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Kristina Rienzi, M.A., C.P.C., is a bestselling author who has dedicated her life through psychology, coaching, leadership and writing to inspire and empower others. Her debut novel Choosing Evil was an Amazon Bestseller. Among Us, her latest novel is on Audible’s ACX University and Editor’s Select Pick. Kristina also holds an ELI-MP, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, and CiHS. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband and daughter.
Today on discovery wordsmiths, I have Christina and Christina. It is a wonderful warm day. Welcome to you. How are you doing?
Kristina: doing great. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Stephen: Great. Now, before we get started talking about your book, let’s find out a little bit about you.
So tell us some things where you live and some things you like to do besides writing.
Kristina: Yeah, that’s a great question. I live at the Jersey shore, which a lot of people are familiar with from the show, which isn’t where I live, but I still live at the Jersey shore. I live by the beach. It’s absolutely beautiful here.
I love it. I was born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey, where Frank Sinatra from, if anybody knows who he is I might have heard of him. I have heard of him, right? Yeah. Many young folks, maybe not have to look ’em up or ask their grandparents. But aging myself, but yes. So New Jersey is my home.
A lot of my fiction stories revolve around the Jersey shore. I love it here. And my favorite thing to do besides and read and spend time with my family is to go to the beach. I love to be by the water, whether I’m at the beach or at a river or a lake or anywhere with water, I. Brings me peace and calmness.
And I just love to, to do that. So nice. That’s great. My favorite thing to do the coast.
Stephen: So do they actually film the show there? Yes.
Kristina: Okay. They do and it’s different parts. There are different counties that have the ocean. The east coast is a big, is big in New Jersey and there’s a lot of people here.
And so yes, they do. They filmed it in several of the towns and they’re all wonderful towns and I’ve been to all of them and a no issue. But where I live is a little more suburbia, a little more local, a little quieter, which suits me and my personality. But a lot of people love. The high life down there with all the partying and the things that go on and that’s brings a summer crowd for sure, which we love that living here, we have a lot of people that are tourists that come in from New York or Pennsylvania or other states to visit.
And that’s really great for our economy and just for the hustle and bustle of New Jersey. It’s wonderful. But where I live is a little quieter. It’s a little more of a local area.
Stephen: Nice. Okay. So why did you want to start writing and what made you finally actually sit down to.
Kristina: That’s a great question. I’ve been writing all of my life in some capacity and fiction has always been a passion of mine.
I love stories. I love reading stories and telling stories. And as a young child, as many children begin with their love of reading and writing. When you know, many people, I should say, adults begin with their love of reading and writing when they’re young. I would write short stories. I would write these little stories and they actually were on the darker side, which is what I ended up writing in fiction were thrillers, but I always loved like the Nancy drew and the Hardy boys and all those kind of stuff I watched like Scooby, do you know, like the mystery scary stuff was always my thing.
So about, oh my gosh. Now it’s probably it’s over 10 years ago at this point, but I. Just had this bug to write again we go through life, we go to school, we get a job and it just fell to the wayside. It wasn’t a priority for me, but because I was commuting a lot, I was listening to books, more fiction, and I thought, let me get back to my fiction.
So about 10, 12 years ago, or so I decided, you know what, let me just start from scratch. I don’t really know how to write professionally. I haven’t done this in a million years. I joined a writer’s group. That was the best thing I ever did of profe. A lot of people were professional writers, some were.
Playing around in creativity with their creativity, but they just helped me along. We did a critique group every week we would write a 1500 words and people would critique and talk. And so it was of cutthroat because I wasn’t I hadn’t been doing this in a long time. So I was like getting feedback, real feedback as a writer that can be.
Very difficult to digest sometimes cuz it’s real feedback. But it was wonderful. It actually took me to push me, to take some classes and then go on to write a novel and that’s spearheaded my passion again for writing fiction.
Stephen: Nice. And do you still work with that group?
Go to that same group?
Kristina: I haven’t been to that group in a long time. I’ve morphed the group to me was like a starting point and everyone in the group kind of said, find your genre and pursue that. And I didn’t know when I first started out what my genre was, I liked reading everything. So it turned out I was writing more of the suspense, thriller genre.
Subsequently joined some groups there. I ended up becoming president of sisters in crime, New Jersey, which is a spinoff of mystery writers of America. And that is for crime writers. So yeah, I found my niche. I found my group, I found my people and I just started going to those meetings and being involved that way.
And of course I still took classes I still did all that kind of stuff. Cuz I, I feel like you’re always honing your craft no matter what you’re writing. You’re always learning. So yeah, it just evolved from there, which was
Stephen: natural. Nice. Yeah. In my mind if you live in Jersey with all the mob connections, Sinatra and everything, joining a group called sisters in crime, I don’t I don’t know about that sounds almost like sons of anarchy.
Like it’s gonna be a TV show.
Kristina: Yeah. We did kill people, but it was in our book. That’s the joke with authors, right? You don’t look through their search history.
No what was really cool about that group and with COVID, everything changed, right? There’s more stuff you’re doing virtually and so forth, but we had awesome guest speakers.
We would have the police department come talk to us. We had crime scene investigators. We had all of these amazing people come to teach us about real life flu thing and crime fighting and different things that happen so that when we’re writing, it’s more realistic and it is just very cool
So your book, five happy choices. Tell us a little bit about that. What’s the, I’m going to guess what the genre is, but tell us a little bit about the book and what
Kristina: it’s about. Sure. That is not a thriller it’s nonfiction. And I made the leap and we can talk about that later, but yes. My background, my educational professional background is in psychology.
It’s in leadership, it’s in coaching, it’s in all of those things. So I decided with COVID and everything that came upon with that, and a lot of mental health struggles people were having, including myself. I decided, you know what, why don’t I take my education and experience and do something in the self-help genre I can write.
So let me just learn how to. Nonfiction. So that’s what I did. So what I did was I took, actually took a couple of classes in the science of wellbeing. The science of wellbeing is actually the science behind happiness. Happiness is not just a feeling. Happiness is a section of positive psychology.
It’s a spin off a positive psychology, which is about. Going through life productively, feeling good and living a productive, healthy, happy life. So I did a little bit of studies on that. I took a certificate and happiness studies and I decided, let me take the top things that resonated with me, the things that science has proven help people feel better.
And let me just dense those into a. For people. And this was really about COVID and everything we all have been through. And me feeling like I needed to contribute in some way to that use those skills for writing and help people. So five happy choices is proven in science backed by research.
And these are five things I have chosen to share that really. Help people feel good. And the more you practice these things and their actions, you can take, it’s not just some data and information. It’s, these are actions you can actually take that will help you feel good and will, if you do them more and it leads to a happier life.
And this is over time. And actually I’m in school right now for my CD, which is is a doctorate degree in psychology and I’m focusing on health and. Psychology and psychological wellbeing equals happiness. It’s their, they go hand in hand, we call it happiness and we say happy and people know what happy is, but it really is about psychological wellbeing, which is about feeling good and living well.
And what does that look like? And that doesn’t look like by the way, being happy all the time, that looks like dealing with things and choosing to make choices to push yourself.
Stephen: Nice. Okay. So you totally went in a different direction and we’re gonna talk about that on the second half for out there is writing fiction and non-fiction.
So what did you find for yourself different about doing the research, writing a fiction book, as opposed to doing research and writing a non-fiction what’d you find differences
Kristina: there? Completely different fiction was always a passion of mine, but a challenge for me because storytelling is its own craft.
It’s got ITSs own set of rules. And there’s never a time when you are at the top. Meaning even somebody like a Stephen King is going to get better with time in his writing, because the more you learn your life experience. So you’re always one uping yourself. Like the minute you get to a level of writing, you’re one uping that, and there’s so much to learn.
It’s almost like an infinite amount of information to learn, to be an excellent fiction writer. Nonfic. Was actually a little bit easier for me because I am a student by nature. I’m a lifelong learner. I love school. I love learning. I loved sharing what I learned. So for me, the research was research.
It was scholarly research. It was academic, it was clinical. It were things that made sense to me. And what helped me though, translate that into something people can read. Is that I have the fiction background and it’s conversational. And you take that conversational voice of a fiction writer and you put that onto the data and information of non-fiction.
That’s how the two come together, because otherwise who’s gonna read know, you’re not gonna read a book. That’s all scholarly articles and journal. Nobody I have to do that for school, but nobody wants to do that when they pick up a book. So I had to figure out how to translate it. So it was very different.
It was actually more comforting for me because I feel like I have the data, the science, the information I felt confident. About what I was putting on paper. Whereas in fiction for me, there was always a level of doubt and insecurity is this good enough? Did I hit right? Are the readers gonna like it with nonfiction?
