Kids have a lot of walls in their heads just aching to be knocked down.
— Christian McKay Heidicker
Who has a demon-hunting cat, writes spec fiction for young readers, and purposefully became addicted to video games to fuel his writing? Author Christian McKay Heidicker.
After spending several years working in education, developing instructional comic books for a non-profit, and teaching creative writing at Broadview University, Christian McKay Heidicker shifted his focus to writing. We’re glad he did. His latest book is Scary Stories for Young Foxes ( Henry Holt and Co., July 30, 2019). Interstellar Flight Press contributing writer Jody T. Morse had the opportunity to exchange words with this cat-loving storyteller and avid fan of Jordan Peele.
INTERSTELLAR FLIGHT PRESS: Let’s kick off with a chat about video game addiction. Is there really such a thing, Christian? Give us the scoop on how video games have informed and influenced your writing, in particular, for your first book, Cure for the Common Universe.
CHRISTIAN MCKAY HEIDICKER: I played a LOT of video games in high school. A lot.
A friend and I failed all of our AP exams because we were too busy trying to defeat Final Fantasy VIII (a terrible game that no one should play). After that, we had to take a good look at ourselves and wonder what we were getting out of our time in front of a screen. I stopped playing completely when I decided I wanted to become an author.
It was only after I was given the idea of video game rehab, by a friend, that I picked the controller back up for research efforts. After that, I purposefully got myself addicted to games by playing them for eighteen hours a day for a solid month. Then I took a month off from technology and caffeine and sugar and anything addictive. It was in that purified state that I wrote Cure for the Common Universe.
IFP: For your upcoming release, Scary Stories for Young Foxes, you collaborated with an illustrator. Tell us about why you chose to work with Junyi Wu and share some of the ups and downs of teaming up with a visual artist.
CMH: I chose Junyi because:
A. Her work is amazing.
B. I’d never seen anything like it before. It’s a little fairy tale and a little naturalistic with just a dash of horror.
Initially, we were tempted to go with someone like Jon Klassen (he illustrated Pax by Sara Pennypacker), but we were trying to create something unique. A recognizable style didn’t feel right. By the time Junyi started working on the art, I was pretty much finished with the book. So, there wasn’t a lot of back and forth.
Publishers usually organize that kind of stuff, and I’m lucky that my editor, Christian Trimmer, even asked for my feedback in the first place. Once we chose Junyi, things were easy for me. I just sat back and watched the beautiful art rolling in. I even bought some of the originals and plan to hang them in my office.
IFP: Rumor has it that you’re a huge Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe fan. What do you find inspiring and admirable about these horror-writing icons and their work?
CMH: Haha. I’m not a huge fan of any of those guys! That was just a marketing hook my publisher came up with.
However, I do enjoy the first hundred pages of Dracula, a couple of Poe poems, and a handful of Lovecraft’s more atmospheric tales. But those last two authors are hugely problematic. It’s hard enjoying Poe’s dark side when you know he married his thirteen-year-old cousin and abused her. And Lovecraft is the incel to end all incels.
Fortunately, some savvy creators like Matt Ruff and Jordan Peele are finding ways to pay homage to Cthulhu while calling out the authors’ misogyny and racism. To me, that’s pretty exciting. I would’ve tried something similar, but, y’know, it’s a kids’ book about foxes, so I just made my Lovecraft story about alligators.
IFP: Give us some insight into why writing speculative fiction for Middle Grade and young readers appeals to you so much.
CMH: I could sit here for four years and try to concoct the most original idea in the universe, and I guarantee someone in the adult world has already done it. Not so in kids’ books.
Video game rehab? A girl trapped in a 1950's horror movie? Classical monster stories retold with baby fox kits? Boom. Brand new. But not so marketable to adults. Kids have a lot of walls in their heads just aching to be knocked down. Also, you can be unabashedly hopeful, heartbroken, and silly with kids. And that’s me. I care very deeply about these foxes. Even if it doesn’t seem like it with some of the horrible things that happen to them.
IFP: We couldn’t let this interview close without inquiring about your demon-hunting cat. Every writer should have a supernatural feline by their side. Tell us more. Please.
CMH: Lucifer Birchaus Morningstar is the light of my life — my fiancé knows and accepts this.
I was walking through Best Friends Animal Adoption— just to look; aren’t you always there to just look — when I walked past what I thought was an empty kennel. A tiny black paw reached out and snagged my shirt. I turned and found golden-green eyes staring back at me and instantly fell in love. My ex-girlfriend was with me and said she didn’t want to get a cat. You can probably guess how that relationship ended.
Lucy and I share dreams sometimes. I once dreamed that I was running, and she was running beside me. I woke up to find her legs scampering on the bed, her eyes still squeezed shut. Another time, I had a nightmare that there was a skeletal woman hiding behind the drapes in my living room, skin dripping off her bones. I woke up when Lucy sprinted into the bedroom, licked my cheek, and demanded to be cuddled. She’s not a licker. Ever. But I could tell she was terrified. I think she saw that skeleton woman.
Christian McKay Heidicker reads, writes, and drinks tea. Between his demon-hunting cat and his fiddling, red-headed girlfriend, he feels completely protected from evil spirits. Christian is the author of Scary Stories for Young Foxes, Cure for the Common Universe, and Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Learn more about him at cmheidicker.com.
Interstellar Flight Magazine publishes essays on what’s new in the world of speculative genres. In the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, we need “writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope.” We use affiliate links and Patreon to pay our writers a fair wage. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.