21 Jun 2014

A fascinating view into the world of Heather Rigney :)

Hi Heather! Can you tell us a little about your latest book, Waking The Merrow?

Thanks for asking, Suzy! I would love to gush about myself, but let me quote a review of my book instead. Penny Watson, the lovely blogger, reviewer, and writer extraordinaire, has summarized my novel better than I ever could:
“WAKING THE MERROW is a cross-genre, horrifying twist on the mermaid legend. Rigney has seamlessly woven a story that combines horror, comedy, colonial history, fantasy world-building, flawless writing, and the most unappealing yet strangely mesmerizing "heroine" I've ever read. Evie is a short, fat, self-loathing alcoholic who manages to get the reader, against her will, rooting for her in this fascinating tale.
This story jumps back in forth from current times to colonial times in Rhode Island, and mixes intriguing bits of maritime history with the familial history of the Irish Cantillon family … Warning: This is not your mother's cutesy mermaid with the sparkling tiara and clam-shell bra.”

What inspired you to create something so dark and spooky?
I grew up in northern Rhode Island. It’s quite rural and remote. We could see only one of our neighbors; the other was a half-mile away. I spent a lot of time, alone, in the forest. At a very young age, I was an avid Stephen King and Clive Barker fan. I saw monsters all around me, lurking in the trees, crouching beneath my bedroom window, hiding in the empty well on our property. In my head, I was constantly making up my own stories about the darkness around us. Believe me, it was dark at night. Very dark.
When I started writing, I wanted to recreate the darkness, the fear, and the spookiness that I experienced (and came to love!) when I was young.

How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
Graphic Design was one of my many careers. I have always favored clean, single-object artwork, preferably with a plain white background. When the time came for me to design the cover, I knew I needed a striking image. I also wanted to avoid leading the reader visually. If I had a woman mermaid on the cover, the reader would be locked into seeing that particular woman as they read. I thought it would be better to have just the tail—a dark, scaly, unpleasant tail. With blood. Had to have blood. My mermaids are not nice. They’re carnivores. With just a tail, readers get to make up their own imagery.

If Waking The Merrow was made into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?
I love answering this one! The always sassy, delightfully crude Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black, Slums of Beverly Hills, American Pie) would make a lovely, foul-mouthed, screw-up Evie. The hilarious Chris O’Dowd (Moone Boy, Bridesmaids, The IT Crowd) might be a perfect match for Evie’s Irish-born, gentle giant of a husband, Paddy McFagan. As for the slinky, dark-haired vixen merrow Nomia (pronounced no-ME-ah), I believe Eva Green (300: Rise of an Empire, Dark Shadows, Casino Royale) would effectively pull off the necessary vicious, sexy antagonist vibe. And last, but not least, Fionnula Flanagan (Brotherhood, Lost, Waking Ned Devine) would do an amazing job of bringing the tight-lipped, iron-clad silver fox matriarch Catherine McFagan O’Conner to life.

What is it about this genre that appeals to you so much?
I love being scared. I love the idea of the impossible. The what if? factor is amplified when it comes to Fantasy. There are no limits. I get to make the rules. I get to set the boundaries. I get to be a world-builder. How fun is that? For a control-freak, such as myself, this is the best job ever!

Why did you want to become an author?
I’m a talker. I love to talk and tell stories. Having taught public school for twelve years, I had a lot of captive audiences. They loved my stories, or at least they pretended to like them. When I participated in a cross-curricula workshop in my school, the English department told me I needed to go forth and write. They specifically said, “You need to write a book. You have talent.” Feeling that there wasn’t much reading material for pre-teen boys (and I still think this is a wide-open, underserviced market), I asked my boys what they would want to read. They said, Zombies. We want zombie stories. So I started to write a MG zombie novel about our school. I couldn’t stop. I wrote all the time. I took a writing class. I joined a writers’ group. And, a few years later, our living situation changed, so an opportunity arose which allowed me to stay home with our young daughter. I quit my teaching job and became a full-time mom, part-time writer. I haven’t looked back since.

I see that you're also an artist, do tell us more!
I was an art teacher and I am a painter. I make very brightly colored, mixed-media works of art depicting cheerful mermaids and girls with large eyes. These paintings are the complete opposite of my writing. When I paint, I think about writing, and when I write, I often think about painting. They feed each other. When I was thinking about writing as a career, my husband very kindly said, “You are a good painter, but you’re an excellent writer. Pursue that. I think you have a better chance to shine in the literary world.” Wasn’t that sweet? I’m very blessed to have such a supportive husband.

How do you come up with your character names?
I have a few sources. If the character is local, I go with the name of someone I know from my parents’ or grandparents’ generation who happens to share the same cultural background of a given character. With my Irish characters, I choose names based on their Gaelic origins. With some of my more ancient characters, I like to do research into very old, obscure folktales, myths, and legends. I also use the book COOL NAMES FOR BABIES by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosencrantz. It sounds goofy, but that book is awesome!

Name one of your all-time favourite books and one of your all time favourite pieces of art.
Since I was very little, and all the way through college, when I couldn’t sleep I would read THE PRACTICAL PRINCESS AND OTHER LIBERATING FAIRY TALES by Jay Williams with illustrations by Rick Schreiter. It’s a gorgeous book. The stories’ themes are flip-flopped stereotypical gender roles, and the illustrations are incredibly ornate black and white silhouettes. It’s not the most profound book, but for some reason, it’s the most comforting book. I’m a comfort-creature.
As for art—that is a tough one. There are so many existing pieces throughout time and so many pieces created in so many different mediums. I am, however, very fond of Frida Kahlo’s 1939 painting, Los Dos Fridas. It’s a huge piece—173cm x 173.5cm—and it’s very dramatic. It was painted shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivera. On the left, in white, is the Frida that Diego abandoned. On the right, is the Frida he still loves, dressed in traditional clothing. I love how she has depicted her heart torn out, symbolic of the way her husband treated her. She is so vulnerable and exposed, yet she looks as fierce and as strong as ever. Frida is my patron saint of both passion and strength. I adore her.

