Kristina Riggle is the author of four novels, the most recent of which is Keepsake, which is the story of a hoarder trying to clean up her act and the family who attempts to help her. I previously reviewed Riggle’s other novels: Real Life and Liars, The Life You’ve Imagined, and Things We Didn’t Say. I emailed with Riggle recently to talk about Keepsake and her writing career. Please see the end of this post for a giveaway opportunity.
Jen: How did you choose to write about hoarding? What about it sparked a story for you?
Kristina: Inevitably, I will write about something that fascinates me. Years ago, I saw an episode of Oprah about a compulsive hoarder. Her personal appearance was immaculate, and the exterior of her home was beautiful. By all appearances she was an intelligent, rational, articulate woman. When she opened the door to her home, inside was a horror show of filth and debris. Even more striking was when she showed the producers an empty garbage can. She could not bear to ruin the “perfect” garbage can with trash, though the rest of her house was, in essence, a trash heap. When I was brainstorming new book ideas, it seemed like a natural topic that would be perfect for the type of character-driven story I like to write. It also turned out — not deliberately — to use some of the same themes I covered in an earlier unpublished manuscript, which also featured two sisters with opposite temperaments brought together reluctantly.
Jen: Did you have to do a lot of research about hoarding to write Keepsake?
Kristina: A fair amount. I read books and articles, and watched the currently popular hoarding reality shows, of course. The most interesting thing I did was to fill out a hoarding self-help workbook “in character” as Trish. There are many varieties of hoarder, and this exercise helped me fix her character in my mind. I also worked with a former college roommate who is a clinical psychologist like the Seth character. I already had his character in the works when my friend and I reconnected. That was a great bit of serendipity.
Jen: Your first book, Real Life and Liars, had at its core a physical illness, but your three books since then deal with characters with more psychological diseases: gambling, alcoholism, hoarding. Is there something that attracts you more to characters with problems of the mind, rather than solely of the body?
Kristina: Even Real Life and Liars was a book about the characters’ emotional lives, though a physical illness was the crisis at the center of the book. People fascinate me, especially when they don’t act in rational, logical, sensible ways. We’re all screwed up some way or another, and I don’t think my characters are all that different than people in general. It’s like that old slogan from the Biography TV show. “Every life has a story.”
Jen: How does it feel releasing your fourth book? Is it much different than releasing your first?
Kristina: It does feel a little more normal, now, going to book events and talking to readers. But I still — and I’m sure always will — get a thrill out of fan mail, and signing books. I’m a little more anxious, too, in some ways. The longer I do this, the longer I want to do it. Forever, if I can. As long as my fingers can type. That’s a tall order in today’s publishing climate. But I’m hopeful for a long career.
Jen: Can you share one piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Kristina: I just heard this quote from the late Ray Bradbury on NPR’s Fresh Air: “By doing things, things get done.” If you want to be a writer, then by all means, write. If you want to publish, then research publishing in whatever form you choose to pursue. The point is, you can’t wish and hope yourself into being a writer anymore than you can anything else.
I have two copies of Keepsake to give away to a lucky reader anywhere in the world. Please enter on the form below by the 11:59 pm Eastern on Friday, July 20th.