August 17, 2006

3 Questions with Diana Peterfreund

I guest-blogged over at Literary Chicks telling them a Henry story you already know, but throwing ij a heretofore secret tale of CHILEAN DEATH SCRABBLE, a favorite pastime of mine. It may or may not involve the loser being fed to tigers...

Meanwhile, to entertain you HERE, I profer a heaping scoop of Diana Peterfreund, author of Secret Society Girl. It's the story of Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel, who never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave, the country’s most powerful–and notorious–secret society. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or…well, male...The New York Observer says, "Ms. Peterfreund’s descriptions of the ambitious Amy Haskel’s collegial life are both vivid and amusing ... Amy's story is both witty and endearing, peppered as it is with rhetorical questions and moments when she emphatically addresses the reader as “dude.”

Which, as you know, I recently become pro-dude. Because my nine tyear old son says it SO constantly, I have been unable to not pick it up like a virus. So. Dude. I'll let Dinana talk now...

JJ: What do you think of your cover and how does it compare to the cover you imagined when you were writing the book?

DP: They actually changed my cover at the last minute. The original cover looks a lot like my website ( Same teal color scheme and swirly fonts. The old cover was beautiful, but I think the new cover nails the tone of my book. When I was originally consulted for cover concepts, I wanted something along these lines -- gorgeous old stone building and then something cute or girly in the foreground to hint at the fact that it was a comedy. My editor and I did mockups of a scary stone tomb with a girl in college wear out front. (If you go to my website, you see the image of the "secret society girl" -- the girl in the hooded robe over her pink shirt and jeans. I think that's very in the spirit of the new cover. I love the cover. I love how it is a play on a scene from the book.


JJ: A lot of writers read this blog----how did you
a) Find an agent
b) sell that first book
c) come to realize you wanted to pursue writing as a career instead of a personal passion or a hobby.

DP: a + b) I'd been writing and submitting romances for several years, and though I'd gotten plenty of nibbles and a handful of awards, I hadn't yet gotten a bite. I started writing this story and it seemed to have the magic "lightning in a bottle" ingredients of voice, timing, and opportunity. I've always writen highly sarcastic characters, and this time I got to indulge in that voice completely, tell a story about strong women, use my own experiences, and add a dash of romance to the mix. I wrote three chapters, and then told a writing friend about the story, She went to a conference that weekend and sat next to an editor who, as luck would have it, was looking for something just like my book. And she wasn't the only one. By the end of the conference, my freind had garnered a bunch of requests for my uncompleted manuscript. I'd submitted to the woman who would become my agent before, and she'd always asked to see my next project. We'd actually met once, and she was currently considering my most recently completed manuscript when I emailed her and said I had a bunch of interest for this new proposal. She asked to see it as well, read it between the time I sent it to her from my office and took the metro home, and offered me representation. She turned around and sent it to a bunch of houses, and in a week and a half, we had a six way auction. I sold the book to Kerri Buckley of Bantam Dell. She's been an absolute joy to work with.

c) I've always written stories, but in college, I found it difficult to be in an academic environment and sustain a love for genre fiction, which is my passion. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life my senior year when my boyfriend read a story I'd written for one of my classes in lieu of a term paper and said to me, "I don't know why you're pretending you want to be anything other than a writer." He really encouraged me to put my money where my mouth was. After I graduated, while freelancing for a newspaper, I decided that it was about time to see if "someday I want to write a novel" could ever turn into something more. I told myself that if I could write a whole novel, then I'd invest the time and energy into the rest (i.e., researching the industry, joining writer's groups, going to conferences, etc.). So I wrote one, which really surprised me. Then I joined RWA, met a bunch of people who were career writers and took the next step. I knew I could write a book; could I write a good one? I definitely recommend that aspiring writers pass the first test before they start worrying about query letters and all that rot.

JJ: Who did you dedicate this book to and why?

