Imagine being only 17-years-old and having landed a 5-book series! Welcome our young guest, Riley Carney, today as she talks about her love of writing and helping combat to world-wide illiteracy with her nonprofit organization: Breaking the Chain.
Riley Carney writes for tweens and teens from a unique perspective – she is a teenager! Riley tries to make her stories exciting and filled with action and humor, and make her characters relatable to teens.
She was fifteen when she wrote The Fire Stone. She also wrote the next two books in The Reign of the Elements series, The Water Stone and The Wind Stone when she was fifteen, but she wrote the last two books in the five-book series, The Immortality Scroll and The Final Alliance when she was sixteen.
About Book One:
The Fire Stone: Book One of The Reign of the Elements, is a Middle Grade high fantasy adventure story brought to life by memorable, vibrant characters.
The story is about Matt, who knows how to shovel hay, dig trenches, and dodge his father’s whip, but when three terrifying creatures attack him, and he is rescued by a wizard, kidnaps a baby alorath, and is befriended by elves, Matt’s life transforms overnight from dreary to astonishing. When he unwittingly joins a quest to find the Fire Stone, one of the elusive Stones of the Elements which have the power to destroy the world, Matt is thrust into a string of perilous adventures. He soon discovers that magic does existand that he has extraordinary powers that can change his destiny and determine the fate of Mundaria.
Find out more about this fascinating teen and then leave a comment or question for Riley to be entered in the book giveaway (The Fire Stone)drawing before the clock strikes midnight tonight!
Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell
Tell us about your love of writing! Which stage of writing do you love best (idea, rough draft, revision, etc.)? When did you decide you wanted to be a published novelist?
My favorite stage of writing is the rough draft. I follow my outline so I know where I’m going, but otherwise I just let myself write and I love it! I usually write my first draft in 1-2 months because I have such a buttoned-up plan before I start, and because I don’t worry about grammar or typos. Later, I edit, but for the first draft, I just write.
I decided I wanted to be published after I finished my first novel. It was important to me to try to get published for a number of reasons. First, I think I wrote a great fantasy adventure story, which I loved writing and which I loved reading enough to edit it repeatedly, and I’d really like to share that story with other kids. Second, I am very involved in children’s literacy and I think a lot of kids stop reading between the ages of eight and fifteen, especially boys, and I think the fantasy genre keeps those readers interested and engaged in reading. It was important to me to publish because I hope that a boy or girl somewhere enjoys my stories enough to keep on reading. Third, some of the proceeds from my books sales go to my nonprofit for children’s literacy, Breaking the Chain.
Taking the step to publish your novels is huge! Can you tell us how you prepared your manuscripts for publication and how you found an agent?
The most important steps toward getting your novel published are: to edit it again and again, to let people whom you trust read your manuscript, and to listen to constructive criticism from people who know about writing. Remember that writing is very subjective, so you’re not going to please everybody, but do listen to people who can help you become a better writer. Once your manuscript has been edited to perfection, you can begin submitting it. Things have changed a lot in the publishing industry. You used to be able to submit directly to publishers, but none of the large publishers will take unsolicited manuscripts any more. You have to get an agent first, and then the agent finds a publisher for you. Unfortunately, obtaining an agent is very difficult, especially as a teenager. The best solution for me was a small, independent publisher.
Being an author has its ups and downs. I imagine your young age has its own set of unique roadblocks. What setbacks have you come across and how would you advise a fellow teen author to push through?
As teens, we face a lot of obstacles, so persistence is important. Also, always be open to improving your work and trying new types of writing. Every writer has things to learn, especially teens, so stay open-minded. As for publication, a teen author faces the same obstacles to publication that any other author does, but they are amplified because of their age and their short and/or insignificant biographies. Often, independent publishers are more willing to look at young authors. I would say the main way that a teen gets published is to make sure that your work is the best that it can be before you start submitting it, and then be persistent, and don’t get discouraged. Many adult authors, many who are now very successful, have been rejected, frequently dozens or even hundreds of times.
Most importantly, write because you love to write. A lot of aspiring writers, especially teens, focus too much on the end goal of getting published. Publishing is an admirable goal to have and a great achievement, but if you write for the sole reason of getting published, it will show in your writing. If you write for enjoyment and for the sake of sharing a story, your writing will be drastically better and publication will likely be the pleasant result.
Being a published author is more than just writing. Can you share the different hats an author must wear to get the word out and connect with readers?
Well, there are the obvious things that an author must do like find an agent/publisher, and all the research and steps that go into that process, and then there’s more rounds of editing with the publisher, but after all that, is the book marketing process. Publishers really expect authors to do the majority of the marketing for their book these days. I conduct interviews all the time, speak at schools, libraries and writer conferences, spend a little time each day on Twitter and other social media vehicles, and anything else I can do to let my audience know that my book and I are here. It’s time consuming and sometimes exhausting, but I really enjoy most of it, especially speaking to kids at schools, which has been very rewarding.
I think it’s really important to remember that while all of these processes are important, the most important thing is to keep writing. You’ll be doing what you love, you’ll be a better writer, and you’ll have the next book ready if things don’t work out with the book that just came out.
Let’s talk about the struggles a writer faces. Many of my students complain that they can’t come up with ideas and when they do, they write themselves into a corner and have a difficult time finishing their story. Can you offer any tips on how to generate ideas and take those ideas through to a powerful conclusion?
