Episode 101A – Diane Zinna – The All Night Sun

Overview

When she was in her mid-twenties, debut author Diane Zinna found herself completely on her own in a new city, teaching at a small Catholic college outside of DC. She was in the middle of a long period of grief following the loss of both of her parents when she met and befriended a Swedish student at the school. Their bond deepened, and the student invited her to visit Sweden with her for the summer. This trip was a sort of thawing out for Zinna, and the start of a long-awaited healing process. But questions stuck in her mind long after she returned home: what if things had gone wrong on the trip, when Zinna was still so emotionally fragile? What if things took a turn at the school she worked at, which had been a lifeline for her at the time? What would she have had to learn to keep going? Out of these questions came THE ALL-NIGHT SUN, a propulsive, memorable debut.
Diane Zinna is originally from Long Island, New York. She received her MFA from the University of Florida
and has taught writing workshops for more than a decade. She formerly worked at AWP, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and in 2014, Diane created the Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, helping to match more than six hundred writers over twelve seasons. Diane has become well-known for her popular, online grief writing sessions that have grown each Sunday since the start of the pandemic. Diane lives in Fairfax, Virginia, with her husband and daughter. The All-Night Sun is her first novel.

Her Book

All-night sun

Favorites

Lincoln in Bardo

https://www.bardsalley.com/

YouTube

Transcript

Diane, I want to walk him into the podcast. And how are you doing today?

[00:01:38] Diana: I’m doing great. Thank you so much for having me.

[00:01:41] Stephen: It’s good to see you. I’m glad we could get on. Let’s tell everybody a little bit about you tell us where you live and what you like to do besides.

[00:01:51] Diana: Sure. So I live right now, right outside of Washington, DC in Northern Virginia, but I grew up on long island and went to college on long island and [00:02:00] did my masters and were pretty writing in Florida.

So I’ve been all up and down the east coast, but I’m a Northern Virginia girl now. Other than writing. I love to travel, which I haven’t been able to do much lately, but people who’ve read my work can really see and feel my love of visiting other cultures and countries. And part of that I think is also my love for learning other languages.

And so I’m always, probably have my nose in my phone doing an app or. I am just reading a little bit of something and another language has to keep adding more and more words and sounds to

[00:02:37] Stephen: my heart. Yeah. And I know a lot of people are discovering reading on the phone, actually isn’t bad, which helped spark the new fella, serial fiction Renaissance.

And I know authors like Kevin Tumlinson. Drafted digital will have said he’s written a whole book waiting in lines on his phone and published it.

[00:02:57] Diana: Absolutely. Yeah. And [00:03:00] one thing about me that I’m famous for anything is riding in my car. It’s like a long story and it sounds really weird, but I just got into the habit with it after my daughter was born because I was having a really hard time separating and hubby would say go to the cafe across the town and sit and take four hours and work.

But I could never really get that far. I was always afraid that something was going to happen. Back at home. And so I always just get around the corner and parked my car in the parking lot of the little mini mall. And I’d sit there with my laptop open that nowadays whenever I’m driving, it feels like the muse is like rush out to meet me.

And I know when Diane’s in her car and she’s in movement, like that’s when the idea should come. So the note section on my phone is just full of stories, ideas. Yeah.

[00:03:50] Stephen: Okay, this is more of an author question, but do you ever do dictation recording it on your phone?

[00:03:55] Diana: I’ve tried a couple of times and usually it’s just enough to get me [00:04:00] back home and put it into my laptop, and it sounds so funny because when I’m recording it so serious, these are the words. And then I play it back and I’m like, oh my goodness. I was really believing in that. And maybe it wasn’t exactly right yet.

[00:04:14] Stephen: Okay. Yeah. What got you into writing, why you want to start writing? And you said you went to school for writing.

So obviously you’ve wanted to do it for a long time.

[00:04:25] Diana: Yeah. Even as a kid, I can remember just really dreaming of putting together my own books not only writing them, finding them illustrating them. I can remember that going back a long way. And I remember being in high school and reading sort of your assigned books, not in English class.

And somewhere along the way, I started reading them as a writer I would read something and be moved by it and then say, how did that person move me? How did, what were the steps they took to make me feel this way? I wanted to figure out what that magic was and how [00:05:00] I could be created.

And so I was like, look it up. And try to trace back where did this begin? And that allowed me to wind up feelings, demolished emotionally on page 44. And so I think that I can trace back my love of being a writer from those early days, reading and discovering that there were some techniques involved to move people and I could do it too.

