“I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BETTER”: Interview with Monica Heisey

Monica Heisey is one of my big-time idols.

She was my first editor at She Does The City and was only ever encouraging, invigorating, and inspiring. I had never been published before and was petrified that my writing would come off as stupid and silly and boring. With every piece I emailed in, I would wonder; “Does this suck? It sucks. But does it suck? Of course it sucks.” But then Monica would respond with an ecstatic “THIS STORY IS SO SEXYYYY. WHO IS THIS MAN? Love it” and make me feel like a professional bad-ass bitch.

And not only is she an incredible editor, she is also the author of the extremely hilarious book, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better. I chatted with Monica about her comedic masterpiece, her writing process, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cheese, and how we all need to find “our women”.

Jess Beaulieu: I haven’t done many interviews before. I’m so nervous!

Monica Heisey: Don’t be!

JB: Okay. But I don’t really know what I’m doing.

MH: That’s everybody. No one knows what they’re doing. They just do it.

JB: Well, let’s start there. This is your first book, what were some of your challenges while writing it?

MH: The turn around time was really fast. Red Deer Press approached me in October and they wanted the book by the end of December, which was an interesting challenge, but also (for me) ideal. I scaled back my freelancing and really dove into it. I worked every day at my kitchen table from ten to five and then at the end of two months it was done.

JB: I’m always very impressed by you. You work so hard and you don’t seem to stop working. In the book you talk about how you have anxiety, which I have as well, and reading that surprised me because I have this perception of you as a person who has everything totally together. Do you talk about your anxiety a lot?

MH: I haven’t ever really written about it before the book. It wasn’t something I had a name for until pretty recently. I just thought I was a high-strung person because I’m anxious about some things and really chill about other things. And I was very good at channelling my anxiety into stuff like party planning and scheduling but when we deviated from the schedule or I lost my to-do list it would start to reveal itself as more of a problem. And the more that I talk about my anxiety, as with anything we don’t talk about enough, the more I discover that many of my friends are dealing with their own mental health difficulties too.

JB: You also have chapters dedicated to sex and body stuff. Do you think, like mental health, it’s important to talk openly about sexuality?

MH: I think there’s almost nothing that we shouldn’t talk about. I don’t think anyone has anything to lose from being honest about their life experience. We’ve seen that online a lot this year. There was a big focus on women sharing their stories, whether it was through a hashtag or associated with a particular woman’s day. Some people were surprised by how cathartic that was. We tend to think “hashtags are stupid” but then you tell your story and there are fifty other stories like yours and you think; “Oh. These are universal experiences that I thought only happened to me.”

JB: How did you decide what your chapters were going to be about?

MH: I knew that the book was going to be based on a column I wrote for She Does the City (“Grown-ass Woman’s Guide”), and I thought about what my friends and I talk about most. It was pretty easy to break it down after that. We talk firstly about food. What kind of food we’re eating. Where we get it. When we’re going to have it next. Then it’s sex and dating. What kind of sex we’re having. Where we’re going to get it. When we’re going to have it next. When I think about what occupies most of my brain time it’s “what am I going to eat for lunch?” and “do I get to have sex after the lunch?”

JB: The book has a great mix of stories, essays, lists, poems, illustrations and even a Venn diagram. What made you decide to have this combination of styles?

MH: I wanted it to be smorgasbord-y and it was also a result of writing the book in such a short time span. I couldn’t write straight forward guides every day for two months. I wanted to amuse myself and I figured if I was amusing myself I would hopefully be amusing other people too. I think of it as a weird scrapbook of a lunatic 26-year-old’s brain.

JB: What did you learn from the experience of writing it?

MH: That I have a very patient husband. That you shouldn’t get red wine drunk if you have Lena Dunham’s email address. People are always going on and on about how hard it is to write a book and I learned that it is hard to do that. It was some of the most sustained effort I’ve ever put into anything before so I also learned that I was capable of that.

JB: You received a printed copy of your book recently. How did you feel holding it?

MH: It was really nice! I thought I would be like “Oh, whatever. We’ve been working on it for almost a year now. It’s going to be anticlimactic”. But I was very happy and excited and I read the whole thing which felt dorky but also really nice!

JB: You have a piece about self-love in the book and that to me is the ultimate self-love. Reading your own writing and saying “Look at me! Yay! I did this! I’m so proud.”

MH: Yeah! In an interview once Roxanne Gay was asked to list off books she enjoyed reading the previous year and she included her own book on it. She was basically like, look, I’m not going to write a book that I don’t want to read. I’m not going to pretend that this book I worked hard on isn’t great. I thought that was very cool.

JB: Can you tell us a little bit about what your writing process is like?

MH: Well, usually I come up with an idea and then I’ll do a draft where I write it all the way through. If I get stuck or I know a joke needs to go somewhere I leave a bunch of Xs in a line as a placeholder. I might even write “XXXXXX a joke about a… horse’s dick”. I mean, that’s a disgusting example. I have never written a joke about a horse’s dick. I don’t know why that was my go-to. Then I’ll try and fill in as many Xs as I can in the second pass. If there are still Xs after that I sometimes leave it for a bit OR I email it to myself and I look at it in the body of an email. A word document doesn’t feel real but reading it in an email opens it up for me.

JB: Did you ever get writer’s block?

MH: There were definitely times when I was like; “I’m going to have to go ride my bike now”. Or I went and stayed with my mom for a little while and she was great and basically took care of me like I was in high school. I would wake-up in her spare bedroom and she would be like; “There’s coffee on the table and I’ve made some breakfast and put it in the fridge”. Not having to worry about those basic things made it easier to get shit done.

