SALT LAKE CITY — Utah author Christian McKay Heidicker’s writing career began with heartbreak.

About 15 years ago, Heidicker, of Salt Lake City, told his then-girlfriend about an idea he had for a children’s book about a little girl who makes animal dreams come to life, which has yet to be published.

“Then when she broke up with me, I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to go become a successful children’s author now, and that will show her,’” Heidicker said.

This year, she reached out to congratulate Heidicker after he won a Newbery Honor for his book “Scary Stories for Young Foxes.”

“It was very gratifying,” Heidicker said. “Of course, I had moved on by then. I actually enjoyed writing at that point.”

Cover art for Utah author Christian McKay Heidicker’s 2020 Newbery Honor-winning book “Scary Stories for Young Foxes.” | Henry Holt and Co.

Heidicker was about to start his first day at an English tutoring job he had taken to make ends meet when he received the news about the Newbery Honor in a phone call at 4:30 that morning.

“I was cruising toward a financial cliff, and I had done everything in my power to try and make ends meet as a writer, and after 10 years of striving and just scraping the bottom of my bank account, I could see the end in sight,” Heidicker said.

Without a replacement lined up, Heidicker still showed up to the tutoring job that day, exhausted and “walking on cloud nine.”

“I quit the first day that I started,” Heidicker said. “That felt great.”

“Scary Stories for Young Foxes” is about two fox kits separated from their litters who must travel through a world full of monsters in order to find a den to call home, according to publisher Henry Holt and Co.’s book description.

“‘Foxes’ started out as a tribute to the Berenstain Bears picture books, especially the spooky ones, like ‘Spooky Old Tree’ and ‘Bears in the Night,’ and then it gradually evolved into something much more scientifically accurate,” Heidicker said.

Heidicker has also written two young adult books, “Cure for the Common Universe” and “Attack of the 50-Foot Wallflower,” and is co-writing the “Thieves of Weirdwood” children’s series with William Shivering.

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After taking eight book contracts in five years to survive as an author, the Newbery Honor-winning writer now gets to slow down. Heidicker said he painted his condo a different color and bought new clothes for the first time in 10 years.

“As soon as I got the Newbery, my publisher was like, ‘Well, we want to offer you all these book contracts. We want to give you whatever you want for them. Here’s all this stuff,’” Heidicker said. “I was like, ‘What I want is to not have any more contracts. I want to just finish what I have and then write a book as slowly as I can and to take my sweet time.’ I’m so excited for it.”

Utah author Christian McKay Heidicker wrote “Cure for the Common Universe.”
Christian McKay Heidicker is a Utah author whose book “Scary Stories for Young Foxes” won a 2020 Newbery Honor. | Breana Reichert

His next projects include a graphic novel, working as the executive producer on a “Scary Stories for Young Foxes” stop-motion animation television series and writing the Newbery Honor-winning book’s sequel.

“It’s going to take place many, many years after the first one,” Heidicker said. “While the first one was a retelling of classic horror tales with scientifically accurate fox stories, this one is a retelling of more modern horror tales. It takes place in the city.”

Heidicker hopes those who read “Scary Stories for Young Foxes” come to understand the power of scary stories.

“They can be used to control other people by scaring them so badly they will behave or will become inactive, but they can also be used to enlighten and to point out all of the dangers in the world, and it can also help young kids learn how to be resilient from the comfort of their own home,” Heidicker said.