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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Odyssey Bookshop Odyssey

This past weekend I had a fun road trip out to one of my favorite independent bookstores: The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA!

On the two-hour drive from Boston--I purposely took the longer, scenic route--I started to contemplate how despite my penchant for writing about far-flung travel, this trip to the Odyssey represented a kind of homecoming for me.

My alma mater, Hampshire College
In the 1990s I went to college at nearby Hampshire College, in Amherst. I lived in South Hadley one summer when I had a job that kept me in town between semesters. And the Pioneer Valley--home to the five-college consortium of Hampshire, Amherst, UMass, Smith, and Mount Holyoke--was where I spent much of my time learning to be a writer. I was an English Major, not a Creative Writing Major, but I wrote countless stories in college; while some kids hit the gym or the hiking trails for stress relief, I holed up in my dorm room and pounded out story after story. And I was a voracious reader in college, even outside of work for my classes. I haunted all the local bookstores and libraries, and spent hours discussing books with some of the smartest readers I've ever met -- friends I have to this day, with whom I bonded over books.

I hadn't been to the Pioneer Valley for about ten years, when I went there once for a bike ride and whizzed past my old life at high speeds. I really haven't spent any significant time there since I graduated college. So as the winding roads and lush rolling hills led me into Amherst this weekend, I felt a swell of mixed emotions. In college, I'd been filled with uncertainty. I'd had a tenuous financial aid package and a hefty part-time work schedule that made my existence there semester to semester quite precarious. I'd had a huge course workload; I doubled up on classes and graduated in 3.5 semesters to save money. I'd had fierce ambitions to write but crippling anxiety about how to realize those ambitions. I was too scared to take creative writing workshops and share my work with teachers and mentors who could have helped me along. I imagined I was taking the safe route, majoring in English and starting a path to grad school and to becoming an academic, but in fact I'd been embarking on a dead-end road for me: a path to unhappiness in grad school and highly uncertain job prospects in academia. I'm sure my fear and my impulse to play it safe set my writing goals back a decade, at least.

I arrived early for my event and spent some time walking around my old campus, remembering what it was like to be there at various stages of my college career. If I had to do it all again, I would have taken those creative writing workshops and availed myself of the abundance of talent in the five-college area. I would have been open about my writing ambition and made more connections. I would have turned my dreams into concrete goals much sooner. But I have more peace of mind than regret. I think the learning environment at Hampshire, and the culture of the five-college area, did help to form me as a writer. And I remembered, powerfully, how by the time I graduated, I had the goal to return some day to one of the area bookstores (now not in such abundance, sadly) as a published author.

So when I walked into the Odyssey Bookshop, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction. It's wonderful when life gives us chances to loop back into time and reconnect with a goal. It really has been an Odyssey for me to get back into that store after all these years.

I had such a marvelous time talking about YA fiction with my fellow panelists, talented authors Terra Elan McVoy (IN DEEP) and Gillian Murray Kendall (THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS). Thank you, Odyssey--and the wonderful audience who came out on a warm July night--for making me feel at home!
Terra Elan McVoy, Me, & Gillian Murray Kendall


Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Launch Week(s) Recap

Cake for the launch party Racing bib design by Renee Combs
It's been a fun couple of weeks launching LATITUDE ZERO! The kickoff was July 3, publication day. I celebrated with a party at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. I admit, I had some misgivings about throwing a launch party the day before a national holiday, prime vacation time. Misgivings swelled when the threat of violent thunderstorms caused the city of Boston to move its scheduled July 4 celebration to July 3! Now I had to compete with fireworks, the Boston Pops, and the Beach Boys, the headline act of the city's celebration! Who would choose to spend a warm summer evening at a bookstore when they could be out by the Charles River?

Lots of people, it turns out! Though I couldn't deliver fireworks or even hum the national anthem, we had great turnout!

I talked about how writing this book was so different from writing TOKYO HEIST, and what inspired it. I read for a bit, and answered some really excellent audience questions. Then I got to sign copies and eat some of that fabulous cake pictured above!

Here are some other pictures from the party:

With my street team: authors A.C. Gaughen, Erin Cashman, Kerri Majors, and Gina Rosati!
Me, with the fun racing bib designed by Renee Combs--finally 070314 is a reality!
Local cycling celebs: a former pro cyclist (on left) and the founder of VeloVelo (right)

So I have to tell you about the guy in the third picture, above. That's Carlos Vivas, a former professional cyclist from Ecuador. (Also a former Mr. Universe winner; he went into bodybuilding after retiring from cycling). I met Carlos after I'd written the entire book, when someone alerted me to the fact that he worked as a mechanic at my local bike shop. I'd been shopping there for years and never knew it! Carlos and his wife Carol both read late-stage draft of LATITUDE ZERO and vetted it for Ecuadorian references, Spanish usage particular to the region, and cycling mechanics. They were incredibly helpful. It was great to hear Carlos's real-life story of how he came into cycling, and the similarities to my main character, Juan Carlos, were eerie!

After the launch party, my family and I went to Seattle, my hometown, where I did two events: one at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, my favorite mystery-themed bookstore EVER. I spent some time hanging out with Amber, the amazing children's bookbuyer there, who made sure I left with an armload of reading material for my vacation! (Seriously, Amber is one of the most well-read people I've ever met, and you absolutely must check out her Agatha Christie blog, My 52 Weeks with Christie--she's reading one Christie novel a week!) The other event was at Third Place Books, and my parents were in attendance! I had a lot of fun meeting mystery fans and cycling fans at both stores!
Me with Amber, children's bookbuyer extraordinaire!
From there, it was on to an actual VACATION. We took the train from Seattle to Portland, which felt so adventurous even though it was only a four-hour trip; I really miss traveling, which can be tough with a small kid, and this whetted my appetite for serious travel again. We then drove to Cannon Beach, on the Oregon Coast.
Cannon Beach, Oregon. Paradise!
I spent a few days relaxing there with family, and I finally found time to do a little cycling myself -- beach cycling, that is, on the sand!
I had never tried this before. It's a fun low-tide activity to do on Cannon Beach. It was easy enough to learn, but a bit more of a workout than I'd anticipated. Let's just say I don't see racing this way in my future! (Nor do I see beach biking as the subject of my next book!)

While on vacation, two rather amazing things happened, proving my theory that if you want good things to happen, get out of town -- ideally to somewhere with weak wifi! (And then when you get good news, it will be EXTRA exciting!) First, an essay of mine got published on the Huffington Post. It's one I'm particularly proud of, about gun violence in YA fiction. You can read it here.

Then I learned that LATITUDE ZERO is a Junior Library Guild Selection!!! This is astounding news, worthy of even more exclamation points than I just gave it. I've seen the Junior Library Guild distinction printed on many covers of books I admire, but didn't fully understand what it meant until I looked at their website. Basically, a committee chooses a select number of children's titles two seasons each year and licenses hardcover rights for their book club. These titles are then available to thousands of libraries nationwide. It's a big honor, and I'm so thrilled and so grateful that this book may find a wider audience of young readers as a result.

A big thank-you to everyone who has supported the LATITUDE ZERO journey thus far, whether it's by attending an event, buying the book, getting it from the library (or requesting it), spreading the word, following my online blog tour, or expressing interest in the book in any way! Everything that readers do helps nudge the book a little farther out into the world!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,