Yes, you do have that. Cuz you are putting a product out there that people are going to read, but I knew the information I was sharing was accurate and I was comfortable in it and it just, it helped me to have that level of confidence that I’m giving information. That’s gonna be useful to someone. Nice.
Stephen: OK. So that. We’ll expand on that a little more for the author talk. I like that a lot. What would you say for the nonfiction wise? What other books out there are similar to yours in, in tone, in what you’re writing about that type of thing. Do you
Kristina: have any. Yeah, that’s a great question. One of my very good friends who I is a dear friend, and I love her so much.
She has a book called coffee, self talk, and she has a whole line of books. Her name is Kristen helm stutter. And it’s all about self talk and it’s all about positive affirmations, but on the surface it looks like, okay there are these affirmations. I say every day when I’m drinking my coffee, which is the truth it’s a few minutes a day to drink your coffee and say these affirmations.
But what I love about what Kristen does is she goes into the science behind. What self-talk is how it, it helps your mindset, how it is based in neuroscience, how it can push you forward and you feel good and you feel happy. So I would say absolutely. We’re it is written differently with a different, the same goal in mind, but I feel like coffee self-talk is an awesome example of how to go from.
Not feeling good to feeling good, really simple way. And that’s what this is all about. Just doing something very simple. I also love one of my mentors who she doesn’t know me, but I know her cuz I follow her, but she has been a mentor to me by following her and reading her books as Mel Robbins, I find her to be.
She ju she’s not only empowering in the information she shares, but she shares things that are actionable. And that’s what I want her to do. It’s actions you take, and they’re based in neuroscience, they’re based in cognitive development. They’re based in psychology. They’re based in things that a, that people have done research on that work.
It’s not just her saying, Hey, do this. Yes, it worked for her, but here’s why, so I like to find people who are writing books, that it doesn’t have to all be based in journal articles. I don’t mean it that way. Cuz I think if you have something to share, you share it, whether whatever your research methodology is, but I love things that are simple.
They’re backed with science and scientific data, and they’re just easy to implement and they make sense and you don’t want anything too complicated. You don’t have to go, oh, I have this issue now, what do I do? And you start overthinking that you really want it to be about simplicity and you wanna be able to implement these things without having to think too much about it.
And that’s where I got my inspiration from, was to come up with something that was simple.
Stephen: Okay. When someone picks up your book, do you recommend that they sit and read it straight through or did you try and get it? So they would stop, pause and take the actions and read pieces as they need it.
Kristina: Absolutely. Second part of the latter, for sure. So in my book, I go through each chapter, goes through one of the choices, this my experience with them, the science behind it, but at the end of every chapter, there are actions to take. And so you can do that. You can read the whole thing and then go back and take the actions or pause and take actions, but it asks questions.
So that, and these questions are based on, I’m also a certified professional coach. I spent a year in coach training and I used the questions we would ask in like a coaching session or when I’m coaching someone for you to be thoughtful about what things mean to you and what you would like to do about those things.
And so all of the questions are there’s a section at the end of each book that talks about what you’re gonna ask yourself. What action you’re gonna take. And then there’s an affirmation which always just ties everything together so that you’re making these choices, cuz these choices lead to.
That’s what I wanted to connect. I wanted to connect the choice with happiness because they’re connected. They’re connected in science. So for me, that’s what that was. And then I also I made an accompanying journal because I felt like these are all great to, to note down, but that if somebody wants to practice this really practicing, it is what makes it a habit.
And it becomes second nature. And I think if. There’s so many theories on what creates a habit. Is it 21 days? Is it 60 days? Whatever I did a month, I just said 30 days 30 days every day, if you wanna fill this little sheet out and you wanna take a little, there are easy actions to take.
If you do this and you practice it, it becomes a habit. And you really don’t have to think about it. You just, it becomes part of who you are and how you move through life. And it helps. It’s helped me. And that’s why I shared.
Stephen: Okay. Great. And is your book traditionally published or did you self-publish it?
Kristina: So for this book, I self-published it under my publishing company, I have some of my thrillers that are traditionally published and then I’ve self-published as well. So I’ve done all of the different. Ways of publishing, but for this, I felt like it was important for me to take me to handle everything the way that I wanted to handle it.
I wanted to complete control over it. And I wanted to just share it in the way that I wanted to share it. I didn’t wanna have any limitations and I absolutely love the publishing industry in all its forms. But I did learn from having books with a publisher, that there are limitations that you have and things you can decide and not to sign it on.
And quite honestly, this book was so personal to me that I felt like I needed to be in complete.
Stephen: Nice project. And maybe we could talk even a little bit about that on the second half for authors, cause I’d be interested for some comments. So have you had people reading it and what’s the feedback been?
Kristina: So I’ve gotten great feedback. I have had a lot of personal stories come to me about how the book has helped them, which is really what I was trying to do. know, If I can help one person and people just feel like they never thought about. What happiness meant to them, what it looked like for them.
And they never really knew what to do to feel good. And the things that you think go out and buy a new. Item new tech, new something is what makes you feel it’s instant gratification. That’s not really what makes you happy, making more money that doesn’t make you happy. There’s science behind all of this.
There are things that make you happy. And if there’s simple things and I think it was just the eye opening wow, these are really easy, simple things to do. And I never really thought about what happiness meant to me and what it looked like for. And practicing it. Like it never, I never knew it was something you could practice and get better at it’s either you feel good or you don’t feel good and you leave it to external.
In other words, what happens to me makes me happy or. No your happiness comes from within and these are choices. And I don’t mean to simplify it and say, you can choose happiness, cuz guess what? There are days where I am not happy and I’m not gonna be, even though I wanna be it’s, but it’s so being aware of your emotions, honoring your negative emotions and all of that, that you make a choice.
And these are choices you have and it’s in your control. So yes, I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. I’ve had people just tell me that they are parts of groups, business groups, and, or companies and things like that, where they would really wanna share this with their teams. And that makes me feel good, cuz I feel like if I can help people function better.
I If you think about it, you’re at work in whatever you do, you’re working more than you do anything else. And your mental health at work is critical. And that is one of the areas I’ve been studying in school is mental health in in your work and how it affects everything. So I do feel like.
I’ve gotten a really positive response. And it’s really about just the awareness that you can be happy in a simple, easy way in day to day moments. And that it’s doable. This is achievable for people and it’s something complicated about it.
Stephen: Nice. Great. Okay. And where can we get the book?
Or bookstores or where is it available?
Kristina: It’s available, wherever books are sold, it’s wide. So it’s everywhere Amazon Barnes and noble Cobo, all those places. It’s available in ebook, it’s available in print. I do have the journal is only available in print, obviously, which makes sense.
It’s audio is come, is actually out for happy choices. Five happy choices I did in audio because I had such a great experience with audio books as a fiction author. And I felt like I really wanted it to be out in audio because for me listening to non-fiction, I listen to it over and over again sometimes just so I can get it ingrained in my brain.
And if I need a boost, I listen to it again. It is on audible five happy choices, and I have a amazing narrator. Leslie Howard. I decided I didn’t wanna narrate it myself. I am. A narrator. I’m not an actor, that’s not my area of expertise. And I really wanted somebody who was skilled in narrating self-help personal development.
Yeah, it’s also available on audio for everybody who loves audio. Nice and needs to hear it instead of read it.
Stephen: Okay. And what’s your plans for your next book? Is it gonna be nonfiction or you going back to your fiction roots?
Kristina: I think I’m gonna continue with a non-fiction for now. I have a book drafted that I’m editing.
And I’m going to see where it takes me and just having being in school for psychology right now and learning everything I’m learning. I wanna be wanna take pieces of that and translate that into more content. I absolutely will not. Let go of fiction. I have, of course, every fiction author will tell you they have a few books on their computer, right?
There was a book that was on my computer that I’ve been going back to, and it’s just sitting there because I got sidetracked with this. And then this was like pulling me. But absolutely I will also do fiction. And just right now, I wanna get out the couple of, I have one or two or more ideas I wanna get rolling with so that there is a connection and there’s some more content for people who are looking for that.
I need that right now. Mental health is really, I.
Stephen: Especially now. Yeah, absolutely agree. And it’s been a bigger issue these last couple years. It seems. And it’s, I think that’s a good thing overall for everybody.
Kristina: Definitely. Absolutely.
Stephen: Okay. Do you have a website.
Kristina: Yes. So it’s my name, Christina hanzi.com.
