Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Getting to Know Donna Freitas!

Today, we get to know Donna Freitas, author of, The Possibilities of Sainthood, a little bit better... at the end she even reveals a secret!

2k8: So, where do you do most of your writing? What's it look like?

Donna: I write most everything in cafés, and for the last couple of years an Italian café in Manhattan called Tarallucci e Vino. Not only do they make pastries to die for (which, on a daily basis, can become a really bad habit), I think they have the best coffee in the city. I am picky about my coffee!

The best part about Tarallucci, though, is the space—sometimes I sit outside, but in the colder or hottest months, the inside of the restaurant is the long, bright, wide open space that is virtually empty until lunch time. It’s a wonderful place to write and they do not have wifi, which for me is essential to actually getting work done. I will literally go there at 8am, the second it opens, and stay until noon, sometimes 1pm, working. There was actually a point about a year ago that the entire staff at Tarallucci not only knew “my usual” order, but also knew how far along I was in my manuscript!

(2k8 note-- that's where everyone should write!)

2k8: Can you tell us how the book came about? How did you begin writing it?

Donna: The book started out with a line that popped into my head—well, a statement from my protagonist really: “My name is Antonia Lucia Labella and I am an aspiring saint.” It was strange—though I suppose all new ideas for stories come about in rather strange ways—but that one line showed up, I opened my laptop, and the whole story just poured out, especially the romance aspect of the novel—Antonia’s obsessed with getting her first kiss. That, and the Italian family/food part of the story.

Really, what drove me to see the story through, though, to finish it, was Antonia’s voice. I could hear Antonia, clear as a bell, chattering away in my head (I know, it’s possible I should not admit that!), which made it so much fun to write. She sort of wouldn’t leave me alone until the story was done—in a good way.

2k8: And how did it find a publisher? Where were you when you got The Call? Give us the real dirt!

Donna: Well, this is kind of a funny story. I still cannot believe I ended up with my editor, Frances Foster, at FSG and here is why.

I never ever thought I’d write fiction. I mean, really. Never ever—even though I’ve been a rather fanatical reader of fiction my entire life. I am always, always reading. I wasn’t an aspiring writer growing up or even in my twenties though in my late twenties I’d started to publish. Anyway, one day while on vacation I was laying in a hammock reading Holes by Louis Sachar—I read it all the way through in a single sitting and just cracked up through the whole thing. I loved how quirky Stanley Yelnats was as a character and I just thought the story was magnificent—both literary and funny which is not always a combination you see often. So I sat there afterward, daydreaming about how “if I made up a character, what would her weird quirk be?” I never thought I would actually write the story of this quirky character, however! But of course, I did.

Then, when it actually became a possibility that someone might publish this novel I wrote, I asked my agent to send it to Frances Foster. Frances edited Holes (and many other wonderful novels that I love now and loved growing up as a kid), and I got it into my head that maybe, just maybe, somehow Frances would magically get the humor in my story and want it. It never occurred to me she actually would!

When my agent called to tell me that Frances wanted a meeting with us—that she was interested in the novel, I almost died. That was it for me. I couldn’t believe it at the time and I still can’t be it now, that she is my editor.

Lisa Graff (one of the longstockings and an editor at FSG who works closely with Frances) and I joke about starting an “I ª Frances Foster” fan club because we love her so much and every time we see each other she and I go on gushing about Frances.

2k8: Did anything surprise you or caught you off guard when you were writing your book?

Donna: The fact that I actually wrote it! I mean, finished it. How weird is that? I didn’t plan on writing a novel or even when I started to I never dreamed of actually following it through to the end. The part that was so amazing though, was how much encouragement I got from friends with whom I’d talked about the idea and then shared some of the story. My librarian friend Beth Wright (she is the children’s librarian at the Burlington Free Library in Vermont) and the prolific children’s author Tanya Lee Stone kept pushing me to have faith in my story, my ability to write it, that it wasn’t a crazy idea to be writing it. Also, I attended Kindling Words—a wonderful writer’s retreat held each year in Vermont—when I was about 50 pages in. I did a reading on the last night of the retreat and people gave me so much encouragement about it. I feel like getting the courage to write a story, finish it, submit it to editors was this group effort, somehow, of wonderful, caring people in my life. I am so grateful for all that encouragement!

2k8: Imagine you have an offer from your dream press to publish your dream book, no matter how insane or unmarketable it might be (though of course it might not be). What story do you want to write next/someday and why?

Donna: Well, I am already at my dream press!

I love this question—how intriguing. Well, my dirty little secret (for me) is that I am currently dabbling with a fantasy novel. I love reading fantasy but I always think it would be impossible to write. And the one I am dabbling with might be way too complicated so I doubt anyone would publish it. But I would love to some day to publish fantasy…

The YA novel I’d love to write but would never get published because people would say the audience would be so small as to be negligible is about a high school girl who is also a novice Catholic nun. She thinks boys are so impossible and unlikeable that she just prefers Jesus. And she’s on the soccer team. Anyway, I think a story about a teenage nun could turn out to be hilarious.

2k8: What question won't most people know to ask you? What is your answer?

Donna: Um, that almost until publication, the boy that Antonia, my protagonist, actually does kiss in the end—I actually had used the real name of the first boy I kissed in high school. (And no, I’m not naming him here…) I was so embarrassed that I had done this—remember, I never thought anyone would publish the story—that I was afraid to tell my editor that I’d used someone’s actual name as a major character. I remember when I finally changed it in the last stages of copyediting (!!)—I didn’t even tell my editor I was going to—and was hoping she wouldn’t notice. She kept writing these comments in the margins that said… “Isn’t his name supposed to be X?”

I still turn red thinking about it. All I could think was, ohmigosh, if I don’t change the name, if someone from my high school ever reads this book they will think I’ve been pining for this guy for years now.

But, lucky for me, my secret is still safe!


daphne grab said...

great interview, Donna! i love reading your initial experiences with the book since it's now one of my very favorites!

TJ Brown said...

fantastic interview!

I want to write there! Wine, pastires and writing? Looks like Heaven to me!