Thursday, June 26, 2008

Interview With Diana Peterfreund!

I scheduled today's interview with author Diana Peterfreund a few weeks ago, to coincide with the release of the third book in her popular Secret Society Girl series. But then we decided to declare this week "I wish I'd known then" Week.

So I decided to combine the the Fictionistas bring you an interview with a fabulous author, and also let her share some thoughts on what she wish she'd known back in high school.

So please welcome Diana Peterfreund!

Diana, thanks for visiting The Fictionistas! So, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in a blizzard, in a valley carved from ice and rock and ancient waters. As you can imagine, I got out of there as soon as possible and moved to sunny Florida, where I spent my youth either playing "pretend" outside or keeping my nose buried in a book.

I went to Yale for college, where I double-majored in Geology and Literature so I could, claimed my father, "write books about rocks." According to me, I majored in Geology, then took another degree in Lit becuase I kept winding up in those classes anyway. After school, I worked for a newspaper, writing mostly food reviews and a few other articles.

Sometime in the middle of all that, I took off to Australia and New Zealand with my now-husband, and spent six months living in a tent, hitch-hiking, scuba diving, mountain climbing, and spelunking. Now we've settled down somewhat, and live in Washington, D.C., where we spend entirely too much time playing video games like Rock Band, Portal, and World of Warcraft, and spelunking not at all. I write full time, and I have three novels out with Bantam Dell: SECRET SOCIETY GIRL, UNDER THE ROSE, and RITES OF SPRING (BREAK), with two more (From Bantam Dell and Harper Teen) due out in 2009. In addition, I write critical essays on other people's fiction for BenBella Books.

Your most recent book, RITES OF SPRING (BREAK) was released two days ago. What is it about?

In the first book, Amy was initiated into the secret society. In the second, she was a full-fledged member called upon to protect it. In this one, she needs a vacation! She and her fellow knights of Rose & Grave are spending Spring Break at their private Florida island, Cavador Key. It's supposed to be a week of sun and fun, but there are a lot of unfinished issues to deal with, like an ongoing feud with a rival society, old enemies also staying on the island, and some lingering romantic possibilities that could turn into scorching spring flings. The stakes are higher in this book than they've ever been before!

Well, I absolutely adored the first two books, so I can't wait to read this one! Speaking of this series, it's published by an adult Random House imprint, yet the New York Public Library included it on their list of
"Books for the Teen Age". Why did Random House decide to market it to
adults rather than teens?

The NYPL list recommends many adult books to teens. My book appeared in that section of the list, alongside Marisha Pessl's SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS and Diane Setterfield's THE THIRTEENTH TALE. I doubt there are any teens who restrict their reading to solely YA novels, so the NYPL list reflects that.

Random House didn't really "decide" anything, actually. I sold my book to Bantam Dell, which is an adult publisher that is part of Random House. Therefore, the books are adult books. It's really that simple. It's funny -- this is only ever a question I get from other writers, who are interested in the way publishers classify novels. Readers and booksellers just take the books where they find it. And it makes sense because, unlike YA novels, the Secret Society Girl books are not about teens -- all my characters are in their twenties. But, like I said above, most teens I know read a lot of adult books, and I think these books, with their insights into college life, are fun for teens, too!

I definitely agree with you there. So, what "group" did you hang with in school? Do you think hanging with that group influenced your writing?

At Yale, like the houses at Hogwarts, every student is assigned one of twelve residential colleges, where they live for four years. I was very close to the people in my college, Morse. Senior year, one of my roommates and I even threw what we called "The Morse Tower Happy Hour" every Friday evening, all year long, where we served a signature drink each week. I also spent time with people who participated in the same activities, which varied from semester to semester, but might include friends from my geology labs, or a play I was stage managing or costume designing, fellow a capella singers, or writers for the campus tabloid newspaper.

