This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Meet Jaxon, a 16-year-old gamer who spends his days living in a virtual world where he and his online posse, the Wight Knights, battle (among other foes) evil chipmunks attempting to steal the Mona Lisa. His father and "stepmonster" think he has a problem. Jaxon doesn't especially since he's just managed to score his first date ever with a REAL girl in REAL time. Unfortunately for Jaxon, his parents ship him off to video rehab four days before that said date is supposed to happen.
Thus begins Salt Lake City resident Christian Heidecker's debut young-adult novel, "Cure for the Common Universe" a slick yet thought-provoking take on gaming culture. Heidecker engages readers with a crisply funny narrative while also encouraging them to consider the idea that addiction may be caused by repressed issues as opposed to the video games themselves.
The Trib caught up with Heidecker to ask a few questions.
One of this novel's charms is its unique premise. Tell us how "Cure for the Common Universe" came to be.
This all began when I wrote a piece for a scientific journal about flower pollen dissemination. My editor at Simon & Schuster, Christian Trimmer, just happened to pick up the June 2014 issue of "Yon Flowery Bits" and read my article. He was captured by the way in which I was able to breathe life into the flower's plight, specifically its helpless desire to pollinate waiting on a breeze or a buzz that may never manifest.
Mr. Trimmer didn't think the flower angle would quite hook a teenage audience, so he Googled the phrase "Pressing Issues of Our Time." Of course the first thing that came up was video-game addiction. He had me run a search/replace on the document and thus pollen became pixels, roots AV lines, honeybees Serena, and weed whackers GamerGate. The rest is history. [Editor's helpful hint: Read the book and these comparisons will make more sense.]
Did you write this novel with a particular reader in mind? Who do you think the ideal audience is for your book?
Like everything I write, I was thinking of a homeless man named Jesús Gómez, who lives in Salt Lake City and sleeps on the benches at The Gateway. Jesús is gay and he is 25. He is big and he is sweaty. He has some mental-health troubles, squints through thick glasses, calls me buddy and touches my chest too much when he sees me. He once remarked on how I clearly don't like to be touched. When I told him it's because I was sexually assaulted when I was young, he laughed and said, "Me too! By my dad!"
Jesús forgets my name almost constantly, fist bumps me whenever Katy Perry comes on the radio, and wants to carry on the legacy of Biscuit Baby (which was tragically forced to close down after one of the owners was diagnosed with cancer). Although, scanning the menu, Jesús claims he's going to "cut the vegan cheese." Every homeless center I've tried to get him into has been closed or full or too far away for him to reach comfortably. …
I expect the ideal audience for "Cure for the Common Universe" would be teenage boys who play too many video games and so probably don't have much time for books. (I picked a hell of a niche audience.) Although I should probably mention that all the reviews I've seen so far have claimed readers don't need to know a lick about video games in order to enjoy themselves immensely.
Do you see the novel as a vehicle for broader social commentary?
If, having read my book, people were to examine their own loneliness or privilege or magical thinking, I would be satisfied.
We tend to project these problems onto the youth, but I think the reason so many adults read YA fiction these days is because there's a kink in our early years, and we have a desperate need to push through it. (That isn't to say young-adult fiction isn't completely rad; it is.) A lot of people talk about whether adults reading YA is a good or a bad thing. I think it's more interesting to ask why it's happening. Maybe it's as simple as missing the feeling of being truly free. Or maybe, like Jesús Gómez, we're still recovering from a trauma we didn't know was a trauma.
It's impossible for me to survive the writing of a book and not unearth parts of myself that are unsavory. Unfortunately, my main character Jaxon has a lot of me in him and vice versa. I'd like to think of this book as a spell (or a Cure) for my own lazy thought pattern, although I hope the book asks way more questions than it answers.
Which writers have influenced your work?
I know a lot of people say this, but my biggest influence lately has been Tenskwatawa [Tecumseh's lesser-known brother] because of his attempts to protect the Shawnee troops through simple magic … and then watching them get slaughtered. What is a magician to do when no one believes in his spells, y'know?
Speaking of writers (um sort of), there's a huge community of people in Utah who write for young readers. How do you account for this? What connection do you have to the community?
It's either because Utah has the lowest average age in the country or it's the salt in the water. Whatever it is, I'm grateful for it. They lend all forms of support from glegan (gluten-free vegan) doughnuts to giving me an interview in The Tribune.
There's a girl who lives in 1958. She's trapped in a monster movie marathon. Blobs are devouring teenagers in a distant podunk town. Radioactive ants swarm the desert. A gill monster is attacking scuba divers on the coast. The thing that makes this girl different from the other inhabitants of her world is that she can see a gigantic man filling the sky. He's wearing a robe and has a bored expression on his face. He holds a remote control and whenever he looks, the next disaster erupts. …
This girl's name is Phoebe. I'd like to write about her if I get the chance.
Cure for the Common Universe
Christian McKay Heidecker
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages • 320 pages
Cost • $17.99