Kristina Riggle lives and writes in West Michigan. She’s the author of Real Life & Liars, The Life You’ve Imagined, Things We Didn’t Say, and now, Keepsake. Her novels have been honored by independent booksellers and also, in the case of Real Life & Liars, a Target “Breakout” pick. She’s also co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama. She enjoys reading, yoga, and hanging out with her husband, two kids, and dog.
The new novel, Keepsake, is about a compulsive hoarder and her estranged sister brought together reluctantly to clean out the hoarded home to keep Child Protective Services from stepping in. As the sisters work together, much more than junk is uncovered. New York Times bestseller Marisa de Los Santos said, “This story of two sisters, each broken in her own way, is as unflinching as it is compassionate. I was pulled in from the first page, as Trish and Mary reckon with the devastations of loss and the bonds of family, and as they make their hard, brave, often funny journeys toward hope and wholeness.” The novel also garnered a starred review from Booklist.
Kristina has generously offered to give away a copy of Keepsake to one of our US or Canadian readers. All you have to do is leave a comment, and you’ll automatically be entered.
And now, on with the Deb Interview:
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
I picked up BREATHING LESSONS by Anne Tyler at a garage sale sometime in my late teens or early twenties. I adored everything about this book, and I didn’t understand then how it captured me so. The plot is about a married couple going on a road trip to the funeral of an old friend. That’s it. Yet, it’s so much more than that, encompassing an entire long marriage with all of its lumps and all of its glory. This book demonstrated powerfully that a story can be “quiet” and still put a reader in thrall. Anne Tyler to this day is my literary idol.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I love mafia movies. Goodfellas and the first Godfather are tied for my favorite, and this is one of my favorite movie lines ever: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” I haven’t seen a good one in a long time, though. They seem to be out of fashion. I think the most recent one I enjoyed was The Departed.
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
Anything from Tobias Funke or Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development. I cannot get enough of that show, and it doesn’t matter how often I’ve heard the lines before, they get me every time. I’m also a sucker for bad puns; the real groaners. Actually, I’m loving the fact that my nine-year-old and I basically have the same sense of humor right now.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I was a telemarketer for a few weeks. My college roommate convinced me it would be easy money compared to the dorm cafeteria. Sitting down talking on the phone versus the noisy, hot, tiring dishroom? Sure! Ha. I was supposed to be soliciting for people to buy memberships at the Detroit Institute of Arts when Detroit was scarier than it is now. One guy told me he wasn’t supporting a thing in Detroit until that “bleepity-bleep Coleman Young is out of there” and hung up. That was the only job I ever quit without notice. My roommate had already bailed by the time I decided I just couldn’t do it one more day and went crawling back to the dorm cafeteria, where they took me back without rubbing it in (much).
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
This happens all the time! I swear I don’t do this, with the exception of bit players included in a sort of affectionate homage. And I have never yet heard from one of those people… Seriously, if I notice a character veering too close to real life I will go out of my way to steer the other way. I suppose there are aspects of people that turn up here and there … that can’t be helped. But I really try to create characters from scratch. I am running out of names to use. If you consider all the people you’ve ever worked with, gone to school with, lived next to, been friends with, friends of friends, church acquaintances… That’s a lot of people! I try not to use names of people I know (i.e. my sister’s name is Kim; I have never used the name Kim and never will) but I’m now finding that’s hard to avoid. Sometime I give up and use a super-common name that belongs to so many people they can’t feel singled out (Michael in Things We Didn’t Say.)
This was fun, thank you for having me back at the ball!
Thank you for being here at the Ball with us today, Kristina!
You can find Kristina on the web at the following locations:
If there’s anything in life more fun for me than getting away, it’s getting away with it.
Seriously, is there anything more delicious than knowing you’ve done something you probably shouldn’t have, and not getting in trouble for it? Come on. Admit it–it’s pure bliss. The dash of naughty that makes it (whatever your favorite “it” happens to be) oh-so-nice.
(Unless, of course, a sprinkle of guilt is not your life-condiment of choice. In which case … um, sorry. And may I add that your halo is looking lovely today? Quite fetching. I have one myself–I’m sure it’s around here someplace. I try to wear it most days, but I confess it doesn’t fit all that well, and tends to slide off easily.)
