Claudia Dey's sophomore novel Heartbreaker takes us back to a strange, isolated town in 1985. The book's eerie layers unfold through the perspective of three different narrators. Dey's experience working at lumber camps across rural, northern Canada inform the landscape of her work. As co-designer at Horses Atelier, her visual language builds the palpable aesthetic of the novel. VSP chats to Claudia about her writing process, what influenced her during the novel's creation, and her personal style.
How do you schedule out time for your writing, and how do you stay disciplined?
Discipline has never been an issue for me because when I am writing I am obsessed. I wrote HEARTBREAKER in sprints. I would leave my house for six, eight days at a time––like John Prine entering a Nashville hotel room with ten boxes of lyrics, three guitars and one ukulele and exiting a week later with an album––though a less rock star version. Friends would hand over their keys to empty cabins and apartments and I would lock the door behind me and work like I was on fire. When I am alone, time expands––a day turns into a month. I map out the schedule with my musician husband, and (we joke: my other husband) my co-designer, Heidi Sopinka, at Horses Atelier. They have my back, are in my corner––all the fight terminology is fitting when you are trying to steal time from your life.
How would you describe the world that your novel inhabits?
My novel is a pregnant punk rock hermit in a leopard print ball-gown with feathered hair and electric blue eye shadow, hoop earrings and a bracelet made of duct tape, living in a trailer in the wilderness, staring down God’s dark psychodrama.
As a designer, you have such a formed visual language and aesthetic, how does this seep into your writing?
All of my favourite films take such care to costume their characters to the max. but without being ironic. I follow this example. I look for pleasure and humour because pleasure and humour are redemptive, but I also look for a soft and true grace when I write these sartorial details. Fashion is autobiography. In HEARTBREAKER, the fashion comes out of scarcity. The teenagers alter whatever they can get their hands on––a coyote throw, a snowmobile suit, a camo track jacket. And the women wear pastel prairie dresses, rotated through the days. I never use the word cult in the book, but this kind of dressing detail allows me to parachute the reader into the world without commenting on it (i.e. skip the audio tour of the gallery and just stare into what is on the walls.).
Did you have a sense of pressure to complete your novel within a certain time frame, how did you manage this?
Oh yes! I had very real deadlines from my publishing houses, but I also had the right amount of time. The writing felt like a chase scene because of the hardcore onslaught of time, yet though this was an “atmospheric pressure”, I think it benefitted the book. I wanted to write a fast book, a book with a velocity from sentence to sentence. I managed the pressure by working; only working lessened the pressure––but I was careful not to overcorrect––you can photo-shop the life out of a book. I prefer something with rigor and disciple, but never too even, never too perfect. I want to feel the humanity in it.
What art, films, music were you influenced by during the process of creating Heartbreaker?
Everything by Pedro Almodovar and Sofia Coppola. Also: Mustang, Fish Tank, Fargo, Pulp Fiction, Herzog’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga. The music videos and power ballads of the 1980s. Also: In The Pines by AroarA. The photography of Ashley Sophia Clark, Rineke Dijkstra, Todd Hido.
How would you describe your personal style?
Hella moody. Turn-style alternating between: teen skateboarder, Blondie, morning after Prom, Patti Smith which is also Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, Mr. Leather, Pat Benatar in her “Heartbreaker” video mixed with a Laura Ashley catalogue from the 1980s. Also: a near-sighted Mom in tight jeans, elderly sweater, and high tops.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
Lazy feelings with my boys under blankets heavy as dogs. Also: reading, Scotch, Fisherman knits, and starting to dream all over again.
Portrait by Seth Fluker
Text by Marlowe Granados