JB: And in the self-love piece you tell readers not to feel guilty for needing those breaks, which I relate to as a workaholic and as a freelancer.

MH: Yeah and it’s hard when you’re freelancing because you’re at home and in your pajamas so it already looks like a break. But a real break can rejuvenate you and if you’re working all day from your bed that’s still work. So, maybe your break is you getting fully dressed and going for a walk around the corner and buying an expensive salad.

JB: You have a list of your turn-ons in the book which was one of my favourite pieces, especially the part when you reference that scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I definitely masturbated to in my teen years…

MH: Dude… that scene was very formative. I downloaded it on Kazaa. Just the scene. Not even the full episode. And when it finally downloaded it was set to Dave Matthew Band’s Crash into Me and even at the time I knew that was cheesy but I was like, “you know what? Ride it out.” And I did. I watched it so many times.

JB: Does that list of turn-ons genuinely turn you on?

MH: Almost all of them are legitimate turn-ons. I wrote that list as part of a reading series that I performed in London on Valentine’s Day. Everyone else read these beautiful, bittersweet love stories and then I got up there as a vulgar North American and was like “Butts!”

JB: One of your turn-ons is gingers which is interesting because you are a ginger.

MH: Yeah, I love gingers! Gingers are underappreciated. But I do think it’s just narcissism. I mean, I hope that it’s not that.

JB: You also seem to have a thing for Simon Cowell.

MH: Hard crush on Simon Cowell. Since the Clay Aiken days. I also had a crush on Clay Aiken briefly so my taste isn’t something you should trust.

JB: So, you’re a feminist and I’d say a lot of your writing does seem to come from a feminist perspective, even if it isn’t overly stating that.

MH: I definitely try not to be exclusionary or misogynist. Dudes have come up to me and said “So, is this a FEMINIST book?” and I’ve responded “I mean, I guess, in so much as it seems to make you uncomfortable that it’s a book about female experience and sexuality and hunger and difficulties with fashion”. I was looking at other books on Amazon today and I saw Amy Poehler’s book, and Lena Dunham’s book, and Mindy Kaling’s book and I think they all share the idea that this is not a feminist textbook but it is a feminist text because it’s a woman writing honestly and openly and loudly. We’re still in a situation where women being unashamed with what they have to say is a feminist act.

JB: Yes and with certain pieces, for example, the one about how you should properly break-up with someone is feminist in my opinion because you were directly saying “respect each other!”

MH: Yeah. Base level. It’s ridiculous that that is still a helpful tip. Top tip: be a human.

JB: When do you think you found your voice as a writer?

MH: I think it would be silly to suggest that I have one voice and now that I’m 26-years-old I have it all figured out. But certainly when I was writing for She Does the City it was the first time that I was both getting paid for my writing and being given free rein to write what felt natural to me and amusing to me. When I started doing my Grown-ass Woman’s Guide column for Jen McNeely she was really supportive. I had a flexible word count and the subjects were totally open to me. So, I had a space where I was not only getting published and paid which felt very legitimizing but where I was also able to figure out what was working for me, which is quite rare. I am really grateful to Jen for that because I do think I developed my voice on the site.

JB: What advice would you give to new female writers?

MH: In an interview with The Guardian Durga Chew-Bose’s advice was to “find your women” and I think especially in comedy, which is decreasingly so but still pretty steeped in masculinity, you can start to feel like you’re just not that funny. People seem to not be picking up what you’re putting down but then you find your women and you’re like; “oh. I’m hilarious”. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be your women. Just find a community of people that you feel understand you and whose work you admire. Who you want to elevate and who you feel elevate you. And if someone says they don’t like your idea you can just pitch it somewhere else. I have had a piece get killed on one site and then I’ve pitched it somewhere fancier and it got through there. Or I have had ideas that I’ve had to sit on for months which eventually found the right editor. There is a lot of letting people say no and continuing to try and do what you want to do until you get a yes.

JB: At the end of the book you thank a lot of people…

MH: I know! It’s so long. It’s like when a 15-year-old wins an Oscar and they talk for way too long and the music is full playing and they’re still going. It’s really embarrassing.

JB: It’s not embarrassing! It’s beautiful. You thanked a lot of your female pals. Do you feel like having a supportive group around you has helped with this process?

MH: I think it helps with everything. My book is based on conversations I’ve had with my friends and I wrote it in conversation with them. Throughout the entire process I had a bunch of nightmare G-chat windows open and sometimes I’d write “I gotta come over to your house. I’m freaking out. Let’s drink some wine and not talk about the book for a while”. Having a support network is the most important thing you can have for any of the elements in your life.

JB: I’d like to end on three food related questions. If you had to approximate, how many burritos have you eaten in your life?

MH: Infinity burritos. I can’t put a cap on it because another burrito could pop up at any moment. I don’t want to limit myself. Thousands, for sure. Well, there are only 365 days in a year so that’s probably not accurate. Definitely hundreds. Aspiring to thousands.

JB: If you had to approximate, how much cheese have you eaten in your life?

MH: I can comfortably say my body weight. I might even get through my body weight in a year. Cheese plays a really important part in my life. My family is very waspy. We do a hard cheese board. And I’m married to another wasp and my parents are divorced so we do four Christmases which is four very heavy duty cheese boards.

JB: Have you ever become sexually aroused while thinking about pizza?

MH: Who hasn’t?!

 

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better is currently available at Type Books (883 Queen W), and everywhere else May 13th.

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