INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER T. HEIST
Christopher T. Heist
Outskirts Press (2014)
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (05/16)
Article first published as Interview: Christopher T. Heist, Author of ‘What I’ve Learned: An Encyclopedia of Perpetual Bullshit’on Blogcritics.
Christopher T. Heist is a new author. He’s a devoted father, a loyal friend, and easily respected by those who know him personally. He tries to not take himself too seriously, as he feels people have a habit of overcomplicating themselves. He’s spent some time in the military, where he was awarded numerous medals and citations. He graduated high school in 1997, joined the Army in 2000, and using the GI Bill he began college in 2012. He currently resides in the Heidelberg-Mannheim area of Germany, where he works as a contractor for the military.
Sheri: Welcome Christopher, and thank you for being here today! Why don’t you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?
Christopher: Thank you for the opportunity Sheri. Well, I’m originally from Philadelphia and grew up in a section called Frankford. I do my best to not claim any affiliation with Pennsylvania. My immediate neighborhood wasn’t the best of environments, but it certainly had its good side. It was here where I was molded and learned about loyalty, integrity, credibility, and survival. I was raised in a morally sound working-class family but still found myself acting like an idiot and getting in trouble occasionally. I left the city, and the country when I was 20 years old and the Army sent me to Germany for my first duty station. To be honest, I hated Germany when I first arrived but it grew on me. And now 16 years later I’m still here, with two children. I’m currently taking language classes to sharpen what German I already know, I’ve made quite a few good friends while over here, and I travel whenever it’s possible. I guess I’m just a regular schmuck that just wants to live life as comfortable and stress-free as can be.
Sheri: What is What I’ve Learned: An Encyclopedia of Perpetual Bullshit about?
Christopher: It’s essentially an A to Z guide of things that impact all of us to some degree. It’s an encyclopedia of what I feel is perpetual bullshit, inspired by what I’ve learned so far in life. The absurdity and complexity of things that just shouldn’t be that difficult to see or understand. Of course, this makes it seem like a book completely fueled off negativity, but it’s not the case at all. I dig into serious issues, using personal experiences to highlight how it relates to regular life, sharing what I’ve learned, and all the while doing this with a humorous outlook. Because really, in the end, you just have to take a step back from everything and just laugh. In the book, you’ll also find that I poke holes into quite a few things that people either blindly accept or overlook because it’s “always been done that way.” This book isn’t designed to get you to change opinions and agree with what I wrote. It’s designed to get you to look in the mirror. Question things. Question yourself. Question your beliefs. Question your decisions. Question your motives. Remove self-doubt. Admire yourself. Appreciate what you currently have, no matter how little it is. It’s designed to show you that you have more options than what you’re told you have. That you’re unique. That your opinion matters. That your goals and dreams should be first taken seriously by you yourself if you actually expect anyone else to respect them.
Actually, the book is even dedicated to those that never had the chance to chase their dreams or accomplish anything for themselves. Which I feel is most of the human race. And it’s not about just picking at the stitches of the moral fabric that has been sewn for us, since the book also provides solutions on a number of problems as well.
Sheri: What was your inspiration for writing this book?
Christopher: When I first made the decision to finally write this book, everything was somewhat calm in my life, but I had this desire of detachment in my heart that kept growing. Everyone around me was repeating mistakes and expecting a different outcome. I was noticing more than ever how people just weren’t paying attention to themselves, especially their actions. People I depended on became ghosts, along with the people I supported. I guess my inspiration mostly came from just getting out of bed every morning and facing the world. After all, everything we do and say in the course of a day has its own backstory. We all have very similar patterns.
But of course, I didn’t arrive at this process alone. As far back as I can remember, I was always a huge fan of both observational and self-deprecating humor. I was somewhat a class clown, definitely inspired by Howard Stern, Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin, and Denis Leary just to name a few. And it always amazed me how I learned more facts from comedians than I did from a regular news source. Then of course, over time, you read and learn more and I was impressed and inspired by a long list of people. Everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Benjamin Franklin to Hunter S. Thompson. People that put things into action instead of talking about “what if.” Lots of great people have walked this Earth before us. Problem is, society today only knows the current famous people that contribute nothing, other than their waving of bank accounts in our faces. Too many people are aspiring to be rich by doing nothing, instead of pitching in and making a positive difference.
Sheri: How long did it take to write What I’ve Learned? What can you tell us about your process?
Christopher: Overall, from the first note I wrote down on a piece of scrap paper up until I submitted it for publication, took about 14 months. Most of it was written in the evening hours during the workweek. Saturdays I would clean up what I had done, and Sundays I’d spend most of the day just dumping out more ideas onto the computer screen. Some ideas were good, some sucked. But I saved the bad ideas. I feel they’ll have a use one day in another project.
