Interview with Diana Peterfreund

Who knew that unicorns were so violent and blood-thirsty? In the novel, RAMPANT, by Diana Peterfreund, Astrid has grown-up listening to her mother’s crazy rants about ferocious unicorns. She dismisses her mother’s obsession as part of her very quirky personality until Astrid’s boyfriend is attacked by one of the supposed imaginary creatures.

Recently the author of RAMPANT, Diana Peterfreund, took time out of her busy schedule (two books, two short stories and a paperback out in 2010!) to visit about inspiration, self-confidence and the fear of a blank page.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer. I used to work for a newspaper, before I started writing novels full time. After I graduated from college, and was freelance writing for periodicals, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and bet myself that I could actually finish writing a whole book. If I did, I was allowed to join the Romance Writer’s of America organization, which is one of the only writing organizations that will let you join if you’re unpublished. It cost $100 to join, which you can imagine was quite the investment for a broke just-graduated from college girl like me. But I finished the book and joined RWA and the rest was history.

Describe your road to publication. Was it full of potholes or a
smooth easy ride?

I think it’s likely that one writer’s description of a bumpy ride is another’s description of an easy one! Also, I dislike the characterization of the road being something that ends when you get the first call that someone is going to publish your work. If I go out of contract, I wonder if I’m going to sell another book. The life of a freelance writer (which I am) is one of going out and getting new work. My pattern was, and continues to be as follows: 1) Write a book. 2) Send it out. 3) Write a new book. I wrote four books that didn’t sell. I sold the fifth one (and the sixth through the thirteenth). At this point in my career, I tend to sell books without finishing them first, but I have still pitched my editors ideas that don’t sell. That’s life. You just write something else.

Your latest book RAMPANT is a fantasy novel about killer unicorns.
It is a completely different genre from your IVY LEAGUE series. How did you
get the idea for RAMPANT?

I suppose the big trick is that don’t think of them as being completely different. One’s a fantasy, one’s not, one’s really gory and action packed and epic, and the other is more funny than spooky, but they are both about strong young women dealing with secret, old-fashioned organizations and the limitations that are often placed on women. They are about camaraderie and friendship and teamwork and romance. I’d had an idea for a while that I wanted to write a book about a group of virgins and the different reasons they made the choices they did to abstain, but it was kind of unformed in my head. Then, I thought I heard someone on TV say something about unicorn hunters (they didn’t). And soon after, I had a dream I was being chased by a killer unicorn. I started doing research on real unicorn legends and was shocked to learn how fascinating and varied it truly was. After that, everything just sort of snowballed into a big idea.

Is your approach to your writing different when you write realistic
fiction versus fantasy?

Whatever I write, I’m honest about the needs of the story. With Rampant, I needed to do as much realistic research as fantasy research. Research on bow hunting, on Roman ruins, on history and art. It was a story that needed to have a lot of action and adventure, so that’s what I wrote. But I’m still concerned with the same fundamentals of story craft — creating characters the reader can root for, an interesting story, twists and turns. Fantasy authors often talk about "world building" as if it’s something exclusive to them, but every time you write a book, you are creating a world, and it has to be believable, whether it is a fantasy world with it’s own geography, language, and magical creatures, or a college campus with its own social structure, rules, and secret clubs.

What is a normal "writing" workday like for you?

It pretty much depends on the day. Sometimes I can wake up and jump right into writing my pages for the day, and other days I have to answer questions for blogs (hee), or deal with edits or other information for my publisher, or gosh, do my taxes! When I’m drafting, though, I try to stick to writing at least a few pages a day, to keep my head in the story.

Who are your favorite authors and why?

I think this changes weekly. I have so many authors I love, and so many that inspire me and that I think about when I’m working. Some of my favorite authors for decades include LM Montgomery (who wrote the "Anne" books) because she had such an extraordinary way of wrangling characterization and creating a real society for her characters to live in; C.S. Lewis, for his extraordinarily realized fantasy worlds; and Alexandre Dumas, who wrote rip-roaring adventures. I also like Edgar Allan Poe for sheer moodiness and mystery, Jane Austen for wit and romance, Jorge Borges for mind-bending trippiness, Vladimir Nabokov for love of language and breaking the bounds of fiction… quick, stop me.

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Read a lot and write a lot is the standard piece of advice. Also, think a lot more about writing than about publishing. I get a lot of letters from aspiring authors who are putting the cart way before the horse in terms of worrying about query letters and marketability and series before they’ve even written a whole book. Or they’re rushing so hard to try to get a piece of fiction to market that they aren’t concentrating on the quality. For me, the biggest hurdle to cross (back in 2001) was actually believing that I could write a whole book. It seemed like such a huge and daunting task for a woman who’d never written anything longer than a 50-page thesis in college. It helped a lot for me to actually sit down and do it — to turn out a page or two a day and realize that eventually, they all added up to a book.

