Archive for the 'Diana Peterfreund’s Posts' Category

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Old Ideas and New Projects

I was intrigued by HelenKay’s post yesterday, and not just because she’s going to write four books in six months (HelenKay, please tell me your secret!). I’m not a writer who gets bombarded with new ideas all the time, but neither am I one who worries that the ideas won’t come. Ideas come at a steady rate. Sometimes just when I need them, other times when I’m in the middle of something else.

Some can be jumped upon right away, while others need to marinate in the back of my mind for weeks or months or even years. Some probably needed more marinade than they were given, which is why, sometimes, my ideas are DOA and never turn into books at all (my agent still occasionally asks me about a stalled proposal I declared unworkable back in 2009).

This spring, I published a YA dystopian short story that started life as a book idea for a now-defunct line of romantic suspense novels… in 2003. The new project I started this week is an unrecognizable iteration of an idea I’ve been brainstorming for more than a year, and the manuscript I recently turned in to my publisher is a riff on one that I first thought of in 2005.

I don’t throw anything away. I have no idea what might be tangled in the flotsam and jetsam of my subconscious, and what might emerge, years or months later and be oddly perfect for what I need to write next.

Or sometimes an idea jumps up and grabs me by the throat, pushing aside whatever project I “decided” was next. (My first published book, Secret Society Girl, worked like this. I got the idea in mid-January and pushed it off while I finished another manuscript –but not too long, since I had a proposal by March and sold it in April.) This is fine… as long as I’m not under contract. Unlike HelenKay, I’m not a fast writer, and not nearly as fast as I was seven years ago.

I admit that since ideas have always been there, I haven’t given much thought to what would happen if the “well” dried up all of a sudden. I think that would probably signal a deeper problem with my life — maybe I’m not getting out enough or there’s something else sapping all my creative energies (I did NOT have a lot of ideas while dealing with a newborn!). I worry a lot more about my ability to bring my ideas to fruition than about having them in the first place. After all, every writer knows the most common question, “Where do you get your ideas?” is answered with “Ideas are the easy part.”

Friday, June 15th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Summer Reading and Summer Releases

Last week, I got home from BEA, and of course, I brought with me a stack of books I’d acquired there, books that I in some cases stood in long lines or fought off hordes of other super fans to acquire early. The sad news is that I haven’t cracked them yet. Eventually, they’ll be my summer reading, but for now, they have to take a back seat, because…

I had a new book come out on Tuesday. It’s my eighth novel, and my first in almost two years. And, honestly, it never. gets. old.

The book is called FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, and it’s a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (which, as we all know from Carrie’s post a few days ago, is her favorite Austen, which she highly recommends reading over the summer). It’s been garnering rave reviews, including a coveted star from School Library Journal, and according to the summer reading lists of the Boston Globe and the L.A. Times, it makes for a perfect summer read.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks, and likely what I’ll be doing for the next few: my reading and writing (and speaking and sleeping and, in some cases, even eating) is all about my latest release. I started a spoiler thread on my website for fans who’ve read the book, and a few of their questions have already sent me back to the book proper (or the free online prequel, “Among the Nameless Stars”) since I wrote both so long ago that I sometimes need to refresh my memory.

(This, in passing, is the curse of authors. By the time the book hits the streets, we’ve usually written another novel or two in the interim and have to re-immerse ourselves in the world of the novel we’re trying to promote.)

It’s worth it though, since I love this book with all my heart and soul, and I’m so excited that it’s finally out there in the world for someone else to choose as their summer read.

Friday, May 25th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Romance Structure and Romantic Moments

Sorry to go AWOL last week; between the Nebula Awards and family visits and deadlines and book releases, I was afraid something was going to slip through the cracks, and it ended up being my blog post. Mea Culpa.