I didn’t have any direction at first. I just wanted to write because I always felt I had to. It’s like being a writer was encoded in my DNA, yet I don’t know of anyone in my family that has ever published anything. Perhaps I just got lucky and discovered it before it was too late. And even though I had no experience in publishing anything, I had this crazy idea to just create a new genre. I wanted to turn everything about professional writing upside-down on its head. I wanted to have my own writing style. I’m not sure if I’ve accomplished any of that, but it’s still definitely in the back of my mind. The author photo I chose was done on purpose. I always see professional headshots on books, and I always felt that people should just let their hair down and have more fun.
As for the title, I wanted a title that spoke for itself. Something that prepared you for what’s inside. Something that would make the description on the back cover completely unnecessary. It was about a month into writing where I saw the pattern of chapters just multiplying into other topics. Naturally, I compared it to an encyclopedia and started thinking of names for the book. Shortly after, a few friends asked if the book is an autobiography, nervous that I’d write some truth-bombs about them. So, of course, I toyed with their minds like any true friend would, but then I explained that even though many personal instances are used, it’s not a book about myself or my life. I also added that the book is about topics in general, and what I’ve learned from being exposed to certain situations. I immediately clung to that term. I knew right there that What I’ve Learned was going to be the main title. Then, somehow or another Perpetual Bullshit came into my head and the title was born.
Sheri: You have covered quite the gamut of subjects. How did you come up with this list? Which topic do you find the most confrontational and why?
Christopher: As I mentioned, the list came about through everyday observations. However, I was able to clearly see what I was passionate about by downloading everything I had written on Myspace and Facebook. The initial chapters I started with were Government Iniquity, Fart Game, and College. Three very different topics. At the time I started, I had no real direction. I was just pounding away at the keys and eventually the book formed itself.
As for the role of my personal social media history, I just studied my own pattern of the stuff I publicly wrote about for the past few years. Statuses were sometimes humorous, and then some were somewhat serious. This allowed me to expand into other random unrelated subjects; for example Baby Wipes, Declaration of Independence, Hotels & Motels, and Leadership. As time went on, I’d catch similarities in chapters, which would cause a branch to grow. For example, in both Government Iniquity and Declaration of Independence, I discussed patriotism. So, I naturally created a new chapter called Patriotism. Aspartame was originally part of Health. Finer Things was originally part of Heroes. Recovery was originally part of Addiction. Neighbors was originally part of Philadelphia, etc. Watching the book take shape and expand was pretty entertaining.
As for what was most confrontational for me, I’d have to say it was the Historical Preface. I knew it would be hard, as an unknown, to sell a book to total strangers that gives advice and makes them laugh. How to show them that maybe everything they were told up until now may have been the wrong information. So, naturally I felt I had to explain who I was, why I think the way that I do, and what exactly molded me at a young age to question and/or reject everything as I have throughout my life. In the end, I’m just the guy up the street. I’m no better or worse than anyone.
Sheri: What was your biggest challenge writing this book?
Christopher: Life! All the typical responsibilities of being an adult really put pressure on me with the writing. We all experience it every single day. Some may call it Murphy’s Law I suppose, but it’s just life. Finding a balance was probably the biggest challenge. I mean, here you are. You’re already locked into a certain pattern. You get up at a certain time, you commute to & from wherever it is you spend your day, you get home at a certain time, you have certain habits when you get home, and you have other responsibilities such as kids or pets or generally caring for someone other than yourself. Your days and nights are spoken for. Your stress levels are already established and chances are you’re already an inch away from the edge of depression or anxiety. But you’re keeping it together because you have balance of some sort. You’re adjusted to the schedule and/or hell you’ve created for yourself.
But then one day, you get this idea to write a book. And not just any book, like some small novel that somebody else will edit for you, but a large book that you edit yourself while making sure that it keeps its consistent underlying message, despite it containing 93 different subjects. The biggest challenge was throwing that responsibility on my shoulders with everything else I was already dealing with. Life is a fantastic thing, but it will put a foot in your ass every chance it gets. The only way to cushion the blows in a situation like this is to find balance. And regrettably, I didn’t find balance until I was almost done with it. The book consumed me. I lost all patience with people that I merely just tolerated. I called people out on their bullshit on a daily basis. And because much of the book has its arms wrapped around hypocrisy, I really had it in for Plaster Saints around this time. Naturally, as a result, I had pushed people away both intentionally and unintentionally. I just wanted to focus on the book and get it published while my motivation to do so was still burning hot. But after it was done, I came out of the hole a completely different person. I dealt with the fallout, but it changed me for the better I believe.
Sheri: What is it you hope readers take away from your book?
Christopher: I’d like for people to see that they should stop taking everything so seriously in life. Stop running yourself into the ground. Stop taking things personally. Have fun with life. Embrace differences. Stop amassing unnecessary debt. Stop chasing fads and trends. Just aspire to live and have fun. Buck the system that bucks you, but aspire to be good to everyone else. Do your best with what you have. Mentor, assist, participate, volunteer, support, and learn. Read more (not magazines), watch less TV. Leave behind impressive memories of who you were after you die. I also want people to see that they don’t always have to follow the rules. Especially since those who make the rules, don’t even follow the rules. I want people to see they have more options than just black or white, high or low, hot or cold. Mistakes happen and sometimes we fall in dark places. And even though some of those falls cause us to become permanently damaged, we’re fully capable of learning and adapting. Just try harder to get control of who you really are. We’ve all been molded by other people throughout life. Find your true selves. You’re only here once.
