06 September 2006

Author Answers with Diana Peterfreund

This week's author is debut novelist Diana Peterfreund.

Peterfreund's got a background that ranges from geology to food criticism but became a full time novelist this year. Her first book, Secret Society Girl, was published in July. For more about her, check out her website or her blog.

WN: What's your writing process like from when you first got an idea to getting the novel published?
PETERFREUND: When I get an idea for a book, I let it marinate in my brain for a few weeks/months/years -- however long it takes. When I have a firm idea of my story, I write out a synopsis in loose paragraph form, outlining the major plot developments, character arcs, etc. Then I begin writing. I usually write several chapters before I tell anyone about the book, just to make sure that it doesn't fall apart once it's on the page.
In the case of Secret Society Girl, soon after I told my critique partner about the book, she pitched it to an editor at a writing conference. This editor requested it, as did a few agents. I sent out what I had (about three chapters) and secured an agent, who shopped it to publishers for me. We sold it a week and a half later at auction (which means that more than one publisher bid on the manuscript) to Bantam Dell. Four months later, I finished the manuscript, and then it went through the usual hoops: revision, editing, copyedits, proofreading, etc. It hit the shelves in July of 2006, about 18 months after I got the original idea.

WN: The young adult market has been really hot for a while now, what's the draw as a writer to that market?
PETERFREUND: Sadly, I think one of the major draws at the moment is exactly what you said: that it's really hot. This kind of trend jumping is really insidious and leads to some sub-par books being published. Personally, I think writing for children is harder than writing for adults. They've read fewer books so every book is going to be a significantly more seminal experience for them. Almost all of my favorite books are book I read when I was young. If I were to write for the young adult market (which I haven't yet), that would be the draw for me: to write the books that some other adolescent will years later remember as one of her favorites.

WN: What kind of research did you do for Secret Society Girl?
PETERFREUND: To start with, I went to Yale, where I learned most of it during four years of experiences I'd tell you about in detail, but then I'd probably have to kill you. And then, I filled in the blanks by reading history books, newspaper articles, etc. It's a little-known fact that most secsocietiesties just crib their traditions off of one another. I've had members of different societies come up to me and demand to know who told me such and such, only to get very embarrassed when they learn where I really derived that bit of info from (or worse yet, that I simply made it up!).

WN: How did your experience in other careers help you as a writer?
PETERFREUND: Before I was a novelist, I was a journalist, I think journalism helps you write to deadline, stay on topic, write clearly, and write to length. Because the restrictions in newspaper columns leave little room for waxing poetic, you learn what part of your deathless prose can be killed off if necessary.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
PETERFREUND: I can't imagine picking just one, unless I could remember the first book I read, because it laid the groundwork for all the others. There are so many books that I adore and read over and over. One of my favorite novels is The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It's a wonderful, kitchen sink of a popular novel. Anything you could possibly want in a book: adventure, romance, intrigue, revenge, imprisonment, vampires, serial killers, pirates, hidden treasure, mystery, sex, drugs, masques... if you've only seen the movie or only read an abridged version, do yourself a favor and read the whole thing (The Robin Buss translation, published by Penguin Classics, is fantastic). I love it because it's a thousand pages long and a complete page turner every step of the way. Despite the complexity of the plot and the enormous character list, everything ties together at the end. I love the idea of this master storyteller that you can trust to take you on an amazing adventure.

WN: If you had to live the life of one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
PETERFREUND: Ooh, tough question. Probably whatever character ends up with Brandon, because I'm a little bit in love with him. He's such an incredible guy and I bet he'd be a great boyfriend/husband/father/etc. Plus he's smart, funny, cute, and dorky. I like that in my guys.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?

PETERFREUND: "Writers write." That advice has to come before everything else. You can't be a writer without doing it, and you can't continue to be a writer unless you make a habit of doing it. Too many people say they want to be writers but don't actually write. If you really, really want to be a writer, you write. Period. Once you have that bit of advice down, you're 90% there. The other 10% is hard, don't get me wrong, but nothing to that first step. Once you are writing, the best piece of advice is from Elmore Leonard: "Leave out the parts people skip."

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