Diana Renn - Interview by Julia, Teen Blogger
Gosh, I loved doing this author interview! Diana Renn's book was so fun to read and it always had me on the edge on my seat thinking, “Wait! What’s going to happen next?!” Plus, the characters made me go “awwweee” and “Oh no you didn’t!!!” It got me so pumped up, I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Talk about making me dizzy, haha.
Diana Renn is a very sweet and an honest to goodness woman. I found her book Tokyo Heist when I got my new Battle of the Books list for the summer. It was the first title that SCREAMED at me. I’m an avid manga and anime fan—otaku—and when something has Japan written all over it and is obviously winking at me from across the room, I fall in love right away. Then, I fell in love with Diana’s sweet writing style. Reading her story was just like watching an anime and Pixar film all combined together in my head.
Diana lives in Boston with her husband and her adorable son. She graduated from Hampshire College and earned an M.A. in English and American Literature from Brandeis University. After graduate school, Diana taught ESL, writing, and literature, worked in educational publishing, and authored several ESL textbooks. She also traveled whenever possible and taught English in South America. When she’s not writing, Diana enjoys bicycling and taiko drumming.
Check out Diana’s website! She has lots of cool stuff on there! Also, check out the book trailer for Diana’s debut book, Tokyo Heist. I loved the music in it and enjoyed listening to it while I read her book.
I love this question, because when I started writing Tokyo Heist (which had a different title), it was neither a book for teens nor a mystery novel! It was supposed to be a novel for adults about a woman remembering a summer she spent in Japan, going through a difficult time with her father and finding out that her expectations about Japan didn’t meet the reality. There were flashback chapters told from the younger narrator’s point of view. These were fun to write. The “older” narrator chapters were not as fun to write – or to read, as my trusted writing group gently informed me. I decided to try writing the whole thing from the teen narrator’s point of view and was finally able to finish the book! I could hear her voice more clearly. I now realize I am meant to write for younger readers, and the ideas I had for other projects were more suited to the YA market too.
While revising Tokyo Heist (under another totally different title), I realized the book also wanted to be a mystery. There were lots of “mysterious elements” (like missing art and family secrets) but I needed to borrow techniques from the mystery genre (suspects, clues, red herrings, etc.) to move the story along more effectively. Embracing the mystery genre helped me change the book from a novel about mysterious things and ideas to a book where things actually had to happen on every page. It became way more fun to write!
2. What made you want to write about a young, aspiring manga artist who loves mysteries?
I worked in a comic book shop after high school, and on college vacations, and I was always interested in girls who loved comics – at the time, there were not so many. I’m still fascinated by graphic novels and visual storytelling techniques, and wanted to see if I could write about a character who shared that fascination. I am not an artist myself, and it was fun to imagine the perspective of an artist character – and a great excuse to read graphic novels and manga again!
I also had Violet love mysteries because that helped explain why she would be drawn to finding this lost art in the first place. And because there are some manga mysteries out there, which are tremendously fun, and I thought Violet would read those.
3. Were there any personal experiences that helped shape the story?
In high school, I knew a girl who was in the art program, whose dad was an up and coming artist in Seattle. I didn’t know her well at all – she was three years younger – but I was always interested in the dilemma I imagined her to have: what would it be like to have artistic aspirations, but to live in the shadow of an artist parent? How would you find your own creative path? This ends up being part of Violet’s journey in my novel, my ongoing attempt to answer that question. Years later I ran into this girl on a street in New York City, completely randomly, and she was going to art school. I always thought it was great she found her way to art in the end, and maybe my book explains those missing chapters.
My trip to Japan also helped shape certain scenes, particularly the Gion festival in Kyoto, which was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. (Even though no one got shot when I went!) I was glad Violet got to go there too!
4. Who is your favourite author and what strikes you about her/his work?
Ahh – so hard to choose! I have so many favorite authors. Aside from the authors I mention in question #6 below . . . I love Ann Patchett and Jhumpa Lahiri, for their incredible ability to transport me into another culture as well as into their characters’ heads. Among YA authors, I love Laura Resau, for her blend of international settings and mystery plots (particularly in the Notebook series). I love the gritty realism and urban poetry of Paul Griffin’s novels – he has such a great voice, and his latest book, a mystery (Burning Blue) reminds me that you can have a page-turning mystery and still have character development and poetic or “literary” writing.
Oops, that’s more than one author!
