Short and Sweet:
Diana Peterfreund has published ten novels for adults, teens, and kids, including the four-book Secret Society Girl series (Bantam Dell), the “killer unicorn novels” Rampant and Ascendant (Harper Teen), For Darkness Shows the Stars (a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion), and Across a Star-Swept Sea (inspired by the classic series The Scarlet Pimpernel). Her newest novel, OMEGA CITY, is a contemporary adventure novel for younger readers set in a secret bunker city somewhere under modern Maryland.
Her works have been named to the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list, the Capitol Choices (metro DC-area) reading list, and the Texas Lonestar List, as well as having been named to Amazon’s Best Books of the Year. In addition, she’s written several critically acclaimed short stories and a variety of non-fiction essays about popular children’s literature. Diana lives outside Washington D.C., with her family.
Long and, okay, still sweet:
Diana Peterfreund has been a costume designer, a cover model, and a food critic. (She’s also been a copyeditor, a waitress, and answered phones at an insurance company, but those don’t sound quite as cool, do they?) Her travels have taken her from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the underground caverns of New Zealand (and as far as she’s concerned, she’s just getting started). Diana graduated from Yale University in 2001 with dual degrees in Literature and Geology, which her family claimed would only come in handy if she wrote books about rocks. Now, this Florida girl lives with her husband, her daughter, and their dog in Washington D.C., and writes books that rock.
Her first novel, Secret Society Girl (2006), was described as “witty and endearing” by The New York Observer and was placed on the New York Public Library’s 2007 Books for the Teen Age list. The follow-up, Under the Rose (2007) was deemed “impossible to put down” by Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist called the third book, Rites of Spring (Break) (2008), “an ideal summer read.” The final book in the series, Tap & Gown, was released in 2009. All titles are available from Bantam Dell.
Her first young adult novel, Rampant, an adventure fantasy about killer unicorns and the virgin descendants of Alexander the Great who hunt them, was released by Harper Collins in 2009. It was an Indie Next Pick in winter of 2009 and appeared on the American Library Association’s list of Popular YA Paperbacks in 2011. The sequel, Ascendant, was picked as one of the top ten YA novels of 2010 by The Daily BeastHer 2012 novel, For Darkness Shows the Stars, is a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It received a starred review from School Library Journal, was made an L.A. Times Summer Reading Pick, was listed as one of the top YA novels of year by both Amazon.com and the Atlantic Wire, and was named to the metro DC area library notable list, Capitol Choices, and the Texas Lonestar List. For Darkness Shows the Stars was be followed by a companion novel in 2013. Across a Star-Swept Sea is a future-set spy story inspired by the Baroness Orczy classic, The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Her most recent novel, Omega City, is an adventure story for younger readers set in a secret bunker city somewhere deep below the ground of suburban Maryland.
In 2010, Diana published her first short story, “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn” in the anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. The collection received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn” was also chosen for inclusion in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Five anthology. Since then, she has published four more short stories, including “Errant” (a 2010 Locus Recommended Read) in the anthology Kiss Me Deadly, “Foundlings” in the anthology Brave New Love, “On a Field, Sable” in the anthology Eternal Spring, “The Hammer of Artemis” in the anthology Cast of Characters, “Burned Bright” in the anthology Foretold, “Stray Magic” in the award-winning anthology Under My Hat, and “Huntress Sinister” in Athena’s Daughters, a feminist sci-fi anthology that is, to date, the most successful crowd-funded literary project on Kickstarter.
In 2010, she published Morning Glory, a novelization of the Paramount picture written by Aline Brosh McKenna (27 Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada).
She also contributed to the non-fiction anthologies, Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, edited by Jennifer O’Connell (Pocket Books, 2007), The World of the Golden Compass, edited by Scott Westerfeld (BenBella Books, 2007),Through the Wardrobe, edited by Herbie Brennan (BenBella Books, 2008), Mind-Rain, edited by Scott Westerfeld (BenBella Books, 2009), The Girl Who Was On Fire, edited by Leah Wilson (BenBella Books, 2012), Shadowhunters and Downworlders, edited by Cassandra Clare (BenBella Books, 2013), and contributed an essay to Now Write! Science Fiction (Penguin, 2014).
