Thursday, October 17, 2013

Patrick Freivald Interview

The Horror Librarian: How do you approach a new writing project? Are you a planner or a panster?

Patrick Freivald: I'm about as far from a pantser as you can get. I start with an idea--which includes not only the general characters, but also the ending--and then I outline. My outline expands from rough ideas to chapters to individual scenes, and for a 75,000 word book, my outline is often around 5,000-10,000 words.

The outlining process takes me a month or three, and that's the meat of the creative process. Once it's done, I get the words on (virtual) paper over eight or ten weeks.

The Horror Librarian: Your recent YA horror duo, Twice Shy and Special Dead have been well received by fans and the greater YA community. Can you talk a little about how you developed your characters? How did you get into teenaged Ani's head?

Patrick Freivald: I'm a high school teacher. Ani started off as an observation that's true about some adults as well, but especially true of teenagers: they tend to trivialize the important, and obsess over the trivial. I wanted to make Ani three-dimensional, a real girl with hopes and dreams and perceptions about the people around her that may or may not be entirely correct, but above all I wanted her to have this tragic flaw, this underlying immaturity when it comes to what's truly important.

I also wanted her to have a solid, excellent relationship with her sociopathic mother. YA fiction is so full of parent/child conflict of a very stereotypical sort, and I wanted to instead show a strong, loving relationship that can survive even breaches of trust and life-threatening situations.

From there, I could have written a dreadfully serious book about a girl with a very serious secret.... Ani could have been a bulimic kleptomaniac lesbian with AIDS, and her social life would hinge on keeping others from discovering that. I thought it would be funny if instead I made it her life at stake instead of her social life, and made her secret something utterly unrealistic. The premise of a closeted zombie is absurd in the classic sense of the word, and I wanted to skirt the line where an astute reader might have a hard time deciding whether or not I meant to be ironic at any given point.

Devon, Mike, and Ani came entirely out of my head. The rest of the characters are shamelessly modeled on people I know, with names changed to protect the guilty (with Mrs. Weller and Mr. Cummings being the prime exceptions.) I cheated; it's easy to write genuine reactions to situations when you know the people you're writing.

The Horror Librarian: What is your dream project?

Patrick Freivald: I don't have one. I write because it's fun--same reason I keep bees and grow hot peppers and run a robotics team. I'd love to experience that Rowling-style life-altering success with my writing, so that's a dream I have about my projects, but it's not a "dream project." I just go where my ADD takes me, and enjoy the ride.

The Horror Librarian:  What are you working on right now? As an aside, can you tell us a little about what it means to "Boil it down," per your blog?

Patrick Freivald:  I'm polishing up my next near-future thriller for JournalStone. Jade Sky is about humans that have been augmented with superhuman strength, speed, regenerative abilities, and so forth, but at the price of possible madness from the murderous whispers that claw through their minds.

I'm also gearing up for the November 15th release of Blood List, which I wrote with my twin brother Phil. It's about a serial killer who's trying to save his father's life, and the FBI team hunting him. You can pick it up on preorder on Amazon now, but they don't yet have the cover or description up, so you'll have to take my word that it's awesome.

In a fit of irony, I'm going to ramble a bit about my blog, Word Soup. It's for writers, about efficient writing. I started it because, after doing some editing as favors, I keep getting requests from up-and-coming authors who want to pay me to edit their work--not rules and typos and stuff like that, but real, down-and-dirty edits. The problem is that I'm extremely busy, and my time is worth more to me than what they'd be willing to pay. (And besides, I don't want to rip people off even if they'd be willing to pay me that much.) So I started this blog to help people learn how to hone their craft.

The idea is that even when you know all your grammar and punctuation rules, and your setting and plot and pacing and characterization, and all those things that you need to know in order to write well, that doesn't necessarily mean that you know how to write well. It's possible to take a great idea, use proper English, and still tell a story badly. The most egregious thing I see is inefficiency in word choice.

If you say something in ten words that can be said in three, then your prose is something that a reader has to slog through in order to get what you really want--the information. So in my blog, authors give me a 500-word sample of their work, and I boil out all the unnecessary words, and explain the hows and whys of it as I go along. The goal is to convey the same information, with the same tone, evoking the same imagery and emotions, but with as few words as possible. And when you do that, you find that you've become a better writer, and your work is a better read.

(And for the record, I'm better at it now than I was a year ago, and was better a year ago than two years ago. I expect to be better at it in the future than I am now. And also for the record, I made no attempt to boil down my responses here. I tend to ramble when writing informally, and break a lot of my own rules in the process.)

The Horror Librarian:  List 5 things that are currently on your writing desk.

Patrick Freivald: My writing desk is the dining room table, which The Redhead(tm) and I never use for actual eating--we eat in the dinette or the living room. Thus, things on the table include but are not limited to:
my brother-in-law's punk-ish CD "Lather, Rinse, Repent" (not bad, if too preachy),
a LEAP Motion controller (neat technology, but I'd hold off on getting one just yet),
a pile of mail (including a school board packet I haven't read yet),
a big fluffy cat named Gunther (she likes to sleep against my laptop),
a stack of index cards with story ideas scrawled on them (awaiting entry into my "story ideas" folder in my computer).

The Horror Librarian:  What question did you wish I'd ask and what's your answer?

Patrick Freivald: What's my least favorite part of writing?

I'm glad you asked! My least favorite part of writing is titles. I hate titles so, so much. Titles are the bane of my existence. I agonize for weeks and months over those few little words, and usually change my mind a gazillion times.

The Horror Librarian: Thanks, Patrick!

Patrick Freivald: Thanks for having me. 


  1. Thanks again for having me, Hillary! We'll have to get together sometime we're on the same side of the continent.

    For Horror Librarian regulars who'd like to see a boiling of Hillary's work, check out this link:

  2. Indeed! Thanks for boiling me - er - my story!


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