Diana Renn About the Author Diana Renn Books by Diana Renn Diana Renn's News
Diana Renn's favorite links Contact Diana Renn
Diana Renn Visits Diana Renn Services

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Blog's First Quarterly Perfomance Review

I've had my blog up for three months now, so it feels like a good time to sit down and have our first quarterly review.

Me: Hi, Blog. Good to see you. Please, have a seat.
Blog: Thank you.
Me: So, Blog, I see you've acquired a few followers -- that's fantastic!
Blog: Thanks. I'm really grateful to have some loyal readers. With so many blogs competing for attention, who on earth has time to read one more thing? Especially yet another blog about writing and publishing? I'm honored. Really.
Me: Do you think you might acquire more readers if you commented on other people's blogs?
Blog: I do comment on other blogs, but as far as I can tell, that hasn't led people to follow mine. Anyway, when I comment on other blogs, it's not to gain readers or followers, but to share a thought I have about someone else's thoughtfully-written piece. That community engagement in the blogosphere, which I thought would be draining, has actually been quite fun.
Me: Let's talk schedule, Blog. It seems you're posting roughly two entries a week, but not on consistent days. And there are a couple weeks where you skipped out and only posted one thing. Oh, and last week? You linked to a guest blog post somewhere else. Technically, that's moonlighting. You shouldn't shirk you duties here and go blog elsewhere.
Blog: I have to be honest. Blogging is tough. I never realized how much work blogging can be. My hat's off to those bloggers who post more often. And write other things. And have day jobs. I'm sorry about the link to a guest post last week. You're right. Any guest posting I do will be on top of my regular posts, not a substitute. Won't happen again.
Me: Promise?
Blog: Yep.
Me: Okay. What makes blogging so much work, or so time-consuming? Is it thinking of topics? Procrastination? Be honest.
Blog: I have a handy list of possible topics. Several pages worth. I think I have trouble writing concisely. And I'm an essayist at heart. It's sometimes a challenge to write fewer than 250 words. If I get an idea, I like to follow it for awhile. I forget that people don't necessarily want to read lengthy pieces on a computer screen. Especially if they're following 50 other blogs.
Me: Is that something you think you can work on? Writing more concisely?
Blog: Sure. Maybe some of my longer entries can be broken up into two parts. Maybe I can save some of my meatier ideas for full-length essays and find a different forum for those. That way readers won't get overwhelmed, or look at my long, long posts and freak out.
Me: Good ideas. Tell me, which topics have been most enjoyable for you to write about?
Blog: I've done three book reviews, and I really liked doing them. They took some time, but the process forced me to think more carefully about what I'd read. And I like the idea of introducing some writers to people who might not have heard of them. I have a whole new appreciation for what serious book bloggers do.
Me: Will you be doing more book reviews then?
Blog: I think I'll strive for one a month. Only adult or nonfiction titles, though. I feel it's a conflict of interest for a YA author to review YA titles. I'll leave that to the YA review pros. But if I read something I feel strongly about in another genre, for another market -- and I feel it could use a wider audience -- I'll review it.
Me:  Will you be blogging more about the publishing process as the novel gets closer to publication?
Blog: You know, I thought I'd say more about that journey, but I've discovered I'm kind of private about a lot of the details. I also can't fathom why people would be interested in reading about how many words I cut today, or what scenes I rearranged. And I think there's some magic to the book-making process that should be preserved for readers. Just my personal opinion and preference. But I look forward to sharing some more aspects of the process when I get closer to the date. Like a cover design, or a specific publication date. I'm sure I'll be a bit more forthcoming when the heavy editing process is over.
Me: If blogging is time-consuming, and you don't, let's be honest, have hundreds of readers, what keeps you going?
Blog: I have perfectionist tendencies. Knowing I have to post roughly twice a week gets me past that. Blogging gives me a sense of accomplishment. Posting something, even a couple of paragraphs, is an accomplishment, when I could be doing so many other things, like organizing my stacks of paper, or cleaning up after my cat. Blogging keeps my writing skills sharp, and helps me keep working on that concise writing goal of mine. And finally, blogging gives me a feeling of control and immediate gratification. Publishing is a slow process, whether it's an article or a novel. There are rounds of editing. There is a lot of waiting. When I feel impatient, I just post a blog entry and I feel I've gotten some words written and out into the world. It's nice.
Me: That's great to hear. So keep it up, and we'll have another review in three months.
Blog: Looking forward to it. One question.
Me:  Yes?
Blog: Can I get a raise?
Me: Seriously? You just started.
Blog: Blogging's also made me more assertive. I had to ask. I mean, what have I got to lose?
Me: Let me think about it. We'll talk in three months.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest blogging at Year of Auditions

I'm playing hooky from my blog today, and guest posting at YA author Stasia Kehoe's YEAR OF AUDITIONS. What happened when a movie company descended up on my high school? Come journey with me back to 1988, big hair, and a little rock n roll musical that dared to dream!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tornado Siren: Taking the ebook world by storm!