Diana’s work has been published in twelve languages.
When she’s not writing, Diana reads (and rereads and rereads) picture books to her her toddler, attempts to grow vegetables in her garden, adds movies she has no intention of ever watching to her Netflix queue, and goes on long hikes with her dog, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Rio.
Frequently Asked Questions
Diana on Her Books
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere! A snippet of conversation, a current issue, a dream. Ideas are all over. It’s the weaving that makes them stories. For specific inspiration, check out the “between the lines” section.
What are you working on now?
I’m revising my 2013 book, code-named “Pimp.” It is not about pimps or pimples. It’s totally frockalicious.
Did you know that this part of your book is wrong?
Well, actually, it isn’t, and I can tell you why (because I’m a know-it-all like that).
Did you know that that part of your book is wrong?
Huh. Live and learn.
Did you know that this part of your book is wrong?
I actually know that — Poetic license, bub.
What parts of your book are true?
My book is a work of fiction. It says so right there on the copyright page. What parts do you think are true?
Were you in a secret society?
I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
Actually, I already know the truth, because I bshglrpasdflrutbsnvbnbtlkdmdmd….
Diana on Herself
Um… hi. I was wondering what you can tell us about yourself.
Other than the stuff listed “here?” Well, let’s see. My first job was in a CD factory. That was fun. I love caves and bats. My ears are not pierced, and I’ll probably never pierce them. I’ve memorized the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. All six hours. I wrote my senior thesis at Yale on James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, which was, I might add, the first book ever published by Pocket.
How did you like Yale?
I loved it! Best time ever. Most of my friends are from school.
What were your college and major?
I was in Morse College (10 points if you can figure out what I call it in my books) and double-majored in Geology and Literature.
Is Diana Peterfreund your real name?
Do you think I’d make something like that up?
Where did you grow up?
Near Tampa, Florida.
Are you married?
Yes. I got married in 2007. On my blog, I call my husband Sailor Boy. This is not his real name. No, he’s not in the Navy.
Do you have children?
Yes, I have a daughter. I call her Q or Queenie on the internet.
Who are your favorite authors?
This changes daily, I think. I can pick novelists I’ve loved for a decade or more, though. Lucy Maud Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Lois Lowry, Alexandre Dumas, Gene Stratton Porter, Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, Christopher Pike, Edgar Allan Poe… I’m sure there are more.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Contemplate the meaning of life and work towards the discovery of the unified theory. Seriously? I crochet. I blog. I do yoga. I read a lot. I love Netflix. I hang out with Sailor Boy. I hang out with friends. I try to make a dent in my TBR pile. I pick up hobbies and then drop them. I spend most of my day entertaining my daughter.
Is it really cool to be a cover model? ‘Cause it looks really cool.
Yep. It’s really cool. Really, really, cool.
How much do you make?
Writers get paid a bit differently than other people. When we agree to write a book, a publisher pays us a certain amount of money called an “advance.” This is usually the amount that the publisher knows they will be able to earn back with the book. The advance comes in several parts. When the book is published, an author gets a percentage of the cost of every book sold – but here’s the rub. The author doesn’t get any of those percentages until they’ve added up to the amount in the advance! (But if they never add up to that amount, the author doesn’t have to pay the publisher back. However, if that happens, the publisher might not want to buy any more of the author’s books!) Once the same amount of money as the advance has been reached, the author starts getting those percentages. They’re called royalties. Authors only get paid once or twice a year, unlike most jobs where you get paid every two weeks or so. So authors need to learn to budget.
When are you going to write a real book?
Right after someone explains to me why mine are fake. Hey, is this a writing question? Let’s go here…
Diana on Writing
“What time of day is best for writing?”
For me? All times are the same. Sometimes I get good writing done in the morning, sometimes in the evening. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and go write until I can fall back to sleep. I probably shouldn’t admit this.
“When writing a book do you already have an idea on the ending for some characters?”
Absolutely. In fact, it’s pretty rare that I don’t know what will happen to the characters, or that it changes while writing. The interesting thing about writing a series is looking back to where the characters were at the end of the first or second book, and thinking about where they’ll be by the end of the fourth. I didn’t necessarily have that all mapped out, though I did have a general impression. George, of course, is abducted by aliens. And Odile becomes a kindergarten teacher.
