-every-end-of-the-spectrum-filled experiences we have. It in itself is such a gift. That’s what I would say. Just try to enjoy the ride even as you’re hating it and even as you’re despairing because it is making you feel fully alive while you’re doing it.

Greer: I would echo what Sarah says. I think if you want to write, then you write, but you really can’t go into it with the expectation that you’re going to get an agent or get published or your book’s going to be on the best-seller list. You can hope that. You can strive for that. You have to enjoy the journey. Otherwise, it is just not worth it. I can’t imagine that it would be worth it. Then in terms of logistics, you have to just sit down and do it. You can’t edit a blank screen. You have to just get your butt in the chair. The words don’t come out unless you’re actually physically there. Some days, you’re just sitting in the front of the computer, and it feels like torture. Other days, you look up, and three hours have gone by. You know this, Zibby. Every day is different, but if you’re not present to do it, then you can’t. It just can’t happen. For me, because I had never written by myself, one of the greatest — there were so many, many great things about having the partner, but the accountability. My butt was in the chair. We would do our walk-and-talks and then start writing. That time was completely blocked out. I think for people who are doing it individually, they have to treat it that same way. I would say in terms of a partnership, I wouldn’t enter into a partnership thinking it’s going to make your book better. I think you either have to want to work with somebody or not. Some people are collaborators. I was a very collaborative editor. Sarah, even before our partnership, had collaborated on news stories. I think that was in our nature to want to do that. That’s not right for many — many writers say to us, how in the world do you do that together? I think you kind of know that or you don’t.

Zibby: That’s good advice. I like it. Thank you for coming on to discuss The Golden Couple. Congratulations on all of its success. I should ask, is this going to be a movie? Somebody just interviewed me, actually, and they were like, “What book would you most like to see a movie?” I was like, “I’ll tell you. I’ve got this book right here.”

Greer: Thank you.

Sarah: I don’t think we can announce anything yet, but fingers crossed we’ll see our characters on the screen someday. That’s about as cryptic as — .

Zibby: Diplomatic answer. There we go. Again, congratulations. Yet another really entertaining, amusing, page-flipping, escapist, and hopeful book. Really well-done. Thanks for coming on.

Greer: Thanks, Zibby. Thanks for being such a supporter of us and all the authors.

Sarah: Princess Charming.

Zibby: Yes, Princess Charming. Thanks.

THE GOLDEN COUPLE by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

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