Diana Renn

Mysteries that Matter


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.

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.

I’ve been reading mostly YA fiction lately, but I do make occasional forays back into adult fiction. My latest great find is EVENFALL, by Liz Michalski.

This exquisite novel is told in three distinct and compelling voices. There’s Andie, a 30-something young woman who has returned to her family’s New England farmhouse to settle her uncle’s estate and to flee an unhealthy relationship. There’s Gert, Andie’s headstrong aunt, who helped raise her. And Frank, Andie’s uncle, the most fascinating and likeable ghost I’ve come across in fiction.

Yes, you’ve read that right: Frank’s dead. But he hasn’t exactly left the house. He’s a quiet but impassioned presence, watching relationships unfold in the house. He’s slowly gathering energy, in a variety of ways, to communicate with his loved ones and to reconcile with his past.

The past haunts all of these characters, and how they come to terms with their regrets — as well as how they chart a course for their future, and for the family farm — makes for a fascinating read. In particular, Andie is at an important crossroads in her life. She’s just back from Italy, having finished a Ph.D. in art history, and she’s nursing her wounds from an unhealthy relationship with a slick guy named Neal. But it’s soon clear that the family farm will not provide her with a complete refuge from her problems. And there’s plenty of room for complications when Cort — the boy she used to babysit — appears on the scene, all grown up.

The writing in this novel is as gorgeous as the cover. The 200-year-old farmhouse, the surrounding town of Hartman, CT, and the summer languor, are all so vividly described. Despite the paranormal element, this story reads more like a contemporary novel, with believable, sympathetic characters. All of them continue to haunt me now that I’ve come, with regrets, to the end.  

Have you heard of The Murderer’s Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers? It’s coming out in paperback today, so I thought I’d devote some air time to it. Mainly since I have not stopped thinking about this novel since I read it, and I’ve read three other books since!

First, a confession. As a relatively new mom, I hesitated at first to read a story about domestic violence and its aftermath. These days I’m skittish about stories of children placed in dangerous situations. And this story doesn’t hold back on danger. In the opening chapters, an alcoholic man turns on his family, killing his wife and attacking one of his young daughters. 

But I was quickly pulled into this novel, as is not so much about violence as it is about resilience. It explores how the daughters, Lulu and Merry, attempt to rebuild their lives over the ensuing decades, particularly how they deal with having a father in prison. At a point, the lies they tell the world and themselves in order to cope are put to the test. The girls must make difficult moral choices about how to reconstruct their family narrative. 
It’s a fascinating study of how their survival skills and emotional coping strategies change over time, particularly when one daughter has children of her own, drastically raising the stakes. 

A great strength of this novel is its roster of realistic, psychologically complex characters. Yes, there are murderers and batterers roaming these pages. Yet the men are portrayed not so much as monsters, but as people who commit “monstrous deeds.” 

This is a fascinating psychological study, a story of two of the strongest girls you’ll ever meet in fiction, and, above all, a keep-you-up-all-night-page-turner. And if you’re looking for a book with YA/adult crossover interest (for mature YA readers, anyway), this is a good one. A large portion of the novel portrays the girls coping and rebuilding their lives during their tween and teen years. Even the characters in their adult years, I would argue, are of interest to teens because the moral choices the adults make impact the family’s next generation. 

Here’s the book trailer:

What are some other “adult” novels you know of with the potential for YA appeal?