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In 'Bonfire,' Krysten Ritter Digs Up Dirt Both Environmental And Emotional

The actress Krysten Ritter is best known for strong and complicated characters like the superhero-turned-detective Jessica Jones, star of her own Netflix series. Ritter was raised in small Pennsylvania farm town, which inspired her debut novel Bonfire, a dark thriller about about environmental pollution, secrets and abuse. "I'm from a small town, a farm, a hundred acres," she says. "A few years ago, the frackers came in and wanted to frack on the property ... not really telling them what the environmental consequences would be. And that was something I thought about a lot."

Ritter's protagonist is Abby Williams. She's an environmental lawyer from a difficult background — her mom died when she was young, and she was kind of an outcast in school. The story begins when Williams unwillingly comes back to her home town of Barrens, Ind. to investigate why people are getting sick.

Interview Highlights

On why Ritter chose to have a character who didn't want to come home

Well, it's real juicy storytelling. Thematically, I like playing with the ideas of stuff that you try to bury, and you think will go away, but instead you carry it with you until it becomes crippling. And sometimes you have to look back and deal with some stuff in order to truly move forward.

I definitely used my own feelings as a way in, and things that I relate to. But it's fiction from there ... It definitely is a dark book, but there's some humor, and I think Abby has a self-awareness that keeps it light at times.

On the current discussion on sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood

It's crazy, because I hear all these stories and I think about all of the things that I've witnessed, or felt, and it makes me sick. You know, I'm always asked what the importance of female antiheroes or messy characters are on screen. When I first started talking about it was after season one [of Jessica Jones], and I always circled it back to good parts.

The more messy women that we put on screen, that we put in books, the more women can feel represented and seen ... and then have the strength to speak out.

It wasn't until the show came out that real women in real life would come up to me and talk about how they felt seen and they felt represented, and because of that they were able to heal from their own sexual assault, or sexual abuse. And that hit me ... the more messy women that we put on screen, that we put in books, the more women can feel represented and seen, then they can access their own stuff, feel it's okay, and then have the strength to speak out about things like we're talking about. About rising up.

On her own Hollywood stories

It's hard to always be reduced to the way you look, or your sex appeal, or what that is. I've spoken up when things didn't feel right to me. Sometimes it has consequences ... There was one situation I had a long long long time ago, right? So there's this guy who always kind of like touched the small of my back as I walked into a room. And I didn't like it. Finally I said, like, could you not do that? I really don't like it when you touch me like that. This person completely shut down, and then became like ice cold to me, and made my working experience really difficult, and really unpleasant. So that's the consequences ... and I think that consequence was worth it.

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Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.