When I was a kid, it was all about managing to stay up past my bedtime without my parents noticing, or eating dessert before dinner. (*cough* That one might still apply.)
Teenage Me was giddy if I managed to push the curfew limits without getting grounded.
Adult Me gets a secret thrill when I can sneak in an hour or so reading trashy novel when I really should be [doing laundry/cleaning house/paying bills/yanking weeds/grocery shopping, etc.].
And Writer Me … well, Writer Me gets a real kick out of breaking Those Rules. You know the ones. The ones that if you break them you’ll never, ever get [an agent/an editor/published/a good review].
Me, I tend to agree with Andy Warhol:
Here are few “rules” I broke while writing In a Fix (and these are just in the first chapter!):
Show, don’t tell.
Write what you know.
Don’t use adjectives and/or adverbs.
Never have a character look in a mirror.
(I’d tell you how I broke them, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the suspense. *grin*)
Ha! Got away with it! (Er, sorry. Sometimes that’s hard to resist.)
And here are a few others I’ve broken, either in subsequent chapters of In a Fix, or in other books:
Don’t start (a book/chapter/scene) with dialogue.
Don’t include a dream scene.
(Of course, it remains to be seen if I’ve truly gotten away with the ones I broke in the other books. I like to think so, but only time will tell.)
My MC, Ciel Halligan, shares my joy in getting away with stuff. (Hmm. Wonder where she gets that from…) Though, after a few … um, explosive … moments, she is understandably superstitious cautious about expressing her delight, so she’s trying to reform.
What have you gotten away with lately? (Either in real life or your writing. I’m not picky.)
“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” — Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck
I am so so so sad about Nora Ephron’s death.
But what does this have to do with getaways, you ask? Well, it’s twofold. Stick with me here, and I’ll explain.
On my most favorite getaways, I get as far as the couch. And my favorite couch vacations come in two forms.
1) Reading. As Nora says in the quote above, from her essay collection I Feel Bad About My Neck, reading is the ultimate getaway. I love this idea that reading is “a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.” Because a getaway isn’t about leaving one physical space for another. I can be just as stressed out in Cape Cod as I am in Chicago. A getaway is a mental break. It means taking a timeout from deadlines and responsibilities and errands and pressing the reset button. For me, that often comes from escaping into someone else’s story. I just read Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, and I cherished losing myself in a world so different from my own, even if it was not a world in which I would necessarily want to live. (In this case, rural Mississippi circa Hurricane Katrina…) Over this coming holiday weekend, I’ll be reading Gone Girl, a thriller that has become the book of the summer, and I plan on getting completely lost in the story. The ultimate getaway.
2) Movies. I’m not a film buff the way I am a TV junkie, but I love my tried-and-true go-to movies. On the days I just need to take a load off, movies it is. When Harry Met Sally is the ultimate. I’ve been watching a lot of You’ve Got Mail lately, too. I cuddle into the familiar dialogue like I do my favorite blanket. It’s a perfect easy getaway from the stressors of, you know, living in the world. There’s something so comforting about knowing what’s to come in the next scene, but also that it’s going to be as good as the last 42 times you watched it.
Take this, the best scene ever, and tell me you don’t escape into Harry and Sally’s world in the first 5 seconds.
Do you ever feel your best getaway days include very little travel? Is there any escape better than a good book or movie?
More specifically, I worry about me, but I’m certain I’m not alone in this. I don’t think it’s just me, you guys. I think it’s our generation — our culture — and it’s only getting worse.
We’ve forgotten how to be quiet. We’ve forgotten how to be alone.
Ten years ago — even five years ago — if I was meeting a friend for coffee and she was late, I would sip my latte, look around the cafe, idly listen to other people’s conversations, pull out my journal and write for a few minutes. Today? Left alone for more than 15 seconds, I pull out my phone, text people, check my email, update Twitter: “Meeting @bestfriend at @coffeehouse!”
Often, I don’t even have my journal with me, a fact that would have made my 21-year-old self shudder in horror. She carried her journal everywhere, and wrote in it at every opportunity: on the bus, in the cafe, on a bench after class, alone in a diner. She used her journal as a way to connect with her own thoughts, to check in with herself, to mull over stories she was working on and jot down images, questions, fragments of sentences and verse that came to her in moments of quiet.
