We’ve all loved someone who didn’t love us back. And no, I’m not talking about Chewbacca. I’m talking about someone we actually know, someone we’d like to know better but they just don’t feel the same way. Which is why we’ll probably all find things in Christy Heron’s new novel Unrequited (which is available both physically and digitally) that we can relate to. With the book coming to print this week, I spoke to Heron about where she got the idea for this book, what influences the way she writes, and why she thinks that while it may appeal more to women than men, men might like it, too.
So what is Unrequited about?
It’s about a girl, January Estlin, who falls in love with a boy, Jack, a.k.a. Short Fat Fuck, who doesn’t love her back. That is where the blasé part of it the story ends. It follows them, and the other crazy characters in their orbit, over the course of several years, where they continue to gravitate toward one another, even though he doesn’t “feel” the same way she does. They can’t stop. Their ongoing tryst, which stalls at times, survives through turmoil, death, jail, addiction, mental illness, promiscuity, and other relationships.
Is this based on something you did, something someone else did to you, or something that you witnessed? Or none of these?
Every writer writes what they know. Writers are egotistical as fuck, and all they know is all they know. So, of course, they’re going to write what they know. With that being said, my life is extraordinary. Not in a fantastic be-jealous-of-me way, and not in a terrible way. In a very unheard of way. Until crazy shit stops happening to me — which prompts interesting stories, and then morph into even better stories — I won’t stop documenting them. I can’t.
So what promoted you to write this book?
Prompted? Pretty much what I said before.
I try to keep in mind I’m not writing 100,000 words for myself. This isn’t a fucking 334-page journal entry. So, yeah, I have an idea for a story, but it better go somewhere. Unrequited evolved over many years. I said to myself, “if this goes one way instead of another, than this will be one hell of a story.” I write constantly. It is the easiest thing in the world, and the hardest thing. That is the name of my publishing company: Easiest/Hardest. I have so much going on in my mind, I could write every minute of the day, but I get overwhelmed from that same feeling, those same ideas. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. I am lazy and a procrastinator because of the overwhelming factor, and because it takes every cell in my body to do it. If I see a beautiful house on a hill, I’ll start a story about that. I’m inspired by everything, even a pile of horseshit at my feet in a grassy field. That happened to me today, in fact.
Why did you decide to write it as a novel as opposed to a screenplay for a movie or TV show?
I know nothing but noveling. Just kidding, noveling isn’t a word. I make up words all of the time. I always have in mind a full-length book. Not sure why. I’ve got a lot to say. Man, TV writing is so lucrative. I wish I would’ve gotten into that. But I wouldn’t know how to get into TV writing. I think I dated a TV writer. I have a screenplay I’ve been thinking of and started, and it’s morphed as well into something else. Probably will end up being a book. I’d rather write a book first.
On another point, I often daydream Quentin Tarantino reads/skims Unrequited, or his assistant does, and wants to use it as a starting off point to tackling the “romance” genre in one of his films.
In terms of how you write, not what you write about, who do you consider your biggest influences on Unrequited and why?
My writing style is so distinctive that writers have never really influenced me. I do look to writers to be a better storyteller. Gail Godwin is insane. Alice Sebold actually did influence me, so I take my earlier comment back. I interviewed her once. The Lovely Bones was poetry in prose. Also, on my writing in general the usual rock stars come to mind. Fitzgerald, he is so simplistic and gorgeous and visual.
I’d rather read something not on a bestseller list. I can barely get through the first five sentences of most everything I read for research, usually the latest “it” books. Even Jonathan Franzen. God bless him and I will forever bow down to a writer who was on the cover of Time magazine, but Jesus Christ, I don’t see what the fuss is all about.
I want to open a book and be moved, be inspired, but most of all I want to understand the fucking thing. I don’t need much.
Along with Unrequited and your other novels, you previously worked at a newspaper, the New Times, in San Luis Obispo, California, where you were calendar editor and arts writer. But writing for a newspaper is very different from writing a novel. How often, when writing fiction, do you catch yourself falling back into your old newspaper habits?
I was not, and am not, a journalist. A journalist is a brilliant storyteller and investigator. That is a skill. That is learned, I guess? What I do is innate. I’m sorry, but it is. And I’m way to lazy to be running around town after sources and into city council meetings. I wrote arts articles. Pretty much everything I did at the New Times, I was either a collector of data and a finder of pretty, evocative “things,” whether it was events or photos.
