11 April 2013

Diana Peterfreund on Publishing, Prequels, and the Puzzle Pieces of a Post-Apocalyptic Persuasion

A few weeks ago, I treated myself to train fare and two nights in New York to attend the NYC Teen Authors Festival, which was awesome. Dozens of YA authors gathered for panels, readings and even theatrical interpretation! Among those featured was the lovely and talented Diana Peterfreund, author of eight novels including the Secret Society Girl series and the “killer unicorn novels” RAMPANT and ASCENDANT.
Diana Peterfreund

Diana gave a beautiful reading from her latest book, FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARSand I was hooked! I had a chance to read this post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion while on spring break with my daughter. Days later, the characters were still on my mind and I didn't quite feel like banishing them with a new read. So, I asked Diana if I could interview her. She said "absolutely!" And here we are...

Q: Diana, I'm always curious about how a kernel of an idea evolves and grows during the course of writing a book. Could you share a little bit about the journey you took with FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, from that first little kernel to the novel it grew into?

A: Like many writers, I keep an "idea file" where I squirrel away all the fancies that come to mind. I'm a big fan of retellings, especially Austen retellings like Bridget Jones and Clueless. Since Persuasion is my favorite Austen, and also a really under-appreciated one, I had "write a Persuasion retelling" in there for years. I also had "write something post-apocalyptic" in there because it was one of my favorite kinds of books when I was a teen. One day, I was looking in the file and the two phrases combined in my head: "post apocalyptic Persuasion." Once it was there, I couldn't get it out, so from there it was about finding what would create a society that would form the backdrop to this timeless story. I went through lots and lots of ideas before I decided on the Reduction and the world of Luddites and Posts. Another big chunk of the puzzle fell into place when I was trying to consider how to make this story of reunited lovers work for teens -- so I made them childhood friends. And then another big piece was when I was trying to do justice to Captain Wentworth's beautiful letter to Anne, and I thought how making the story at least partially epistolary would make letters into an organic and integral part of the whole. 

Q: I'm enjoying the prequel to FDSTS you posted on your website. Can you tell us about the writing of it, and the decision to share it as a free PDF? (I'm interested in authors' use of free and additional content to develop their readership, and sustain interest between book releases in a series.)

A: I'm glad you like it! Providing free supplementary content is something I have always done for my books -- so seven and counting. I'm really glad that the trend has caught on in a big way. There's a whole series of "secret stories" on my website for my Secret Society Girl series. When Rampant came out, I made special websites filled with supplementary material and fun extras, and then later, I put up free short stories set in the world ("On a Field, Sable" and "Errant"). So this was just another opportunity. The PDF was my publisher's idea. They had it up on their site for a limited time. In addition to it being available from PDF on my site, you can also download it for free for your ereader from any platform: Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords... you name it. There is a connecting short story included in the back of the FDSTS paperback, and there will be a prequel available for ACROSS A STAR SWEPT SEA, as well. 

Q: How do you balance your writing with related activities and promotion (author appearances, Twitter, Facebook, blogging...)? 

A: Not very well! I definitely have to do a lot of reminding of myself that my main job is writing (for instance, I should be doing page proofs right now instead of answering these questions).

Q: If you were Queen of All Publishing, what would you change? (Would it be the way YA series are named, perhaps...?)

A: I have no problem with the way YA series are named. I have a problem with the insistence of one reader database, Goodreads, insisting that a) series must have a title and default to the title of the first book in that series, and b) that series must be numbered according to their system. Writers should not be forced to write according to Goodreads rules. In terms of publishing, I'd love to get rid of some of the dinosaur "slow to turn the boat around" policies on ebook pricing and scheduling. There are a lot of dynamic things being done with pricing and scheduling these days and I'd love it if NY got in the game. I'd also love it if we got a bit away from the blind following of trends, but it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle, especially since that seems to work so well with so many consumers. 

Q: Finally, your first novel SECRET SOCIETY GIRL was published in 2006. Looking back on your debut author experience, was there a particular moment, event or decision that influenced the direction of your writing career?

A: Well, the collapse of the chick lit market wasn't so fun. I was lucky enough to be able to finish my series and all my books are still in print, but a lot of my fellow chick lit writers were not so fortunate. There were a few years there where contemporary women's fiction was a really, really tough sell. (Another thing that seems to be changing, thank you, self pub trends!) I was lucky then that I was also writing YA. But beyond the obvious constrictions of what a publisher is willing to buy, I'm a writer that really follows my interests -- I am deeply fascinated by the topics of all my books, as my extensive collection of unicorn paraphernalia and Austen editions proves. 

Thank you, Diana! And readers... here's more on FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS:

For Darkness Shows the Stars

Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology. Eighteen-year-old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in this caste system. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. But now the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress and threatening Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliott wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she abandoned him.

But Elliot soon discovers her childhood friend carries a secret—one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she has lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.