First, reading is a great way to prime your imagination. Also, I get ideas from everything! People or things or circumstances can all give me ideas. For example, the man with the plaid pants standing three people ahead of me in line – I wonder what he might have had for breakfast, why he picked those pants, why he keeps looking at his watch? I ask myself questions about him until I begin to create a whole imaginary world involving him. Or sometimes, I’ll look at an object and try to imagine something happening to it. I write down all of my ideas – big or little. Once I start to get the inkling of an idea (and write it down!) I’ll take my time thinking about it, usually by doing something mindless like bouncing a ball, or playing with silly putty, and while I’m doing that mindless thing, I’m actually consciously and subconsciously thinking about those ideas. And then I write the ideas down! I have a notebook that is filled with jotted down notes, and I go back to it all the time when I’m actually developing an outline.
I begin with a few notes about my story, explore my characters a bit, maybe even write a page or two. Once my idea has begun to grow, I’ll construct the basic plot points. I start with a very bare-bones sketch of what I think might happen. Then, I begin to add to that skeleton. Eventually, I outline the story chapter by chapter, allowing up to a page of prose to describe each chapter. I begin to put in details so that everything fits together, but also so that I can remember important things that I want to add to certain scenes. Often, I’ll even add snippets of dialogue, humor, or emotion into certain scenes in the outline.
When my outline is complete, I begin to write, giving myself as much freedom as I need to add, delete, or change directions. I have changed major characters and added whole chapters to my story that weren’t in my original outline. I always have the option to let my characters alter the story, but using an outline ensures that the story actually gets written.
After the story is written, it can be edited and tweaked until it feels right. The editing process is easier, if less fun, than the creative process, so, my writing motto is: “just get it on the page,” and the only way the writing will always get on the page is with an outline.
Beginning every book with an outline has been the reason that I’ve been able to write eight books in the past two years.
Another struggle many young writers face is “lack of time.” What would you tell writers who say they just don’t have time to write (or revise?)
I think everybody has time to write if they want to badly enough. Right now, I am taking six AP courses, applying to colleges, speaking at schools, running my non-profit, working out every day, doing interviews and social media, spending time with family and friends, reading, AND writing every day. I put it on my schedule, and I make sure it happens. Look at it this way: even if you only wrote for about twenty minutes each day and generated 250 words (approximately a page per day), you would have a book in less than a year. Pretty much everybody can find twenty minutes that they waste each day, so it just comes down to how important it is to you.
Support for the craft: How does your family support your goals? Can you offer advice for parents and teachers who wish to encourage their young writers in the craft?
My family has been supportive in a variety of ways. We read all the time growing up, the television was rarely on, and we rarely played video games. My older brother and I played with Legos, had light saber battles, built hideouts, and had grand adventures with action figures and stuffed animals – anything that involved creating imaginary worlds. My parents have always encouraged us to go after our dreams. They never told us we were too young or that it was impossible to do the things that we wanted to do. After I wrote my first book, my mom read it and offered grammatical advice and occasional plot advice, and my brother always has a few helpful pointers. I never felt like they were criticizing my writing. The most important advice I could give parents and teachers is to let their children/students know that they should go after their dreams, and that even though they’re young they can do anything they put their mind to. And then, offer constructive advice rather than criticism!
What are your favorite books and/or websites on writing?
Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
The websites all have links to numerous author, agent, publisher sites that are helpful.
Not only do you write and publish books, you are passionate about literacy. Tell us about your organization, Breaking the Chain, and how we can help!
When I was fourteen, the summer before going into high school, I learned that over 120 million kids around the world are denied access to a basic education, and that over 126 million kids, ages 5-17, work in hazardous conditions. In the United States, 1.2 million kids drop out of school annually. These statistics are heartbreaking, especially since there is a direct correlation between poverty and literacy.
I wanted to do whatever I could to change those statistics, so I created Breaking the Chain that summer three years ago, with the goal of breaking the chains of poverty for children by creating literacy opportunities.
Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa and provided water purification systems and alternative income for two of those villages. In the United States, we created a children’s literacy center at a Women in Crisis shelter in Colorado and bought thousands of books for different reading programs around the country.
Now, we are focusing on our program called Bookin’It which has put more than 18,000 new books into classrooms in low-literacy/high-need elementary schools in the U.S. I am very excited about this program because it can have such a significant influence on children’s literacy. Many children in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods don’t have books in their homes, so it is imperative that they have books at school or they will never learn to read.
We focus on elementary schools because that is the most critical time for literacy; if a child does not learn to read by the fourth or fifth grade, he/she will probably remain illiterate. Three billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. I hope that we can expand to affect as many children as possible, since literacy is one of the most crucial components of breaking the cycle of poverty.
The main way to help Breaking the Chain right now is to donate. A small amount of money makes a difference in a lot of children’s lives. Only $2.50 buys a book and $250 buys an entire classroom of books, and those books will be in those classrooms for 5-10 years. Another way to help is that kids can start a 2500 Dollar Club at their school (www.linkbylink.org) which will put books in 10 classrooms.
What’s next for Riley Carney?
College is next, but I will continue to write while I’m in college. I definitely see myself as a career author, but I plan to have another career, too. Right now I only spend 2-3 hours per day writing and I’ve written eight books in the past two and a half years, so I think I would get bored only being a writer. I am very interested in history, political science, international relations, and languages, so I’ll have to see what evolves as I go through college. I also hope to continue my work with Breaking the Chain and continue to promote education opportunities for at-risk children.
Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the book giveaway! Winner will be randomly chosen and announced tomorrow, Oct 19
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