From journalist to novelist, writer finds new ways to tell stories
This past December, Petaluma journalist, novelist and former Argus-Courier columnist Frances Rivetti released her newest novel. It’s “The House on Liberty Street,” and as might be obvious from the title, it is set in Petaluma.
“It's a contemporary story, a compressed timeline,” Rivetti explained of the story that takes place over one long Christmas Eve night. “It's all over 24 hours.”
Rivetti was born in the U.K. on the border of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire in an agricultural community. Growing up, she had a love for writing as well as a knack for news. As a teenager, Rivetti worked for her father selling newspapers, exposing her and her siblings to literature as well as daily news.
She launched her writing career straight out of high school, beginning as a vocationally trained news reporter. By the age of 21, Rivetti was an experienced reporter who had already been working in the field. At 24, Rivetti and her husband moved to California to follow a job opportunity for him in San Francisco.
“I honestly didn’t think it was going to be permanent, but it’ll be 33 years this May,” Rivetti said of her time in America. After living in Alameda for their first two years, Rivetti and her husband moved to Sonoma County to be close to the main head office of the Renaissance Fair where she was doing media relations. Coming from an agricultural background, Petaluma was the perfect fit for the writer.
Rivetti went on to have three sons and eventually made a shift to freelance writing. After contributing one of the first blogs on Petaluma360.com, Rivetti was recruited to write for the Petaluma Magazine.
“It was great! That was how I really got into local farm-to-table reporting,” she said. “Then John Burns asked if I wanted a column in the Argus, so I had a column every other week called ‘South County Notebook.’” (Burns is the former publisher of the Petaluma Argus-Courier)
After five years of being a columnist and keeping her pieces concise, the now-seasoned journalist had notebooks filled with content about farming, food, beer and wine.
“I made friends with Elaine Silver, who was a New York Times journalist back in the day,” Rivetti said. “She said to me, ‘I’ll do it with you as an editor if you want to develop these notebooks. You really should produce a book.’”
Silver suggested that the story be told through Rivetti’s own experience – how she got here as an immigrant and her connection to farming communities and culture.
“I really fought that for a while, because being journalistically trained, you think, ‘Oh it’s not about me. I don’t want to write it about myself,’” she said.
But Silver saw the potential in Rivetti sharing her knowledge in as personal a way as possible. To get that first book into the world, Rivetti set up a business as an independent publisher and ordered 1500 copies, which were printed and delivered to her garage. The book, “Fog Valley Crush,” did extremely well - so well, in fact, that she decided to use the remaining content in those notebooks to write another volume.
“Fog Valley Winter,” published two years later, continued the story of local food culture, specifically highlighting the winter practices of growing and storing food.
Following those first two books, the author received numerous reader requests for a fictional adaptation of the farm-to-table story.
“I mean, every writer dreams about writing a novel one day, but I was still super busy with parenting and kids sports and all that,” she acknowledged.
Still, Rivetti was intrigued by the idea, and once her youngest child was getting ready to go to college, she decided it was now or never. A fictional adaption of her story came with its challenges, she pointed out.
“I could write about it all day in a reporting style, but I couldn’t turn it into a novel,” she said.
As a prominent member of the community and a local journalist, Rivetti was invited to many meetings around town. At the time, cannabis laws were being discussed and brought into Sonoma County.
“I’d go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the next farming story,.’” That’s how Rivetti found the topic for her first novel and began to do some digging. “I researched immigrant stories and women’s perspectives in that world. The complexity of the whole cannabis movement, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
At the time, cannabis was controversial in the area and writers advised Rivetti to avoid such a taboo topic. But she was so compelled by the story, she kept going. “Big Green Country,” her debut novel, was published November of 2019.
The story begins in Sonoma County, then moves into the Emerald Triangle, covering the trimming industry and its dangers, from a woman’s perspective. Rivetti’s first two books were self-published and distributed, but with the third, Rivetti approached IngramSpark, a large distribution company for self-publishers.
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