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Renee Riva

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Review of Taking Tuscany

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The Advocate

Renee Riva Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"The older I get and the more I grow in my faith, the more I realize the great responsibility I have with my writing. I pray while I’m writing that He is in my work and that my writing will honor Him and give people hope."
--Renee Riva

Renee Riva has been writing humorous stories since she won a writing contest in second grade. Her two previous titles Izzy the Lizzy and Guido's Gondola both published by WaterBrook Press in May of 2005 and met with instant success—over 4000 sold in four months.

Additionally, Riva is a former greeting card verse writer as well as a speaker for women's groups and Young Authors. She and her husband reside in Richland, Washington with their three daughters.

I was surprised to learn you never thought about being a writer growing up. When did the writing bug bite for you?

I always enjoyed writing but thought I was going to be an artist. After attending some art classes in college I decided I enjoyed my English class much more, and I had a teacher who really encouraged me in that direction. I joined a writer’s group with author Colleen Reece as my instructor and sold my first story to Guideposts in 1986. That’s when the bug bit me.

We’d love to hear about your writing journey. How did you come to write novels after writing greeting card verse and children’s books?

I wrote verses for Madison Park Greetings when my children were small. It was the perfect part time job for a mom---one line of thought at a time. But after saying “Happy Birthday” 500 different ways, the magic wore off and I wanted to try something a little more challenging. I began attending writer’s conferences, beginning with children’s books. It took me YEARS to get my first book(s) published; IZZY THE LIZZY and GUIDO’S GONDOLA. Once my children were a little older I began reminiscing about my own childhood and longed for those carefree summers on an island where we used to spend our vacations. I decided to begin writing a memoir. At the same time I was reading a really fun, humorous novel that I loved…until the story line turned really dark. It made me mad that it couldn’t just end happy. That’s when I decided to write my own book and end it the way I wanted it to end. I just fictionalized my own childhood into a humorous, sentimental story in the setting I loved, and gave it a happy ending. SAVING SAILOR was the outcome.

I hear both Saving Sailor and Taking Tuscany are based loosely on some of your own experiences growing up. How much is fiction and how much is real life?

I would say that the majority of SAVING SAILOR was based on real life—either from my own experience, or those around me. TAKING TUSCANY included similar emotional experiences I’d encountered in my teens, but I changed the setting and scenarios to fit the story. In other words, I went through the majority of what A.J. went through emotionally in moving, changing schools, and the social pressures of school—just not in Italy. In the back of TAKING TUSCANY in the “After Words” I share some of those experiences.

Saving SailorWas it always your intent to write a sequel to Saving Sailor or did you find yourself struggling to come up with another book?

I always hoped to write a sequel, but my idea was to have A.J. return to Indian Island at age 18, when Danny is 21. I thought it would be neat to build on the great friendship they’d had as children and add a little amore`. My publisher liked that idea too, but they also wanted to know what happened in Italy during those years apart. That was a bit of a challenge, so I immediately booked a trip to Mexico and pretended to be on the Italian Riviera to help inspire some ideas. That’s where I wrote about The Grand Old Sea Palace; the parasailing scene and the pirate ship in the pool. We really did have a pirate ship in our pool. I had already been to Tuscany eight years earlier so I hung my photos of Tuscany all over my walls while writing and was able to put myself back in that setting.

An interesting part about these novels is that you chose to age your character A.J.. How did you approach writing her slightly older voice in Taking Tuscany? Was that difficult in any way?

I was a little bit leery of turning A.J. into a typical teenager because I wasn’t the most pleasant teen myself at age fourteen. But I knew she had to get older to be able to write that third book where she returns as an 18 year old, so I decided that if I was going to spend my winter with a teenager in my head, it was going to have to be someone I could enjoy being around that long. I had to pull up a lot of attitude from my past, but also made A.J. the fun quirky girl she was before, only older. I tried to project what that same kid would be like 4 years older. I wanted to keep some of her charm and humor too so I could bear writing about her and my readers could enjoy reading about her.

How did you come to know the Lord and how has your faith impacted your writing?

I was raised in a Catholic family—which gave me a strong conscience for right and wrong. When I was a teenager I got involved in Young Life and learned a lot about grace as well. I knew God was near me even while going through some of the difficult years. The older I get and the more I grow in my faith, the more I realize the great responsibility I have with my writing. I pray while I’m writing that He is in my work and that my writing will honor Him and give people hope. I hope my readers can sense Him when they read my stories.

I love how you gently blend spiritual insights into these stories. When you write, do you have a spiritual takeaway in mind or does that come about organically as the plot unfolds?

I always pray that the insights will just come out through the story rather than from the words themselves. If I have a takeaway in mind it’s usually from something I’ve learned myself in a similar situation I want it to be real to the reader, so it needs to have been real to me. But there are often surprises too and I believe God adds His own touches to the storyline.

Speaking of plot, do you know what’s going to happen in a story ahead of time, or are you more of a “seat of the pants” type writer?

I’m a little of both. I usually have the main plot figured out but how I get there and what happens along the way is usually as big of a surprise to me as it is to my readers. That is the most wonderful thing about writing—when the characters begin to write the story without me…kind of amazing, really. I think that’s what I love most about being a writer—sometimes you feel like you’re just along for the ride.Taking Tuscany by Renee Riva

What was the hardest part about writing Taking Tuscany?

I had my entire life to come up my storyline for Saving Sailor. But Taking Tuscany was something I had to think up on my own….with a deadline! That was a real challenge until I got into the storyline where it began to gel.

What do you do when you hit a brick wall in the process of creating a book?

I call my husband to come take me out on the river in our boat. We drive way up river, turn off the motor, and drift back down--- two hours of nothing but the sound of birds and the rush of the river. It helps to clear my mind –like hitting a reset button. If it’s just a snag in the middle of a scene or chapter, a good walk with my dog usually does the trick.

What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?

My pet stories—(they’re in progress….)

From one animal lover to another… I want to hear about your pets! What creatures fill your house these days? Care to share a funny story?

I think you’re about to hear all about them in my next book! After having a farm full of animals we moved and downscaled to a dog, a cat, and here’s the most recent funny story addition: A teacher wanted a copy of Taking Tuscany, but didn’t have any checks with him, so asked if I’d take a baby turtle instead! Buster the baby turtle is the new addition to the family!

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I have to look at the keys to type. I am the worst speller in the world

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Reading and drifting in my boat---usually together!

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

A mocha and some white chocolate from my secret stash. Breakfast of champions! It’s usually not that bad…or good…depending on how you look at it.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Peanut butter. Yogurt. Live worms---for the turtle!

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Black and white mocha with whip, grande!

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

To finish my pet book. To grow old as little happy old lady-- not a grump. To love better.

When was the last time you cried?

About a week ago. Sometimes I cry when I can’t share things about my books with my dad…because he was so happy for me…then I cry because my mom is so sad without him. I just thank God for the hope of heaven!

Three words that best describe you:

Quirky. Romanticist. Christian

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

Desert Moon –my friend, Chuck Woller, wrote the songs—wonderful Country Christian ballads—soothing to the soul, sung by this lady with a hauntingly beautiful voice! This is mellow country—not twangy :O)

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

Did I mention book 3, Heading Home, is the next book in the trilogy? It should be out next spring! Thanks for joining me! xox

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.