Donna Freitas: Exploring Social Consequences in Fiction

Novelist Donna Freitas explains how she came to write her first adult novel, The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano, and why she wants this book to be provocative.
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This is Donna Freitas’s first adult novel. She has spoken at nearly 200 colleges and universities about her nonfiction work. She is the author of Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention, as well as ten novels for children and young adults. Donna has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe, and she has appeared on radio and television, from NPR’s “All Things Considered” to “The Today Show.” She has been a professor at Boston University and Hofstra University and is currently a member of the faculty at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA program.

Donna Freitas

Donna Freitas

In this post, Freitas explains how she came to write her first adult novel, The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano, why she wants this book to be provocative, and more!

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Name: Donna Freitas
Literary agent: Miriam Altshuler
Title: The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Release date: April 6, 2021
Genre: Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: Rose Napolitano has never wanted children and her husband knew this, yet her marriage has come to rest on whether or not she will change her mind. The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano explore nine different versions of Rose’s life as she tries to answer this question and lives through the consequences on her marriage, career, her relationships—not to mention the maddening pressures she feels all around her about what to do.
Previous titles by the author: Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention (Little, Brown 2019).

The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas

The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas

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What prompted you to write this book?

After I wrote my memoir, Consent, which is about a part of my past that felt urgent to explore in my writing, I asked myself what else felt urgent to me that I might want to write about. The answer was: a woman who doesn’t want children. I wanted the chance to explore the consequences of this desire that society, culture, just about everybody it often feels like, doesn’t like to see in a woman. It’s also a desire people don’t believe is true even when a woman adamantly expresses that yes, indeed it is.

It was when I figured out the structure, though, that I sat down to write. I’d debated a long time about how I’d write this story—would I write about a woman who sticks to her guns and refuses to have children? One who, under pressure, changes her mind and later regrets it? Or what about the version where she has the child and discovers it was the best decision of her life? This list of possibilities could go on. It was when I realized a way to write all the fantasies I had about what could happen, essentially fragmented my character and her life into many different possibilities, that I realized that Yes (!!) I am going to do this!

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How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

Not too long. Once I got to writing, I wrote the first draft like a fiend and finished it in about two months. Then I did a big revision (it’s pretty sprawling and complex, structure-wise), followed by a more targeted one during the next three months, then it sold very quickly. It was actually one of those publishing dreams that I’ve never lived before (this is my 23rd book, so maybe the 23rd is the charm?), where the book went out at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday and sold overnight. Then my editor, Pam, and I worked on further revisions for maybe about eight months. And then came the very long wait until publication, mingled with COVID delays. I’m still waiting right now as I write this, in fact! Soon, though.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

This is my debut novel for adults—all my other novels are YA or Middle Grade—so publishing a novel for adults is new to me. Mostly I’m curious how the publishing experience will be different, if at all, and what the adult fiction world is like as compared to the YA/Children’s one.

And then, Pam Dorman is a very involved editor, in the best way. I don’t know that I’ve ever been edited quite this hard before! And I think (I hope!) it shows. I paid attention to every single word, every sentence, and so did she. It made me grateful to have that kind of investment in an editor.

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Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

For me, I think the biggest surprise was all that I could do because of this structure where I had a character whose life I could play out multiple times, in multiple directions, with all kinds of outcomes. For example, I realized that maybe I could get away with having my protagonist, Rose, say or do things that might upset the reader a lot, that might make the reader cover their eyes and say, “Ohmigosh, no!” Things I might not dare have my character do otherwise. But I could because there are multiple versions of her, and so while in one version you may get very angry at thoughts she has or things she does, in another version you might love her. So the form itself could bear a lot—I could get away with a lot, I guess, is what I’m saying. And I loved how I could push the character and the story beyond certain boundaries because of this. It was exciting as a writer to be able to experiment in this way.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope that readers, women readers especially, regardless of where they come down on the question to have or not have children, will find themselves spoken for in this book. This is a novel about women’s choices, the ways society pressures all women on the subject of motherhood, regardless of what they decide, so I hope that I’ve done justice to the diversity of readers who will read this novel.

I also hope the book is provocative! I hope it makes people think, disagree, argue, discuss—all the things! I also hope it’s a story that allows people to dare to say out loud some of their thoughts and feelings on this subject that they wouldn’t dare to say otherwise. I hope Rose is a character that sparks those possibilities.

Donna Freitas: Exploring Social Consequences in Fiction

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

To not be afraid to need something from the book you are writing—a question answered, an experience revisited, a part of yourself that needs voice and understanding. As far as novels go, I think when we need something from the story we are telling (like, really need something) then tension, conflict, plot, these things come more easily to the writing. The reader will feel the urgency that the writer felt when they were engaged in the telling. The tension will be plain, natural to the story. At least, that is my theory!

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