I am delighted to be sharing another author Q&A! In November I read All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban, and at the weekend I posted my review.
It was an enthralling, edge-of-the-seat read with some breathtaking twists, so I approached Diana to see if she would be willing to answer some questions. At first, I submitted some questions but then received an automatic response saying she was closed to interview requests.
However, it turned out she had forgotten to state that fact on her website, so I followed up and she replied with answers to all the questions I had originally sent! It was a bit of a ‘wow’ moment, because I had not really expected to get very far, but Diana was so unbelievably kind and any lingering doubts that I would read her future novels were instantly eradicated.
That confirmed to me that Diana is a really lovely person as well as a very talented author, so I am immensely grateful that she took the time to answer my questions. Without further ado, on with the Q&A!
1. What made you want to become an author, and how did you eventually manage to achieve it?
The craft of writing always fascinated me, but while growing up, I didn’t think I was remotely capable of writing a novel. World building, red herrings, character development, tension, pacing… it all seemed like rocket science. The problem was, I envisioned authors plopping down at their desks and writing a finished book in one go. I didn’t realize all the steps that come in between.
Since it seemed so impossible, I didn’t even bother to try. I was too afraid to fail.
Then one day in my mid-twenties while on a business trip, I saw something terrifying happen that inspired me to write my first novel. The desire to tell that story overpowered my fear of failure. I wrote that book and completed two revisions in just three months. That novel got me my first literary agent, but it didn’t end up getting published. Still, once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Three literary agents and four times on submission to publishers later, I got my book deal for All Your Twisted Secrets… and the rest is history!
2. What do you feel are the biggest challenges of writing for a primarily young adult audience?
To be honest, the biggest challenge for me has been making references to technology and social media in my books, especially because (as of now) I write contemporary thrillers. Teens are always ahead of the curve, and tech and social media change so fast, yet publishing’s schedule is so slow.
So, for example, even though I’m finishing drafting my next book These Deadly Games this month (December 2020), it’s not coming out until 2022. TikTok is wildly popular now with teens, but if there are too many security risks and people stop using it (or if Instagram Reels picks up in popularity), something new could take off by 2022 — and suddenly my book looks outdated!
3. The plot of All Your Twisted Secrets sees six characters locked in a room, all of them facing death unless they choose one person to kill. Did you intend for the reader to consider what they would do in that situation?
Absolutely. I love writing about moral dilemmas – and I always want the reader to wonder what they would do in the characters’ shoes!
4. Amber seemed to be strong-willed yet also a perfectionist, taking a lot of responsibility on behalf of others. How would you describe her as a person and a protagonist?
It’s interesting that you say that Amber is a perfectionist – and it’s true, in many ways she is! But at its core, this story is about people making mistakes. Big mistakes. And I wanted to show how a person isn’t defined by the mistakes they make, but how they learn and grow from them.
Despite being a perfectionist in many ways, Amber is quite a flawed character. Her character arc is largely about making a huge error in judgement, acknowledging that she has done so, and facing the repercussions of her actions.
5. The topic of bullying is explored in great detail in All Your Twisted Secrets. How did you approach this subject when you were writing the book?
I wanted a big theme in the book to be about bullying and its consequences because I was bullied in high school, and it had a long term impact on me and my mental health.
So I wanted to show the potential repercussions of that kind of toxic behaviour and how it can really hurt people, and also so others who’ve experienced bullying could relate to my characters and feel less alone.
6. I was left stunned by some of the twists towards the end! At what stage did you come up with them, and what do you think is the secret to a great twist?
Thank you! I came up with the big twist while writing the “zero draft,” which I mention in my next answer. I think a great twist is one you don’t necessarily predict, but once it’s revealed, you have a moment of clarity based on clues that have been dropped, like “darn, I should have seen that coming!” I wish I knew the secret to writing one – if you find out what it is, please let me know. 🙂
7. How would you describe your writing process? How long does it take you to write a novel from an initial idea?
I usually have a high stakes plot idea, a general sense of where it’s going to go, and then I write a really messy draft that’s just for me to get to know the characters that I put into that situation. It’s where I figure out what motivates them, what their back stories are, and what their relationships with each other are like. I actually call this a “zero draft” because it’s that messy.
Then I end up rewriting the whole thing for what I consider the “real” first draft. And with each rewrite or revision, I add more layers, character motivations, and complexity to the story. The time it’s taken me to write a complete manuscript has varied widely, depending on the story – ranging from three months to two years! So it depends on the book.
8. Are there any books you have enjoyed recently and would recommend to others?
I absolutely adored Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, a stunning, beautifully written YA fantasy, and I recently read Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut Allegedly and was blown away by the twist! And I need to shout about Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin and She’s Too Pretty to Burn by Wendy Heard, which are both sapphic YA thrillers coming out in 2021 that are absolutely incredible.
9. Do you have any writing tips for aspiring authors?
My biggest advice is to do away with the notion of a perfect first draft. The real magic happens in revisions. I think the pressure a lot of people put on themselves for that first draft is what keeps so many people from finishing their first book. It’s okay if that first draft is the actual worst. Nobody has to see it but you. And you can’t revise something you never write!
And there we have it! I feel very called out by what Diana had to say for my last question – I am usually such a perfectionist with my writing that it has to be right the first time, but her answer will definitely help to change my perspective on that!
It was interesting what she had to say about social media, it must be so difficult because I struggle to keep up myself. And I am glad she recommended Where Dreams Descend as I have heard a lot of good things about that book. But overall, I would say Diana is very inspiring and everything she says about her writing journey is a testament to that!
What did you think of Diana’s answers? Did you find it fascinating to find out more about her experience as an author? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