Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Riley Carney Interview
1/5/2010 7:49:37 AM
An interview with YA Fantasy author Riley Carney!
LTS: For those who love YA fantasy, I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest blogger, Riley Carney, talented author and fellow martial arts enthusiast!
Let’s start at the beginning, Riley. I know a vast majority of writers spend years honing their craft and facing numerous rejection letters from those in the industry before they are finally offered a book deal with a publishing company. You have the wonderful distinction of being one of the few published authors still in your teens! A truly amazing feat!
You are sixteen now, but can you share with our readers how old (or in this case, how young) you were when you first began writing ‘The Fire Stone: Book One of the Reign of Elements’ series?
RC: I actually came up with the idea for ‘The Fire Stone’ when I was in fourth grade and during the three or four years that followed I would begin to write the story and then I would stop. Finally, when I was fifteen, I wrote a very detailed outline of the story and wrote the book in about a month.
LTS: I understand you’ve written all five books in the ‘Reign of Elements’ series. How long did it take, from conception to the final, polished manuscript, to write your first novel before submitting it to the publisher for consideration?
RC: I wrote the first book in a month, but I spent about six months editing the manuscript before I began sending it to agents and publishers.
LTS: You live in beautiful Colorado, famous for its scenic mountains and breathtaking landscape. Did your surroundings serve to fuel your imagination?
RC: There is a variety of terrain in The Reign of the Elements series, and the mountains scenes have definitely been affected by my proximity to the Rocky Mountains. I live in Denver, Colorado so I see the mountains every day. I also lived in Telluride, Colorado for a year and a half when I was younger. It would be very difficult to not be influenced by landscape as beautiful as this!
LTS: I have nieces and nephews around your age and there seems to be a tendency for teens of this generation to watch movies, play video games or hang out at the mall, than to read books. You’ve taken it one step farther by focusing your energies on writing books. What was your driving motivation to devote your hours to writing when you could have been doing other typical teenage things?
RC: Reading has played an enormously important role in my life. My mother read to me and my brother many times a day from the moment I was born. Also, we rarely watched television. For entertainment, we read or we played Legos and Star Wars and other games where we were making up stories. Stories were an integral part of our childhood, so it was a natural transition for me to begin writing down those stories. It was always so much fun to create worlds of my own that standing around at the mall had no appeal for me.
LTS: What was the inspiration behind ‘The Fire Stone’ and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Matt?
RC: I love fantasy adventure stories and one evening I was sitting with my family around a fire, and I started thinking about how mystical the flames were. I began thinking about the elements and their properties and weaving those into a story about magic, and eventually the story began to take shape.
Matt is a very earnest guy. He’s trying to find his way in the world without love or guidance from his parents. His curiosity often gets the better of him. He is intensely loyal, loves adventure, and wants to do the right thing.
LTS: I find this very interesting as the elements play a big part in the martial arts I practice and teach. Now, being a young published author of fantasy, do you find people making comparisons of your works with those of Christopher Paolini of ‘Eragon’ fame because you both feature a teenaged male protagonist who discovers they have powers previously unknown to them and you were both teenagers when you were published?
RC: People often make comparisons between me and Christopher Paolini, especially since we were both teenager when we were first published and because we both write fantasy adventure stories. I admire Paolini, but we are very different writers. Our stories are different and our writing styles are different.
LTS: Writers often give the advice: Write what you know. With this in mind, do you feel there are assumptions that your writing is limited to your life experiences and your imagination (which can be limitless), therefore it might be appealing to only a certain age group? Or because you are writing to a YA audience, you feel you are perfectly suited to this challenge, touching on issues that matter to this particular age group?
RC: Writing what you know is extremely limiting to an author, especially a fantasy author! The fantasy/sci-fi genre is about imagining a different world, not replaying what you’ve experienced.
Character development is the only area where real world experience has a major effect on writing, and I believe my proximity to the age group that I’m writing about, and for, gives me advantage over older MG/YA writers. I don’t have to try very hard to find my inner child!
I think one of the biggest mistakes that adult writers make when they are writing for kids is that they talk down to them. Also, they often over-explain their characters instead of letting their characters explain themselves through their actions. Teens and tweens don’t want to be hit over the head with descriptions about a character, they’d rather see the character subtly unfold. Trust me, we recognize the connection between feelings, actions, and personality.
LTS: For fans of the fantasy genre looking for something unique now that the Harry Potter series has come to a close and are searching for more than the typical tale of ‘sword and sorcery’, can you share with our readers what makes your new novel unique?
RC: ‘The Reign of the Elements’ series is very much a classic fantasy adventure story. I wrote it purposely to be appealing to 9-14 year olds who loves that genre. There can never be enough fantasy adventure stories for kids that age. My story is unique in the way that the elements combine to create an ultimate power and that a teenage boy has control over that power. It’s action-packed and exciting, but the characters and their relationships with each other become more important as the story evolves.
It is not new to incorporate themes of good vs. evil, coming of age, and friendship into a story, but I think I have put those elements (forgive the pun) into ‘The Fire Stone’ in a way that is very appealing to an eleven- or twelve- year-old reader. This is an age when many kids, especially boys, stop reading and it was important to me to keep them interested in reading.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open ‘The Fire Stone’?
RC: Action, excitement, humor, friendship, and magic!
‘The Fire Stone’ is a high fantasy adventure story. It is fast-paced and exciting, but the characters are very real. The main character, Matt is fifteen years old, and he’s just an ordinary boy, but when three terrifying creatures attack him in the forest and he is rescued by a wizard, and then he kidnaps a baby alorath and is befriended by elves, Matt’s life changes dramatically. He joins a quest to find the Fire Stone, one of the Stones of the Elements which have been hidden for a hundred years and which an evil elf named Malik is seeking so that he can exploit their magical powers and gain control over the world. He and his friends are thrust into a string of dangerous adventures and they demonstrate courage and friendship as they try to find the Fire Stone before Malik does. Along the way, Matt discovers that he has some amazing abilities that can change his life and that of the world of Mundaria.
LTS: Sounds like one romping, good adventure! According to your website, you have an entire series already written. Is it safe to assume Matt and his comrades reunite for the subsequent books, but now they are faced with bigger challenges as their quest continues? Or is each story different from the next?
RC: The five books in ‘The Reign of the Elements’ series build upon each other. The same characters are in all five books, although there are some additions and subtractions of characters along the way. Matt and his friends must find all four of the elements, three of which are trapped in magical stones, before the evil elf, Malik, find them and unites them to gain control over the world of Mundaria. The books are called, in order, The Fire Stone, The Water Stone, The Wind Stone, The Immortality Scroll and The Final Alliance.
LTS: In an earlier conversation, you had mentioned that you train in martial arts. Have you found your training useful in writing the fight scenes in your novels?
RC: I took karate for a few years when I was younger and I’m sure that has had some influence over my fight scenes, particularly the discipline involved in training to be a good fighter. Also, most of the fantasy books that I have read over the years had fight scenes in them and I have watched The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars many times. I’m sure I have been very influenced by the fight scenes in those books and movies.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
RC: It is particularly difficult to land an agent as a teenager, so I very much understand the frustration involved! I submitted my book to numerous agents and publishers and I received a great deal of positive reinforcement; they loved my writing and the story, but no one was willing to take a chance on a fifteen-year-old without a bio. My best advice would be make sure that you have a story that appeals to your audience and is well-written, and then to be persistent. Even the best writers are rejected many times by agents and publishers. John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was declined by fifteen publishers and thirty agents. Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected twenty-four times. C.S. Lewis was rejected 800 times.
LTS: It’s my understanding John Grisham eventually self-published and sold books from the trunk of his car! So yes, becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel. That is why we are always pleased when a fellow writer is plucked from relative obscurity to land a book deal. Visiting your publisher’s website, I noticed that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Knowing this is a major barrier for many authors dreaming of publication, can you share that magic moment when your agent told you he/she sold your story to Book Light Press?
RC: I consider myself to be very lucky in this regard. Because I was having difficulty establishing credibility as an author since I had no bio and I was fifteen years old, my mother eventually took matters into her own hands and created her own publishing company, BookLight Press. The amount of effort that she has put into marketing my book has far surpassed anything a large publisher does to market their writers. I have been on a book tour where I’ve given 25 speeches at schools and spoken to over 3500 kids. I’ve had library and bookstore events. I’ve been in magazines, newspapers, and on television 5 times, all because my mom is such an amazing agent/publisher/publicist.