[00:05:24] Stephen: So you, you really invented and went through your own MasterCard.

[00:05:29] Diana: I’m always noticing things I’m like one book I remember being assigned was the ones in feature king, which was a king Arthur tale. And I remember like always early chapters with young Arthur and Merlin and he learning all of his different lessons from the animals and from nature.

And then we get to that part at the end of the first section where he has to pull the sword from the stone. And all those animals come out of the forest to watch and even saying it out loud right now. It [00:06:00] gives me chills his idea. He’s like able to look around and remember all the lessons.

I want to be able to remember all of these lessons, I’m picking up from bucks and to give that those kinds of channels to other people.

[00:06:11] Stephen: So how old were you when you read once and future king? Cause that’s not an easy tone. It’s

[00:06:16] Diana: I think I was in I think it was one of the things started out of Optional summer reads when I was in high school, like going into 12th grade or something and I read them all.

I read all of them. The other one that really left a huge impression on me was. A science fiction book called a Canticle for Leibowitz. Have you read that? No, I haven’t read that. Oh my goodness. That one’s really left such an impression on me. It was about as an apocalyptic novel, first time ever experiencing something like that.

Took a lot of lessons from that to.

[00:06:50] Stephen: Nice. Okay. Usually I ask what some of your favorite books, so we’ve got a couple of those down already, so delve deeper, but [00:07:00] what we’re really here to talk about is your book. So tell everybody the name of your book and tell us what it’s about without giving things away.

[00:07:07] Diana: So it’s called the all night sun and it’s the book of my heart. It’s about. 12 years from start to finish this book. And it’s set in Sweden for the most part. There’s a story in here about a young college professor. She’s an adjunct English teacher at a small, very conservative Catholic college. And she’s long been grieving the death of our parents and she has no other family.

She’s got this job at the school, which is like a lifeline for her. Other than that she’s feeling like depressed all the time. And then into her life, into her classroom walks this international student named Siri and Siri is from Sweden and it comes out in her essays that she too has been grieving.

The [00:08:00] loss of people who have passed and they start to bond over grief. And at the end of the semester, Syria says, come home with. To Sweden, I’ll show you, my country will travel around. And the main character Lawrence is, yes. It feels like I’m going to be shaking off as a shell of grief that I’ve been wearing so long.

She decides to go and risk her job at the school. All of the the ways that people look at her and think that she’s making bad decisions, boy, would this be a bad decision for them to find out about? But she goes, okay. All of her grief just comes along for the ride. And even though she’s in Sweden during the mid summer, when the sun doesn’t go down and everyone that’s partying and the sunlight is bright she’s feeling everything more than ever, and slowly our friendship with series starts to fall apart.

In the end though, this really is a story about transformative friendship. And I think that people are really going to see their best friends laid out in the.

[00:08:59] Stephen: [00:09:00] Nice. So why did you choose Sweden to set it in? Because it’s sounds like a great story for, to read you could have said it in, they traveled to California or Florida you’ve been to Florida.

Why did you choose Sweden?

[00:09:15] Diana: That’s such a good question. The truth is that I it doesn’t have ever happened to me again, but I really did wake up from a sleep one morning. I haven’t had a dream about a book and I’m like base to my desk to start jotting down the outline for a book in 20 chapters.

And it, it was this idea of two women on a train traveling for France and they stop in Paris. And the main character goes down to this underground bathroom and she walks in and all this art. And through the door and extra clever. And she has to decide whether to stay with us, love her, or get back on the train and continue her trip with her friend.

And I’m like, this [00:10:00] is going to be the book that I write. But as soon as I started writing it, I had never been to Paris. I don’t speak French. I don’t know anything about that world. But I had been to Sweden. And as soon as I started writing it and thinking. Bathroom I’m dressed down, it, transported it back to a memory, which is probably where the Genesis of that idea was.

I had been in Stockholm and I had been absolutely entranced by the Metro stations because they’re underground, but each one is different. You walk into one and it was pain. All right. On the cavernous falls, it feels like you are absolutely inside these rooms. Everyone was different.

Everyone was riotous with color. That’s where I was getting the idea from. And when I started thinking about that friend that she had to choose whether to follow those other kind of life or continue this friendship. It reminded me of the friend that I traveled for.

[00:10:59] Stephen: And [00:11:00] I noticed, you said you liked to travel. You’ve lived in multiple places with school in that. And the first two book ideas you mentioned are in foreign countries. So I guess they always say write what you know, and that seems to be what you do know and feel

[00:11:16] Diana: all right with you are just like, absolutely taken with like I think I just can’t get enough of it.

