Friday, November 26, 2010

Literary Rock Star Interview with Teen Writer and Philanthropist Riley Carney

Have you had the pleasure of meeting Riley Carney on twitter?

You may have stumbled upon her interview this past September at CYNSATIONS or heard about the literacy advocacy nonprofit she runs with her brother (Breaking the Chain).

Or maybe you're already a fan of her fantasy series, The Reign of the Elements.

If not, then allow me to introduce you to a woman who loves books as much as you do, a woman who won't rest until she's shared that love with the children and adults of the world, a woman who started a nonprofit organization in her early teens and now, in her late teens, is in the middle of seeing her first five-book series published! This is an amazing person, someone who personally inspires me. I hope you'll enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.

Here's Riley.

Katrina: You started writing seriously when you were ten, but when did you know you wanted to be a professional writer?

Riley: I’ve always loved to write, so becoming a professional writer was always a dream for me. During first and second grades I wanted to be veterinarian, but I think that was because I was so proud that I could spell the word. After that, all through my elementary and middle school years, I always wanted to be a writer. I loved the idea that my job could be something as fun as making up stories.

Katrina: What resources did you find most helpful as a young writer? Friends? Family? The internets? What is your advice to other teens, or kids, who want to become writers?

Riley: So many resources have been helpful to me. My family, of course, is incredibly supportive. They are always my first readers and I trust their feedback more than anybody else’s. Twitter and the internet have also been immensely helpful. There is so much information out there and so many helpful people in the writing and publishing industry that it can be really easy to educate yourself on everything that is happening, to find writing tips, or just to be able to communicate with some truly amazing authors. It’s great to be able to make the kind of connections that Twitter facilitates that I never would have been able to without it.

My biggest advice for kids and teens who want to become writers is to keep on trying. Persistence is key if you want to succeed. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – rejection and failure is part of the process. Also, educate yourself as much as possible. Read books about writing, read books about publishing, and just plain read!

Katrina: You have two published books, three more in that series, and another trilogy already written! Eight books by age seventeen. Are you participating in NaNoWriMo and what's next for you?

Riley: I am not participating in NaNoWriMo – I’m actually halfway through the first book of a new trilogy right now, and I never like to interrupt the flow of a book when I’m in the thick of it! This trilogy is YA with a dystopian bent to it, and I’m really excited about it. It’s different than anything that I’ve written before.

Katrina: Your parents must be immensely proud of you. But give it to me straight: are guys intimidated by your sheer awesomeness?

Riley: I’m not sure how to answer that one, except to say thank you so much for the compliment! :)

Katrina: If you were a character--any character--from a Harry Potter book, who would you be, and why?

Riley: I would definitely choose to be Hermione. She’s amazing – smart, funny, and quite dangerous with a wand. Honestly, I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be Hermione!

Katrina: (I would totally pick Hermione, too! She made me want to go to the library and read dictionaries. She rocks!)

At fourteen you started your not-for-profit against illiteracy, Breaking the Chain. At fifteen you wrote your first book. How did these choices influence each other? How did you make time to do it all?

Riley: Both my decisions to create Breaking the Chain and to write a book stemmed from my love of reading and learning. I first created Breaking the Chain when I learned that 120 million children worldwide are denied access to a basic education and that 1.2 million kids drop out of school each year in the United States. Hearing that and reflecting on my own education and my love of reading really propelled me to take action. My desire to write books and get them published came from my desire to share a story. I specifically targeted the age group of 8-14 since so many kids stop reading at that age, especially boys, and I thought that a fun, fantasy-adventure story might just keep some of them engaged in reading.

After I wrote my first book, I decided to leave my traditional high school and I began taking my classes at home through online programs from Johns Hopkins and Duke Universities. I usually do all my school work in the morning and early afternoon, and then spend the rest of the day writing, speaking at schools, or working on Breaking the Chain. I’m a little obsessive about scheduling my time, but I wouldn’t be able to get everything done if I wasn’t.

Katrina: Your not-for-profit, Breaking the Chain, has brought literature and learning to people near and far. We think it's incredible what you've accomplished and we want to support your efforts. Where is the greatest need and what can we writers do to help?

Riley: Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa, created a children’s literacy center at women’s shelter in Colorado, and given over 18,000 new books to classrooms in high-need or low-literacy schools across the United States. Here in the U.S., children are being left behind and never becoming literate. Two-thirds of children who do not learn how to read by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. I think that the best way to empower children is to teach them how to read, Sixty-one percent of low-income families do not have age-appropriate books in their homes. Only through exposure to books do children truly learn to read, and since so many children in low income neighborhoods are only exposed to books at school, Breaking the Chain is putting reading books in classrooms that have none so that every student has access to books. If you’d like to support our efforts, you can visit our website at

As writers, we all know the power of books and reading. It’s our responsibility to help kids who haven’t had the opportunity to learn to read, or haven’t had the love of reading fostered in them, discover the power and enjoyment of reading.

Thank you for caring about children’s literacy and thank you for having me!

Thank you, Riley! You are such an inspiration to me. I'm so glad you took the time to join us and share about your world.

Operation Awesome peeps, you can say hello to Riley in the comments and find her at any of the links below. 

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! Christmas is just around the corner. Giving books to kids is like giving them a completely separate world to process this one through. Spread the awesome. :)



The Reign of the Elements, Book 1: The Fire Stone
The Reign of the Elements, Book 2: The Water Stone 

From the promotional copy of The Fire Stone:
Matt 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.
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, and is thrust into a string of perilous adventures.
Matt soon discovers that magic does exist and that he has extraordinary powers that can change his destiny and determine the fate of Mundaria.


Golden Eagle said...

Wow. She's one amazing person, to have done all that! Great interview!

Michelle McLean said...

awesome interview! I haven't read her books yet, but they are definitely on my list now! :D

Riley Carney said...

Thank you both for your kind comments and support, and thank you to Katrina and the other authors of Operation Awesome for having me on your awesome blog!! I really enjoyed being here!