A Man of Letters

As anyone who's ever taken an "Origin of the Novel" course can tell you, the epistolary format peaked, oh, more than two centuries ago, a few decades after Samuel Richardson launched the literary movement in England with Pamela in 1740. Nipping at that story-in-letters' heels came a boatload of epistolary stories, from Fanny Burney's Evelina to Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther to Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Michael Kun has read none of them. "I'm embarrassed," he admits with a laugh, speaking over the phone from his home just outside Los Angeles. "And I'm going to be very embarrassed if one of them is about a guy writing to a TV star."

That particular premise constitutes the basis of Kun's comic epistolary novel, The Locklear Letters. Here, the letter-writing guy is Sid Straw, whom Kun describes as "late thirties/early forties, single, stuck in one of those soul-draining jobs," and the television star in question is Heather Locklear.

Sid's innocuous letter requesting an autographed photo of Heather, his UCLA classmate from 20 years earlier, triggers a set of increasingly absurdist events that costs him his job, nearly destroys his parents' marriage and torpedoes a nascent relationship. Besieged by restraining orders, hostile co-workers, a greedy attorney and a spelling-challenged florist, Sid careens into despair. The story is told through Sid's relentlessly oblivious short letters to his friends, family, colleagues -- and the blond starlet herself.

Kun's focus on Locklear has some history. A few years ago, his ex-girlfriend, a UCLA alum, took him on a tour of the campus. He picks up the story: "She said, 'And Heather lived over here.' I said, 'Heather who?' She said, 'Heather Locklear.' And my first reaction was 'I've known you for three years, been dating you for two years -- why is this the first time you mention to me that you went to school with Heather Locklear?'"

Later, brainstorming about a novel, Kun cast about for the perfect female celeb for his protagonist to contact. "It occurred to me that for the book to do what I wanted it to do, the celebrity had to be somebody who the reader knows," he explains. "It had to be somebody who everybody had positive feelings about. It had to be somebody who didn't have any baggage that would add any unnecessary subtext to the book; for instance, I didn't want somebody who'd spent time in jail or somebody with drug problems. Last, I wanted it to be somebody who, for whatever reason, people could imagine helping an old friend, somebody who they hadn't seen in 20 years."

After coming up with these specifications, Kun quizzed his friends about the perfect star for his book. "I asked 20 people," he says. "It was the oddest thing: Eighteen said Heather Locklear. Right off the top of their heads. The other two said Katie Couric."

Kun's editor sent Locklear an advance copy of the novel. "The story that I've gotten secondhand is that she liked it so much that she's already lent her copy to her father," says Kun. "I take that as an endorsement."

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Michael Yockel