Now that I've spent days going on about my taste in books and movies, I'll give it a rest and turn the floor over to someone else. My guest this time around on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit is my friend Diana Peterfreund, author of the new book Secret Society Girl.
About the book:
Secret Society Girl takes us into the heart of the Ivy League's ultra-exclusive secret societies when a young woman is invited to join as one of their first female members.
Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel 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.
So when Amy receives the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she's blown away. Could they really mean her?
Whisked off into an initiation rite that's a blend of Harry Potter and Alfred Hitchcock, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of "friends" -- from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that's when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fueling a feud, and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that's before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life.
And now the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
When I was in college, the movie THE SKULLS came out, and some friends and I used to watch it and play a drinking game where we took a drink any time something ridiculous or inaccurate happened. Years later, I was watching THE SKULLS on television and decided it was about time that someone wrote a secret society story the way they really were. The trick was to tell that story and make it interesting. Out of that grew my characters and my plot. It changed a lot from the original concept during development, but I hope I stayed true to the idea of exploding the myths about secret societies.
Describe your creative process.
I'm a big-time planner. I spend a long time pre-planning a story in my head -- anywhere from weeks to months to years, if necessary. From there, I write a very rough chapter-by-chapter outline, which I later pretty up and turn into my synopsis. Then I start writing. Every few chapters I refer to my outline, much as a driver would refer to a map along a route. While I'm writing, I keep a color-coded story board that tracks the development of different subplots and themes. I write pretty slowly (at least, slowly compared to friends of mine who write 20 pages a day without blinking), and I revise a lot as I go along -- under ideal circumstances. When I'm on deadline -- like now -- I force myself to write straight through, with mixed results.
Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
With the last book (Secret Society Girl), I had a soundtrack. With the book I'm writing now, it's my first time being a stay-at-home writer, so my new ritual is getting up first thing in the morning and writing for a while before I do anything else -- check email, blog, get tea, anything. My friend Kelly Remick recommended it to me and it's been the best new thing I've learned about my writing all year. Sometimes I get into it and I end up dong the bulk of my daily pages like that. Sometimes I can only manage 15 minutes or so, but just getting something down, seeing that I've already acocmplished something that day, really jumpstarts my creative side. I think if I ever do go back to the 9-5 office world,
I'll wake up early just to get that early time in. It's amazing. I highly recommend it.
(I'm not sure I'd want to see what I wrote before tea. I once tried the "morning pages" thing from The Artist's Way, and they mostly consisted of, "Gee, I really could use some tea.")
How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I get this question a lot since many people think the book is a roman a clef. I actually have very little in common with Amy aside from the obvious -- Ivy League school, literature major, very outspoken (though all of my heroines have been snarky, outspoken sorts). She's much more focused and ambitious than I ever was in school. She knows exactly what she wants from life. I was majoring in two completely incompatible fields (Literature and Geology), barely knew what an internship was, and hadn't the foggiest what I wanted to do for a living. But she's definitely someone I would have been friends with in school.
So, how much personal experience do you really have with secret societies? (wink, wink, nudge, nudge. You can tell us or drop a few hints.)
Ha! The other famous question. And of course, the famous answer is, "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." Seriously though, I've had plenty of personal experience with secret societies, but that tells you little more or less than that I was a student at Yale. There are a good dozen on campus, and they have various amounts of interaction with the student body at large. Some have annual parties inside their tomb to which anyone (or a specific guest list) is invited, others have open memberships, or regular events that are open to the public. Everyone knows someone who is involved.
(I don't think UT had any truly secret societies. Texans aren't good at keeping things quiet. We did have the kind of organization where you knew you were getting in when you got kidnapped and taken to the initiation meeting -- and yes, I was in one of those -- but there was nothing secret about it other than the secret of who would be getting in. We wore the group's t-shirt, sweatshirt or uniform to campus events and had a couple of pages in the yearbook.)
If you could create your own secret society, who would you let in, who would you keep out, and what would your society do?
How do you know I haven't created my own secret society? I think in general, I'm not a big fan of exclusivity, so I'd probably have open enrollment periods where people who wanted to join could apply. In general though, I'd probably look for funny, intelligent people of all stripes, and maybe veer away from anyone who wanted to be intolerant and take the society as a whole into bad places. I like what the societies do, I like the idea of having a safe place where people can talk to each other without fear of judgment or having their deep dark secrets leaked to the world, so that would probably be what we do: talk to each other, support each other, help each other. Good stuff.
Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark, especially if it's fondue. I used to work for a fondue restaurant, and their dark chocolate dessert is the only kind of dessert I like in a restaurant. The best was dark chocolate with chambord. Trust me, I've had them all. If you ever go to a Melting Pot, order that.
What are you working on now?
The sequel to Secret Society Girl. It takes place suring Amy's senior year. The first novel is about her being an outsider. The second is about her being an insider. Now that she's the caretaker of this centuries-old tradition, she and her friends have to figure out what part of the society is worth preserving for future generations. Unlike a lot of secret society stories, I don't think that the existence of the societies are wrong. They are clubs, like any club. But they can be good or bad.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Something very rare and wonderful happened to me during the writing of this book. I don't know if it was because I sold it in the process so I had a lot of confidence in myself as a writer, or what, but it was an absolute joy to write. For once in my life I was able to turn off the inner critics and just write. I've been trying to get back to that place ever since.
For more info on Diana and her book, visit her web site.