Rockpool journalist and model for Elite at 14, Heather Cox spent the first half of her life bouncing between New York City and London, where she worked as a model, musician, and part-time journalist. Finding the pizza much better in New York, but the men much better in London, she compromised by moving to Los Angeles. After several years as a mortician, followed by several years working as a production designer for film and TV, Cox now splits her time between her publishing company Anabasis Press and her own writing, including California King, her first novel which she is currently adapting for film. Her work takes her back to London often, which she claims is good for the skin and for her six-year old daughter’s Doctor Who obsession.
TCJWW: What’s your background?
Cox: I’m a little Southerner that migrated West during the second dustbowl. I left New York where I was modeling to follow my dreams of completing my PhD.
TCJWW: How far did you get?
Cox: About the 6th grade.
TCJWW: So you have no formal instruction or education in literature?
Cox: Nor in most things, I should think.
TCJWW: Tell us a little about California King.
Cox: A precocious young woman moves to Los Angeles and falls in love with two men. She’s a wounded thing. Her husband has just died back in New York and she’s ill-prepared to begin again. She resumes her heroin usage in L.A., just as she falls for the the antithesis of her late husband, a charming miscreant called Bobby. Which is just the beginning of our heroine’s plight.
TCJWW: Is it a codependent relationship?
Cox: Maybe a little but that’s really up to the reader. I would really persuade the reader to make that conclusion themselves.
TCJWW: Was it your intention then?
Cox: Heather’s a little codependent in her relationships. But maybe she just really fit with Bobby. Maybe they were compelled to be together. Maybe she really was his savior. Bobby is pushed chiefly by anger and disappointment. I think as soon as Heather gave him new ways to feel that erased that old motivation, he got lost.
TCJWW: Did she save him?
Cox: God, I think in some ways she did. Clearly Bobby was severely bipolar.
TCJWW: As dark as it is, it’s a very funny book.
Cox: Thank you.
TCJWW: Is California King autobiographical?
Cox: No. California King is not my memoir. It’s just a whole lot of fiction and stolen anecdotes synthesized through some experiences I’ve shared with the lead character.
TCJWW: It’s a very sexual book.
Cox: It is a very sexual book. It’s a very honest sexual book. There are steamy sex scenes between characters that love each other, but there are also forced sexual experiences and experiences from Bobby’s perspective as a sex worker. I think the tenderness is no less as shockingly honest than the brutality is in California King.
TCJWW: For a rather dense book, it has a very quick pace.
Cox: Yeah, it speeds right along. Moments where it should linger, I hope it does, but I just like to keep things moving with dialogue and actions. I like to know about the “I-N-G” of the scene.
TCJWW: Technically, California King is an historical novel?
Cox: Yes, California King takes place in 1981, a very specific time period and within a very specific subculture. It was very important to me how this version of Los Angeles was depicted in the book. Because it’s quite extinct. The only place it exists anymore is on celluloid. If I drive down Hollywood Boulevard with you today, you won’t see a glimpse of it. It’s as mythical as Narnia or Middle-Earth. Don’t get me wrong: Hollywood is still seedy, but not in the same way.
TCJWW: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to writing a novel set in the past?
Cox: It was a completely emancipating experience for me. I felt like there were more possibilities available to me. California King would not have existed after AIDS and mobile phones.
TCJWW: Is your next work also an historical piece?
Cox: No, it’s a contemporary novel, set in London. Of course not real London. My version of London. Nothing ever takes place in real cities, does it?
TCJWW: Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?
Cox: Many, I’m sure. One must be that your job is to publicly display your wit so readers can determine if you’ve got what it takes. There is also the career-long disadvantage of waking up with a hangover. You must not feel a bit ashamed that you’ve wept at the death of your own characters and you must be resistant to the odd attack of envy.
TCJWW: What do you consider your biggest failure?
Cox: The possibility that I am short-changing my daughter by having so many other characters filling my head as she grows up.
TCJWW: What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
Cox: I never want to see you again.
More Heather Cox: