I Solemnly Swear: Renée Carlino Dishes on Her New Release

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Jack and Lola Photograph 2013

Renée Carlino has a love affair with a good blues tune, big cities and a sweet romance … and we have a love affair with her books. While Sweet Thing (Atria, ‘14) is a musician’s delight and Before We Were Strangers (Atria, ‘ 15) focuses on both music and photography, Swear on THIS Life (Atria, Aug.) tackles another artform: writing.

In her latest, Carlino introduces us to Emiline, a struggling writer and adjunct professor who discovers the work of the debut author J. Colby. No one knows Colby’s identity … but Emiline certainly does. He’s the one who got away — the one who never came looking for her. He took it upon himself to write about their troubled childhood in Ohio, and Emiline is full of questions.

RT was fortunate enough to speak with Carlino about her new release, what gets her creative juices going and what’s up next. Check out an excerpt from this hot new release here and the music that inspired the author here
Tell us about Emiline’s story and the inspiration behind it. Swear on THIS Life started out [when] I made a joke that being a muse was on my bucket list. It’s kind of a fantasy. This is a story about this boy and girl who grew up in this impoverished town and then they’re torn apart by their circumstances when they’re 15. She then becomes a struggling writing professor when she discovers this book that is basically the story of her childhood, and her first love — her first everything, which Jason was for her. But what angers her so much is that he beat her to the punch. She really wanted to write the book about her life, and he also took some artistic liberties and changed some things around, so that makes her want to find him and find out why he never came looking for her. And in that journey she does a lot of healing.
Let’s pretend you were the muse for someone’s bestseller, like your heroine. Who would be writing it? I have a friend who is a writing professor — who I’ve known since I was in seventh grade — and we’ve always been just friends, but he might be the opposite of me in that he’s been teaching writing and could never finish a book, so it would be pretty interesting to hear his take on what I was like as a kid.
What’s different about Swear on THIS Life in comparison to your other novels? Swear on THIS Life was more challenging to write because there is a book within the book. It had to be full enough and rich enough that the audience would be able to go on a journey with the main character as she reads the novel. There were times when I wanted to speed up those sections that were not in the present, but in order for the protagonist to come full circle, she had to read the entire book and understand why is was written for her as opposed to about her, and readers need to see that play out as well.  
The settings of your novels are so strong. Tell us about that. In Before We Were Strangers, I feel like New York is a character in that book for me because Matt and Grace were both transplants and they were experiencing the collective energy in New York and falling in love at the same time. I never lived there, but I spent a lot of time there. I had the travel bug from the time I was out of high school. So I went to Europe, I went to New York, I went to big cities. I liked to travel by car, by plane, everything I could. I spent every penny I made in college on travel and I went all over and I just found that I loved it – I love culture and eating out and getting a sense of people and music, live music scene in cities, so music plays a big part in my books. Travel was huge for me. Those elements inspired a lot of those books. I don’t know that I start out with choosing a city, I usually start out by choosing an idea and start developing the characters with that idea and it goes from there, but I try to use the environment as character as well when I can.
What’s next for your fans? What can they expect? Oh yes, I don’t think I’ve told anyone this. [There’s] a book that I’m writing currently — I don’t know how that will be published — and I have a book that’s finished after Swear on THIS Life. The next [finished] book, which is tentatively titled Wish You Were Here, is about an artist. It’s the first time that I’ve done sort of a love triangle and then I’ve had an element of care taking involved. I really wanted to show a female character who was lost and found by taking care of somebody when they were really, really sick. A lot of members of her family were on her about being with this person who was essentially dying, but she said he was living more than anyone. It’s in the very early stages of editorial, so basically everything I’m telling you could completely change.
I what I am now writing: I’m calling it a satire because it is sort of a religious satire about an alcoholic guardian angel who falls for a soul that he’s assigned to watch over. I don’t know if I’ll self-publish that or if Atria will publish that, but that’s my current work in progress. But after that I’ve already outlined my next book that sort of falls into category of the first six, which I’ve tentatively titled Hey Kiss, which is about a very young guy who plays blues music, which is why I get so into going to see young people who have fallen in love with this very, very old type of music.
You do have a background in film and Sweet Thing was originally a screenplay. What would it be like to see your work in a different medium? I think Before We Were Strangers would be the easiest to translate to screen, even though the characters grow 15 years in time. I’ve seen it done a lot like in Blue Valentine. I loved the idea of love fading, but with this, it’s like a love interrupted story, so we can see two people at different stages falling in love all over again. It could be amazing. I also like the setting and I’ve pictured it so many times — the subway and running through the streets of New York as kids and then as older adults. 
A lot of people ask me why hasn’t Sweet Thing hasn't been made into a movie, and I always say Sweet Thing would probably be the hardest to make into a movie, because I would want the most authentic musician to play Will and that would be hard to find. But I always said, if my books were optioned, I would let them go into  film, although I have a background in it, I don’t really have an interest in adapting my own books, I would want another writer to do that because I would want to see what they could bring to the project.

Swear on THIS Life will be available on August 9 from Atria. Grab your copy: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | IndieBound

June, 2016