Diana Renn

Mysteries that Matter


Last week’s tragedies hit uncomfortably close to home. In 1994, I moved to Boston for school. For many years I lived in Brookline and Brighton, and watched the Boston Marathon run right down my streets. In 2004, my husband and I moved to a town bordering Watertown, where the grisly final showdown of last week’s crime spree played out. The manhunt for one of the bombing suspects took place within 1.5 miles of my neighborhood near all the places we go on weekly errands. The suspect was apprehended in the backyard of a house mere steps from a play area where I’ve been taking my son for years. (I blogged about our long day in a lockdown zone at Sleuths Spies and Alibis earlier this week).

I think so many of us feel these events hit close to home even if we don’t happen to live in the lockdown zone. We all know runners, and maybe some of us run. We know policemen. We know sports fans. We know eight-year-old boys. And so forth. If you talk to enough people, you are bound to find some kind of personal or emotional connection to the horrors that unfolded in the news.

Always, though, I come back to these fundamental facts: I am not that close to the events. I was not a victim. None of my friends or family were either. Any complaining I might do about personal inconveniences and fears I experienced last week do not come close to the losses experienced by those at the finish line — people who lost lives, limbs, or loved ones.

In the face of past national or international tragedies, I have found it helpful to channel my emotions into taking action. Donating money or time to a cause. I am therefore participating in a kidlit community auction to benefit Boston Marathon victims and their families: The Write Stuff For Boston. YA writer and blogger K.T. Crowley (also a fellow Bostonian) has organized this auction and is hosting it on her blog. Ten new items will be unveiled every day, starting today. Authors, bloggers, editors, and agents have donated books, manuscript critiques, school visits, and other items and services. Money raised from bidding goes directly to The One Fund Boston or to The Boston First Responders Fund. Items will be open for bidding for five days after they are listed.

My donation is a manuscript critique of a MG or YA book (up to 30 pages) OR a YA short story, plus a copy of Tokyo Heist.

Another wonderful initiative is spearheaded by YA author (and Boston-area resident) A.C. Gaughen and YA author Kimberly Sabatini. They are collecting books (from authors, readers, anyone) for an initiative called Books for Boston. New children’s books — with uplifting inscriptions or messages of hope — will be collected and donated to the Boston Public Library and to the Neighborhood House Charter School, which is where 8-year-old bombing victim Martin Richards attended. You can read more about Books for Boston, including the philosophy behind it and how to help, on A.C. Gaughen’s blog.

I hope you’ll consider participating in one of these efforts, donating to The One Fund, or helping to spread the word.

One of the best things about this writing journey so far has been emerging from my writing cave and connecting with other people through a shared love of the written word. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of words to connect people, and I’ve been thinking about the importance of voice.

Last night I had the privilege of meeting ten amazing young women with very strong voices. I was a judge for the GLOW Boston 2012 Ignite Change Essay Contest, along with fellow YA authors Hilary Weisman Graham, Lauren Morrill, Gina Rosati, and Gina Damico. All ten finalists were honored at an Awards Banquet at Maggiano’s Restaurant. The prizes the girls’ received included scholarship money, books, and — for every girl — a brand new netbook. Each finalist was also paired with a writing mentor to personally help her in the process of realizing the power of her own voice. You can read more about all of the finalists here.

Boston GLOW stands for Girls’ Leadership, Organized Women. The mission of this small but mighty nonprofit organization is to foster opportunities for women of all ages to become empowered community leaders and active, engaged world citizens. The IGNITE Change Contest, which began in 2010, encourages teen girls to find their voice and make a call for change through writing. This year’s essay contest asked them to describe a problem in their community and come up with an actionable plan for solving it.

As a judge, I was impressed by the creativity of the ideas and the passion behind them. The girls wrote about a diverse range of topics, such as emotional bullying, domestic violence, and self-esteem issues. They discussed girls’ mentoring groups in schools, programs that might offer mothers a chance to recharge and regain their sense of self, and the need for more books in libraries featuring girls and women of color. Solutions were articulately, persuasively presented. I came away from the essays feeling hopeful, knowing that girls were wrestling not just with these problems but with potential solutions. That hopeful feeling was compounded last night as I sat among the young authors, in a room buzzing with energetic conversations. As I watched each girl step up and be honored, and as I met their proud families and friends, I felt that the future was in that room. Change truly begins with ideas and words, words ventured on paper and then shared with a wider audience.

YA author A.C. Gaughen is one of the key organizers of GLOW, and I’m so grateful to have been invited to read these essays and to meet so many inspiring and powerful women!

How do words connect you to other people? How do you think reading and writing can ignite change?