While at the Nebulas, I met a writer who’d recently gotten his first pro credit. We ended up getting into a discussion about the different traditions of genre fiction, and how the community of science fiction writers has a tradition of encouraging newbies to start with short stories, even if that’s not their natural strength, while the community of romance writers seems to have a tradition of starting with Harlequin categories. I myself wrote four Harlequin category romance manuscripts before cottoning to the fact that I was a good writer, but not well suited to that format. I was describing to him the guidelines of the various Harlequin category lines, how one was geared toward romantic suspense and another toward small town stories and a third toward glamorous international locals and Greek billionaires and sheiks.

This week, I got an email (excerpted below):

For those of us that are less-than-skilled at building romantic tension in our work, do you have any pointers where to go to polish that aspect of our writing? I thought I understood you to say that specific Romance publishers offer very detailed templates listing exactly what they wanted. I have been looking a little but not finding such things.

I don’t want to write a Romance novel though, (at least I don’t think so not yet anyway). I am writing short stories. But I do get feedback that the relationships my characters get into need work. Is there even a category of Romance short story? What is the pace for those: first smoky glance, page one; first argument, page two, first kiss, page five; first XXX page ten, breakup page twelve, make up at page twenty?

I am not trying to be flip, I really do think I have bad instincts on this stuff and more than half of all readers are women, in genre fiction too. So an inept touch with this stuff might genuinely be holding me back.

I absolutely believe him that he’s honestly curious. But those of us who have spent any time at all in the trenches of the romance genre are going to cringe a little when any question starts hinting around at the dreaded F-word: Formula. “Formula” is a stick that people who look down on romance novels like to beat them with.

(One wonders how often sonnet writers are told that they’re just writing to “formula.”)

Yes, romance novels follow a structure (like the aforementioned sonnets). So do mysteries, thrillers, adventure stories, quest fantasies… and there are lots of places to go to get tips on the structure (here are a few of my favorites). Publishing guidelines, however, are not going to be one of them (they focus more on word length, tone/setting preferences, and other marketing limitations). And, the dirty little secret is, structure is structure is structure.

But all the structure in the world is not going to necessarily make your romance believable, it’s not going to make your readers root for your characters to get together (‘ship, in the fandom parlance), or sigh when and if they do. All you have to do is look at any one of a dozen lackluster romantic comedy films to see that. The structure may be impeccable, but no one is actually rooting for Katherine Heigl or whoever to finish her inexplicable dash through the city to find her supposedly true love that we don’t actually believe she’s really in love with. Or vice versa.

We have to believe the characters are in love. And what makes us believe it is as different every time as the characters and the situations they find themselves in. Sometimes, it takes very little for me, as a reader, to understand that the characters are perfect together. Sometimes, it takes some serious convincing. It could be a shared experience, or a tender moment, or a bit of witty repartee, or a grand sacrifice, or yes, even a chase through the streets (the one in When Harry Met Sally worked for me, YMMV.)

And what all these things are is moments. Moments where the characters (and, by extension, the reader) step back from everything else and just bask in the romance — the potential, the realization, the reality. Moments like:

  • The haughty Mr. Darcy going out of his way to be nice and gentlemanly to Lizzie’s middle-class family members (her uncle is — gasp! — in trade) when they show up unexpectedly at his country mansion. (Also, when she realizes through her silly sister’s slip up that the reason he vanished on her was so he could go track down the aforementioned runaway sister and save her family reputation.)
  • When Han and Leia are alone in the engine room of the Millenium Falcon and all of Leia’s blustery sarcasm falls aside and is revealed for the defense mechanism it is.
  • When Kyle and Sarah Connor finally have a few minutes alone in the hotel room and he tells her the story about John giving him the picture of her and they both start to realize this thing may be bigger than they’d thought.
  • The Tramp noses a meatball in Lady’s direction. (It can be very simple, folks!)
  • The entire opening sequence of UP. Keep tissues handy..

It’s the moments that add up to us believing that characters are truly in love — whether those moments are big or small. What are some of your favorites?

Friday, May 11th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
The Pleasures and Perils of Blogging

I have been “blogging” since July of 2004, when I was an unemployed aspiring writer trying to save up enough money to move out of my parents’ house. Before that, I didn’t know what a blog was, but had been keeping regular “news” updates on my nascent website of what I’d accomplished that month in writing, etc. In the past eight years, my blog has gone through a lot of changes.

