Breaking the Rules and Hope, with Debbie Rigaud

By Melissa Warner Published March 3, 2022

Although she started working in the magazine industry, author Debbie Rigaud considered herself a writer rather than a journalist. However, she also used to write a tween YouTube talk show for Justice (the clothing store).  She is now the author of three published teen romantic comedy books (Simone Breaks All the Rules, Perfect Shot, and Truly, Madly, Royally), and a co-authored series with Alyssa Milano, about tween Hope who leads and acts with her heart.  Her next book, A Girl’s Guide to Love and Magic, releases in July 2022 (more about this later). 

The most fun for Ms. Rigaud in the magazine work was interviewing, especially young women; she enjoyed “connecting and talking to people.”  However, she     was partial to the girls who were not celebrities, but “real girls” – the ones you “cross paths with daily, not someone known the world over.”  She recounted interviewing “girls that stuck their necks out to take a stand for their peers” on subjects such as bullying or health concerns. She also recalled a girl who started a Native American club at her high school because one did not exist, and Ms. Rigaud commented how the girl “used her voice to stand up.” 

Feeling connected to younger readers such as while working at Seventeen magazine, Ms. Rigaud felt, as a writer, this age group was the best fit for her, whether it was writing about lighter or more “impactful” topics. After leaving the magazine world, she started copy writing for retail companies, and believes it was a good exercise because “the style is directed; you have to say a lot in very little,” and she was a “wordy” writer.  Now writing fiction, it is a yet a different style and she still feels “a student of it,” although storytelling is “part of [her] background.” 

Ms. Rigaud’s “first foray into fiction writing” was a novella, entitled Double Act and is found in an anthology, Hallway Diaries. At the time, there were “limited black and Latinx characters” in YA.  Teens would “pick up books where they identified with the characters but they weren’t necessarily age appropriate.” More books were needed where the kids could identify with both the “character and the content.” Double Act mirrored her own experience of changing schools as a high school senior.  Laughing, she described the new school as “great,” and a “safe space for nerds [where] you could let your geek flag fly without recourse.” 

Her YA books Perfect Shot (2009), Truly, Madly Royally (2019), and Simone Breaks All the Rules (2021) easily fit the largely empty identity niche Ms. Rigaud described.  When asked why she decided to write romance, she clarified that she considers her books to be “rom com” – romantic comedy.  She said, “I love love.  I think it adds that much more heart to a story where there’s a story line where a couple is falling for each other.  I relish those moments, the brief exchanges between them.  It’s keeping you on edge and making you want to encounter them in a scene together again.” Also, she finds it “fun to write about chemistry and what draws [characters] together.” 

Her other most recent books are a middle grade series with actress Alyssa Milano and illustrator Erik Keyes.  Project Middle School is the first in the series, featuring main character Hope who wants to be an astrophysicist, but first has to survive her new middle school.  Hope goes on to save an animal rescue shelter in book two, run for class president in book three, and do her part to go green in the fourth and so far final book.  The series contains just a hint of romance, but focuses on issues very relevant to tweens. They are also motivating for tweens with lots of ideas on how to make a difference.  Also, the series has great side characters such as Lacey who always has a kind, uplifting or encouraging word for those around her. 

Simplehero is a nonfiction essay in the anthology DEAR BULLY: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories. Published in 2011, Ms. Rigaud recounted how there had been a well publicized teenage suicide after bullying. She and other authors got together, believing they could do something. The essay relates the story of, despite being “just a regular girl,” Ms. Rigaud and a friend speaking up when another girl was being bullied at their high school. At the time, she did not realize the impact their words had for the other teen.  They eventually became friends and the importance of the event was related later in their adult life. “We can all do something” she commented.

Ms. Rigaud feels she is able to connect with many people because of her background. Raised in the US, Ms. Rigaud considers herself bicultural.  She is Haitian-American, but also considers herself African-American because of the cultural identity. Additionally, she speaks several languages including French and Creole. All of this allows her to feel connected to communities in Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe (including England where she lived for a few years), as well as among the African-American, American and Latinx. She also wants to foster cultural connections in her storytelling, and bring people together.  She believes it is “important for us to share our experiences – talk about them and celebrate them in a way that is good for our self image and young readers’ esteem and community at large.” Examples of this include Simone’s background from Simone Breaks All the Rules, and her upcoming book, A Girl’s Guide to Love and Magic.  The main character there asks hard and unpopular questions about her culture.  Yet, her self discovery is fun, and she has an adventure at the same time.  Ms. Rigaud described it as a “Caribbean island story.” This book is nearly in its final form, but she is working on another co-author project with middle grade author Sara Mlynowski and is very excited about the new books. These, like the Hope series, will be partly illustrated. Covid affected her writing in that she prefers to work on writing at a coffee house – somewhere in public.  Doing so makes her feel “more productive; it’s weird if you’re sitting idle” somewhere in public, and having activity in the background helps keep her focused. 

If she was not a writer, Ms. Rigaud would be “on Broadway.” Despite being scared of public speaking, she loves performing. When she was little, she used to “jump into the role of reporter on the street,” especially when her dad would film for home movies.  Addressing her dad as “Bob, the cameraman,” she narrated events.  She also used to write scripts that she and her cousins would act out while her dad filmed. As a teen, she “fell in love with magazines.” High school activities included musicals and chorus.  She also did “peer leadership” because she “loved encouraging people” and making them feel better about themselves.  She wishes she had known as a teenager to “go ahead and take the risk you want to do,” and to not be afraid of “what someone will say or how they will react.” Elaborating, she commented that people have short memories and move on to new things; the person “on the hot seat last week isn’t there now.”  

In her opinion, a common misconception of writers is that they are “rich” or all you need is an idea.  Ms. Rigaud self admitted that she is a “more prolific idea person than a writer” and sometimes does not have the “best followup.” She looks forward to doing more middle grade work, and believes it is a “good fit.” However, what keeps her writing is the ideas that “haunt” her and “will not stop,” as well as her “love of stories.”