The title of today's post expresses my great hope for this thrilling and thoughtful novel. The exciting whirlwind of ebook publishing now brings us TORNADO SIREN, by Patrick Gabridge. Originally published by Behler Publications in 2005, it has just been re-released as an ebook, and is now available for Kindle, Nook, and other formats (via Smashwords). In fact, Smashwords featured it as a special promotion for "Read an e-Book Week" earlier this month.

I'm a big fan of contemporary, realistic fiction, and make only occasional forays into the realm of the paranormal. In that respect, TORNADO SIREN is the perfect read for me. The book feels grounded in reality, as the day-to-day work of tornado researcher Victoria Thomas is described with fascinating precision. Victoria's personal issues, as a busy, thirty-something scientist with little time for relationships, also feel quite real and compelling. And the details of life during and after a tornado are vividly painted. I've never seen a tornado in real life, but I could really feel the terror of watching a storm approach, or hiding while a storm rages, or waiting for help after being buried in rubble. So there are numerous anchors to reality in the novel, but the tornadoes whose path of destruction Victoria charts -- and the mysterious man and his dog who sometimes accompany them -- quickly swept me away into a highly imaginative storyline.

Ben Fulgar and his dog, Kimat, seem otherwordly as they defy the rules of nature. How can they walk away from the most violent storms, unscathed? How can they have existed for centuries yet fail to show signs of age? Yet the man and his dog also appear to be of the earth itself, gaining a strange power from the storms that seem to seek them. Victoria finds her rational perspective challenged as she first follows their tracks, and then accompanies Ben and his dog on a long trek across Kansas. Seeking answers, she finds love. However, more complications follow, including the logistical and moral dilemmas of how to be with a man who lives outside the basic rules of society and who attracts such destruction. (Sure, any relationship has its challenges, but try dating someone who needs to sleep on the bare earth instead of a bed. Or who lures a tangle of deadly twisters directly to his doorstep).

Gabridge is both a novelist and a playwright, and he brings to this novel the playwright's ear for great dialogue and a talent for careful pacing. He does not shy away from emotional scenes, and the romance storyline is poignant. The book is both thoughtful and thrilling, combining a rational scientist's concept of reality with the energy and danger of deadly storms. It's a quick read, making it especially suitable, I think, for an ebook format. Read TORNADO SIREN. Get swept away. Enjoy the ride.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Power of Words: Writers Helping Japan

A week ago I was hanging out in NYC, visiting my favorite Japanese haunts, nibbling Japanese pastries with my editors at Viking. Inspired by my trip and my editorial meeting, eager to travel to Japan through my novel, I plunged into my revisions. And then Japan plunged into disaster.

For awhile I toggled back and forth between two screens: my Word doc and online news reports. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing on the news. The fictional dream began to recede. My novel began to feel silly. Teen girls chasing gangsters and drawing manga? Good grief. Who cares? In the real Japan, families were being rent apart. Lives were being lost. Nuclear power plants were exploding and leaking.

I took some action. I donated some money. I checked in with friends who have family in Japan; thankfully all are fine. I watched a lot of news. And then I had to take a break from news.

It's easy for all of us, but particularly for writers and artists, to start feeling helpless or insignificant in the face of disaster, of suffering or loss of life on a large scale. I know I wish I could take stronger action and do more. If I were a medical professional, I might board the next plane. If I were a nuclear physicist I'd lend my brain cells to solving the problem of fending off a meltdown.

But then I started getting tweets about YA author Maureen Johnson's innovative Shelterbox fundraiser. Shelterbox is an international disaster relief charity that provides disaster victims with boxes containing shelter-building materials and other survival gear. In the wake of the New Zealand earthquake, Johnson held a Twitter drive. Authors donated prizes, fans bid on them and donated, and $15,000 was raised for Shelterbox. With almost no planning, her initiative was repeated for Japan relief efforts, and she raised almost that same amount for Shelterboxes in just a few days.