LTS: Kudos to your mother, Riley! It’s wonderful to have such a great support system and someone you can trust to help you!
RC: We are currently looking for representation for my new trilogy, a YA urban fantasy, however, since my current publisher has her hands full with The Reign of the Elements series!
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
RC: I am a very disciplined writer because that’s what works for me. I schedule myself so that I’m writing a half chapter per day. Some days I may only write a couple of pages or a couple of paragraphs, but I try to write every day, usually in the afternoons after I’ve finished my school work for the day.
LTS: I understand from a fellow writer who had a chance to read your first novel that there was a tendency to jump into 21st century teen jargon throughout the book. Was this deliberate on your part to establish your own style in weaving this tale of fantasy or was it done to appeal to readers of your generation?
RC: I deliberately write my dialogue in modern teen jargon because my reader, the modern 9-17 year-old would be completely turned-off by language that feels contrived or old-fashioned. It is very important to me, as a writer and a reader, to be able to relate to the characters in a MG/YA story. Do you know anyone, child or adult, who continues to read a story if they can’t relate to the characters?
LTS: I think this reader was trying to tell me that, although she enjoyed the story, it threw her off a bit as she wasn’t expecting the modern jargon in this setting. And in regards to your question, I feel there are many adults (and children) who still enjoy classic literature like the works of William Shakespeare and fantasies such as JRR Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ or C.S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Naria’ that were written with the language or manner of speech (old-fashioned?) common for the time. For some, it adds another dimension to the story, even taking a reader back to another time and place far from our everyday life. But the bottom line is, every author has their own style in telling their story. What might work for some, will not work for others.
RC: One of the things that I am most proud of is that the reviews about The Fire Stone all talk about how relatable the characters are. When I interact with kids at schools, they want to know everything about the characters because they hear their own voice in the Matt and Sam and Emmon and Arden.
LTS: Very important! If you do not have characters your audience can relate to, then there will be no desire to continue reading to find out what happens. Now, still on the subject of writing styles, am I wrong to say that you are definitely a plotter?
RC: I am a plotter, again, because that works for me, but I only plan my plot, not my characters. First, I create a rough outline and then I begin to plug more and more details into it, until each chapter outline is a page or so long. I may even add snippets of dialogue, that’s how detailed my outline is. After I create the outline, writing the story is the easy part!
I don’t plan my characters, however. When I begin writing, I usually only know a few basic facts about a character like their age, gender, and name. I see the writing process as the characters explaining themselves and their story to me. Writing the book is the way I get to know my characters. I learn how they feel or react to situations and what motivates them as I write.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
RC: I don’t have any rituals that I perform before I start to write, but there are a couple of things that I do while I’m writing. I always listen to Coldplay while I’m writing. I know I’ve had a successful writing session when I take a break and five songs have gone by and I didn’t even hear them! It’s also helps me never get tired of any of the songs!
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
RC: I haven’t experienced much writer’s block, per se, (my very detailed outline helps with that) but I do have slow moments during every writing session, during which I am struggling to think of a way to express something, etc. The most effective way for me to get my juices flowing again is to play with Silly Putty or pace around my bedroom for a few minutes. Sometimes, I have to go outside and shoot a little basketball.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
RC: It is impossible for me to pick a single author who is my favorite or who has solely inspired or influenced me. I love so many of them! In terms of originally making the fantasy genre so appealing to me, I would have to say that T.A. Barron and Brian Jacques are two of my favorite authors. I was reading those authors at around the same time that I decided I wanted to be a writer. Now, I would also have to add writers like Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, Eoin Colfer, Cinda Williams Chima, C.S. Lewis, Rick Riordan, Orson Scott Card, and J.R. Tolkien.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
RC: The most profound discovery that I have made, about my writing and my non-profit for literacy, over the past couple of years, is the ability that we each have to have a positive effect on other peoples’ lives. It’s great to hear kids tell me how much they loved the book because I love that it makes them excited about reading. It’s great to hear kids ask me how I was able to write six books because I love it that they begin to believe that it’s possible for them to write. It’s especially great to hear kids ask me how I created my non-profit and what they can do to help others because I believe their desire to help will make our world to be a better place.
