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Writer’s of America organization, which is one of the only writing organizations that will let you join if you’re unpublished.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/

 

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