Recovering ‘Sweet Valley High’ author focuses on new books, promotes reading

Petrini as the Cat in the Hat

Petrini as the Cat in the Hat

My daughter read ‘Sweet Valley High’ books when she was growing up. She was even impressed when I told her that one of my friends had written some of the books she enjoyed reading as a teenager. Catherine M. Petrini is that friend and she is another unique and unbelievable NFPW member. On the post-conference tour to Yellowstone National Park in 2008, she was my co-pilot as we traveled through Yellowstone and Jackson enjoying the scenery and great company. At the National Federation of Press Women conference last August in Salt Lake City, keynote speaker  Justin Osmond was autographing his book and posing for photos with members after his presentation to the group. When he met Cathy, he asked if she would mind posing for a photo with him.

Here is a little more about this unbelievable NFPW member:

Name:  Catherine M. Petrini

City and state: Alexandria, Virginia

Affiliate and any leadership positions:

CAPITAL PRESS WOMEN: I’ve been president twice, and I have at one time or another held every position on the board. I’m also a member of VIRGINIA PRESS WOMEN.


Currently I’m the At-Large Communications Contest Director.

Past NFPW positions include Secretary, 3rd Vice President (back when we had a 3rd VP), 2nd Vice President, Communicator of Achievement Director, and President’s Advisory Board.

Years a member of NFPW: Joined in 1989.

Tell us a little about you.

I am a recovering “Sweet Valley High” author who writes fiction and nonfiction books, mostly for children and teens. Under pseudonyms, I’ve completed 20 young-adult series novels, all published by Bantam or Simon & Schuster. In my fiction, I’ve sicced a werewolf on London, created several psychopathic murderers, and in my greatest show of omnipotence, devastated Southern California in an earthquake.

After my son was born in 2002, I switched to nonfiction for a while, writing children’s and YA books on topics including Italian American immigrants, Stonehenge, and dragons. Now I’m working on a science fiction novel (for adults) for the Stargate SG1 series. But I have several other book manuscripts in various stages of completion.

A new role I’ve taken on since this fall is that of Little Free Library steward. A Little Free Library looks like a birdhouse on steroids, but it’s full of books. I had one installed in front of my house; it’s #9136. Anyone can come by and take books. Book donations are welcome, too. The books can be returned to this or any other Little Free Library, or readers can keep them. It’s a great way to build communities by sharing books. I love my Little Free Library! For more about Little Free Libraries, see

In my spare time, I read, draw, travel, take photos, and pick out Legos from under the couch. I’ve been active in the PTA at my son’s school and sometimes masquerade in public as the Cat in the Hat. I’m also a Bookcrosser and a Postcrosser (, In a past life, I was a magazine editor and a radio host. I love road trips and am known for driving to most NFPW conferences, even those that are far away.

Any career advice you would give?

Network! People say that getting published (or hired) is all a matter of knowing the right people. Of course, that can help. But what most don’t realize is that you have the power to meet the people you want to know! For example, if you think you don’t have a chance of getting an agent because you don’t have the right connections, figure out which conferences agents attend, and sign yourself up. Yes, it may take some time and money. Consider it an investment in your future. Just remember that you’re trying to build relationships; don’t expect things to happen in one weekend. Think of networking not as an event, but as a long-term, ongoing process. It’s also a great way to make new friends!

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be fluent in several languages. I took some Spanish in school and did pretty well, but that was a long time ago, and I’ve forgotten most of it. If I can ever make the time for it, I would like to take Spanish again. And I would love to learn Italian, too. I would also like to learn Cherokee, and have started trying to teach myself the Cherokee syllabary (similar to an alphabet, but each symbol represents not a letter sound but a syllable). I once wrote a nonfiction book on the Cherokee people, and have a back-burner book manuscript that is a YA time-travel fantasy about the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Florence, Italy. I didn’t even have to think about this one. I’m a full-blooded Italian American, but I had never been to Italy until the NFPW Tuscany trip in 2012. From the moment the plane touched down, I felt as if I’d come home. I went to several parts of the country, both with the NFPW group and by myself the following week. Rome was exciting, Assisi was absolutely gorgeous. But Florence was where I could see myself living. I loved everything about it: the Medieval and Renaissance architecture, wonderful food, world-class museums, picturesque streets, warm people, and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Unlike Rome (where I got lost every time I stepped outside of my hotel) I always seemed to know instinctively how to get around in Florence; I was immediately comfortable there. If I can’t live in Florence, I would at least love to go back, often, to visit.

What book are you reading?

I am currently re-reading A Dance With Dragons. It’s the fifth book in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, “A Song of Ice and Fire” (often called Game of Thrones, the title of the first book and of the HBO series based on the books). I finished reading the books early in 2013 and was dismayed to learn that the sixth book was not out yet. Eventually, I needed another “Game of Thrones” fix, so I started re-reading the first five books, in hopes that the sixth book would be out by the time I’m finished. Alas, I’m nearly through A Dance With Dragons, and Book 6 is not out yet. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

The series is loosely based on Medieval European history; specifically, the War of the Roses. But with dragons.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Despite being a complete klutz and one of the world’s most spectacularly uncoordinated people, I am actually a purple belt in Tae Kwon Do. My son (now 11 years old and a black belt) convinced me to take lessons so we could attend classes together. I’m not very good; my completion of the requirements for purple belt says a lot more about our Master’s teaching abilities than it says about my own athletic abilities. I’m currently sidelined with a knee injury, but I hope to get back to it in 2014.

Why is your affiliate and NFPW important to you?

NFPW has been a wonderful source of encouragement, professional development, inspiration, and friendship. Press Women conferences and offices have honed my leadership and public speaking skills, connected me with professional and personal contacts, and given me a great excuse to travel all around the United States, and even to Tuscany! One of the main strengths of Press Women lies in the diversity of its members. You can sit down for dinner at a national or affiliate gathering and talk with a White House correspondent, a book publicist, a small-town newspaper editor, a nationally known columnist, and the author of a Civil War novel — all at the same table! And if I ever need a place to stay in Kansas City, advice about what color my fictional characters would wear to a Colorado Rockies game, or the name of a good freelance editor in San Francisco, I know I can e-mail an NFPW member for help. Membership in NFPW has enriched me both professionally and personally. There is simply no other organization like it.

Ways to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc.:

* Blog:

* Facebook page:

* Little Free Library #9136 Facebook page:

* Twitter account:

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