And so I’m so excited every time. I get to experience something brand new, and we all feel that all of those memories that we had in new places they just, they sing differently and our memory.

[00:11:37] Stephen: Nice. Yeah. Just as an aside, we recently got one of those VR goggles and they have all sorts of videos, things you can travel all over and visit places.

You’d probably really enjoy that

probably would be well. What other books that are out there. Can you think of that? If somebody read that they’d enjoy your [00:12:00] book.

[00:12:03] Diana: I’m going to take that in another direction. If I may, do you remember the movie Mitzi? I came out a couple of years ago, then really graphic, violent, hard movie. That’s what I’m going to choose.

And I think it’s so funny, but it really does remind me of that because now the original title of my novel set in Sweden was mid-summer eight. We changed it for other reasons, but here comes this no horror film. And it has so many of the scenes. Elements to it, like a woman in grief, traveling with friends in this land where the sun doesn’t set, her grief has followed her there.

And I feel like when I saw the trailer for it at first, my heart was beating so fast. Cause my book was just about to come out and I thought people are going to think I copied this book or this movie. But what happened was I realized that the director was intrigued. [00:13:00] By all the things that I love when I was over there, that idea of endless sunlight and how now, when you’re in really deep grief, how that can just feel like blinding, it can feel all consuming, right?

So if you love the feeling of that book minus or minus all the graphic violence, then the only sides

[00:13:23] Stephen: for you. Oh, I love that. You think and say that because. MI with a lot of the author friends, I’ve got, I hear people say things and discuss, and it’s always write in one genre, et cetera. And I’ve always pushed against that.

I don’t feel that way. And I hate categories like on Amazon because you get books that don’t seem to fit and you get others that should be in there, et cetera. What Netflix does with tags because if you like really gory, humorous I liked humorous and then you get a different list as opposed to the [00:14:00] gritty, yours would match the Midsummer on the travel and Sweden and the the landscape, but then it would have horror and you would have friendship or

[00:14:12] Diana: something, which is another kind of horror, right?

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And what you were saying about genre, I’m a teacher. That’s my full-time job is being a teacher of creative writing. And I’m always telling my students no read study right outside of your genre. There’s so much to learn by exploring something that you wouldn’t normally go to and stretching your muscles as well.

[00:14:39] Stephen: Yeah, and I love that. I read just about everything. I don’t think I’ve read what you would consider much women’s fiction. But my wife tells me about a lot of it, some experience, but I love how you’ve connected those that’s pretty good. So is this trad published or is it Yeah.

[00:14:59] Diana: It came out [00:15:00] from random house in 2020, so traditional publishing. And for me, I felt like that was where I really needed to do the first four chapters. Steven are like, it’s almost like autophagy. If, you know that term, like right here, it’s very similar to your own experience. And then AF like starting with chapter five, it really becomes fiction.

What if everything had turned out differently on that trip that I took with that beloved friend. But the beginning of it was so close to my own experience and yeah, I felt. When I was going through deep grief of my own, I’ve having a really hard time finding people who could relate to me.

I was living in a town all by myself with no other family. I did feel unmoored. I felt like I was floating all the time. The only thing that kept me grounded was I teaching child. And cause I felt like there weren’t a lot of people in my regular circles that I could sell this book to who would [00:16:00] get it.

I felt like I wanted to cast this book out into the wider world and maybe find people who had been like me, cause I didn’t know anyone like me when I was really going through it. And so I would always tell my husband, I’m going to keep trying to publish this traditionally until the day I die. After that, please self publish, whereas right.

And it took a long time for me to find the right publisher, the right editor who got. Who did understand we’ve had that kind of level. But once I did I, it did help me reach there’s our regular circle. And then the circle right past that it helped me reach a much larger audience and find the people who it appreciate that kind of story, which also about grief and loss in a way that I don’t think a lot of.

Venture to go. I think that lots of books, like the tie things up in pretty bows at the end, and then it all worked out kind of stuff. And that doesn’t really resonate with me. I think a lot of people feel that. So I wanted to present something that felt March. [00:17:00]

[00:17:00] Stephen: And I’m going to bet that because the first four chapters are you writing your own story with these characters?

I bet they’re much more powerful and I bet that draws people in a whole lot more than if you were just coming up with it on the fly, you really feeling it, getting it.

[00:17:22] Diana: Yeah, absolutely. I teach memoir. I teach in a writing, most of my students are trying to do some sort of literary fiction, which is deep dives into character and their motivations.

And I can always hear it when someone reads a line. As from their own life, I can hear it and they’re presenting it maybe as fiction. And like under this, guy’s a fiction, this veil. But I think someone who does that a lot, I can hear when someone’s really telling me the truth about their life behind a mask.

And it’s very powerful.

[00:17:53] Stephen: Nice. Okay. And what’s the feedback been from readers? If any of them said [00:18:00] anything like the first four chapters really caught me,

[00:18:03] Diana: it’s been amazing. Again, as someone who had been searching for readers who would get it it’s been absolutely incredible to see the response.

Lots of emails from readers on my website and they’re seeking me out. Have shown up at my grief writing classes. I lead them every Sunday. They’re open to all people of all levels of writing. They come to me, they find me because of the book and they want to explore their losses, their status stories.

How do I tell them in ways that don’t turn people off, don’t drive people away. And so our Sundays together have become really incredible. But yeah. Most beautiful response I’ve gotten from a reader was when the book just came out. I think it was actually the day it came out and they wrote to me and said that the acknowledgements section of my book had really touched her.

And it felt like [00:19:00] a love letter from one writer to another stuffed in a bottle and washed up on the sand and know on right at her feet. So I thought if it would be okay with you, I could read a little. Yeah, from that acknowledgement section, just in case, because I’m sure you, do you have some writers who could use it?

I always tell people that when they hear this, if they feel like it was, they see themselves in this music acknowledgements, then yes, these were written just for them.

It starts this. To all who are struggling, who don’t know if their voices matter to the writers and artists who wonder if all they do will forever be invisible. I honor you to the tellers of stories for which there are no comp titles, the writers of unlikable, female narrators to the misfit writers, the parent writers scribbling after their [00:20:00] babies go to sleep.

The writers writing in their heads, the writers writing in their cars, the writers living in their car. Retiree writers who feel too old to start the young writers whose families tell them it’s not practical to continue the 20 year overnight successes, the poor ones, the sick ones, the baffled, the lost, the marginalized, the slashed, the ones with no writer’s groups, the ones with destructive writers’ groups, the ones who want to clear a path for others.

I see you. And I urge you to keep going. You are not alone. Please believe in yourself, even when you don’t believe in yourself.

[00:20:39] Stephen: No, that’s nice. Maybe I’ll pull that out and even offer it separate. That’d be great. I love that. Thank you. So if you had a choice, Diane, I said, Diane, not Diana. So I’m getting it.

If you had a choice, would you rather turn this book into a movie or. [00:21:00]

[00:21:01] Diana: Oh, that’s such a dream for either one of those things to happen. And there were a few written interviews I did where I just said the name, Reese Witherspoon over and over again. So maybe her staff would see it at some point in their algorithm.

Just like trying to channel the universe, please pick this up for me. It would definitely be a series like on Hulu or Netflix, because I just, in the way that this book has been received by people as immersive. Where they really feel like they’ve been to Sweden and there’s no travel to these places.

I want to have people that we feel immersed in the story and that length of time a series now where they can really dive in. I think it would be really gorgeous for them.

[00:21:44] Stephen: Nice. So you mentioned Reese Witherspoon. When you were writing the book, writing the character, did you picture her in your head to help get down the actions and mannerisms and speech patterns and things?

[00:21:55] Diana: No. I really was thinking about Reese because she has a really popular book [00:22:00] club and I was hoping that Reese, one of us would pick it up for her book love, right from this thing viral. No, for me it was maybe people that I have known in my life that beloved friend who I did travel to Sweden with, I would think of her sometimes other days at main character of Syria with someone else and it was always this amalgam of different people in my life that I’ve known at different times.

Even if it’s chest to record or capture away, someone’s have their hair behind their ear. There’s somebody out there that I remember doing that. And that’s the person I would see in that moment.

[00:22:35] Stephen: That’s why authors are always observing people and eavesdropping on conversations.

[00:22:40] Diana: That’s right.

Stocking. They call it.

[00:22:47] Stephen: So I assume through random house people can get your book anywhere in store and online, correct?

[00:22:54] Diana: Yeah. It’s available everywhere. I always encourage people to go to their local [00:23:00] bookshop and if you don’t see it there, you can order it there, but it’s in most places y’all night’s on is cast in spite, everywhere

[00:23:08] Stephen: you have a website.

