Bestselling Author Marian Rizzo Joins Forces with Pastor Mario Villella for a Rollicking, at Times Pensive, Road Trip bestselling novelist Marian Rizzo, pastor Mario Villella, and WordCrafts Press are pleased to unveil Road Trip, which released to retail on February 8, 2024. The often hilarious, frequently poignant new novel follows the exploits of three college buddies on an epic cross-country, spring break adventure.

Ah, Spring Break! That annual rite of passage when thousands of winter-weary college students flock to Florida’s renowned beaches for two weeks of sun, sand, surf, and suds… and perhaps a bit of shenanigans.

There’s Panama City Beach, the Spring Break Capital of the World. Farther south there is Miami, with its glitz and glamor and shopping. Or South Beach, where the party never ends.

But for three poor college students who actually live in Florida, the idea of ditching the state altogether and heading west for an epic road trip is too enthralling to pass up.

Set in the not-too-distant past, just prior to the turn of the 21st century, in the days before GPS and ubiquitous cell phones, our heroes Charlie, Sean, and Jamal have it all figured out. If they take one car, scrimp on meals, and take advantage of relatives along the road for lodging, they can make it to San Francisco, California, and back home to Gainesville, Florida, in two weeks on $300 each.

“Multiple times, in sermons and in regular conversations, I have referred to something that happened on ‘the California Trip’—a trip two of my buddies and I took back in college,” Mario Villella explained. “At some point, I realized that those ten days probably produced more stories than any other ten-day period in my life. When Marian suggested that we could fictionalize it and make it into a great novel, I jumped on board.”

Road Trip by Marian Rizzo and Mario Villella. Cover art by WordCrafts Press, used by permission

“The inspiration for this novel evolved when Mario shared from the pulpit an anecdote about a cross-country trip he and his two friends took twenty years ago,” added Marian Rizzo. “I included some adventures of my own, plus some imaginary episodes, and together we turned it into a work of fiction. It was a fun project that also carried some heartwarming moments, and we hope our readers will enjoy it.”

3 Friends.

$300 Each.

3,000 Miles.

1 Car.

What could possibly go wrong?

From the Novel

Right there, in the middle of the desert, huge cliffs towered off to our right, and a massive wall curved around in a half-circle, encasing a dark abyss. The entire scene was illuminated with orange and blue lights and was surrounded by what looked to be rock formations and pillars.

Jamal choked out his surprise. “What in the world is that?”

“It looks like a space station!” Sean blurted out.

“Yeah,” I said, drawing out the word in one breath. “It looks like a scene from Star Wars.”

I rolled down my window to get a better look. Sean did the same. Except for the hushed sound of the wind rushing down the sides of the cliffs, the entire setting had fallen eerily silent. I spent the next few minutes trying to make sense of the whole thing and trying to curb my imagination. No other vehicles had pulled up in front of us, and none had come up behind us. We’d encountered this strange nighttime spectacle on a stretch of deserted highway. And we were alone.

Now, the spaceship began to look more like a city or maybe like a fortress. One wall shot straight up from the abyss about 200 feet with four separate towers jutting out from the base. The impressive construction had an assortment of other buildings positioned around the rim, each one illuminated by otherworldly lights in shades of green, blue, and purple, brightening that isolated dark corner of the desert.

“Awesome,” I whispered. “It’s like we’re alone on Tatooine.” I stood stock still, gazing, and acting like I’d gotten hit with a laser.

“No,” said Jamal. “It’s like John’s description of heaven in the book of Revelation. Lots of brilliant gemstones with an emerald glow in the middle. All that’s missing is the throne of God.”

“Get real, you guys,” said Sean. “It’s the Hoover Dam.”

About Marian Rizzo

A Pulitzer Prize nominee in the field of journalism, Marian Rizzo has won numerous awards, including the New York Times Chairman’s Award and first place in the 2014 Amy Foundation Writing Awards. She worked for the Ocala Star-Banner newspaper for 30 years. She also has written articles for the Ocala Gazette, Ocala Style Magazine, and Billy Graham’s Decision Magazine.

Several of Marian’s novels have won awards at conferences and retreats. In 2018, her suspense novel, Muldovah, was a finalist in the Genesis competition at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference.

Marian earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible education from Luther Rice Seminary. She trained for jungle missions with New Tribes (now ETHNOS 360), and she served for two semesters at a Youth With A Mission training center in Southern Spain.

Marian lives in Ocala, Florida, with her daughter, Vicki, who has Down Syndrome. Her other daughter, Joanna, has blessed her with three wonderful grandchildren.

Connect with Marian online at:

About Mario Villella

Mario Villella grew up in Ocala, Florida. He spent his early adult years as a youth minister in Rockwall, Texas, and Leesburg, Florida. A graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in arts and performance, Mario has been involved in educational and community theater, teaching acting to students, and performing in plays like The Comedy of Errors, The Sound of Music, Oliver!, and Beauty and the Beast.

In 2011, he moved back to Ocala and started Good News Church with his wife, Heidi. They have three children and 24 chickens. He has written two other books titled, Working Our Way Through Life and It Takes Two to Tangle. Many (but not all) of the things that happen to the characters in this book, happened to him.

Mario’s sermons can be viewed at Good News Church Ocala on YouTube.