Everything is there all my fiction, all my non-fiction my newsletter. I do have an email list, which I send up about once a month, unless I have something special to, to say. And I’ll either do a little story and inspirational information or share something I learned in school about mental health and happiness.
And I’ll also just pop a video. Sometimes instead of writing, I’ll do a little video of just a catch up on what’s going on and something that can help people. So it’s really all about helping people. So anybody who’s on my email list, you’re gonna get a lot of information about how to feel good, how to feel better.
How to get out of that slump and whatever I’m learning in school, that’s backed in science. That’s I can translate very easily for you. I will do. It’s all about sharing information. If I’m learning it, I wanna share it. And that’s what it’s all about. So if you go to my website, you will get all that kind of information, any podcast or anything I’ve been on, any information I’ve shared is there for you, but for sure whatever I’m working on currently is also there.
And I’d love to connect with people. I love to hear their stories.
Stephen: Nice. Okay, great. Let me ask you a couple other questions about you. What are some of your favorite books that you’ve read or authors that you like to.
Kristina: I have so many, I can’t even think. So I know it’s oh, alright. I mentioned some of my non-fiction people nonfiction, a couple of more, I love bene brown.
I love Gabriel Bernstein and all their books. I tend to follow authors in everything that they write. on one of those I will read anything, but on the fiction side, I tried. And of course I love Stephen King. He is he was always my favorite all my life forever and ever, but more modernly.
I love Lisa Gardner, Karen slaughter, any the psychological thriller and thriller authors are my favorite. I also love completely different Jodi PECO. She writes more women’s fiction, but it’s more controversial. That she takes from all different sides, which I love. I love how she delicately handles things that are difficult to discuss.
And she does it in fiction in a way that is respectful to all parties. And I do, I love reading her, so yeah, those are my go-tos that I’m always picking up. I also love Lisa Unger. All the Lisas. There’s a lot of Lisa’s Lisa Jackson. , there’s a lot of thriller Lisa others, but I love them. And anyone who really can keep a page turning.
And tell a good story and thriller. I will read anything, but I love my thrillers, especially my psychological thrillers. They’re my.
Stephen: Nice and being summer and living close to a beach you got a lot of beach reads to take it. Take care
Kristina: of. Absolutely. There’s so much. And I do a lot also of, we talked about audio a little bit.
I love audio books for the beach too, because sometimes it’s just wanna just relax and I just pop my little. My earphones in and I’m listening to a story and I just, I think audio is just, I’m so glad that audio has developed over time because years ago we didn’t have audio books. We had the library books and you already go to the bookstore and I love audio.
Cause I think it opens up a whole new area for people to listen while busy or driving or doing something else. Yeah, absolutely. And where you live, do you have a favorite bookstore that you like to go to?
So there are so many little bookstores that I love. There’s one in Belmar, New Jersey. And I love there.
There’s a little one in Belmar new. Oh my gosh. I can’t even remember the name cause I haven’t been there. They were like shut down during COVID for a while, but I can’t remember the names. Isn’t that terrible. Like my mind is gone, but but I love the little bookstores, any independently owned bookstore is where I like to go.
I’ve been, I love Barnes and noble too, and I will absolutely go to Barnes and noble. But I love it when I can find a little bookstore that is in a little shore town on the beach. Cuz I feel like those are the ones where you really get to know the owners and you get to know you just get to see the, when you go there.
It’s like all the locals. I don’t know. I feel, I like the Fe that homey feeling of just. Being in that little beach town, that little shore town. And we have a lot of those around, but yeah, with COVID a lot of things either closed down or temporarily shut down. So a lot of stuff you’re doing online now. So if things are changing, they’re coming back around, they’re opening up again.
But for a while, everything was just closed. So it was a little depressing.
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. All right. So before we move on to author stuff tell everybody, if someone came up to you, like you were on the beach and they said, Hey, I heard you wrote a book. Why should I read your book? And you wanted to tell ’em quickly, so you could get back to your relaxing.
What would you tell
Kristina: them? I would tell them for five happy choices, the reason you should read it is because it’s five simple things. You can do actions you can take in everyday moments to feel good and feel better and who doesn’t wanna feel. Perfect. They’re just easy. It’s easy.
Stephen: Okay. Great.
Christina, thank you for sharing that. I love it. We’ll put some links in the show notes for everybody that would love to go here. Read your book or even listen to it on audio. Thank you. Thank you.