Diana Renn, Diana Renn writes contemporary novels for young adults featuring globetrotting teens, international intrigue, and more than a dash of mystery. TOKYO HEIST, LATITUDE ZERO and BLUE VOYAGE are all published by Viking Children’s Books / Penguin Young Readers Group. She is also the Fiction Editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network), an award-winning online magazine featuring short-form writing for teens.
The Occupational Hazards of a Travel Mystery Writer
Like many people, I rarely take a true vacation anymore. It’s hard for most
of us to disconnect from our work, even in remote locations, despite our
best intentions. Yet arguably this problem is even more of an occupational
hazard for me. Here’s the thing. Even when I completely unplug from my
electronic devices, as a writer of travel mysteries I cannot escape my work.
Early in the process of writing each book, one of the first things I
research is crime in the area about which I’m writing. I read the U.S.
Department of State website for information about each country in order to
understand the dominant types of crime, especially as they may impact
American travelers. I scour online newspapers to learn about foreign
citizens who have run into trouble abroad—partly to avoid a “ripped from the
headlines” story in my work, and partly to get ideas that I might cobble
together into a different kind of story. I memorize safety precautions in
travel guidebooks to the regions. I research criminal networks to learn how
they are organized, and I try to understand law enforcement and government
procedures, and what an American – especially one under age eighteen – might
do if she found herself in some kind of hot water. Finally, I study online
travel forums, from the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree to TripAdvisor, to learn
firsthand from real tourists what kinds of harrowing experiences folks have
encountered. (Poisoned from pesticides! Mugged and left for dead in a ditch!
Conned by a charming man posing as a tour guide!)
Inevitably, family vacations occur when I’m at some point in the process of
writing a book. I may look like I’m lounging in a pool chair, but I’m really
plotting out crimes and trying to get my sleuths in and out of some kind of
trouble. Sometimes I’m even writing notes.
Even when I’m not working out plot points, I’m definitely not relaxing. How
could I watch my child drift perilously close to the water jets in the pool
when I just read about how children have been sucked into pool drains – and
how resort officials in this country have covered up such incidents,
obscuring investigations? How could I not sit up straighter, with one hand
on the door handle, when the taxi driver is veering away from the mall and
into a dicey neighborhood?
I’m not only vigilant about the potential for crime, I’m constantly on the
lookout for new story ideas. My husband is pointing out the sunset over the
water, and I’m imagining how someone might get pushed off the dock, and why,
and by whom. My child points out the hot-looking car speeding down the
highway, and I’m wondering who’s driving the getaway vehicle, and what
they’re fleeing from. MY family hears a marching band; I hear the police
sirens. Other people might settle back in their seats for the long bus ride,
but I have one eye on the driver, wondering when he might swerve and plunge
into a ravine, taking a dark secret over a cliff and the rest of us right
along with him. I smell smoke somewhere – a barbecue? Or arson? And the
partying kids who keep us awake in the hallway of our hotel? Are those
shrieks of glee – or of horror?
Training my mind to the potential for crime and danger might not make me the
best traveling companion, but I hope it makes me a better writer.
Understanding dangers, recent crimes, and law enforcement procedures, before
I even begin writing, helps me to hone in on the type of crime and criminals
I want to write about. For my books, I try to pick a crime or criminal
elements that aren’t merely sensationalistic. For example, laced drinks in
Turkey can be a problem for tourists – especially the type of tourists who
might find themselves in a bar – and can lead to a certain kind of paranoia.
However, it doesn’t happen all the time, and for my teen characters in Blue
Voyage, who aren’t going to nightclubs and restaurants, being poisoned by a
drink is less of an overt concern. More likely, their brushes with criminals
would include theft or encounters with con artists.
I also try to connect the criminal element with some deeper issue that my
young sleuth is going to work through in the book. For Blue Voyage, I became
interested in smuggling networks and the issue of fraud since Zan herself is
preoccupied with the issue of authenticity. Not only must she locate and
identify an authentic artifact, she is trying to excavate her authentic self
after years of maintaining a certain kind of appearance.
I’ve come to accept that seeing danger everywhere is a necessary part of my
job. And I’m grateful that becoming so alert to danger hasn’t put me off of
far-flung vacations. (Although I have gradually become convinced that
purchasing trip insurance isn’t a bad idea). I’ll always want to travel, and
am already planning my next trip. Maybe I’ll see you on the beach, or a
plaza, or in the crowds at a museum. Maybe I’ll even save your life! Because
one thing I’m sure of is when you’re traveling, anything can happen.
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