DP: The book is dedicated to "the sons and daughters of Eli," which is a fancy way Yalies refer to themselves. The university in the book is an alternate-reality Yale called "Eli University." I think of this book as a love letter to my alma mater and all of its wonderful traditions and eccentricities, as well as a love letter to the people I went to school with, who are some of the best people I know.

JJ: What's the best STUPID LITTLE perk about having your book sell? You must here confess what RIDICULOUS dorky thing has pleased you WELL beyond the scope of it...

DP: I think the most amazing aspect of the sale for me has been connecting with people. Of course, there's the whole lofty concept of connecting to my audience, but the day the book came out, I got an email from an old college buddy I haven't spoken to in years. He sent me a picture of himself holding up my book in front of the Ottawa Parliament building. That one made me smile for days. I also got an email from a girl I went to summer camp with when I was thirteen, saying that I couldn't be the same Diana Peterfreund. Of course, how many of those are there? It's meant so much to me that people are actually interested in reading stuff I made up. And I sound dorky enough here to please anyone, I think.

JJ: Did you always plan for Secret Society Girl to be a series? If not, how did it grow into in, and if so, did you structure the first book differently, knowing another would follow?

DP: When I first queried the book to my agent, I told her I thought it had "series potential" so by the time we were shopping it to publishers, I'd started thinking along those lines. What would the series look like? What other stories could I tell in that world? The first book stands completely alone, but the collegiate lifestyle lends itself to particular character arcs. People grow and change so much during college. I was lucky in that I sold two books in the series straight away so I had the freedom to develop the story in a series manner. Still, there's only one or two minor plotlines that are not wrapped up in the first book.

Yeah, I know, it's more than three. We're WRITERS. We write. We don't...count. *grin*

Posted by joshilyn at August 17, 2006 6:49 PM

Glad you were able to come up for air for a few minutes...take care of you right now, I know things are crazy.


Posted by: Gabi at August 17, 2006 9:42 PM

Eh... I couldn't decide which questions I liked best. Besides, once you start me talking, I can't never shut up.

Posted by: Diana at August 18, 2006 2:06 AM

Oh Diana! *tsk, tsk, tsk* Such grammar. It's CAIN'T never shut up. *runs away quickly* (to go buy your book) :-)

Posted by: David at August 18, 2006 7:59 AM

Thanks for this interview. I actually just finished this book and loved it. I can't wait for the next one to come out! (Also, I can't wait for your next one to come out because as soon as I've gotten either of your books in my hands I've absolutely devoured them, and actually read "Between" in one sitting.)

Posted by: Jessie at August 18, 2006 8:45 AM

I may have to get this book, I like how the interview went.

BTW Joss, I saw this and thought of you:

Posted by: Tina at August 18, 2006 8:46 AM

Hi, Diana! *waving*

It was good to read your path to publication. Prior to this I'd heard that SSG was your first book, and it went to auction on one chapter. See how those urban legends get started? Still a great story, but now I don't have to be so pea green with envy. ;+)

Posted by: ZaZa at August 18, 2006 4:54 PM

Thanks for doing the interview. I also loved SSG and can't wait to see what Amy does next (and if she gets together with Poe). I went to RWA National in Atlanta last month and didn't find out that Diana was in somewhere in that jam-packed Wednesday night group booksigning until after I got home. Waaah!

Posted by: Elizabeth at August 18, 2006 8:55 PM

Gosh, I have so much reading to delve into; and aren't I just the fanster, to sink it all in..with abondoned delight!!

My imagination thank thee oh witty writing spirits... for thine door, leads open... to fantastic imaginings.

A completeness; is my personal critique of Society Girl cover... bravo-I wish I were the designer...lovely old-school concrete imagery!


Posted by: North at August 19, 2006 6:30 PM

I just wanted to let you know...I bought gods today at a Target in Joplin, MO! It was the last copy...the shelves were empty!

Posted by: Amanda at August 20, 2006 12:45 AM