Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Author Interview: Diana Peterfreund

Author Interview: Diana Peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund has been a costume designer, cover model, and food critic. She's traveled from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the caverns of New Zealand (and she’s just getting started!).

She graduated from Yale University with degrees in literature and geology, which her family claimed would only come in handy if she wrote books about rocks. Instead, she writes books that rock!

Her first teen novels, Rampant and sequel Ascendant, are adventure fantasies about killer unicorns and the virgin descendants of Alexander the Great who hunt them. Check them out before meeting her at YALLFest! First read our interview here:

We’re all excited that you're coming to Charleston for YALLFest! What made you decide to come?

I was promised pie. ;-)

Seriously, though, I'm so excited to be a part of this festival. It's the first one I've been to away from home since my baby was born, and I can't think of a better way to start meeting up with readers again. A lot of my writer friends are going to be there, and I'm looking forward to meeting some of my favorite writers who I only know online (like Saundra Mitchell).

Why did you start writing books for teens?

Almost all of my favorite books are books I read as a teen. There is something so definitive and magical about that time of your life, and about what you read during that time of your life.

You write books for adults (the Secret Society Girl series) and for teens. How is writing for each different?

The Secret Society Girl series is actually about college seniors, 21 year olds -- so it's actually not TOO different. In my case, I was writing about people who didn't need a reason to be independent from their parents -- they already lived alone and had for several years, they could drink legally, etc. I don't think so much about "this is a book for X reader" as I think about being true to the characters I write.

It's funny -- the only time I was ever given an editorial constraint is when my adult editor asked me to tone down a sex scene in the Secret Society Girl books because, despite being written for an adult audience, they were hugely popular with teen readers. I thought that was fair. (There aren't actually sex scenes in all my adult books. There just happened to be one in the one in question.)

How did you come up with the idea of killer unicorns in Rampant and Ascendant?

I was doing research on unicorns and was shocked to discover that the Lisa Frank Rainbow Trapper Keeper image I'd always had of them was but one small facet of unicorn mythology -- that there was a huge body of legends about unicorns from all over the globe that I wasn't familiar with -- legends in which unicorns were deadly and dangerous and man-eating. Legends about Alexander the Great and Confucius and Genghis Khan. I didn't think we'd heard much about those, and the whole idea dovetailed so nicely with things I wanted to write about -- female warriors, feminism, environmentalism, etc. -- that I just ran with it.

The funny thing is, once you write a book about unicorns, forever will it follow you. Steven Boyett told me that.

What were your favorite books growing up (and did they involve unicorns)?

Believe it or not, I actually wasn't a big unicorn person. I have read way more books about unicorns now -- and I own a lot more unicorn paraphernalia, because people send it to me all the time. I did love The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, but I didn't read it until I was working on my book. I saw the movie as a child, though.

Some of my favorite books (then and now, actually) are: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Narnia) by C.S. Lewis, Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. I have a lot of favorites.

I have a daughter now, and I can't wait until she's old enough to share the Narnia and Harry Potter books with me. (Who am I kidding? I can't wait until she's old enough for The Monster at the End of this Book and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!)

How do your books reflect your own experiences as a teenager?

Aside from the whole deadly warrior thing, Astrid (the heroine of Rampant) is probably a lot closer to who I was at her age than Amy Haskel (the heroine of Secret Society Girl) was. I found a lot of her struggles regarding boys and her choices about her sexuality really resonate with me, and of all the horrible things that happen to her, it's the scene on the pool chair with Giovanni, when Astrid is getting herself into a situation she really doesn't want to be in but feels pressured to see through, that always makes me cry.

Are you especially similar to any of your characters?

I think people expect me to be a lot like Amy Haskel, the heroine of the Secret Society Girl series, since we're both Lit majors from Yale. And while Amy and I have big mouths, the similarities pretty much end there.

Who did you look up to as a teenager?

This sounds really cheesy, but my parents. I was so fortunate to be raised in a feminist household where my parents taught me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, but she was also the first person in her family to go to college, despite the fact that her teachers at school told her that the most she could ever hope for was maybe secretarial school. She got a teaching degree. My father is a physician and a tireless champion of women's health and reproductive rights.

What message would you like for teen readers to get from your books?

Mostly, I write to entertain people, so I want teen readers to come away with a good story. Anything else they get out of it is a bonus, such as feeling stronger or more empowered to make decisions for themselves or to ask questions about the situations they are being presented with and the world they are about to inherit.

What’s next for you?

My next book will be out in June. It's a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, which is another of my all-time favorite novels.

See you at YALLFest!

See you there!

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