5. The Japanese culture has a big part in your book. What made you want to incorporate it into your work?
I grew up in Seattle, which has a lot of Japanese culture. My dad’s office was in the section of Seattle now known as the International District, but what was once Seattle’s “Japan Town.” In school we learned Japanese songs and had quite a few students of Japanese heritage and Japanese exchange students, and I became interested in the culture through them. Later, when I was a teacher, I had many Japanese students, and friends. So I’ve always been drawn to the culture. I love Japanese art, food, film, and books. I do taiko drumming with a group in the Boston area. When my husband and I went to Japan for our honeymoon, I felt very alert to everything there, very inspired. I knew that I wanted to write something set in Japan. I just didn’t know at the time that it would turn out to be a mystery novel for young adults!
6. What books have most influenced your life?
I’ve always been a huge reader, so it’s hard to pinpoint which books were MOST influential. But looking back to my childhood and my teen years, I did read mysteries. I also read a LOT of fantasy and science fiction – so I’m a little surprised that’s not what I’m writing at the moment! Ray Bradbury was, and still is, one of my favorite writers. He gave me the sense that writing could take you anywhere, and there seemed to be no limit to his imagination. I reread T.H. White’s The Once and Future King countless times – I think for the blend of adventure and incredible character growth. And anything set in other countries, I immediately snatched up. In late high school and college I read lots of classics. There wasn’t a big YA selection at the time. If you wanted a coming-of-age story, you read Jane Austen, or Theodore Dreiser, or Emily Bronte.
Oh -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera was a book I fell in love with my senior year of high school, and I continue to reread that every few years. I’m always struck by the lush setting, and the supremely confident storytelling voice in that book.
7. Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I’ve always loved to travel, and was fortunate to be able to travel a great deal – on a shoestring budget – before my son was born. Now that I have a young child, I’m a bit limited in my range. I was not able to go back to Japan to check things or do more research. I relied on Japanese friends/readers, You Tube, travel guides, novels, films, many resources to round out my understanding of the places Violet visits and the people she interacts with.
My next two books are also set in different countries (Ecuador, Turkey). I lived and worked in Ecuador, and I have traveled in Turkey. Again, I’m not able to return to these places, physically, at this point in my life – too far away, and it costs too much money to replace me if I leave my family and run off somewhere to scope out a setting. But writing about these places becomes a way to return to them, and I’m so grateful to have the Internet and other resources to help me.
By the way, I’m amazed by how many teens travel widely these days. There are so many great opportunities for young people to get out in the world – as travelers, as students, as volunteers. I was inspired to write three mysteries about globetrotting teens partly because I’m completely in awe of kids who actually do that.
At the same time, I’m very aware that not everyone has such opportunities. I certainly didn’t – I didn’t go abroad until after college, when I backpacked around Europe and pretty much lived on bread. So my books are also for those readers, who long to travel the world but aren’t yet in a place in their lives where they can. That’s the kind of book I loved finding as a teen, where I could travel vicariously. Frustrating to have huge wanderlust and no money – but I hope the books show that if there’s a desire to travel, an opportunity will present itself, sometimes in an unexpected way!
8. Is there a message in your novel Tokyo Heist that you want readers to grasp?
I believe introverts – many of which are artists and writers – can wield great power, even if it is a quiet power. I believe creativity can help solve huge problems (like mysteries!). I believe young women in particular should pay attention to creative impulses, not worry about what others think, and express themselves.
I also hope readers come away with a desire to learn about Japan and to see it beyond stereotypes, to appreciate how fascinating and complex a place Japan is.
9. What characteristics did you keep in mind when coming up with your main character?
Violet is not a typical mystery novel sleuth. She’s not the logical, fact-finding, list-making Nancy Drew type. She’s primarily a visual thinker, and she uses her art skills and artist’s perspective to piece together clues. It’s a whole different way of solving problems, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to work with an unconventional sleuth like her.
I also wanted Violet to be someone who has creative talents but also has lots of insecurities she needs to overcome. She needs to learn to validate her own art, and take creative and personal risks. She needs to harness her creative powers and inner strength. I always saw her as an introvert type who lived a lot on the page, in the privacy of her sketchbook, and someone who had it in her to become an unlikely action hero – to do something to have a real effect in the world.
I think her artistic skills help her solve the mystery, and her mystery-solving process also helps her to grow as an artist.
Thank you so much for doing this author interview with me Diana. Thank you for all your time and I hope you do well with your books. I’ll read them as soon as they are released considering I feel like I’m a fan now. I wish you, your family, and your books great success and happiness J