[00:23:11] Diana: I do. And it’s really simple. Diane’s anna.com. So you can find information about the book what’s coming next and then all the classes that I teach. So if people really are interested in exploring memoir writing or grief writing, or in February, I’ve got this incredible publishing class that will be every morning in February 28 straight days, that’s sending out work to journals on, they can find all the information there.

[00:23:36] Stephen: Okay. And what are your plans for the next book?

[00:23:40] Diana: I wrote another novel and I thought it was done. I loved it. But I sent it to my agent and she pointed out that there was some little problems with it, but for me, I feel like it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done in my career. And I’m so affectionate towards some of the scenes.

I’m having a hard time going back right [00:24:00] now and changing things. So I’m doing what I tell all my students to do, give it some rest time, put it away for a little while so that eventually I can come back and look at it with fresh eyes and be a little bit more objective that what I was doing. In the meantime, I’m working on a proposal for a craft book about how to write about grief.

And so that’s my next project. I’m almost done

[00:24:22] Stephen: with that. Yeah, let me know when that book goes out, because I’m sure a lot of authors would love to read that. Not that we don’t go through grief, but it’s one of those things hard to write can be, it can be so intimidating. It can feel retraumatizing to some people to sit down at a blank page and tell their story and I’m trying to approach it quite differently.

[00:24:46] Diana: And so I think that people would be very interested to see all the things that are available.

[00:24:51] Stephen: Nice. Great. All right. Let’s we already talked a little bit about some of your favorite books. Do you have any others that you would say [00:25:00] are like your go-to feel good? Favorite books?

[00:25:05] Diana: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Some of my favorite authors, right? George Saunders, I love him so much. And his man Booker prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo. If people haven’t read him before, it’s all written almost like a play and the characters are mainly ghosts inhabiting the mausoleum where Lincoln’s son is Is that piece.

So that’s my favorite, one of my favorite books, for sure. For memoir, I absolutely adore anything by Cheryl strayed, but wild is one of my all time favorites. And because some people on him maybe writers and maybe looking for some suggestions for. Writers short story writers and novelists.

George Saunders is one of my favorite teachers of all time, and he has a beautiful new book out called a swim in a [00:26:00] pond in the rain. And it’s like being in his classroom. He’s the most loving and compassionate writers and teachers. I think this could be a really good help for them or nonfiction or memoir writers.

This is the book. Tell its land has so many incredible ways of approaching, telling our own stories. One more, this is for everybody who’s looking to publish anything before and after the Brookfield by Courtney mom is like having a funny big sister, walk you through every single question about publishing.

[00:26:34] Stephen: Nice, great. That’s some good things to share. I’ll make sure I’m putting links into the show notes. And you mentioned bookstores. Do you have a favorite local bookstore you like to go to? I

[00:26:44] Diana: do. There’s one down the road from my house called Bard’s alley. And it’s just so small. It’s so little. So you know that the shelves are curated by people who really adore books and can speak to them.

I love taking my daughter there [00:27:00] because when we go in, she can overhear the bookseller. Recommending books to other people and she can hear people loving books so much. So that’s the one I would make 10 fives. Allie in Vienna, Virginia.

[00:27:14] Stephen: I keep seeing the hand is I child.

[00:27:17] Diana: You have to come on camera now

[00:27:19] Stephen: that you’re on camera.

Now your family,

[00:27:22] Diana: my daughter, Sarah. Yeah. All right. Go back to school. She has a virtual school today.

[00:27:31] Stephen: We, we, we had a lot of snow Monday. Did you guys get

[00:27:34] Diana: SWAT?

[00:27:37] Stephen: I am up by Kent state about an hour Cleveland. So just a little ways north of you states or two. All right. Before we move on and talk about some author stuff what would you if someone said, Hey, why should I read your book? [00:28:00]

[00:28:00] Diana: I think the first thing is that we all need a departure right now with the pandemic.

I think for people who really want to feel like they’re getting away into something completely different, a different world beyond that sun is just transportive. Now it will take you to Sweden. And I just have so much fun showing what it was like for me there that. And I want people to experience that.

So that’s the number one thing. But truly if you have ever had a friend who just completely changed her life and came in, swept in at the exact moment when you needed it and changed your life forever, I feel like this is the book for you.

[00:28:40] Stephen: Nice. Great. Thank you. That’s great. Diane, I appreciate you taking some time and talking to us about your book, letting everybody know what it’s about.

It sounds wonderful.

[00:28:50] Diana: Thank you so much, Steven.

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