I find I’m much more circumspect than I used to be. Part of it is I’ve just run out of topics. It turns out there is a limit to how many cute pics you can post of your puppy before you feel like you’re just exploiting her. And though I have many Thoughts on Craft and Industry, I’m sure no one wants to hear me extolling the virtues of the synopsis yet again. Book reviews are right out, book recommendations can start getting sticky, and book giveaways become exhausting (Man, I hate the post office.) It’s difficult even to discuss writing pet peeves, as your readers will invariably decide that you’re picking on a particular book (even if it’s one you aren’t familiar with at all).

I used to talk about my manuscript progress. I don’t do that anymore; because if and when (mostly when) things get thorny, I have an unfortunate tendency to sound melodramatic about it — “the book is broken, the sky is falling, I’m a terrible writer, why would anyone ever want to read me?” My readers, who I am attempting to induce to read my next book, probably don’t want to hear me whining about how awful it is, and me whining about how awful it all is is apparently an Official Part of my Process.

(In passing, don’t you hate the term “My Process?” It sounds so pretentious. “I’m an artiste. This is My Process!” Blecch.)

It’s also so easy to miscommunicate things — the informality of a blog post combined with the “official” nature of an author’s website appear to make the perfect storm of potential misunderstanding. Offhand comments can be taken as The Word From On High. Jokes are taken seriously. People skim, or alternately, people read Deeper Meanings into whatever you say. A short and by no means exhaustive list of things I have inadvertently misled readers about over the course of my blog:

  1. That a badly photoshopped, clearly jokey “fake” cover stealing images from The Last Unicorn cartoon was an actual bookcover of mine.
  2.  That a badly photoshopped, clearly jokey “fake” cover that was an 80s style bodice ripper (complete with tattered edges) was an actual bookcover of my YA.
  3. That a badly photoshopped — well, let’s just say my whole “fake Rampant cover” series did not go over well — irony does not always read on a blog. Even my mother in law got tripped up by one of them.
  4. That my husband was actually my gay roommate, Will & Grace style. (this particular reader was shocked when I blogged about getting married).
  5. That I was pregnant. (When I wasn’t and a few times when I was and being sneaky about it — my MIL again.)
  6. That I was not pregnant. (Given the aforementioned sneakies.)
  7. That I was having a movie made from my book.
  8. That I was writing a sequel to The Hunger Games. (?!?!)
  9. An announcement that I’d be speaking in the “Hong Kong” room in a hotel at a conference made someone think I was going to be speaking at a Hong Kong location of that hotel chain.
  10. An attempt to be as transparent as possible to other aspiring authors about what the revision process looks like got an editor in trouble about the format of her revision letters.
  11. An attempt to be as transparent as possible about the plans for continuing an ongoing series led to rampant (pun intended) speculation about completely fictional fights, threats, and disappointments between myself and my publisher.
  12. That the aforementioned cute puppy had died.

And that doesn’t even cover the arguments I’ve waded into! 😉

On the other hand, my blog is to account for some of my greatest joys in my career. It was through a blog post that I first met my good friend and critique partner Justine Larbalestier. Regular readers of my blog have become virtual friends. One came to the launch party of my first book and then, years later, with the wisdom of a fellow new mom, somehow read between the lines of my blog when I was pregnant and sent me a handmade baby blanket. Another keeps me in book and Canadian television recommendations, and we hang out on Pinterest talking about wedding decor. A third cajoled me into joining SFWA.

My blog readers have helped me when my garden was in trouble, when my dog has been sick, and when I needed to geek out with someone about my latest book release and my husband (who was a good sport about the whole “gay roommate” thing) got tired of hearing me speculate on what my secondary characters’ favorite foods were. My blog has been a place where I’ve experimented with form, invited other writers to experiment with voice, and given out freebies and extras to my readers. And that whole “fake cover” thing may have been confusing to some, but I had a blast with it and those readers who got the joke enjoyed it too.