If this influenced my writing, it's because it taught me of the vast diversity on campus, and how so many different kinds of people could be friends with one another and part of the same social circle. In my group of friends in Morse, we had musicians, scientists, actors, Christian evangelicals, social activists, debaters, artists, jocks, people who'd started pornography appreciation clubs (yes, really, and they made a movie about it) -- pretty much anything you can imagine. The characters in my book reflect this diversity -- socialites and academics, computer nerds and politicians, writers and scientists and movie stars -- a little something for everyone. Because Rose & Grave picks students from among the best and brightest of their class at Eli, you're going to see a wide range of interests and personality types trying to work together for the good of the society.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Read a lot and write a lot. I don't believe you can be a good writer unless you soak it up through reading, and I also believe writing is a muscle. The more you write, the better you get at it. The only other advice I would have is not to be in such a hurry to get published. I know there are several teenaged writers out there that are always in the news, and it convinces other teen aspiring writers that if they haven't published by the time they're 20, they are failures, but this isn't true. When I look back at the stuff I wrote in my teens and even in my early twenties -- stuff I absolutely thought was good enough to get published, I feel very grateful that I didn't send them out, and that no one will ever see them but me. I wonder sometimes if people who got published very young look at their early work and wish it was no longer on the shelves. If you're a teenager and you want to be a writer, I recommend writing (if you really want to be a writer, it would be impossible to stop you, anyway!) but also going out and living -- and certainly learning another trade, because the writing business has no guarantees!

Ain't that the truth? What do you know now that you wish the teenage Diana had known back then?

That the people you go to high school with magically disappear the second you graduate. True story. Okay, maybe not entirely true. After all, I do occasionally get emails from at least three people I went to high school with. But all the dramas and romances and life-altering events that cause you pain and angst and heartache -- it's not your life. Wait, even that's not true! My best friend married her high school sweetheart. Hmmmm... No, I think I'm going to stick with my original answer, with the caveat of "unless you don't want them to." That mean girl who made your life a living H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks? Gone. Poof. You never, ever have to see her again. That boy who snubbed you at the dance then made fun of you to all his friends? Poof. That teacher you couldn't seem to please, no matter how hard you worked in her class? Gone, gone, gonesky. So when things are at their worst and you think you're never going to be able to get past it -- remember that's not true. Also, the whole "high school is the best time of your life" thing is a lie. And if it's not, that's probably a bad thing. Because there's a lot of life to come. Like college. I adored college (that's where I met my husband). But even if college life doesn't do it for you, my late twenties have been pretty great too.

Excellent advice. I'm sure your fans will want to know whether you're working on any projects right now. When can we expect another book?

I'm working on the fourth book in the Secret Society Girl series right now, and it's going to be out this time next year. I'll actually have two new novels out in the summer of 2009. The other one is my young adult debut, RAMPANT (Harper Collins), which is an action-packed contemporary fantasy about killer unicorns and the virgin descendents of Alexander the Great who hunt them. It's a real departure from the light comedy in the Secret Society Girl books, and I can't wait for people to read it.

I can't wait to read it, either!

Diana, thanks so much for coming to chat with us today, and I'll see you in a couple of weeks at your signing!

So readers, be sure to buy Diana's new book, RITES OF SPRING (BREAK)!


  1. thanks for stopping by Diana. Good luck with your latest release!

  2. Great interview Diana and Amanda. And great point about teens not only reading YA labeled books.

  3. I know as a teen, I read anything I could get my hands on. The library was my hangout of choice.

  4. That's a good point, Kristen.

    Anyway, thanks for coming to play with us today, Diana!

  5. What a great interview. Thanks for visiting with us, Diana!

  6. Interesting interview!

    Though I will admit that how publishers classified books interested me even before I knew anything about writing...and it started when I noticed the paperback edition of Diana Wynne Jones's HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE in the adult SF section in my local bookstore, even though the hardback had been released as a children's (middle-grade) book! (And later I learned that in the UK, it was tagged a teen book...) :-)


  7. Michelle8:04 PM

    So, Diana, where was the valley carved by ice?

  8. Ah! Finally Blogger let's me post! Stupid blogger. I kick it! I think it's getting me back for switching to Wordpress this week.

    Thanks so much for having me, ladies. You have a lovely place here.

    It's true -- I never differentiated between "teen" books and "adult" books growing up. Just "good" and "bad" books. I think it helped that my mother would let me read whatever I wanted. She wasn't telling me that X book was too adult for me.

    Cara, the way they shelve things is interesting. I just finished reading Madapple, by Christine Meldrum, and it's one of those that I definitely didn't feel was "strict" YA, though it was published as such. SSG is published as YA elsewhere in the world.

    Michelle, in Northeast Pennsylvania. Susquehanna R. area.

  9. Mackenzie Daniels9:09 AM

    Great interview, Diana!

    I won a $50 Starbucks card because of SSG. True story. My library had this summer reading thing last year where if you recommended a book (wrote it down on a card that got posted on the wall) and then someone else checked it out from the library, you would get entered into a drawing for gift cards.

    So thanks!

  10. Great interview and wonderful advice Diana.

  11. Great interview, ladies!