My goal when I speak to kids across the country is to help them realize that they need to believe in themselves and that they should work hard to achieve what they want, and, most importantly, that one person really can make a difference.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
RC: The most important thing I’ve learned on the road to publication is to persevere.
LTS: You had started a non-profit organization called Breaking the Chain. Can you share with our readers what this organization is about and what was the inspiration behind it?
RC: I am passionate about promoting global literacy because I believe that the way to help people, especially children, break the cycle of poverty and exploitation is through literacy.
I created my nonprofit for literacy, Breaking the Chain, when I was fourteen, after learning that there are 120 million children around the world don’t have the opportunity get an education and that there are 800 million adults that cannot read or write, two-thirds of whom are women. These women and children are very vulnerable to exploitation. They are unable to get jobs and they cannot feed or clothe themselves. Only through education do they have the opportunity to make their lives better.
The mission of Breaking the Chain is to try to eliminate the bonds of poverty and illiteracy for children and their communities through education and sustainable development, both domestically and internationally. Building schools in places where the government cannot or will not build schools for their citizens seemed like a good place to begin. Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa, two of them in villages that we adopted where we also provide a water purification system, alternative income for the adults, like goats and sewing machines, and basic medical supplies. We’ve also created a children’s literacy center at a women’s shelter in Colorado, and bought over 1000 new books for children in low-income neighborhoods.
LTS: This is a wonderful cause to take on! It’s truly an amazing, incredible project that can do so much for so many.
RC: This year, Breaking the Chain achieved tax-exempt status and my older brother, Nick, who is twenty, joined me (I wasn’t old enough to sit on the Board of Directors or to file the paperwork with the IRS).
We are currently developing, and raising money for, a program to put new children’s books in U.S. schools with low literacy rates.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
RC: I just finished reading Leviathan by Scoot Westerfeld and I really enjoyed it! It is clever and well-written. I had heard that it was a great YA sci-fi/fantasy and it doesn’t take much to prompt me to add a YA/MG fantasy to my to-read list!
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from YA fantasy into other genres? Can your fans expect the next story in the ‘Reign of Elements’ series to be released in the near future?
RC: First, I will continue to write. The first book of my new YA, urban fantasy trilogy is complete and I have begun to write the second book. I plan to have the trilogy complete by this summer, and then I will begin something new! I’m sure that I’ll write other genres in the future, but I truly love YA/MG fantasy and I can’t imagine that I won’t always write that genre in some capacity. The second book of The Reign of the Elements series will be released in April 2010 and the subsequent books will be released approximately every six months after that.
Second, I will continue with my education. I am a homeschooled junior in high school right now and I will attend college in September of 2011. My top choices for college are Davidson College, Princeton University, and Harvard College.
Third, I will continue to work hard for Breaking the Chain. I believe that it is making a difference in children’s lives and I hope to continue to provide that hope and opportunity to children in the U.S. and around the world.
LTS: All I can say is that you are an incredibly talented, driven, inspiring young lady, Riley. Give your mom and brother a big hug, for the love and support from a close-knit family is a wonderful gift that can be so very empowering to you in so many ways! Wishing you all the best and great success in 2010.
For more information about Riley Carney, her non-profit organization and her novels check out:
Author website: www.rileycarney.com
Breaking the Chain website: www.linkbylink.org
Author blog: www.rileycarney.blogspot.com
Follow Riley on Twitter: .RileyCarney
Where to buy the book: Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, indiependentbooks.com (they have autographed copies), local independent book stores around the country, and in libraries. It is distributed by Ingram and Baker and Taylor.
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Mortality & Writing - Friday, June 26, 2009
The Art of Editing 101 - Tuesday, June 23, 2009
How To Write When Suffering from Bad Memory Retention - Saturday, June 20, 2009
Finding Inspiration from Others - Thursday, June 18, 2009
To Blog or Twitter... - Tuesday, June 16, 2009