Having said that, however, I love it when characters surprise me. For example, when I first started writing Secret Society Girl, I didn’t think of Poe as a major character, but he appeared on the page and insisted upon being included. So I did. I always try to go with my gut when things like that happen. If there’s an interesting character hanging out in the wings, use him!
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Varies from book to book. With the Secret Society Girl series, it was a conversation I had with my now-husband about the bizarre and misleading way Yale secret societies are represented by Hollywood. I wanted to write a story about secret societies the way they really are — where the twenty year old members aren’t constantly committing murders that the “powerful” members of the society are somehow hushing up, or being branded, or being given hundreds of thousands of dollars — but where the personal, collegiate level intrigues and influence can be every bit as mysterious and devastating. The impression is that a secret society can destroy your life, empty your bank account, ruin your family… the reality is far more mundane (though no less important to the people involved).
Rampant developed from an overheard snippet of dialogue, a dream, and a bit of research that snowballed. It’s all about playing what if. What if I a girl who buys into the conspiracy theories of secret societies were to join one? What if unicorns weren’t the fluffy gentle creatures we think they are? What if they were dangerous?
“What should I major in to become a writer?”
Major in anything you want. I did Geology, and then, because I wound up taking classes that worked for the Literature major (which fell into every category from Film to American Studies) I wrote another paper and took a second major in that. I think it’s better, actually, if you don’t major in English, Literature, or Writing. It means that you know stuff that every other yahoo trying to write a book out there doesn’t know. If you major in Epidemiology or Computer Science or 17th Century Danish History, while the rest of us are breaking our backs doing research for our books, you’re sitting pretty, because you already know all this stuff. Ask Tess Gerritsen or John Grisham or Michael Crichton.
Plus, it’s way easier to get a job to support you while you write with an Epidemiology or Computer Science degree. Danish History I don’t know about.
“How hard a job is writing?”
6.7. Kidding. It’s the best job ever, since I can work whenever and wherever I want, and I get paid for making things up. At the same time, it’s the hardest because the onus is entirely on me to create a demand. People don’t actually need what I do. I’m not a butcher or a baker or an overpriced espresso maker. So I have to write something that people actually want to spend their discretionary income on.
“How do you respond to the blank stares from people when you say you’re a writer?”
I feel very lucky that I don’t get blank stares. I do however, get an automatic assumption that “I’m a writer” equals “unemployed.” The conversation goes like this:
Cocktail Party Guest: “I’m a lawyer. So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a novelist.”
CPG: “Oh. Um, er, anything… published?”
Me: “Yes. My third book comes out from Random House this month.” (Inwardly, I wonder why no one ever responds to”I’m a lawyer,” with “Oh, Um, er… an employed one?” Yet the assumption is that I’m an out of work novelist. Believe me, if I were, I would say something like, “I’m a barista at Starbucks” or etc.)
I’ve taken to telling folks at cocktail parties that I’m a smoke jumper. More believable. Of course, then you do get blank stares.
How long had you been writing before you sold?
That’s a tough question. Going by one count, it was decades. I wrote short stories in grade school when other kids were using their spelling words in sentences. I wrote my first novel in 6th grade. It was about a pair of girls who get lost while hiking and spend the night alone on a mountain. I won a short story contest in high school (actually, tied for first with a friend who will never let me live it down), and wrote a ton of short stories in college (including one I turned in in lieu of a term paper, for which the teacher awarded me an A+ and said I should be a novelist). Going by the other count – how long was I writing novels I attempted to publish, I’d say it was a little more than three years. I wrote four full novels in that time, and a few false starts. I finished my first book for publication in the summer of 2002. I sold in April of 2005. I hear that’s about average.
Was Secret Society Girl the first book you wrote, or do you have unpublished manuscripts?
See above. I have four unpublished manuscripts. Two are category romance, one is an action adventure, and one is a single title, kinda paranormal romance. Only one is definitely unpublishable, but that does not mean I’m seeking publication for the others at this time.
