Interview: Donna Freitas
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When I first interviewed Donna Freitas in 2010, she had released two novels, The Possibilities of Sainthood and This Gorgeous Game, and contributed to four non-fiction works. Since then, she's released two additional novels, The Survival Kit and Gold Medal Summer, with another YA book due out next year. I recently got the chance to catch up with Donna, and we discussed tumbling, truth, and writing for different age groups.
You have incorporated pieces of yourself into each of your novels. Like the main character in Gold Medal Summer, you too were a competitive gymnast. How old were you when you started gymnastics, and how many years did you train?
I'm not even sure I remember when I first started, I was so little! My mother put me into ballet classes at two and a half, and I think gymnastics started soon afterward. I got serious about gymnastics, though, when I was around six or seven. I know that sounds a bit ridiculous - to say you became "serious" about a sport at such a young age - but that is how things are with gymnastics. The [career] of a gymnast is so short that if you don't start really early, you won't get very far. I was a competitive gymnast for many years, until I was almost sixteen and an injury led to my quitting, or retiring, as many gymnasts say!
What did you love most about it?
What I loved most was beam and floor, because those are the events where you really get to perform, and where my strengths came through - I was a good dancer and I was also very flexible. I loved competitions (when I stuck my routines, that is), since I was a ham and I loved being in front of a crowd on floor especially.
Not that they are reading this interview, but would you like to say anything to the awesome Olympic gymnasts who really DID have a gold medal summer? (USA! USA!)
They so had a gold medal summer! I love that. I can't believe I have a book out about gymnasts called gold medal summer at the same time as the US Olympic team winning on so many different levels. I'd say a huge congratulations, of course, but I would want to compliment the young women on their poise throughout. The media covering the gymnastics was so in their faces and so melodramatic - it was awful, I thought. But they kept themselves together the whole time, and that was really impressive.
Gold Medal Summer was written for a slightly younger audience than your other novels. Was that a conscious choice on your behalf, due to the age of your protagonist and/or a desire to write a middle grade book instead of a YA novel?
A bit of both. I knew that if I was going to write a gymnastics novel, that the target audience would be girls around 9-13 or so, partly because I think that's the age when all girls are into gymnastics, even if they don't do the sport, and for those girls who are gymnasts, it's such a make or break age - it's really the time when you decide you are serious or when you pull back in order to prioritize other things (like boys and having a life).
Back when I was that age, I lived and breathed gymnastics, and I devoured all-things having to do with gymnastics. Gold Medal Summer is the novel that I would have died to read back when I was twelve, but could never find. And Scholastic did such an amazing job with the cover (I would have ran to grab that book off the shelf) and the drawings inside, so it was really exciting that on top of getting to write the dream-gymnastics-novel of my twelve-year-old self, they designed it for someone like her, too!
That's fantastic. (Kudos to Kyle T. Webster for the endpaper illustrations!) How does your writing process change when you write for pre-teen readers as opposed to older teens?
I'm not sure my writing process changes really. You just write the novel that fits your protagonist.
I think the only thing I worried about when I was writing Gold Medal Summer was whether or not there could be a kiss! I always have a kiss (or twenty) in my YA novels and romance is a huge part of all my YA, especially my most recent one, The Survival Kit. Writing romance is one of my favorite things, and there's definitely a romance in there for Joey Jordan, my protagonist for Gold Medal Summer. But could I have a kiss in there, too, if it was for Middle Grade? In the first draft there wasn't one - almost, but not quite. Then my wonderful editor, Cheryl Klein gave me the go ahead and said it was okay if Joey kissed her crush. So [Spoiler Alert!] I went ahead and wrote a makeout scene in a backyard pool! Cheryl liked it, but advised that I might want to tone it down a bit, since it was kind of steamy, so I did. I still think it's a good kissing scene though.
What can you tell us about your next novel?
I'm doing a trilogy with HarperCollins which I'm really excited about. The first novel is called Unplugged and it's book one of The Wired Trilogy. It's about a girl named Laia (pronounced Lie-ah), who has been raised virtually in a place called the App World. At age 16, all citizens of the App World are required to "unplug" and live 100 days in the Real World, without any access to technology, in order to then decide which world they want to live in permanently. Until she unplugs, Laia has never eaten real food or seen the real sun or touched another person's skin - or even her own. When she wakes up there are many surprises that await her, including what she really looks like (she's never seen herself before - only her virtual copy). It's been a really exciting novel to work on, since I'm pretty opinionated about how technology is changing our lives, and not all for the better!
That sounds very cool. When will the series be released?
Unplugged is scheduled for Winter 2014, with Books 2 and 3 to each follow a year later. I can't wait.
Best of luck with the new school year, Professor Freitas! Wait - are you teaching this year?
I'm taking some time off from teaching to write my trilogy, and finish up a nonfiction book I have coming out in the spring of next year. But until recently, I was teaching a Great Books first-year seminar in the Honors Program at Hofstra University, where I had some truly wonderful students.
When you aren't writing, reading, teaching, or researching, what do you like to do?
I love spending time with my friends, especially over good food. I love to eat! I'm a total foodie, so I love trying new restaurants and eating at old favorites, cooking food, going to markets to find exciting foods, especially cheeses. So I guess a lot of my life revolves around socializing with food. And wine. Gotta have the wine.
Anything else is new in your world you'd like to share?
I've been traveling a lot, which has been fun. And I'm excited that the foreign rights of a lot of my novels have been sold recently, in various countries, and my first book in German just came out on August 27th - The Survival Kit. Then The Possibilities of Sainthood comes out in February, and the same publisher just bought my trilogy. It's been really fun getting letters from booksellers and people from all over. I love it.
Thank you for having me on your site! It's been wonderful.
Related Posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Donna Freitas (2010)
Review: This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas
Review: Gold Medal Summer by Donna Freitas