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Lygia Day Peñaflor: On Writing Unconventional Villains

Author Lygia Day Peñaflor discusses the high school experience that inspired her new YA psychological drama, Creep: A Love Story.

Lygia Day Peñaflor is the author of Unscripted Joss Byrd, which was inspired by her work teaching child stars on movie sets, and All of This Is True. Lygia lives with her husband on Long Island, where she rides horses and watches reruns of everything. You can visit her online at lygiadaypenaflor.com, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Lygia Day Peñaflor: On Writing Unconventional Villains

Lygia Day Peñaflor

In this post, Lygia Day Peñaflor discusses the high school experience that inspired her new YA psychological drama, Creep: A Love Story, her advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Lygia Day Peñaflor
Literary agent: Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency
Book title: Creep: A Love Story
Publisher: Clarion Books/HarperCollins
Release date: September 27, 2022
Genre/category: YA contemporary, psychological drama, romance, suspense
Previous titles: All of This Is True, Unscripted Joss Byrd
Elevator pitch for the book: Creep: A Love Story is a twisted, tragic love story that follows Holy Family High School’s cutest couple—as told through the eyes of the classmate who’s stalking them.

Lygia Day Peñaflor: On Writing Unconventional Villains

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What prompted you to write this book?

I always admired the beautiful older couples when I was in high school, the ones who seemed genuinely happy and in love. They had a celebrity-like status about them.

One day when I was a senior, I realized that the roles had reversed. A younger girl I’d never spoken to before came up to me and said, “You have the cutest boyfriend.” She was wide-eyed and sort of an oddball. I never forgot that encounter, and my imagination ran with it.

Eventually that girl turned into my main character, Rafi Wickham, a loner who becomes consumed by her obsession with Laney Villanueva and Nico Fiore, a popular couple. I had been both Rafi and Laney, in some ways, so I was able to imagine both of their lives.

The song “Creep” by Radiohead inspired this book, as well. It’s so desperate and intense—it’s very Rafi and Laney and Nico. I don’t know if anyone will pick up on this, but parts of the book parallel specific moments in the song. I had to borrow the title for the novel, of course I did.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

Scenes developed in my mind ever since that incident in high school, which means that I had the idea for decades. Thinking takes time. Writing takes time. And publishing takes time.

I started drafting this book in 2018. I sent a polished manuscript to my agent in April 2020. The idea never changed: When the “It” couple and a troubled sophomore collide, tragedy turns their lives to shreds. I thought about this story for so long that when I finally began writing, I knew exactly what I wanted it to be.

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

No Surprises. That was a Radiohead joke, sorry!

Actually, yes. When this novel was out on submission, a few editors passed on it for being “too realistic.” They thought the narrator, Rafi, was too sympathetic for a stalker. They were expecting a traditional thriller with a cold-hearted villain. One or two asked if I’d be willing to make those types of changes. This surprised me because my goals were to create a plausible story and a fully dimensional character with feelings, a life story, and reasons behind her actions.

Even though those editors were rejecting my book, I took “too realistic” as a compliment and hoped that someone would appreciate what I’d done. Thankfully, Emilia Rhodes at Clarion loved the manuscript as it was. She’d been searching for something unconventional and was willing to take a risk.

Lygia Day Peñaflor: On Writing Unconventional Villains

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

It was frighteningly easy to slip into Rafi’s headspace. I knew her voice so well that I could drop her into any situation and know exactly what she’d say and do. I can still do that—I can’t shake her.

I was also surprised by the connections I was able to make on a line level. Small details, like gummy bears and Halloween costumes, became meaningful throughout the book. I loved discovering nuggets like that about my own writing.

I knew that I would enjoy writing about Rafi, Laney, and Nico, but I ended up loving minor characters, too, especially Rafi’s grandparents and Millie Fiore, Nico’s little sister.

I never grew tired of my writing playlist, which was surprising, too. It’s weird—I listened to the same songs over and over while I wrote this book, but I’m still not sick of them!

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

With every book, I hope to make readers feel something, whatever those emotions may be. And I like when people have discussions and debates about how far and how dark my characters go. Books should get people talking.

Specifically, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that one person can impact people’s lives without their knowledge. With Creep: A Love Story, I’d like readers to reflect on that.

And this might sound silly, but if this book makes readers play the Radiohead song, I’ll feel that I’ve connected with them in some way. That’d be very cool.

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

Create tension. It’s been said before, but it’s for real. If you can create and sustain tension, readers will keep turning pages. Analyze the novel, the chapter, the scene, the paragraph, the sentence you’re writing. Where’s the tension? If you can’t identify it, rewrite it. Make it better.

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