Sheri: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or life in general?
Christopher: Great question. I have a hundred quotes running through my head, but I really can’t pinpoint a piece of advice or motivation I’d call the best. I’ve had outstanding teachers, bosses, leaders, and friends throughout life. I’ll just share a quote that has always stuck with me. “Don’t be an Asshole!” –various family members.
Sheri: Do you have any advice for aspiring indie authors?
Christopher: Just write. I don’t care if it’s crayon on a sticky-note, or multiple files on a computer. Just write. Document your ideas. Trust me, eventually you’ll have enough material to see what you naturally have inside of you. Don’t just say to yourself, “I’m gonna write a romance novel.” Or “I’m gonna write a graphic novel.” Sure, it works for some people, but for everyone else it’s a set-up for a dead-end. Once you have enough notes, you’ll see a pattern of what you’re naturally passionate about. Then all that’s left to do is to use those same notes as the framework for your book. And I firmly believe that even if you don’t want to be an author, and you follow this method, you’ll eventually produce a great read. We all have this ability.
Sheri: What do you like to do in your free time?
Christopher: I like to go out and experience things. Sure, I could sit and watch a few episodes of a TV show or watch a few movies. But that’s rare for me. I don’t even own a television since I don’t want to give myself an excuse to always stay in. So, when time permits I’ll spend time with my kids, go on hikes, go to the gym, play darts, drive go-karts, play laser tag, go to museums, try different types of food, go for a drive, take a train to a random city I’ve never been to, go bowling, write new stuff when the urge strikes, go swimming, mountain bike riding, go to concerts, read, volunteer, and sometimes just having a few beers while sitting in the sun is perfectly fine.
Sheri: So, what’s next? Do you have another book in the works?
Christopher: I’ve started a Volume 2 to my Encyclopedia of Perpetual Bullshit, but it’s taking much longer since I learned a whole lot while writing the first one. Writing and reading what I really felt on the inside was a huge and unexpected breakthrough for me. It was therapeutic. I started following my own advice that’s scattered throughout the book and I’m just in a different place right now. Readers seem to keep asking for a Volume 2, and I promise it will eventually come to fruition. It’s just going to take a little longer. I don’t want to cheapen the book or myself by selecting random subjects just to fill a book. I want it done from the heart.
In the meantime, I’ve steadily been writing a screenplay, a little bit at a time. I got the idea when I wrote the Script chapter in my book. Once I saw how easy it was to just envision simple physical elements and dialogue, I just had to build on it. As for ideas, I’m drawing from three dependable and infinite sources; personal experiences, dreams, and society’s flaws as a whole. The working title is “September,” and its overall message shines light on just how damaged the average person is, by being groomed their entire life into something they’re not. Now, I also started to rewrite this in the form of a graphic novel, but life did its job and got in the way. All three projects are moving forward at different paces.
Sheri: Do you have a website or blog (or both) where readers can learn more about you and What I’ve Learned?
Christopher: That would be, no. I’ve heard that I should keep a blog, but it just doesn’t interest me. And it seems time-consuming. I created an Instagram account a while back, but I abandoned it about 2 weeks later. I just couldn’t keep up with it. The book has about 30 different reviews online, on varying sites. I’m sure these reviews will help shine a proper light on the book since many of them are from actual book reviewers. People tend to trust professional book reviewers more than Amazon reviewers, for obvious reasons. It’s just way too easy to fake a million positive reviews on these shopping sites.
Sheri: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Christopher: Yes, there’s one more thing I’d like to share. It was somewhat of a pleasant surprise. So, even though the book is riddled with what some people would call bad words, it wasn’t my intention to write as many as I had. But with the conversational tone that I used to write, I hardly noticed it. Readers have also told me that I really didn’t go overboard and the words just fit into what was being conveyed. And of course, there’s the handful of people that don’t care for that kind of language, whether it’s being used in the right context or not. Which is fine. Opinions are opinions, there’s no getting past them. Now, about 6 months after the book was published, I’m sitting in a bar with friends and we’re discussing Guinness World Records. We found that Guinness tracks “Most Swearing” in video games, movies, television programs, and I believe songs also. Later it dawned on me that Guinness doesn’t track the amount of swear words in written works. So I contacted them, filled out the appropriate forms, offered to send them a free PDF of the book, and I waited. Months later they contacted me saying that they’re not interested in tracking swear words in published works. I guess I have to keep bothering them.
Sheri: Christopher, thank you so much for joining us today! I really enjoyed getting to know more about you and your work and look forward to what’s next!
Christopher: Thank you!