Sunil Yapa mixes historical fiction and “fiction fiction” in his first novel

May 13, 2016

Sunil Yapa is the author of "Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist". He is currently an Aspen Words writer in residence.
Credit Patrick Fort / Aspen Public Radio

When Sunil Yapa was writing the first draft of his first novel, “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist,” he was living in Chile. Unfortunately, he hadn’t backed up his manuscript anywhere and his laptop was stolen. He lost 600 pages of writing and had reached a critical juncture in his young career.

“I couldn’t imagine ever writing it again,” said Yapa. “I spent three months trying not to think about it. The odd thing that happened … was that (the novel) started to bubble up in my brain again.”

He was asking himself questions about the lost book. How could a scene have been different? What would have worked better? What could he change? Yapa said he felt lucky that happened. Instead of making an “unwieldy” manuscript work, Yapa said, he got a chance to go back and focus on the characters that really mattered.

The novel walks a line between historical fiction and traditional fiction. It goes in depth to discover the experiences of fictional characters at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999. Yapa said writing from the perspectives of people he didn’t know and had never met was a challenge.


“In my fiction writing, I’ve always tried to tell stories from different perspectives,” Yapa said. “Even when I was writing 10-page short stories, I’d have three narrators.”


Yapa is currently one of Aspen Words’ writers in residence. Though he has a project to work on, he doesn’t want to put requirements on the amount of work he has to get done. It is better for him, he said, to allow himself just to get something on the page rather than staring at a blank one.