Michelle Heeter is the author of YA novel, Riggs Crossing. Recently we had a fun chat with her about the book and how it all came together:
Tell us a bit about your book, Riggs Crossing…
Riggs Crossing is the story of Len, a young teenaged girl whose father, Mick, is a professional grower of marijuana. Len grows up in an isolated rural area of New South Wales and is home-schooled by her father. When Mick becomes embroiled in a dispute with other people involved in the drug trade, Len’s life is brutally and irrevocably changed.
What are some of the underlying messages?
I didn’t approach the writing of this book with an anti-drug agenda, but I hope that anyone reading it would see the pitfalls of making your living from doing anything illegal. The potential returns might seem attractive, but the criminal underworld is full of nasty, dangerous people who will betray you in a heartbeat. You can have everything taken away from you–your freedom, your family, your life.
Another message concerns the way young people are socialised. When I was in school, there was little tolerance for introverts, loners, or non-conformists. Teachers were always harassing me to “come out of my shell”, as if it was wrong to be quiet and reflective rather than loud and gregarious.
I made Len intelligent, but socially retarded. She may be an introvert by nature, but her lack of interpersonal skills is mostly a result of being motherless, and having been raised by a highly secretive father in a crude rural environment. Len simply has to become less hostile if she wants to avoid remaining on the fringes of society for the rest of her life. I guess the message is that being an introvert is fine, providing that you learn some social skills.
How do you connect with your young adult readers?
By trying to remember how I saw the world at their age. I don’t find this easy, as I’d rather forget my “young adult” years. I had very little confidence and spent a lot of time daydreaming. Young people these days are so much more sophisticated, or at least they seem to be.
Did you find it difficult writing about such a damaged character?
Yes. In the early part of the book, Len survives by blocking out her memories. Writing the scenes where Len remembers the horror she experienced, and has to acknowledge her father’s fate, was emotional and difficult. Riggs Crossing is very loosely based on people I know. While they survived, they didn’t escape the drug milieu unscathed. They have horrible memories that will never leave them.
How long did it take you to write Riggs Crossing?
About six years, I think. I wrote the book in fits and starts, and would sometime go for months without writing a line. I don’t write when I’m happy. I ride horses and swim in the ocean when I’m happy. Usually, I only worked on the book when I was depressed and too broke to afford to do anything else.
How did you get started as a writer?
Out of desperation! I moved to Australia from Japan, where I had been a well-paid, well-connected English lecturer at a university. In Australia, I found myself near the bottom of the totem pole. My qualifications and experience meant nothing, so I had to take awful data entry and call centre jobs just to survive.
Once, I was home with a cold, not getting sick pay because I was a casual. I thought I’d try writing for women’s magazines to make a little extra money. I wrote a Mills & Boon-type short story about romance on the ski slopes over two days, in between sneezes, and mailed it off to That’s Life magazine. And bless them, 3 days later, an editor was on the phone to me saying they loved it and wanted more of my work! I wrote 13 short stories for different magazines over about 4 years, and had a great time doing it.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration can come from quite literally anywhere, but anger is what makes me write. I do some of my best work when I’m angry about something.
Who are your favourite authors right now?
Aaaaah, there are so many…..I was blown away by Jennifer Mills’ Gone, which I would never have known about had I not been treated by a doctor who happens to be her uncle. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel, feed my fascination with Tudor England. Panama, by Thomas McGuane, is on my bedside table at the moment. And it probably won’t be too long before I have to re-read Gordon Graham’s Top Bloke.
If you were stuck on a deserted island…what is the one book you would take with you?!
NOOOOOO, not just one! If I had to choose, I’d take a good dictionary.
What’s one fun fact we wouldn’t know about Michelle Heeter?
I don’t believe in astrology, but I like it that I was born in the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese horoscope.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment, nothing outside of work–I’m happy being a full-time technical writer. I have written a screenplay about my grandmother, but have no idea how to go about selling it.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman means being obsessed with clothes, shoes, hairstyles, and my weight. If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, I’d like to come back as a man and live like Paul Carter, who had outrageous adventures working on oil rigs and went on to write Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs…She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse.