A River of Darkness: Q&A with Peter Heller

From the Star Tribune:

In 1989, Peter Heller was a few years out of college, trying to make a living. He delivered pizzas, worked construction, taught kayaking. In his free time, he wrote short stories and poems.

One day a friend asked why he didn’t combine his love of the outdoors with his writing, and work for Outside magazine. So he got a copy and called an editor. He said, “Hey, I’m a writer in Boulder, and a kayaker, and I just had a short story in Harper’s, and I think you should send me to the Tibetan Plateau to run this river that’s never been run,” Heller recalled in an interview from his home in Denver. “And there was this incredulous pause, and she said, ‘You know, I’m going to take a chance on you.’ ”

So, for more than 20 years he wrote about adventures in the outdoors. By 2011 he’d saved enough to take off several months for his first love: fiction. He went down to a coffee shop and started writing. “It was like this guy, Hig, was sitting across the campfire from me telling me what had happened to him a few years before,” said Heller, of the protagonist in his bestselling novel in 2012. “And I would be laughing out loud, or crying with tears puddling on the table. I know people were looking at me thinking, that poor bastard is going through a bad divorce. But what was really happening was that I was the most thrilled I’d even been in my life.”

The book, “The Dog Stars,” was a critical and commercial success. Heller never looked back. In a recent conversation, Heller talked about the inspirations for his fourth novel, “The River,” about a canoeing expedition gone horribly awry. He will read from the book Monday at Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul.

Q: You seem to know your way around a paddle. Have you spent much time in canoe country?

A: Yeah, I’ve been paddling a canoe since I was 9 in the Adirondacks. We’d go up there every summer and do multi­day canoe trips. When I got to college, I started kayaking and became a full-on white-water and river devotee. The Maskwa River is based on the Winisk River, which is as described in the book. It flows north out of a string of lakes, and a couple hundred miles into Hudson Bay. I did that a few years ago, on the third date with a gal I was dating.

Read the rest here.