Nowadays, my blog is just one part of a big web of social networking. I love Twitter — I Twitter daily, even when I don’t have time for a whole blog post. Twitter conversations can spark blogs and vice versa. I recently discovered Tumblr, which fulfills a different need entirely and which I often use to post on the fly inspirational photos and such of my works in progress. Because it’s on tumblr instead of my official blog, I feel like I can be a little more open with my works in progress (I’m usually excessively circumspect on my blog). However, I recently learned I’m not in the clear there, either. I was contacted by a reader who was super confused about the pictures I was posting of the heroine of the manuscript I’m writing now and how different they were from the descriptions of the heroine in the book I’ve got coming out next month. Gah. Informality strikes again.

For me, blogging is a fun outlet. When it stops being fun, I take breaks. I honestly don’t know what the solution to pitfalls like these are. A lot of writers I know who get frustrated by these setbacks and mishaps just cut off all social media completely. I enjoy blogging, though. I like giving back to the writing community in the form of industry and craft posts, and I like giving back to my readers in the form of Easter eggs, extras, and giveaways. It’s not a perfect system, I suppose, but until I see a better one…

Friday, May 4th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
What Builds Excitement?

This afternoon, my husband and I are playing hooky from work to go see THE AVENGERS movie. Aside from the other recent films starring these guys (and a few half-remembered episodes of the Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk show from childhood) I don’t have any particular connection to these characters. They weren’t a part of my childhood, like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, or the X-Men were, with cartoons and comic books. I’m still not sure what all the characters’ superpowers are (Black Widow? Is she like, an acrobat in leather with a gun?)

But I am super crazy excited for this film. Why? Let’s examine:

1. Joss Whedon. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan. I’ve seen almost everything he’s ever done (I’m waiting for Cabin in the Woods on DVD — yes, even despite the killer unicorn everyone tells me is in there — because I’m the biggest chicken in the world when it comes to horror movies, and DVD lets me mute/fast-forward past the terrifying stuff). I own all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD and watch it regularly, and I also own Angel, Firefly, Serenity, and Titan A.E. — yes, even Titan. I stuck with Dollhouse despite some elements that deeply bothered me (Prostitute-of-the-week plotlines), and was absolutely blown away by the fact that Joss examined that, and turned it not only to a central aspect of the storyline, but took the concept of body-buying to its terrifying, post-apocalyptic conclusion. I’ve never seen a story get saved the way he saved Dollhouse. He took our discomfort w the subject matter and said, “Guys, don’t you see? That’s the point.” Genius.

So Joss is doing this? I’m in. I’ll ignore the fact that women hardly even appear in the trailer. It’s Joss. It’ll be okay.

Lesson to writers: established authors bring a lot of credit with them when they embark on a new series. Audiences trust the content creator to give them something they will like.This is why sometimes established writer can publish a series with off-the-wall concepts or difficult characters.


2. Loki. I wasn’t a particular fan of the Thor film. It was beautiful, sure, but I thought the plot was dull and full of holes, and the “good guy” characters of Thor (not Chris Helmsworth’s fault, he was good in the part, but Thor’s “poor little rich boy” schtick didn’t move me) and his lackluster astrophysicist girlfriend (probably Natalie Portman’s fault, because I have yet to like her in any role she’s ever played) weren’t particularly endearing.

But Loki? Oh, Loki. I want you to be my bad guy boyfriend. Forget Severus Snape. Forget Magneto. Forget Logan Echolls (no, wait — I didn’t meant that, Logan!) I love me some Loki. I hope he doesn’t wear Earth clothes for the whole movie. Full Loki costume is one sexy look.

Loki is so fascinating. An “also-ran” to Thor’s golden boy prince in Asgard, he was secretly an abandoned child of his adopted father’s worst enemy. And no one ever told him. And so the guy has Issues. Plus, he has a costume to die for. (Please wear it! Please!) And the actor who is playing him, Tom Hiddleston is: 1) talented, 2) good looking, 3) incredibly funny and not afraid to camp it up.