Ten years ago, I used to walk between 2.5 and 5 miles a day, every day, without an ipod or cell phone. I paid attention to the streets and the houses and the way the light on the trees changed from day to day, season to season. I wrote poetry in my head, untangled scenes, relived conversations. Wondered. Noticed.
Now, the idea of taking an hour to do nothing but walk makes me jittery. “What a waste of time,” I think, even though I honestly believe otherwise. Well, the artist in me believes an hour-long walk isn’t a waste of time; my internet-addled self spends the ten-minute walk home from work mentally tweeting every. single. thought. Truly, it’s exhausting.
Recently I’ve decided to rededicate myself to old-fashioned journal writing, because my head has become scattered and jumpy and utterly unable to focus. Journaling pushes me to focus, to connect with myself and my own mind, and it doesn’t afford me an easy escape in the form of social networking or research or email or any of the other carrots the internet dangles in front of my easily (and willingly!) distracted mind.
Writing is hard. Being alone with one’s own thoughts is hard. Being quiet is hard. The internet is easy, and validating, and distracting. It doesn’t ask you to confront your deepest fears and most painful memories. It doesn’t force you to be honest with yourself. It doesn’t ask anything of you, really. It’s the all singing, all dancing, constantly updated, constantly moving show of lights and colors and witticisms in 140 characters.
I believe that our subconscious minds are much smarter than our conscious minds. After all, our subconscious minds build our dreams for us, build them by pulling together disparate images and people and moments, by creating a language of strange imagery and metaphor in order to help us gain greater understanding of the things we think about, our concerns and fears and wishes. Isn’t this our job as writers, as well? I believe the best writing comes from our subconscious — it percolates there, beneath the surface, and emerges as inspiration. The trick is that we must step out of our own way in order to access it — must not let the conscious mind interrupt with its nervous chatter — and the only way to do so is to be quiet. To focus. To be alone with our own thoughts.
In the book Now Write! Katherine A. Vaz proposes what she calls a “Tabula Rasa Experiment”:
Spend an entire twenty-four hours (a whole weekend if you can) in “silence” and “waiting upon.” Don’t read, don’t watch TV, don’t flip through magazines. Don’t clutter your brain. Avoid busywork. Some people are seized with a manic desire to clean their house, straighten their files, or cook rather than be alone with their minds and hearts. Note what your impulse is to do, and return to a sense of calm and quiet and inaction. You don’t have to take a vow of perfect silence or lie in a darkened room. Go ahead an chat with your roommate. Maybe listen to some music. Don’t nap. This is wakefulness. Go for a walk or a swim, but don’t make this an excuse to run errands or go sightseeing or shopping.
Although you should refrain from plotting or writing, jot notes on what comes up for you. Images, memories, odd bits of speech, curious abstractions. See what wells up: pictures and sounds, or notes dictating measures to you of a music that’s purely your own.
I shared this passage with my students, and we all agreed that the proposition was completely terrifying. Which — as my 21 year old self would remind me — means it’s something I should probably at least try. And if 24 hours or a whole weekend is too much to spend dreaming and moodling, then at least I can make an effort to make more time in my day for mindfulness. To unplug more often, on purpose. To spend an hour lying in the hammock, watching the clouds. To lie quiet, without reading, in bed before falling asleep. To sit in that cafe alone, without pulling out my phone, and idly eavesdrop before pulling out my journal to write.
I’ll re-teach myself how to be quiet, and how to listen to myself. I’ll relearn how to be alone.
This week’s theme could not come at a better time, as it finds me having gotten away with my family to my home state of Maine!
My debut novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO is set on a fictitious island off the coast of this beautiful state and now I’m nearing publication of my second novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, which is also set in Maine—this time, in a coastal town called Cradle Harbor.
So what does it mean to me to get away? Well, most days I don’t have the luxury of travelling to such a diverting landscape. For me, getting away often means getting away from my computer screen. And sometimes, that departure is a nearly impossible one.