I'm inspired by how high-profile authors can use their visibility to raise this kind of money in such a short amount of time, and how everyone can participate in such an initiative, at any level - by donating money, donating prizes, or just spreading the word. And that is why wordsmiths should not be humbled by large-scale relief efforts out in the Real World. Wordsmiths should use the power of the word to help out in times of need.

Here are some other writers and people in the book business -- as well as artists in other media -- who are helping to raise money or raise awareness. They are contributing their time, talent and energy to help Japan. I'd love to learn of other individuals or organizations who are involved in creative fundraising initiatives. Please add them as comments and help spread the word!

Amazon.com -- Provides an easy way to make Red Cross Donations on their site 

Authors for Japan (UK; online auction - authors and publishing professionals donating prizes -- closes 3/20) 

Art for Japan Auctions (various artists donating works; many links here)

Japan L.A. / #prayforjapan Art Show (fundraiser, Los Angeles, 3/19-4/4)

New York - Asia Week - many galleries / art shows are turning into fundraising events

Write Hope (a group of Kidlit writers auctioning kidlit books, critiques, and other prizes for donation to Save the Children's emergency relief fund)

(As always, please do your research on any charitable donation before sending money!)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Country Mouse goes to NYC

NYC always dazzles me. I've been there numerous times -- Boston isn't so far away, and I used to travel there regularly for business. But I always feel a bit like Country Mouse, showing up with a battered suitcase and stars in my eyes, gaping at the towering buildings and at the rush of life all around me. Inevitably I trip over the sidewalk at some point, or walk into a wall, or narrowly miss getting hit by a cab, because I am so in awe.

Last week's whirlwind visit was a particularly glamorous trip for me because I was a) traveling solo, for the first time in a long time, and b) meeting with my publisher to discuss revisions, and c) celebrating my City Mouse friend's birthday and getting to see her adorable baby girl. The perfect mix of business and pleasure. Oh, and I was flying down for the first time, on the Jet Blue shuttle, rather than creeping down on the train or the bus. What a difference! What efficiency! What civilized comfort! Country Mouse may never travel to New York any other way from now on.

I started my adventure at Rockefeller Center, where I popped into Minamoto Kitchoan, my favorite Japanese pastry shop in New York. Actually it's now the only Japanese pastry shop in New York, as the other one recently closed. It is a wonderful little slice of Japan, with an array of seasonal confections (wagashi) that instantly transports me back to Kyoto.

I bought a box of some goodies as a gift for my editors, and bought two other wagashi just for myself, for breakfast. (Signs posted around the store assure you that their wagashi, made with legumes and glutinous rice, are healthier than Western sweets; they contain fewer calories and many vitamins. I chose to believe this. I also chose to believe that Spring is here, as I purchased an assortment of Spring wagashi wrapped in crisp green paper. Basically whatever the lovely people at Minamoto Kitchoan tell me, I will believe! It is a place of great optimism).

I sat in a pool of sunlight at Rockefeller Center, watched skaters, and ate about 600 calories worth of healthy and vitamin-filled wagashi. Which I did not have to share with a toddler. I'm sure any mother can appreciate how rare and lovely it is to just sit in the sun and eat something entirely by yourself. Slowly.

I then ambled over to Kinokuniya Books, where I browsed to my heart's content. Another luxury, as no small person was exhorting me to buy everything in sight. I found two manga titles that directly relate to something in my novel. I made a list of fifteen books I'm now dying to read. I browsed through the craft section and drooled over Japanese paper, and briefly contemplated learning a craft -- until I remembered that if I got sucked into something like origami or sumi brush painting, I'd probably never write another word.

The highlight of the bookstore visit was an impressive exhibit of book art, featuring the Japanese Young Artists' Books Fair. (Yes, I keep wanting to rewrite that as "Young Japanese Artists' Book Fair." But this is how it appears in the promotional materials).