I admit it, I’m kind of going in there to root for the bad guy.

Lesson to writers: Make your bad guy an interesting person. Make him or her someone that the audience maybe, on some level, even understands, or roots for. Or at least cheers every time he or she appears on screen. Fiery eyes on mountaintops are all well and good, but so are villains with more human aspects and failings (and senses of humor).


3. The other characters. I’ve seen the Iron Mans and enjoyed them, and I loved Captain America. Agent Coulson (who I always think is actually Agent Casper, since that was the part the actor played on The West Wing) and Nick Fury have established themselves in their minor scenes in other films, and I’m looking forward to seeing an expansion of Hawkeye and some actual personality for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (also, Cobie Smulder’s an agent in this, too, apparently). I only saw one of the Hulk movies, but apparently they scrapped all that as non-canon and Mark Ruffalo invents a whole new Hulk, and I like him in stuff, so I’m looking forward to that, too.

All of which is to say, I can’t wait for these guys to start bouncing off one another. I can’t wait to see Captain America’s forthright eagerness slam against Tony Stark’s cynicism. I can’t wait to see Thor’s cockiness grate on Bruce Banner’s hard-won zen. Whedon does ensemble well, and I have high hopes. We had the chance to see most of these guys star in their own films. Now let’s see what happens when they get together.

Lesson to writers: Your secondary characters are the heroes of their own stories. Make sure they are rounded characters, with their own motivations and goals, which may or may not jibe with your hero’s.

What about you? Are you excited to see The Avengers?

I’m off — popcorn ahoy!

Friday, April 27th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Mo’ Contracts, Mo’ Problems

Lucky you guys. It’s a Diana double hitter this week.

Yesterday’s post about revisions vs. rewriting was told from the perspective of a writer who had the work in question under contract. That’s the position I’ve been in for seven years now. I haven’t written anything — book, short story, essay — that I haven’t either been asked for or (more relevantly) contracted and paid for since 2004.

Honestly, this is not something to be particularly proud of. If I was a more prolific and industrious writer, perhaps, I would have been breaking into unexpected markets like Ken and Sasha do (hello, science fiction periodicals) or would have made sure I always had two revenue streams (two genres, two houses, two series, two pseudonyms) going at once, the way HelenKay, Bob,  and Carrie  do. I’ve played it very conservatively, producing for the people who were already offering me money.

But the thing is, that’s what makes rewrites, as I wrote about them yesterday, so scary and stressful. If you’re rewriting something that’s not under contract, if it’s just your play novel. that you take out and bat around whenever you get a chance, the work that you talk about “writing some day” with your friends over a bottle of wine, or even the book that you actually have written and sent out in to the world, and just isn’t gelling for some reason or another (wrong agent, flat market, exploded publisher, bad timing) — then there’s no pressure. You just stick it back in the drawer for a few months or a few years or whatever. You feel free to cannibalize it for other stories. You let it marinate for a while and, at your leisure, figure out what the story’s really about. You wait until the right agent and the right market for the story comes along.

Once a work is under contract,it’s a different situation. Playtime is over. You have promised a work to a publisher. You have almost always been paid at least some for it. And if the work you deliver isn’t what the publisher is expecting, it’s you, the writer that has to go back to the trenches and fix it, usually under a good deal of time pressure. The publisher is not necessarily the evil, black-hearted villain in the piece. They aren’t gleefully rubbing their hands together and wondering how they can make their writers’ lives miserable. Here’s a short and by no means exhaustive list of how s*** happens:

