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BBC: SAM by Allegra Goodman

You’ve published over half a dozen books before Sam – all differing in theme. What compelled you to write this story?

My daughter inspired me to write "Sam." After three bookish boys, my husband and I had a rambunctious daughter who would literally climb the walls as a child. Our daughter Miranda was always full of energy and always had a plan. As a three year old she didn't want to walk. She wanted a scooter and a bike and roller skates. Miranda didn't want to sit in the audience at a performance; she wanted to be onstage. I remember at street fairs, Miranda would get up and dance with the bands performing. It was this kind of energy that inspired me. I wondered, what happens to that spunk as girls grow older? When happens when doubt creeps in, and disappointment--and our sick culture? How do girls come through that? These were questions I thought about as I wrote "Sam."

The voice of Sam evolves as she grows throughout the book, from childhood into adulthood. Did you always plan on that evolution of voice?

I did indeed plan for the voice of this book to evolve as Sam grows up. When the novel begins, Sam is only seven years old, and the language of the book is simple. The words are those she knows. Sam is observant but also innocent. As Sam gets older, the language of the book grows more complex, and her feelings grow more complicated too. It was a joy to write in this way--to show a girl growing up--but to do it from the inside. This is one of the things fiction can provide--that intimacy for the reader. I write in the third person in this book, and some readers hear it is a first person. That's because the third person is so close. You are right there with Sam as she grows--and she grows fast. I tried to capture that feeling of growing up where the years are short, but the days are long. The action is quick in this novel, but the scenes are richly detailed.

Why did you include climbing in the book?

I included climbing in "Sam" for several reasons. It's a sport popular in New England where she lives and it's also a sport that has two sides to it. An expensive side which involves climbing in gyms, and a laid back outdoor side which involves hiking and climbing big granite boulders in the woods. Climbing means different things to different people in this book, and it means different things to Sam at each stage of her life. I was interested in exploring the way an activity can change for you as you get older. I was particularly interested in climbing as a sport because it requires strength but also strategy and intelligence. At one point Sam reflects that climbing is like solving a puzzle where you are the missing piece. I'm not a climber myself, but what's fascinating to me about the sport is that puzzle-solving / problem-solving aspect. You have to find your own route up the boulder. That seems to me very much like life. You make mistakes, you get banged up, you fall, you start again, you learn.

If Sam was made into a movie, who would you cast?

I'd look for a smart and very young actress to play Sam. Someone with the qualities Frankie Corio brings to Aftersun--a movie that like "Sam" presents a troubled father and a young daughter. Aftersun focuses on a brief vacation, while my book covers almost fourteen years, so I'd look for an actress who could play a girl between about the ages of 15 and 20. Someone like Frankie Corio but American and a little older and not in any way girly. For Mitchell I'd go with a young actor like Mike Faist who was in West Side Story. He has the charm, the anger, and the slightly feral quality of Sam's dad and I think he's the kind of actor who could show a man beaten down and regretful as well. For Courtney, I'd cast Florence Pugh who seems too young to be the mom of a teenager and at the same time has the bravery and gravitas of someone who has to be a grown up whether she likes it or not. For Declan, I'd pick someone handsome-and- he-knows-it like Ansel Elgort.

After a day of writing where you feel you’ve made great strides, what would your happy hour look like?

After a great day I'd try to get together with friends if I could. We'd have snacks and drinks at a pub in Cambridge like The Abbey or Cambridge Common. If I were with my family I'd go out to dinner and a movie. If I were alone, my happy hour would involve buying ice cream at JP Licks in Harvard Square. I'd order mint chip in a sugar cone and lick it while taking a walk to watch the sun set.

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