In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.
This time out we’re chatting with Diane Rios to discuss her new novel “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One,” the fantastical draw of fantasy, and how working in the world’s largest independent book store inspired her on multiple levels.
TrunkSpace: Your debut novel, “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One,” was released on August 15. What emotions were you experiencing leading up to the release of the book? Was it a mix of excitement and nervousness?
Rios: Yes, both! Also joy and relief! It being my first novel I had no idea how it would be received, and it’s a bit of a leap of faith to throw yourself out there like that! Especially being such a fan of middle grade literature – I did not want to let my literary heroes down, or my friends or their children! Thanks to some very encouraging reviews I am feeling a lot better, and the joy and excitement are taking over.
TrunkSpace: What was the journey like for you in terms of the first creative spark that gave birth to The Silver Mountain Series to where you physically held a copy in your hands? How long was it? How difficult of a journey was it, if at all?
Rios: I always wanted to write a middle grade novel, because I LOVED middle grade novels when I was a middle grader. They were my best friends for years, and those friends never left me. That was the initial “creative spark” – those books. L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books, the Little House on the Prairie Books, the Cricket in Times Square series, the Narnia books, Beatrix Potter’s stories and Marguerite Henry’s books, among others, all took me to worlds I wanted to live in forever. Also, I was absolutely crazy for horses and anything to do with horses. As I grew, those passions remained, and when I got a job working at Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland I was in middle reader heaven.
For three years I worked in every room of the store, which is the size of an entire city block, and my favorite of course was the Rose Room, or the children’s room. There I shelved new and used and out-of-print children’s books of all kinds. Caldecott winners, Newberry winners, Coretta Scott King award winners. Middle readers, Young Adult, fantasy, poetry, biography – and my favorite, horse stories. I rebuilt my personal collection of best-book-friends from childhood, and my imagination was definitely sparked to finally write my own story.
“Bridge of the Gods” took four years to complete. The original manuscript was around 170,000 words, over 60 chapters long, and I decided it worked much better as two books, so “Bridge of the Gods” is Book One of the series, and Book Two is obviously already written. When I discovered She Writes Press through my mother, it seemed the perfect way to publish and I submitted. After being accepted I began the editing process, which lasted about six months. Six months after that – the book arrived on my doorstep in a big cardboard box. A thrill to open!!! All told, from submission to doorstep was about one year.
TrunkSpace: As a new author looking to build a readership, what are the biggest hurdles you face? How does “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One” go from being published to being read?
Rios: My biggest challenge as a new author is to get reviews. I need to connect with my readers and ask them to help support the book by leaving reviews everywhere they can – on Amazon, on Goodreads, or any blog or article they see it mentioned. As a consumer, I know how important reviews are – I rely on them myself! I hope the media attention the book has gotten so far is enough to excite people to read the book, and if they like it I would be THRILLED if they could take a second to leave a review, and recommend by word of mouth. I love getting book recommendations from my friends!
TrunkSpace: As mentioned above, you actually used to work in a book store. Did that experience help shape you as a writer? Did it help shape your branding/marketing brain because you were able to see firsthand what connected with consumers and what didn’t?
Rios: Oh yes, Powell’s was an incredible education for me. It was my first job as a bookseller and they trained me from scratch. As you may know it is the biggest independent bookstore in the world! They have literally acres of new and used, out-of-print and rare books, and I was the luckiest girl in the world to have been able to handle them all. My job title was “Generalist” and that meant I worked in every capacity – as a cashier, at the info stands, shelving, sorting, labeling, I even got to work in the Rare Book Room!!! What a dream!!! I am a very visual, display-oriented person and LOVED Powell’s displays, and I saw how much customers were drawn to that. But that is just my marketing/branding brain, I was so influenced by my job at Powell’s in other ways too! Just the books themselves, and the amazing rooms they were in gave me no end of inspiration! Working in the Gold Room – it’s the Sci Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Graphic Novel room – I spent hours and hours up a ladder in there shelving, and I worked deep in “The Cave” (the almost-windowless-lined-with-paperbacks work-space of the Gold Room), listening to loud rock and roll while we sorted the sci fi/fantasy/romance/paranormal romance/mystery/ books off the big carts from the warehouse. It was SO much fun, so inspiring, and the PEOPLE I worked with blew me away too! As you can imagine, Powell’s is full of talent – incredible talent. Artists, writers, musicians – I was amazed on a daily basis by who I was working with. Someone ought to just start a Powell’s music label and publishing house already.
