The Five Questions: Diana Renn


In the pioneer post of what will be a regular feature of this blog, Diana Renn — author of Tokyo HeistLatitude Zero, and the upcoming Blue Voyage — tackles The Five Questions, inviting us into a world of disastrous cycling mistakes, a mystery about Agatha Christie’s mysteries, and the reason why she believes having a “Plan B” may not be such a grade-A idea.

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

My books have multiple sources of inspiration that sort of glom together over time and after a lot of hard thinking. LATITUDE ZERO had two main sources of inspiration. One was my experience living and working in Ecuador. I got the idea of a character whose moral compass had gone somewhat askew, and who had traveled a very long way in order to find herself; I explored this in a short story that I revised over many years, and later I realized this was Tessa, the main character in what would become this novel. The other inspiration was my involvement in a 200-mile bike ride to raise money for cancer research. I did this ride for several years with my husband. In an effort to keep my mind occupied, I sometimes imagined horrific crash scenes, or let myself imagine what might happen if I made a bad decision on the ride and caused a crash. I thought it would be fun to set a mystery in the bicycling world. The heroines of my bike story idea and my Ecuador story began to merge. I had Tessa make a bad decision on the ride, with an Ecuadorian athlete in the picture, and spent the next several hundred pages trying to get her out of trouble.

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

Well, it’s not exactly obscure, but I don’t think it’s as widely read as it once was – and certainly not known to the YA crowd. I’m going to say The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye – or maybe ANY of her books, especially the Death In . . . murder mystery series that takes us to different countries (Death in Zanzibar, Death in Berlin, etc.). I love M.M. Kaye’s storytelling and her portrayal of characters confronting mysteries set in other culture, the mysteries of other countries, and the mysteries within themselves. They remind me that the world is vast, and people are deep.

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I would like to ask any writer who is a parent how they do it. How they juggle the competing demands on their time and attention. I am always looking for new tricks. On a very different note, I’d love to ask Agatha Christie why she didn’t actually set a mystery in Turkey, even though she lived in Istanbul for a while. (She wrote Murder on the Orient Express while living in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, but the novel isn’t actually set in Turkey). Truly, this confounds me; the city is steeped in mystery!

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

I love it when readers, especially teens, tell me that they identified strongly with one of the characters. (I get this a lot about Violet in Tokyo Heist). I love it when the people who identify with a character are actually so different from one another. I really love it when a guy reader says he relates to Violet or to Tessa!

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

I’ve been so lucky to have great writing teachers; I don’t think anyone gave me lousy advice. No one actively discouraged me. No one gave me rules that I then felt compelled to go out and break. However, in college I somehow got a message – or told myself – that I needed a good Plan B if I wanted to write, and I decided getting a Ph.D. in English would be a reliable Plan B. Not so. I got all tangled up in my Plan B (and C, and D) and Plan A – creative writing – really got relegated to the sideline. Resentment festered. By the time I finally left academia, determined to become a novelist, I felt that I was rebelling against every teacher – when in fact no one had told me directly not to put my writing first. A lot of aspiring writers go with Plan B out of fear. Some of them might have been teachers, and I might have unconsciously copied them. Then again, maybe I needed to create some force, some faceless teacher, to rebel against, in order to prioritize my writing again!

For more about Diana Renn and her books:


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Follow her Tweets at: @dianarenn

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