You can read more about Diana Peterfreund, her work and her writing process on her blog at http://www.dianapeterfreund.com/

 

Interview with graphic novelist Joseph Lagos

 

The graphic novel has burst onto the publishing scene with a vengeance in the past few years. Like their French counterpart “le bande dessinée”, the graphic novel is a book in which the artwork and the text are equally important. Joseph Lagos and his brother Alexander are joining the wave of graphic novelists with their new series The Sons of Liberty. The series traces the adventures of two run-away slaves who discover superpowers during the time of pre-Revolution America. Recently, I visited with Joseph about collaborating with his brother, growing up in New Jersey and the ubiquitous SRA reading program.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay and moved to the United States at the age of two.  I spent most of my childhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey in a predominately Irish-Italian neighborhood.

Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1970’s wasn’t that different from Montevideo or Buenos Aires, Argentina, so the adjustment, with the exception of learning English, wasn’t as drastic as it could have been for my family and me.  We assimilated into our new American lives quickly, and eagerly went about acquiring all the good things that hard-working American people are expected to get, including a private school education and a Country Squire station wagon with side panels. New Jersey was and continues to be an amazing place for the imagination, saturated with such an amazing history. Although I still love the old-world European feeling of Montevideo, nothing compares to America’s precious offerings of opportunity and freedom. At the age of fifteen, my parents moved the family to Houston, Texas, where I grew to be a man and where I have chosen to settle down and raise a family of my own.

What made you want to become a writer?

Remarkably, I can pinpoint the exact moment in my life when I wanted to become a writer. It was at St. Anthony of Padua School in Elizabeth, New Jersey and I was eight years old.

My third grade teacher introduced the class to the SRA kit, a collection of short stories on postcards intended to sharpen reading skills and develop a life-long love of reading. One of the cards featured a scary story about a haunted mirror that reflected “ghostly images.”  

The story was short, but it captivated me in such a way that I read it over and over again; I simply couldn’t get enough. I began to wonder about how writing stories was done and how a few simple paragraphs of written text had the power to make the reader feel scared, happy, angry, or sad.

Naturally, it was impossible to imagine at the time that these “postcards” would be the introduction to something that would fascinate me for the rest of my life – works of great literature.

Soon thereafter, I began my own writing journey and I’ve been on it ever since.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

Truth is, I never stop writing. When I am working on a story, I am thinking about it all the time, trying to look at it from every possible angle, attempting to find the best way to work out ideas on paper.

Writing can be both wonderful and annoying in the way that it gets under your skin. I usually work late at night when all is quiet. When I do finally “sit down and put pen to paper,” it moves pretty fast because I have the leg work already done and I have a pretty good idea of where I am going with the story.

You are writing your graphic novel series with a partner. How do the two of you work together?

My brother, Alexander, and I created a four book graphic novel series entitled “The Sons of Liberty” that is being published by Random House.

This is the way it works: Either Alex or I will submit a basic scene idea to one another; then we begin discussing it. These conversations usually start off rather tame, beginning with “What if…?“ or “You know what would be cool…?”  The whole thing soon evolves into marathon conversations that are as productive as they are exhausting.  

Following the planning stage, I begin writing. As chapters become available, I forward a copy to Alex, in Brooklyn, who looks for ways to improve it. When all is said and done, we send the first draft to Random House and await a response from our editor in New York.

How do you format a script for a graphic novel? Do you give the illustrator directions for example?

Absolutely! I try to be thorough in the panel description so that the illustrations support the dialogue.

The format is not unlike a movie script in many ways, detailing scenes and action and even time of day and weather.

The “Sons of Liberty” is not a typical comic book story. It deals with controversial subject matters during a very hard time in American history.

The subject of slavery, for example, demands a respectful approach of which we are always cognizant.  

We have a responsibility to research historical events, compile supporting data and images, check for accuracy, and identify key players that are consistent with history; but then, of course, we throw in masked superheroes and make the whole thing entertaining as well as educational.

We find ways to have our masked heroes make a contribution without altering facts or undermining the heroic contributions of real-life patriots. All this goes into preparing a proper script. Since the artist charged with the duty of interpretation is obliged to consider all the facts before doing his work, the more we supply in the way of details, the better. 

Where do you get your inspiration?

A lot of it comes from the places I visit or the people I meet and, of course, books.

In some cases, seemingly useless things are filed away in my memory only to re-emerge suddenly in a story years later.