TrunkSpace: YA is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems the actual definition of it blurs based on who you ask. In your opinion, what does YA mean and who is the audience? (Not necessarily age demographic, but the profile of the reader.)
Rios: In my opinion the definition of “YA” has changed over the years. Perhaps in the early days it referred to an age group, but now I think it is incredibly inclusive. There is a lot of overlap these days between other genres like middle readers, memoirs, and fantasy. Young Adult encompasses all of those now, and it’s really cool because it opens up all these other worlds to readers of ALL ages! I mean, what age doesn’t like Harry Potter?
TrunkSpace: How important has the written word been in your life, both as a consumer and as someone with thoughts that just need to get out in a creative capacity?
Rios: Almost everything. The written word has been absolutely critical to me. My values and world view was formed in large part by the stories I read as a child, and as a young adult. My expression of my deepest feelings and instincts, the expression of any wisdom I may have acquired through my 50 years on this planet, is mostly-expressed through the written word. Writing is an outlet for everyone. It is one of the most powerful tools we all have access to. You don’t need a power cord for it, or a computer, or wi-fi access, or a phone – you only need something to write with or on. Writing is therapy, it is healing, it is love, and literacy is one of the most important issues of our time.
TrunkSpace: Readers escape in the worlds of fantasy, getting lost in the characters and their thrilling adventures. As an author of fantasy, do you find yourself getting lost in those same situations but from a different perspective?
Rios: Actually, it’s very much the same! I write what I want to read – and I edit by reading it as I would any book, which works very well for me! The terribly-written parts just jump out at me when I pretend I’m a reader reading it for the first time. It’s kind of horrifying actually – editing can be scary, but oh-so-necessary! When I finally get it just the way it should be, I know because I feel transported. I walk into the world in my head and I just…expand in it, trying to savor it, be in it, live in it. It makes me want to write more and more books just to BE in those places longer! It’s one of my favorite things when an author I love writes a long series. I’m never ready for it to be over!
TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Rios: I do love the process, but I didn’t always. When I started BOG I didn’t really know what I was doing. The very first version of the manuscript was IMO very silly, and I basically re-wrote the whole thing, from a different angle. Then I re-wrote it again because it was still kind of terrible. It’s at times like these that it isn’t any fun at all, and does feel like hard work. I felt like giving up of course, I think that is a predictable stage in any difficult project. I didn’t give up because I wanted to finish it. I’m not getting any younger, and even if nothing ever happened and it was never published, at least it would be DONE. And hopefully not too embarrassing, please literary gods! So I rewrote it again until it was better, and I was happier, and then further editing made me even happier, so now that it’s done and I’ve gotten some good reviews – it’s finally fun! Phew! I think Book Two will be a lot more fun.
TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Rios: For me, the best time to write is in the wee hours of the morning. “Bridge of the Gods” was written almost entirely between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. I have a bit of insomnia and I go to bed at a ridiculously early hour, so believe it or not, I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at that hour! It’s very quiet out in the world then, and nobody is up in the house so I can really immerse myself and get a lot done.
TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Rios: Yes, I will write it all out quickly at first – changing things here and there – and then I immediately will go through again and really edit. Then another pass usually, possibly a fourth – and it’s usually there, at least until the next day when I re-read. A little time between editing frenzies makes a HUGE difference in the end result!
TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Rios: I criticize myself for not taking MORE time on it. I’ve heard you never feel “done” and I guess that’s true. I’m so nervous I’ll see something I really don’t like about it, something that I missed during the editing process – that I’m afraid to read it! Like an actor that doesn’t watch their own movies. That’s just the nerves talking though, it goes away, and it motivates me for Book Two.
TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Rios: I’m going to start editing Book Two next month! I have a working title I’ll share at a later date, but Chloe’s adventures continue with a super-exciting finish! It’s the culmination we’ve all been waiting for, and along the way you get to meet some incredible animal characters. In Book Two we meet Auberon King of the Bears, Mai the Wise Wolf, Afra the Great White Doe and King Cornix of the Ravens. Book Two will be an action-packed sequel, and hopefully will be out in 2018!
I’m also writing a collection of children’s poems called “Poems For Little People” inspired by A.A. Milne’s “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six.”
“Bridge of the Gods” is available now from She Writes Press.