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Interview: Diana Peterfreund on “Playscape”

Diana PeterfreundTell us a bit about “Playscape.”

I’ve been describing “Playscape” to people as “mommy horror.”  I’ve had friends who are parents tell me they can’t read it, or that I’ve given them nightmares. So: mission accomplished!


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

The park in the story is a park near my house, where my family and I used to go every day. I first got the idea for the story when my oldest daughter was a toddler, and then when my younger daughter got big enough to play on that same playground, I was reminded of it and then the voice came to me and I just ran with it.

You’re supposed to keep your eye on your kids when you’re out, but then, they go into a tunnel or something on the playground and you can’t see them and you get a little jolt of adrenaline, even though you know they are about to come out the other side. It’s irrational, but you think every time, where is my kid? Where did they go? Every parent’s worst nightmare is they turn around for a second and their kid disappears. It’s a primal fear.


Was “Playscape” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It’s a story about motherhood, and about the mommy wars and how we make ourselves feel “safe” by tearing down other people’s parenting choices. My friend was involved in a national scandal because she allows her children to walk to the park by themselves. I watched the way even some of our neighbors turned on her. I was also fascinated by the way any time a tragedy happens to a child, it’s always, “where was the mom, what did the mom do wrong that allowed this to happen?”


Was there any aspect of this story you found difficult to write?

This story was a bunch of huge firsts for me. First time I ever wrote in second person. First time I ever submitted a short story to a periodical. I wrote it in this hazy rush, but then I sat there and said, what in the world am I going to DO with you? I usually write sci-fi or fantasy novels for kids. I certainly had never written horror before. Was it even horror? It was the submitting that was really new and challenging for me.

I will say, though, that after I made it all real on the page, I had a hard time going back to that park in my neighborhood.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

For this story, certainly Shirley Jackson, who imbued everything she wrote with this gorgeous, quiet, feminine horror. And also Stephen King, whose horror shorts I grew up reading, and who could always make everyday objects utterly monstrous.


What are you working on now?

In a total tonal departure from this story, my newest series is a trilogy of YA mystery novels based on the board game CLUE, which I’m publishing in partnership with Hasbro. The first book, IN THE HALL WITH THE KNIFE, will be out from Abrams in October. As a die-hard fan of both the game and the 80s movie, I could not be more thrilled.

Though I will admit, I did recently get another idea for a creepy short story…


“Playscape” appears in the March/April 2019 issue of F&SF.

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