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Portrait of an Artist: Riley K. Carney

By Aaron H. Aceves, Contributing Writer

While most Harvard freshmen were busy getting their driver’s permits, Riley K. Carney ’15 was writing her first novel. While they were getting their driver’s licenses, Carney was getting her first novel published. And now as they try desperately to balance college social and academic life, Carney has to do that too—as well as run a charity and continue writing her fantasy book series.

The Harvard Crimson: You’ve been writing seriously from a very young age—why did you pursue this art?

Riley K. Carney: I write because I love to write. It is pretty much like breathing for me. If I do not write, I start to go a little crazy. So it is almost out of necessity.

THC: Three of your books have already been published; can you tell us about your book series?

RKC: I have written a five-book series—a fantasy-adventure series for kids, ages 8–14 or older. It is called the “Reign of the Elements” series. The first book is “The Fire Stone.”

THC: Could you describe your writing process?

RKC: [The process] depends on what I am writing. With this series, I was creating a whole new world so I spent some time creating imaginary creatures, magic, things like that. If a piece takes a lot of research, I may focus less on the aspects of important to writing fiction—it really just depends on the story. I try to include enough [detail] to make my writing believable. You want to make sure that you have everything covered, but not too much to bog down the story.

THC: Do you like to read or write more?

RKC: That is a hard one. I am a writer because I started out as a reader and I fell in love with the whole idea of [creating] stories. Reading was my first love. Writing was just an extension—I wanted to create my own stories.

THC: Does writing offer you something you cannot get anywhere else?

RKC: It offers an escape. When I am writing a story, I get lost in this other world. It is like those secret adventures that you have always wanted to have, whether you are an adult or a kid. To be able to actually create whatever your imagination wants to—I really love that.

THC: Who inspires you?

RKC: My mom is my biggest inspiration—she is amazing. She has always encouraged me to write and she has been so supportive. As a writer, many people inspire me—but J.K. Rowling is especially fantastic. T.A. Barron was also an author that I read growing up who has been a big influence on me.

THC: Is there a book that has changed your life?

RKC: There are so many, but growing up “Harry Potter” [made me think,] “Wow, this is what you can do with a book.” More recently ,there is a book called “The Book Thief” [by Marcus Zusak] which is fantastic. It has an amazing use of language that I think is really rare.

THC: When you were fourteen, you created a nonprofit called “Breaking the Chain” to promote children’s literacy that provides books for schools in the United States and helps build schools abroad. What inspired this charity?

RKC: Well, the goal of the organization is to spread literacy and make the opportunity of education available to every kid. Growing up, reading had a huge impact on my life. There are so many opportunities that education opens up for you and I had never really considered life without it. To think that there are so many children who ... don’t even have access to books at school, who have never owned a book before—that really struck a chord with me. Two-thirds of kids who do not know how to read by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. There is an enormous need. All of those things motivate me to keep the nonprofit going.

THC: If you were on a deserted island, what three books would you like to have with you?

RKC: I would definitely say a Harry Potter book—probably the seventh one. “Pillars of the Earth” [by Ken Follett] is a great book. It would keep me busy for a while. Third, I don’t know… a survival guide.

THC: What is your favorite word?

RKC: I love this question! Don’t     ask me why. I just like the way it sounds: dastardly.

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