“I have to run,” said Juan Carlos. “You will call? Please? It is very important.”
“Yes. I will call. Definitely. At two.”
That’s what Tessa promises. But by two o’clock, young Ecuadorian cycling superstar Juan Carlos is dead, and Tessa, one of the last people ever to speak to him, is left with nothing but questions. The media deems Juan Carlos’s death a tragic accident at a charity bike ride, but Tessa, an aspiring investigative journalist herself, knows that something more is going on. While she grapples with her own grief and guilt, she is being stalked by spies with an insidious connection to the dead cycling champion. Tessa’s pursuit of an explanation for Juan Carlos’s untimely death leads her from the quiet New England backwoods to bustling bike shops and ultimately to Ecuador itself, Juan Carlos’s homeland. As the ride grows bumpy, Tessa no longer knows who’s a suspect and who is an ally. The only thing she knows for sure is that she must uncover the truth of why Juan Carlos has died and race to find the real villain—before the trail goes cold.
Diana Renn is the author of Tokyo Heist and Latitude Zero, both available from Viking/Penguin. Her next book, Blue Voyage, is set for release in 2015 from Penguin. Renn is the author of numerous short stories and essays and also serves as the Fiction Editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network), an online magazine featuring writing for and by teens.
Guest Post – Shelfmates in Good Company
I am an obsessive researcher. After each of my research-intensive YA novels, I feel like I’ve come away with a mini-Ph.D.
For Tokyo Heist, I had to study art crimes, van Gogh, art conservation techniques, manga, the Japanese mob, and a lot about Japan, a country in which I’d spent all of 18 days. For Latitude Zero, I delved into the intriguing world of bicycling and its many spin-off subcultures: professional racing, youth racing development teams, bicycle shops, mechanics, and advocacy groups. I also researched sports espionage and racketeering, fantasy sports, Ecuadorian culture, and investigative reporting. In the book I’m writing now, Blue Voyage, I’m deeply immersed in Turkey (the country), shadow puppetry, antiquities, gold, and wooden yachts. Each of my novels generates a companion three-ring binder – the largest ring size – bulging with computer printouts, hand-scrawled notes, images, and a staggering bibliography.
I love learning so much about my subjects, and suspect my years in graduate school have held me in good stead despite my incomplete Ph.D. in English. I know how to formulate research questions, find information quickly, and consult experts when I’m in over my head. As a novelist, I’ve since learned to find some balance between the research and the story, since novels are not Ph.D. dissertations. I try to find out just what I need to know to plan a book, solve a plot problem, or understand a character. Then it’s time to get back to the story!
I read mostly nonfiction books and articles when I’m drafting a novel. However, between drafts, I turn to my first love, fiction. Out of curiosity, I recently looked over some of my reading lists to see what fiction I’d been reading when I worked on my books. I was surprised to see how much certain novels had informed or inspired my own writing, even when I thought I was reading for pleasure on my “breaks.”
Do I ever read purely for pleasure now? I’m not sure. The pleasure is there, but I suspect my novel reading is a quieter form of research for my own novels. My reading lists tell me that on some level I’m reading to see how other writers solved certain kinds of plot problems, or built a world, or established a setting, or conveyed a community.
So here are some of the novels I read between drafts of Latitude Zero:
- The Indigo Notebook, by Laura Resau. This is a mystery about a girl who travels to Ecuador with her mom, an ESL teacher. No surprise that I was drawn to this globetrotting adventure novel: Latitude Zero is set in Ecuador too. I’m sure that curiosity about how Resau conveyed Ecuadorian culture was what first drew me to this book, but it also happens to have a fun mystery plot involving emerald traffickers!
- The Queen of Water, also by Laura Resau. This is a fascinating novel closely based on the real life of an Ecuadorian maid, Maria Virginia Farinango, with whom Resau wrote the book. Again, I must have been looking to see her depiction of Ecuador, but also to understand the dynamics of households in Ecuador that employed hired help. Tessa, my main character in Latitude Zero, stays with an upper class family accustomed to hiring maids, and she lives in a former maid’s bedroom.
- Rush for the Gold, by John Feinstein. I love all of John Feinstein’s sports mysteries, and his sleuthing duo, Susan Carol and Stevie Thomas, who are also young sports reporters. In this one, Susan Carol, also a competitive swimmer, competes in the London Olympics. I love how Feinstein conveys the energy of competitive swimming, and this book inspired me to capture the energy of competitive cycling. I also love how this, and his other mysteries (Cover Up, Change Up, Last Shot, Vanishing Act), deal with behind-the-scenes corruption and cover-ups, issues that I explore in the cycling world in Latitude Zero.
- Burning Blue, by Paul Griffin. This is an unconventionally told mystery about a young computer hacker who tries to figure out who threw acid in the face of a beautiful girl at his school. I love how absolutely everyone is a suspect in this novel—even the victim herself! Similarly, in my novel, I have numerous suspects, and characters who are not clearly good or bad, so I may have studying how Griffin pulls that off. I also love the insights into computer hacking and digital espionage running through Griffin’s novel. In Latitude Zero, my protagonist is also confronting the terrifying new world of cyberstalking and cyberbullying.
- Chasing Alliecat, by Rebecca Fjelland Davis. A bicycling mystery/thriller! This one’s about mountain biking, and a young cyclist who finds a dead priest in the woods. I love how Davis balances details about mountain biking culture with the page-turning mystery plot, and sought to emulate that balance in Latitude Zero.
- Along for the Ride, by Sarah Dessen. This contemporary novel isn’t a mystery/thriller, but it’s such a lovely story about a girl who finds freedom on a bike, not unlike my main character who longs to find her own ride. This book has a great bike shop, too, and I love how Dessen captures that culture.
So that’s the fictional company I kept while writing Latitude Zero. And there’s an interesting new twist to that story.
I just learned that Latitude Zero has been named a Junior Library Guild selection! This means the book will be licensed for their book club, and made available to libraries and schools across the country, finding a wider audience. It’s also a huge honor.
I went to the Junior Library Guild website and looked up some of my favorite novels, including all the books I just listed. And what do you know . . . they were also all Junior Library Guild selections!
I’m so grateful to these books (and their authors, of course!) for inspiring me along the way, and incredibly proud to have Latitude Zero on my physical bookshelf next to them – and now on a Junior Library Guild shelf as well!
Young Adult Book Giveaway Details
1 copy of Latitude Zero by Diana Renn
Open to US only