How did you get an agent?
I wrote her a letter about me and the book I was writing. This is called a “query” letter. She asked to see the book. I sent it. She rejected it. I started another book, then asked if she wanted to see that. She said yes. I sent it to her. She read it, fell in love with it, and emailed me to ask if she could represent it.
How did you sell your first book?
First I got an agent (see above). Then she sent my book out to publishers. Because there were a bunch of publishers that wanted to publish the book, we held an auction for it and then sold the book to Bantam Dell.
What’s your writing schedule like?
Schedule? Surely you jest!
What I mean is, how often do you spend time writing?
Not often enough, unless I’m on deadline, and then, every day.
How much writing do you do per day/week/month?
Anything between 0 pages per month and 90 pages per month, depending on circumstances. One of my ongoing resolutions is to write more regularly.
Are you a plotter, or a pantzer?
Plotter. And I hate the term “pantzer.”
What the heck is a pantzer?
Apparently, someone who “writes by the seat of their pants” (i.e., someone who doesn’t’ know in advance where their book is going). But I always thought it meant a person who came up behind you and pulled your pants down.
How do you write a book?
One sentence at a time.
Really. A lot of the people who say they want to be writers or write a book would really rather “have written a book” than actually go through the process. Writing a book is really, really, really hard, and if you have the slightest idea that there’s something else you’d rather do with your life, then do that instead. There are also as many ways to write a book as there are books. I write each of my books using a different method, because that’s what the book requires. Usually, I get an idea, in the form of a premise or a character, then I think about it for a while. This could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Then, once I’ve thought about it sufficiently, I write a chapter or two, just to see if there’s chemistry between the two of us. Sometimes, the idea sounds really good in my head, but doesn’t work out so well on paper, kind of like a guy that seems to have a lot in common with you, but you don’t work out as a couple. If there is chemistry, I plot out the rest of the book in a loose outline form. Then I write it.
I have a great idea for a book. Will you write it and we can split the profits?
No, thank you. I have plenty of ideas. Why don’t you write it?
But this one is really good.
I bet it is. Still not interested.
You’ll be sorry.
Most likely. Good luck, though! When you’re a bestseller, I promise I’ll buy a copy and kick myself.
Will you read what I’ve written and tell me if it’s any good?
I’m sorry, but I don’t respond to individual requests. I already have several critique partners with whom I exchange work. I also often auction off critiques for charity events or give them away at writing conferences. (If you are interested, I usually announce those things on my blog). In addition, I judge a lot of writing contests. I highly recommend joining a writer’s organization such as Romance Writers of America or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or finding a group of fellow writers to critique with. They don’t have to be published, either. Everyone was unpublished some time.
Will you tell me how to get a book published?
Write a very good book. Revise it very well. Write a very good query letter and send it out to very good agents. Make sure they are very good agents by researching the heck out them (the main thing you are looking for is a record of recent sales of the types of books you write to good, royalty-paying, non vanity houses). When they ask for the book, send it to them (you’d be surprised how many people skip this step). Wait patiently. Sign with a good agent. Wait even more patiently while your agent sends out the book. Sell it. Wait even more patiently while the book goes through all the steps. Meet all of your deadlines.
Do you have any other advice for writers?
“Plenty!” Also, head over to my blog for more rants and raves about the writing industry, and if you haven’t learned enough, check out my appearances page. I give lots of writing workshops.
Can you recommend any good books on writing?
Yes! On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, is the best book on writing I’ve ever read. On Writing by Stephen King is pretty good too. I love the intro to Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Great characterization info. But in general, I recommend articles over books. Some of my favorites are on http://julieleto.com
Is it really necessary to have an agent?
Necessary to have an agent to do what? To sell a book? No, not necessarily. Extremely good idea, but not vital. But to have the kind of career that I want to have? Undeniably necessary.
How do you suggest a new or aspiring author promote themselves?
I suggest aspiring authors promote themselves by writing the best book possible, submitting it wisely, and working on the next book. Also, if you have the ability and capital, attend a writing conference or two, or enter high profile writing conferences, such as the Golden Heart. But that’s not a big deal. Write the best book possible, and submit it wisely.