March 17, 2014

Random Acts… Classic tales retold with futuristic twist

Posted in Books, Diversity, Women at 7:45 pm by dinaheng

Young Adult (YA) author Diana Peterfreund was in Hollywood recently to attend the premiere of the movie “Veronica Mars,” based on a beloved television show about a teenager who works as a private investigator under her dad’s tutelage.

“I’m a Kickstarter supporter for the film, so I got invited to the premiere and the cast party afterward,” she says. “It’s a project near and dear to the YA community’s heart because Rob Thomas used to be a YA author.”Dinah Eng

Thomas, creator of the TV show, originally wrote “Veronica Mars” as a YA novel that featured a male protagonist, then changed the gender to female for television.

Capturing the attention and imagination of readers can happen in numerous ways. For Peterfreund, finding the seeds of a story set in another time and place is a talent that turned into two YA novels that linked characters in two compelling tales — “For Darkness Shows the Stars” (Balzer + Bray, $17.99) and “across a star-swept sea” (Balzer + Bray, $17.99).

“For Darkness Shows the Stars,” inspired by Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” and “across a star-swept sea,” inspired by Baroness Emma Orczy’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” are set in a post-apocalyptic world where genetic experiments have gone awry, causing a Reduction of capabilities in much of mankind.

The heroines of both novels find themselves battling conventional thinking that has separated humanity into classes of nobility or servitude.

“I’m a huge fan of retellings,” says Diana Peterfreund, who started writing as a freelance journalist before turning to fiction. “There are always going to be some fans who say I’ve ruined (Orczy’s story), but the best thing is so many people say they went and sought out ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ because they loved my book, and wanted to read the original.”

Peterfreund says she’s thrilled at playing a part in getting teenagers to appreciate classic works of literature.Across A Star-swept Sea HC c

In “For Darkness Shows the Stars,” the Luddite nobility that rises in the wake of a dark new age shuns technology, and heroine Elliot North finds herself questioning the wisdom of the Luddite ban when her estate is on the edge of foundering.

When her childhood sweetheart Kai returns, transformed from a servant into a dashing explorer who is now part of a mysterious group of shipbuilders, she must decide whether to go with him in search of a better future.

Elliott and Kai reappear in “across a star-swept sea,” which is set in a different land, but the same time period as “For Darkness Shows the Stars.”

“When I decided to do more in that world, none of the other Jane Austen novels called to me,” Peterfreund explains. “Elliott’s very down-to-earth, doesn’t get dressed up, and I love fashion. I wanted to write a book with fashion in it, and thought of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel,’ which is filled with fashion.

“The guillotine in it is metaphorical with the reduction pill (in Peterfreund’s story) that’s given to the upper class to make them mentally challenged. I decided to make (the heroine) Persis a woman because women are so often judged by their looks.”

In “across a star-swept sea,” Persis is a socialite in public, and a daring spy in secret, working to rescue people being tortured and persecuted in a neighboring land. When Justen, a scientist for the enemy, comes into her life, her heart is conflicted when the two pretend to be in love, while trying to discover each other’s true intentions.

Peterfreund says there’s something in the zeitgeist today about the issue of class, and questions about different cultures and values are everywhere. For teenagers, who are discovering differences in class, cultural differences in fashion, the gender divide and more, her novels are particularly relevant, for the books are about young people questioning what they’re taught, while trying to become better people.

Next up for the author is an adventure series called “Omega City,” about contemporary kids who find an abandoned Cold War bunker city in Maryland. The three-book series, slated for release by HarperCollins beginning in 2015, is aimed at a younger market of 10 to 12-year-olds.

“If there’s a contagious disease of wanting to write a book, authors have it,” Peterfreund says. “I wrote four manuscripts before the fifth one (“Secret Society Girl”) sold. There’s no security in this career, but for me, it’s just been a dream come true.”