Quick Q&A with Diane Farr

Updated December 19, 2006

We reported early in 2005 that Diane Farr, recipient of two DIK’s for full-length books and one for a novella, had lost her writing contract. The news came not long before our announcement that she’d won – as a stand-alone win – our award for Under a Lucky Star, ironic when you consider that the category was Best Buried Treasure. (Farr also won, btw, as a stand-alone win for 1999’s Fair Game, and earned honorable mention that year for Best New Author. (Those of you who missed it because you’d stopped reading trads as unsubstantial by the time of its release should definitely try to locate a copy – light and fluffy it is not.)

Farr, who was first published as a trad Regency author, then began to write Regency-set historicals. My theory as to why she was a buried treasure is that her romances were too subtle in terms of their sensuality to sell in today’s market.

Yesterday the author contacted me with some exciting news…read on.

–Laurie Likes Books

That you no longer had a writing contract was a huge disappointment to many of us at AAR. I understand you have some good news to share. What can you tell us?

That I am putting the finishing touches on a brand-new book. And that it will be published. Huzzah!! Oh, wait a minute. I’m not writing Regency Historical anymore. I’m writing YA. So change that “huzzah” to WOO-HOO!

Where did you get the idea for this book, and was YA something you’d wanted to do for a while, or did you just decide it would a good way to get you back into the public eye?

Oh, heavens, can any writer approach a project that cold-bloodedly? No, I didn’t decide it was a good way to get back in the public eye … because, for one thing, there was no guarantee that it would! I think what happened was, I was tying myself in knots trying to write to the Regency Historical market. And nobody was buying my proposals, even though (supposedly) everybody loved me and thought I was wonderful. (How’s that for crazy-making?) After awhile, I was paralyzed. Couldn’t write at all. Stymied. Baffled. Utterly frustrated.

Desperate to break my writer’s block, I decided to try writing the exact opposite of everything I had written before. I had always written in third person, so I started writing in first person. I had always written historicals, so I started writing something contemporary. It was an astonishing experience; really freeing. The words just poured out of me, in a way they never had. And along about page 2, I realized … hmm… this is odd. My modern-day heroine sounds like a teenager.

Well, duh. She is a teenager.

Lo and behold, I was writing YA. And in one of those peculiar bits of serendipity that happen so often in this business, my agent – who was feeling just about as frustrated as I was – suggested that I try my hand at YA. And I was like, “Well, actually …” And I sent her a couple of paragraphs. And she said something like, “Hey, this is good. Keep going.” And I did.

Tell us about the book: premise/plot, when it will be released, who is the publisher, and is the contract for one book only?

The book is called Wicked Cool. At this point, my editor and I envision it as Book One of a series … The Spellspinners.

It’s hard for me to describe it in a quick, succinct sentence or two! How’s this: It’s like The Princess Diaries meets Harry Potter. Normal American teenager turns out to be not quite so normal. And all the things that seem like life or death to any teen really are life and death, to her. And, uh, things happen.

The planned release date is Spring of 2008. (That’s not as far away as it sounds.) And the publisher is Sourcebooks, a small but well-respected house that is having its “best year ever” for the fourth year in a row. I’m thrilled and proud to join their list. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will!

To be picked up by a publisher in a different genre…how does your past publishing history affect that?

I think that having had some success in one genre helps when you try to switch. Some of the skill set is the same. And the fact that you’ve been published speaks to your ability to finish a book, meet a deadline, tell a story that readers want to read. Some readers, at least. Plus, of course, I was agented. So I think I started in a much better position than someone who has never been published.

I also think that the herky-jerky movement of my romance career (going from “rising star” to “flash in the pan” with breathtaking suddenness) had a suspicious smell to a lot of people. I mean, it seemed possible to some – not all, probably, but some – that if a writer who garnered four RITA nominations in her first two years of publication failed to “earn out,” it might – just might – be the fault of the publisher rather than the writer. Since there didn’t seem to be anything inherently sucky about the books.

My theory has always been that you lost your writing contract because your books weren’t sexed up enough for the current market. Do you think that’s what’s behind any sales issues? If not, what do you think the problem was?

I think it’s more complicated than that. But yes, the historicals market moved, and I didn’t move with it. Now, I like a well-written sex scene as much as anyone else, so it’s not that I object to sexy books. But trying to keep what made my books publishable in the first place, and just slather a little sex on top, didn’t work.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, because I think it’s true … putting hot sex into my books was like putting mustard on ice cream. I tried … briefly … to comply, since the market obviously demanded it. Publisher’s Weekly commented on my efforts this way: “Ms. Farr’s sure-footed prose falters when she tiptoes into the erotic realm.” Some of my fans, bless ‘em, were outraged on my behalf – but I had to laugh. Publisher’s Weekly had my number! Mind you, they also called the book “magical,” and promised that it would “remind readers why sweet is sometimes better.” So it wasn’t a negative review – far from it. They just thought my sex scenes were lame. And they were right!

A writer’s voice is a peculiar thing. My actual voice, the one that comes out of my mouth, can talk about sex. But my writer’s voice, the one that comes out of my fingers on the keyboard, the voice that tells my stories, can’t. Not without sounding like an idiot. Eventually you have to accept your limitations, and live within them as gracefully as you can.

Finally, would you like to get back into romance publishing, or are you happy with this new phase of your writing career?

Ooh, a tough one! I’m totally excited about Wicked Cool. I have a really, really good feeling about it. And it’s been a blast to write. If the book is half as much fun to read as it was to write, it should be wildly successful! So yes, I’m happy where I am. But someday, romance readers will demand ice cream again. And when they do, maybe … just for fun … I’ll try churning out a little premium, high-butterfat deliciousness. Because let’s face it, we all crave a little ice cream from time to time. At least I do!

Right now? Nuh-uh. I’ve got new frontiers to explore!

And as always, my dear friends at AAR, thanks for asking. Thanks for caring. And thanks for the best-written, most entertaining, and most consistently intelligent reviews on the web!


Diane Farr: On Regency Language – A Primer

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