To me, inspiration doesn’t have an expiration date.

An example of this would be a visit I paid to the San Jacinto monument. I would love to one day write about the battle that took place there – not from a bird’s eye view, but from an intimate mosquito-bitten perspective. Fortunately, there are re-enactments that take place there once a year that help me to sense and feel what I cannot learn from books, impressions such as what gunpowder smells like after it has been fired, or what an enemy army sounds like when marching on wet grass.

So I will gather those little inspiring details in a pot, let them simmer for a while, and maybe a tasty plot will emerge someday. 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

My list is endless; here are a few:  Mark Twain, Jack London, P.D. James, Ernest Hemingway, Harold Pinter, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, T.C. Boyle, Kurt Vonnegut, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Campbell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Washington Irving, and Voltaire.

I enjoy the visceral approach to story-telling utilized by these writers and I learn something new everytime I read their work; they are to me the undisputed masters of the art of writing and an institution of higher learning in and of themselves.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

If you love to write, fill notebooks, or wear the keys off your computer keyboard; in other words – write! Writing is an exercise just like jogging – the more you do it, the better you get. Then, find a way to share your writing with others – maybe family and friends for starters or writing groups and organizations.

As you see yourself, so will you become.


This interview also appears in the March 2010 version of the Houston Banner.

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The 40 Challenge: Week 2

It’s the second week of the 40 Challenge.
 

I’ve quit posting updates everyday since I thought daily updates on my progress was, well, boring.

Since it’s been awhile since I’ve posted about the 40 Challenge – let’s review!

What is the 40 Challenge?

Exercise for 40 minutes.

Read for 40 minutes.

and Write for 40 minutes.

Everyday for 40 days.

No excuses.

How am I doing so far?

I’ve been surprised that lately my exercise goal has been the most difficult to meet each day. Reading is definitely the easiest. Writing isn’t too tough either.

On average I’ve met my goals about 70% of the time. Excuse? Sick kids, a traveling spouse and overall not enough time left at the end of the day.

For next week, I’m rethinking my exercise strategy and how to squeeze 40 minutes of it into my day.

If anyone see a Time Machine on Craigslist, let me know – okay?

Time Management for Moms Who Write

The awesome author and fellow Texan Varian Johnson recently wrote a blog post about time management for writers. justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2010/02/23/guest-post-varian-johnson-on-battling-time-suck/


The post is chock-full of great advice about finding the time to write.

None of them work for me.

You see, Varian is an engineer. Which to me, the liberal arts graduate, means he has a completely different skill set that enables him to impose discipline and order to his schedule.
 

In addition, I’m a mom. And all moms know that like drinking and driving, kids and schedules just don’t mix.

In other words:

Kids + Writing Schedule = Chaos

  

 

Now, I know a lot of you writers out there are dads as well. Don’t get your boxers all in a bunch. These guidelines can help you as well. I even invite you to add more of your own.

 

Actually,  I only have one guideline for time management.

 

Do everything half-assed, except the things that are the most important to you.

 

Seriously. Somewhere along the way, especially in the Southern states in my opinion, we moms have got it into our heads that we have to do everything great, terrific, PERFECT even. Blame it on Martha Stewart, excessive graduate programs or those damn Little Einstein programs which make you feel like a failure if your kids are reading/writing/para-sailing before preschool.

 

It ain’t so.

 

Determine what’s most important in your life. Concentrate on that and let everything else slide.

 

My important things – the holy trinity if you will – are:

my husband
 

my kids
 

and my writing.

THEY ARE ALL EQUALLY IMPORTANT. Really.

 

 

The rest of the stuff I try not to let take up my limited time and brain space.

 

My challenge to you is to sit down and look at your life and how you spend you time. For example,  make a list of all the things you can GIVE UP.

 

Here’s a few from my list:

 

Hand-writing thank-you cards.

 

Making thank-you cards.

 

Sending any sort of card in general.

 

Ironing

 

Mopping

 

Actually most housework at all come to think about it.

 

Wearing make-up unless contractually obligated

(Please see previous glamour shot of me at my desk.)

 

Cooking elaborate meals when a carb, a veggie and a protein of choice will suffice.

 Washing the car.

 

Washing clothes.

 

Washing in general.

 Just kidding on the last item but do you see where I’m going with this?

 

Time management all boils down to spending the most amount of your time doing things that are important to you. Everything else is fluff. In fact this advice isn’t just for moms who write or not. It’s good advice for all of us: moms, dads, singletons and everything in-between.

 

So put down that handmade thank you card and go do something you really care about.

 

I promise Martha won’t mind.