This artist collective is a group of young, emerging artists who live or work in Japan. They are exhibiting works related to book art: comics, graphic novels, art objects related to books, art books, etc. Works from the Tokyo exhibit are currently on display at Kinokuniya in NY and at several other bookstores in the city. (Click on the link above for more info). The most astounding work I saw was that of an artist who knit with books. She cut Japanese books into vertical strips (following the characters, which appear vertically on the page) and then knit them -- really -- into sweaters, blankets, mittens, hats, scarves. WOW. It was also fun to watch an artist work on an elaborately detailed mural painting on the wall of the store, by the stairwell. And it was fun to see the creative interpretations of book art all around the exhibit. One artist showed blank white books, and his explanatory note said that images would appear in them over time, as a result of temperature or humidity. "If you can't wait to appear," it went on, "you lightly toast with dryer or fire. But take care when using fire!" Another work by the same artist played with images of hands on books, reminding us of the tactile sensation of reading and how the outside world disappears except for the book and our hands. This series also involved some optical illusions with black and white vertical stripes, which were a bit painful to look at after awhile. I was grateful for the artist's warning to "keep your eyes apart" to protect them!

In the afternoon, I went to the Penguin Offices to meet with my editorial team. I had to pause before the building and just marvel for a moment at how far I've come with my novel. Years ago, toiling in solitude, on the verge of giving up, I never would have imagined I would someday stand before the Penguin offices on Hudson Street. It is really beyond my wildest dreams. I was alone, but not alone, because I don't feel I got there alone. I was pushed along to that destination, to that moment, by a great number of people, including my agent, my critique group, my writer friends, my supportive family. I don't think any writer or artist gets very far alone.

At that rather emotional moment, Country Mouse took over my body and made me take a picture of the address on the building to memorialize the day:

After passing a wonderful afternoon talking about my book, and books in general, with my amazing editorial team (oh, and eating some more of that vitamin-filled wagashi with them), I went on to the West Village to meet my dear friend, City Mouse. She's from my hometown of Seattle, but has been living in NYC for almost a decade, and now navigates the Big Apple with ease and grace. It's good when she's around because then I'm less likely to trip over the sidewalk or bang into buildings; she's got my back.

And she's got a great eye for art, which is why she's terrific in her job as a corporate art curator. Immediately after we met up in her neighborhood, she directed my attention to an arresting framed picture set out with some trash. It may have been a graphic for magazine, or an advertisement for an art show; the writing on it was all in Japanese. But the model's expression -- sort of inviting and defiant -- grabbed my attention. And I was struck by the way the art seemed "set out," even displayed, rather than thrown out, even though it was next to the trash.

It was a powerful image for me, on many levels. It reminded me of my earlier destinations in the day, and how you can still find Japan in NYC, despite so many recent closings of Japanese businesses there. And the picture made me think about perseverance, and hope . . . how even when you're hitting a wall with your work, or feeling like your art is worthless or destined for the trash, if you keep at it, it will improve, and eventually someone will notice. When it's time, the right people will lift you up and help you get to where you need to go.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Coming Up For Air

I'm coming up for air! I've missed blogging, but for the past couple of weeks I have been focused on the editorial letter I received from my publisher, and my impending revision of The Frame Game. After three passes through the manuscript and thirty pages of brainstorming and scrawled notes, the revision process is beginning to feel slightly less daunting. Slightly. Tomorrow I'll be in New York, and I'll actually get to meet with my team at Viking and discuss some ideas in person.

Cutting is the big issue. As I prepare for my flight tomorrow morning, I realize my manuscript -- bursting with hot pink post-it notes, scrawled comments, and little sticky tags -- takes up most of my bag. I may actually have to buy it a seat. I may have to declare it at security as potentially hazardous material. I now completely accept that this manuscript is too unwieldy and needs to shed some weight.

When I first got the editorial letter, I was slightly paralyzed. But I spent a lot of time with the manuscript, trying to see it through my editors' eyes, and giving serious consideration to all of their suggestions and concerns. I broke through my initial paralysis by having the voice of my main character respond, in writing, to each of their points. While no one will ever see those notes, this helped me get back into my character's mindset and voice, and to think about which suggestions felt natural to implement and which felt more difficult. It also helped to remove me, the author, from the equation, in a sense. The comments and responses became about the book, not me.

Now I'm mostly feeling energized and excited. I'm planning to hit the desk first thing Monday morning, to start revising in earnest, and to take this novel to the next level. I'm so thrilled to have a supportive team who want the best for the book! Revising with coaches, and cheerleaders in the grandstands, feels like a whole different game now. Revising with a visible endpoint this time -- publication, instead of endless uncertainty -- is incredibly motivating. 

Labels: , ,