But to answer your question, writing is writing. There are distinct parts to a story. Necessary parts. You have to keep the reader interested. You have to know how to write. I never actually thought about it. New Times was just a cool gig. I have written for magazines, too, and my fictive writing actually got in the way of the magazine writing. New Times is special/alt, so there was some leniency there.
Plus, I already had one novel under my belt. The two were conjoined for one reason. One was meant to enable the other.
It seems to me, but I’m probably wrong, that Unrequited would probably appeal more to women than to men. Do you agree?
Definitely agree. Guys don’t read romance novels. They read magazines, or Cormac McCarthy or maybe Gabriel García Márquez or tech-y, Hitler-y bios. I’m not a guy. I wish they would read it. They would love it. The drinking is downright criminal and the sex is pornographic, though realistic. What more could they want?
That said, one of my dear guy friends is all excited about it. He was an early supporter and loved the style and pace of it. Of course, there are at least a few of the “B’s” who are based on real dudes, so maybe they should read it. Though that could result in a lawsuit. Or lawsuits.
So what do you think men would get out of this book than women won’t, and vice versa?
Men will get the antagonist, Short Fat Fuck,. They will feel sorry for him and they will bond with him because most of them are him. They’ll sympathize, They’ll be entertained. They’ll probably jack off at one point or another.
God, I really have high hopes for this thing, don’t I?
My hope is all women adore this book. I could write a whole other book on what women would get out of Unrequited. They will cringe, they will commiserate and after reading the last page, they will probably delete some phone numbers from their phones. Guys would too, but women will laugh at a moment when their jaws should be dropping.
The moments are real. They’re moments that take place behind closed doors and with a few inches between two human beings. One of my pleasures in writing is to take a sentence, a thought, a concept, and tightening it until it becomes an image to the reader that they understand completely. And hopefully they’ll smile. Hopefully, it’s unlike anything they’ve ever read. But, hopefully, it’s something they’ve known all along. It is a ride to be ridden.
As I said earlier, Unrequited is not your first novel. And, in fact, you’ve already begun work on a new one called Soulcrusher, which you’ve said is about, “a family living through, and with, Alzheimer’s Disease.” As someone whose father has Alzheimer’s, am I going to find Soulcrusher just unbearable to read, or will I find it enlightening?
Probably both. I don’t know if I’m that good of a writer that you’ll feel either. I would be honored if it happens.
I moved to Florida to help my parents and help my mom take care of her husband, my stepfather, who has been basically my dad for the last thirty-two years. The story of how he descended into this disease and everything after is so unbelievable and sad, it is a story that has to be told.
Though not in a “okay, this is how you deal with this,” or “this is how your day will go” kind of way. I’m going to take the reader into the depths of this disease, late stage Alzheimer’s/dementia, and what really goes on in the homes, cars, assisted living facilities, doctors’ offices, etc. None of it is something anyone should have to endure, most importantly the person who is suffering from it. Not only are you experiencing absolutely no peace, volatility, violence, poop, endless planning, and asshole doctors on a regular basis, but you are dealing with your family as well. Not the family you are helping to care for — well, that too and those issues will be addressed in the book — but the rest of the family, other siblings.
This is an entire different level of hell. Nothing makes you grow up faster when you have to talk about powers of attorney, who gets the house, money, who gets to stay, go, pull the plug, and so on. Nothing makes you realize faster who is manipulative, who may just want to ruin you, and who will make your life an even bigger living hell when an ill parent finally dies.
When money is involved, and death…people, family, become wolves. I pray I don’t become a wolf. I pray no one around me does. But it’s a fact I deal with and won’t ignore. I plan for that day. Because most likely it will happen. But to have to deal with the agony of your loved one suffering and withering away, you have all of these other responsibilities.
Finally, if someone reads Unrequited and likes it, which of your other books do you think they should read next and why?
I hope all of them, of course. Such as my entire existence, personality, and loud mouth: you are either going to dig it, or you won’t. And I know this is a cliché, but if one person buys the book and enjoys it, I will live the rest of my life with a purpose.
The first line of Unrequited is “I blame Frank Sinatra.” It doesn’t get much more understandable than that. Or maybe it isn’t as clear as I think it is. That’s the absolute loveliness of being a writer. Of being me.