The Coffee Orphan Returns
by Kevin J. Hosey
Native daughter Heather Holland Wheaton to read from her new book at Talking Leaves
Strange but true: Author, former legendary DJ, and bookstore mainstay Heather Holland Wheaton, a Buffalonian now working in New York City, credits her ability to grab opportunities to being named Miss Americanarama 2000.
Wheaton will give a reading from and sign her new book, You Are Here, a series of short vignettes on life in New York City, at 7pm, Thursday, June 9, at Talking Leaves Books (3158 Main Street). Wheaton is the author of two other books, Wet Paint and Eight Million Stories in a New York Minute, and her short stories and poetry have appeared in Common Ground, Slipstream, The Morning News, P.I.M., and Every Day Fiction. Her work can be purchased at Talking Leaves, and online at amazon.com and heatherhollandwheaton.com.
“The reaction [to You Are Here] has been good,” says Wheaton, who pays the rent in Hell’s Kitchen working as a tour guide. “It’s not a runaway bestseller, but it’s doing good. It’s being printed on demand, so there aren’t just piles of the book sitting in a warehouse or in my apartment. This time, it’s seamless.
“A lot of the reaction and feedback is online this time, compared to more word-of-mouth for Eight Million Stories in a New York Minute. Stella McCartney bought five copies of that from me, which helped spread the word. With life in New York City, nothing goes as planned; it’s those weird, random things. It rains, you run into people and so on.”
Wheaton first gained public notice (or notoriety) as a brash, loud punk rock DJ on WBNY 91.3 FM in the early and mid-1980s called the Coffee Orphan—a name derived partly from her being called an orphan by DJs Tom Calderone and Jeff Hastings. She was known as a master publicity generator, as evident in the words and decorations on her old VW Bug, which was famous at Buffalo State College.
Americanarama was a Buffalo alt-country/roots rock festival, bringing national acts to play with local bands, and it found a home for several years at Mohawk Place. Among its features was the naming of Miss Americanarama, a contest in which entrants had to answer questions about music and the true meaning of Americanarama. (No swimsuits.) Wheaton entered and won the crown in 2000. “I’m an incredibly shy person but hide it very well. I was terrified about doing it, but I realized that these people knew me and listened to me on the radio. I got a lot of self-confidence winning; it used to be hard for me to do readings, and it also helped me as a tour guide.”
Wheaton acknowledges that her stories are small, but doesn’t want to be mislabeled. “Writing in smaller stories has evolved some,” she says. “I don’t like being referred to as flash fiction. When I write a first draft, it is much longer; I enjoy cutting out things that aren’t necessary until I get the essence, almost like refining crack cocaine. I really like white space. The 21st-century attention span is much shorter and people are actually reading more short fiction…Short stories are like novels that get over more quickly. A lot of times, there are stories that I can’t get out of what happens and maybe I can get out of it later.”
An admirer of Raymond Carver, Wheaton notes that in his stories, “Sometimes, nothing happens and you are just left hanging. It is like life, you don’t always have conclusions.”
Wheaton is remembered by many for working at the Village Green bookstore on Elmwood Avenue, and laughed at a story related by a certain AV editor that she made him place individual security devices adult male publications, for her entertainment. “Yes, god rest its soul, the Village Green,” she says with a laugh. “It was kind of a hazing there; porn was much of the sales at the Village Green. One time, I chased a Goth kid for two blocks who was stealing big butt magazines. We got $50 for every person stealing magazines that we caught. It turns out that he had a knife. I really miss that place.”
A graduate of Williamsville South High School (where she earned her first writing award), Wheaton still has a warm spot for her hometown. “One thing I miss about Buffalo is that there is so much talent and people are doing something there. In New York City, people are always talking about doing things. People like Rich Kegler [of P22 Type Foundry and WNY Book Arts Center], Artists and Models, Marty Boratin, and Talking Leaves. I would move back if I could keep my job as a New York City tour guide.”
About that rumor that Wheaton scheduled her reading for the same weekend as the JackLords reunion: “It’s not coincidence,” she says. “I did it completely on purpose to coincide with the JackLords reunion. I called up Jonathan Welch at Talking Leaves and asked if I could do a reading that weekend.”blog comments powered by Disqus
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