  • Between the time that the publisher bought the book and the writer delivered the book, another book came out and went gangbusters, and now the publisher is under serious pressure to deliver something for that book’s fans (see: the explosion of paranormal romance in YA thanks to Stephanie Meyer, or the more recent explosion of “dystopian.”)
  • The acquiring editor has left, and the new editor doesn’t have the same vision for the book.
  • You sold them what you were both, at the time, describing as “pasta.” Then you delivered lo mein while they were expecting lasagna.
  • In between the time that you sold the book and delivered it, you went gangbusters in another house/genre/etc. and all of a sudden they want the kind of thing that you’re selling so well elsewhere.
  • In between the time that you sold the book and delivered it, a Major Life Event happened and all of a sudden the book you thought you were writing morphed into something completely different and either you or the editor are going to have to convince the other as to why one way is best.
  • In between the time that you sold the book and delivered it, the publisher has decided to go in a different direction with their imprint (or cancel it entirely).
  • In between the time you sold the book and delivered it, a major buyer has decreed that all books of a certain market segment MUST have XYZ, that your book does not.
  • Your publisher has heard a rumor that you’re departing for greener pastures with a book that has a much higher sales potential, and so is going out of their way to make you miserable  — okay, this one’s a little black-hearted villainy, but it’s also pretty rare. What usually happens in this instance is the publisher goes out of their way to kiss your butt so you’ll give the project to them instead.
  • You bit off more than you could chew with your new book.
  • You are absolutely writing the wrong book, and deep down, you know it.
  • Major Life Event is happening, and you’re not on your game.
  • Your standalone has turned into a series.
  • Your series has turned into a longer series.
  • Your publisher has decided to cancel your longer series and is giving you the chance to change your book so that all the loose ends are tied up (lucky you?)
  • You signed a blank contract.
  • You thought you and the editor came up with the idea together. Your editor thought it was more of a work-for-hire deal.

Every single one of these instances I described above are real. They resulted either in major rewrites and publishing delays or, in the more extreme cases, cancellation of the contracts in question — sometimes upon the request of the writer (known as “buying back a contract,” and sometimes on the request of the publisher. All the writers involved are now older and wiser. Some have completely changed their business strategies as a result of their experiences, no longer putting their eggs in one publisher’s basket, or not longer signing contracts on proposals, or no longer writing series or doing work for hire or dealing with particular editors or etc.

If you can (and want to) buy back your contract, then you’re a lucky one. Most folks don’t buy back contracts unless they’ve exhausted all other options, like rewrites, or substituting Book X in contract for Book Y. (I know one NYT bestselling author who jumped genre ship for her publisher, achieved great stardom, and no one involved even thinks about the tiny little midlist titles she never finished eight years ago in a series in her old genre.)

So even though it feels like it — especially if you’re under contract and are counting on the money — rewrites aren’t actually hell. They’re often the very best thing that can happen for you book and your career.

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Revising vs. Rewriting

Revising: Your printed out draft is covered in red ink.
Rewriting: You didn’t even bother printing it out.

Revising: The editor letter says, “I need to see more of the heroine’s motivations in chapter 4-7.
Rewriting: “I need to see more of the heroine’s motivations in chapter 4-7. Oh, and dump the other chapters.”

Revising: “How do you feel about adding a POV?”
Rewriting: “How do you feel about changing the POV?”

Revising: At the booksignings, you talk about how pleased you were that the climactic scene is almost word-for-word the same as when you wrote it.
Rewriting: At the booksignings, you don’t necessarily recognize the scene the reader is asking you about.

Revising: One of your critique partners asks what happened to the dog.
Rewriting: One of your critique partners asks you when you started a new manuscript.

Revising: “You need to do more to reveal the rules of this fantasy world.”
Rewriting: “Wait, this is a fantasy?”

Revising: “So if you can get the final to me by next month…”
Rewriting: “I think 2015 looks like a good release year…”

Revising: Major surgery.
Rewriting: You guys have read Frankenstein, right?

Revising: “Hi, family. Here’s the number for the pizza place.”
Rewriting: “Daddy, does Mommy still live here?”

Revising: A glass of wine with dinner.
Rewriting: A pitcher of margaritas for breakfast.

Revising: “So, how’s the book going?”
Rewriting: Back slowly out of room. Don’t make eye contact.

Revising: You’re not a failure as a writer. You just need to fix some stuff.
Rewriting: You’re not a failure as a writer. You’re not a failure as a writer. You’re not a failure as a writer. You’re not a failure as a writer…