In Galligan’s Bad Day Breaking (Atria, Aug.), Wisconsin sheriff Heidi Kick probes a murder possibly connected to a cult.
Where did the character of Sheriff Kick come from?
I was in a gas station in rural Wisconsin, and a young woman walked in and bought some Ho-Hos. And she turned into this character that we have here in Wisconsin—someone who is tough as nails, can drive every kind of vehicle, shoot every kind of gun, rides on the high school rodeo team, drives a tractor, milks cows—and also plays the saxophone, is in the school play and is the valedictorian. That character, Junior, became a minor figure in my fly-fishing series, and people absolutely loved her.
How did Junior become Heidi?
I started with Junior as a fledgling sheriff’s deputy. My agent said he’d like a different story. So I decided, what if I took that minor character and made her the sheriff? Suddenly, we’re seeing a community through a different lens, a female one.
Why did you use a prosperity church in the plot?
I was like a lot of writers sitting in the middle of the Covid epidemic trying to figure out, okay, do I write about this? I started thinking about trying to write, about not the pandemic itself, but more of the psychic and cultural impacts that I thought it might have, which led me to people losing their livelihoods, losing family members, and becoming vulnerable to exploitation, which led me to a prosperity cult. Prosperity theology is very real, it’s basically cherry-picking Bible quotes to validate your efforts to become wealthy. There’s a charismatic cult leader taking everybody’s money and promising to turn it into great wealth. I was fascinated by that, and I thought of connecting that to the economic loss from the pandemic.
Is there something uniquely Wisconsin about the series?
Yes. The landscape is very different. Probably your vision of Wisconsin is rolling hills and cornfields and statuesque red barns and that kind of thing. This is a part of Wisconsin that’s gorgeous, but not the big rolling farmlands that are easy to farm. And so, in this particular region of Wisconsin, making a living is a lot more of a marginal proposition. Southern Wisconsin farmers are big operations. I mean, they’re millionaires. They’ve got massive amounts of property and huge, huge tractors, and it’s very corporate. But this is an area where there are still small dairy farms struggling to survive, most of them not surviving.