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Author wanted to capture a different aspect of culture

September 4, 2010
By RENEE PRUSI Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - When Ron Riekki set out to write a book set in his native Upper Peninsula, he had a specific objective in mind.

"I wanted to write a book that had never been seen before in the U.P.," Riekki said. "I wanted to write something that was not at all like the others.

"I wanted to write something that didn't have a 1950s sensibility," he said. "The U.P. is a complex place. People have some anger, living with unemployment and alcohol problems. It's not just sauna jokes."

The result was the novel "U.P.," which is a dark tale of four young men growing up in Negaunee and Ishpeming in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The novel has sparked the interest of Riekki's fellow Negaunee native Steven Wiig, who is hoping to produce a movie version of the book to be filmed in the places in which the characters live. Wiig is a successful musician, actor, director and producer who has been living in California for the past decade.

Riekki will be on a book tour throughout the Upper Peninsula starting Sept.11, with hopes that Wiig can join him for some of the stops.

"Someone from the U.P. can write differently than from an outsider's perspective," said Riekki, who graduated from Negaunee High School in 1987. "When I read some novels that are set in the U.P., I don't find the geography of the area in it. For me, there isn't a Yooper sensibility.

"With my novel, Teal Lake and the caving grounds are important parts of the story," he said. "They are so important to the narrative."

When he was contacted by Wiig, who was four years behind him in school, Riekki felt an immediate connection.

"This is our culture," he said. "That's why Steven and I get along so well. We are dedicated passionately to getting 'U.P.' on the screen, because we love the U.P."

Riekki and Wiig didn't know each other growing up, but their parents are connected. Steve's parents, Judy (Arbelius) Wiig and the late Ray Wiig graduated from Negaunee High School in 1966 with Riekki's mother, Karen, as a classmate. And Ray Wiig taught at Westwood High School with Riekki's father, Gerald.

"I guess I remember seeing Steven as a kid, but I can't remember ever having a conversation with him before we started talking about 'U.P.'," Ron Riekki said. "We've really gotten to know each other. We've both been working our entire lives sacrificing for the arts."

Riekki said another producer had approached him before Wiig did about turning his novel into a film.

"I am absolutely amazed by that," he said. "You hope a producer might like your book but to have two producers fall in love with it...

"What Steve is doing for 'U.P.' and for the U.P. is so much bigger than people might realize," Riekki said. "I have to say thank you so Steven and I hope the people of the U.P. thank him, too."

The novel "U.P" has also gained the attention of another group: Metalheads, those who love heavy metal music.

"The metal community has embraced me," Riekki said. "I have been called the first metal novelist and that music does play an important part in the book."

Riekki's journey as a writer started at an early age.

"I always did write, even as a kid," he said. "I wrote poetry, raps, journals... I was always writing."

Through the years, Riekki has earned degrees from Central Michigan University, Brandeis University, the University of Virginia and Western Michigan University, where he obtained his doctorate. He studied abroad as well.

But it wasn't until he was serving in the U.S. Navy and was based at Diego Garcia during Operation Desert Shield that he really came to appreciate the value of the written word.

"Our calls were all shut off," Riekki said. "We could only write letters then and if I was vague in a letter, I would get a letter back in a month from my Mom in a panic, wondering what I was talking about.

"When you write a letter in circumstances like that, what's on the page has to be interesting, factual and on target," he said. "That's what I discovered."

"U.P" has spent 80-plus weeks on the Ghost Road Press best-sellers list.

"Now I am finally tapping through to the U.P. audience," he said. "Once Yoopers let you in, it's an absolute embracing."

Riekki is working on the screenplay for "U.P."

"I think I've done 12 drafts so far," he said. "The screenplay is hard work."

He also is watching another of his works come to life. His play, "All Saints Day," is being presented at the Ruckus Theater in Chicago on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 26. Visit for more information on the play.

Riekki has a poetry book that's being published this year as well and has had short story collections published previously.

For more information on Riekki and his work, visit

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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