Who, or what, inspires you?
People and science. We are surrounded by stories. There are so many wonderful, tales happening all around us, every day. I enjoy listening to people talk. I get my best ideas from eavesdropping. We also live in a fascinating natural world. Nature is a powerful and uncaring force. There’s a lot of engaging material to be found if you take the time to slow down and observe.

Where is your favourite place to write?
Cafes. I get a false sense of people keeping me company while I write. And there’s caffeine and baked goods regularly available. Olive bread and an Americano are always great writing motivators.

You live in Rhode Island - how does that influence your writing?
Rhode Island, which is not an island, is the smallest US state. Growing up in a landlocked town, I could never understand why we were called ‘The Ocean State’. Now that I live closer to the coast, I get it. I can walk to the ocean anytime I want. The sea heavily influences us. We are spoiled with our fresh seafood, our gorgeous beaches, and our swimmable waters.
Little Rhody is also a strange melting pot. There are so many influences here—Italian, Irish, English, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Puerto Rican, Dominican, not to mention all of the college students who flood in and out.
Our state has a long, rich history going back to Colonial America and beyond. Native Americans fought and died on RI soil prior to our state becoming one of the original thirteen colonies. There are stories of vampires circa the 1890s (Google: ‘Mercy Lena Brown’). And in more recent history, both the Mafia and the socialites of Newport (think ‘Great Gaspee’) have made the national news on more than one occasion.
So yes, I have a lot to draw from. My dad was born here, and his father and grandfather before him. I love the food, the history, the quirky way we drop our ‘r’s and put them where they don’t belong. Sample RI dialogue: “Whah’d ya’ pahk ya’ cah?” Translation: Where did you park your car? or “Hey, Linder, didja eat yet? Ya’ want some cawrffee?” Translation: Hey Linda, did you eat yet? You want some coffee?
In summary, Stephen King has the state of Maine; I have Rhode Island.

Do you have a favourite movie that was based on a book? Why do you love it?
Spielberg, being a genius, worked with the viewers’ imagination when creating the film, much like Peter Benchley (author of the novel) did with his words. Spielberg did not show the shark right away. He took his time, building the tension, scaring the viewer with subtleties, not hitting them over the head with a giant fake shark, gratuitous blood geysers, and a plethora of disembodied limbs. This was why the film was so successful. The build-up. A good writer will do the same.

Name two of your favourite authors.
Margaret Atwood and David Sedaris

Tell us a random fact about yourself.
I’m a huge Star Wars nerd. I waited until I was an adult to unleash it, and now it’s out of control. A few months ago, I got my first Star Wars tattoo—three Empirical TIE Fighter ships. Our home is filled with Star Wars artwork and memorabilia, and I can wear a different Star Wars t-shirt, everyday, for two weeks straight.

Who would play you in the movie about your life?

Jenna Elfman.
I’ve been told her character on the TV show Dharma and Greg reminds people of my husband and me. I’m the kooky blonde free spirit and he’s the straight-laced corporate guy.

What are your (writing) plans for the future?
First, I plan on rounding out my Merrow Trilogy with the two remaining sequels. After that, I’m toying with the idea of writing/illustrating a graphic novel about a red-hooded bike messenger vs. a food critic/werewolf. In the meantime, I’m looking for a home for my dark short story, Black Hut Reservations, loosely based on the woods of my childhood home.

Tell us one thing that's on your bucket list.
When she’s older, I really want to take my daughter on a road trip of the US and see a whole bunch of tacky tourist attractions such as: The Biggest Ball of Twine!, The World’s Largest Frying Pan!, The South Dakota Corn Palace! Maybe even throw in something legitimate like seeing the Grand Canyon while we’re at it.

Favourite myth / fairytale?
Eros and Psyche.
I loved how Psyche agreed to marry a beast, and that she was quite happy with said beast during the time she remained ignorant of his true identity. That’s quite poetic and romantic. There’s a huge life lesson in this ancient tale, which is still relevant today. We can be happy with less than perfect—far less than perfect—as long as no one (like Psyche’s jealous, bitchy sisters) comes along and points out a potential flaw in our happiness. Once we start looking for the flaws in our life, we are no longer happy. If you’re lucky enough to be happy—don’t mess it up by over-thinking it.

Author Bio
Writer, artist, and underwater fire-breather Heather Rigney likes to make stuff. Stuff with words, stuff with paint, stuff that’s pretty, and stuff that’s not. Heather’s stories reflect her dark, gothic childhood spent alone in the woods of northern Rhode Island.
Having discovered the works of both Stephen King and Clive Barker at the age of eleven, she started to wonder if she truly was alone in the woods, or perhaps not. The perhaps was what kept her up at night. Her imagination cranked out stories and dreams that she kept to herself. She was an strange child and didn’t need one more reason for the neighbors to cluck, “That Rigney girl is so odd …” But now that she’s comfortable with her oddness, Heather loves sharing her stories with you, dear reader.
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  1. Thanks for having me Suzy! It was so much fun answering your questions!

    This site is amazing. Any celebration of women is a good thing. :) What you're doing is commendable, and on behalf of the ladies, I thank you!

  2. Awww thanks Heather! :) It's lovely to have someone of such talent here. I can't wait to read more of your books! xx


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