Writing is a consuming endeavor, we all know that. And sometimes when it is going poorly, the best thing we can do is to get away from the work—even for just an hour or two—but that journey isn’t always welcome, and I suspect I’m not alone in this. If I’ve hit a wall, I find myself more determined than ever to try and push through it. And that wall is hard. And made of cement. And I might as well be pushing with a feather.
But still, I. Can. Not. Walk. Away.
What’s amazing is that when I do (Eventually, of course, I have to stop) and whatever problem I’m having (plot, character, dialog) is allowed to simmer, invariably I reach a solution. It is amazing what a short walk, a drive, even doing the dishes can do to stir the pot of ideas and untangle the knot.
So why do I resist getting away when I know it is most always the ONLY way to make progress?
I look to you all for insight (or at least, a bit of commiseration).
Friends, do you get away from your work with ease when you know you’ve hit a wall? Or does someone have to pry you away?
This week’s theme is Getting Away. Wow, how timely. My book releases in Canada tomorrow and next Tuesday in the U.S., so you can bet I really want to get away. This past year has been full of getting ready for this and I’m sure feeling that. I need a holiday.
And for me (and thankfully my husband) the best holiday is one spent at sea. That’s right: I’m a cruiser. You may already know this, since I talked about my last cruise a bit at Thanksgiving, but I’m never as happy as I am when I’m at sea.
So now, as I’m going a bit insane with book release(s) and launch stuff, I’m going to give you a peek into why the ocean is my happy place.
And here’s a photo montage (admittedly, with some weirdly random photos that my husband included, like the artwork and elevator maintenance – what the?)
So let’s hear about YOUR happy place! Where do YOU love to be when you’re getting away?
IT’S NEARING TIME TO PASS THE TIARAS! We are now accepting applications for the Deb Ball class of 2013! Click here for details on how you can throw your crown into the ring to be part of a wonderful ensemble of debuting authors!
Congrats to Robin D, winner of a copy of Lies Beneath!
From the 2012 Debs…
Deb Joanne just finished Deb Linda’s IN A FIX and can’t wait to share it with you all. What a treat this book is-and it was just the escape I needed as I am getting ready to launch! Speaking of which, the Canadian release for SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE is this Tuesday and there are already copies on bookstore shelves. Also, don’t forget my Book Launch EXTRAVAGANZA is coming up and I’ll also be at Yorkdale Indigo (Toronto) on July 7. If you’re in Southern Ontario – I’d love to see you for one of these events!
Deb Erika is up in Maine, devouring–and loving!–Deb Linda’s IN A FIX, and hoping everyone has had a great week! She’s looking forward to presenting LITTLE GALE GUMBO at this coming Brown Bag Lunch at the Portland Public Library at noon on Wednesday–and she’s very excited to hear about Deb Linda’s first scheduled signing, too!
THE WEIRD SISTERS has just won the Colorado Book Award! We are so pleased for and proud of our dear Deb Eleanor!
Deb Tawna‘s fabulous MAKING WAVES is still available for an incredible 99 cents on Kindle! Beach reads don’t get better than this one, friends. Treat yourself this summer!
Deb Dish – A weather question: Do you find weather in your scenes is an afterthought, or does it sometimes drive the mood of your scenes?
Deb Joanne – I’ve never really thought of this. I think that probably means it’s an afterthought…
Deb Erika It really depends for me. If anything, the two can be closely tied–I will often envision a scene and the current weather at the same time. I think often we think of weather descriptions as throwaway details but they shouldn’t be. Like our daily lives, weather affects us, often more than we realize, and so it should be in our novels.
Deb Molly Not just the weather but the setting, including weather, season, time of day, place — I think setting is incredibly important, not just to set a mood, but to give us more information about how a character perceives and moves through the world. For instance, in a sudden summer storm, a character might frown at the window, or shake a fist at the sky and yell “Screw you, weather!” or bolt outside to spin around in the middle of the street. In any case, it’s a reflection of who that character is in general, and in the specific moment.
Deb Linda – I don’t know that I’d say the weather drives the mood in my books, but it reflects it at times. Sometimes even helps the plot move along by interacting with my characters, as when a thunderstorm seems to, um, make a statement about my MC’s behavior at the end of In a Fix. (Don’t worry–that’s not a spoiler.)
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