Author One on One with Chelsea Cain and Cheryl Strayed
Best-selling thriller writer Chelsea Cain (author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series and the forthcoming thriller One Kick) and best-selling memoirist Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild, Tiny Beautiful Things, and Torch) might not seem like they have much in common. But these two Portland authors and longtime friends have influenced each other’s work in surprising ways. Here they talk about how they met, the tequila story they won’t tell us, and when they’ll let their kids read their books.
CC: We became friends in a public restroom. How many of your significant friendships have begun this way?
CS: You are my one and only! I recall you were wearing something drapey and dazzling that seemed to have been found in someone’s eccentric grandmother’s attic. You wear that look more fabulously than anyone I know, by the way. What was I wearing? I’d had a baby about fifteen minutes before we met, so it was probably a muumuu--an article of clothing which I also happen to know you manage to wear fabulously, while I end up looking like a rabbi in a Mardi Gras parade. It’s amazing I can bear to be your friend, given your insufferably excellent fashion sense.
CC: You were wearing lederhosen, a sequined half-shirt, and roller-skates and I was wearing goggles and a nun’s habit. Or was it the other way around? We struck up a conversation at the sink. A few years later you joined the writing group I was in and we realized that our kids went to the same “neo-humanist” preschool.
CS: They have never recovered from the outrage of the being prohibited from wearing clothes with superheroes on them, but they can still chant Baba Nam Kevalam like nobody’s business. The experience opened their precious little hearts to the oneness of humanity, but it turned them off from quinoa eternally.
CC: I was so worried that the Ananda Marga nuns would find out I wrote thrillers for a living and Eliza would be expelled! I mean, if Wonder Woman is too violent then I’m pretty sure my books aren’t good for world peace.
CC: When will you let your kids read your books?
CS: I get that question a lot and it’s funny you should ask because I imagine you do too, for entirely different reasons. I give different answers at different times, but mostly it boils down to this: I will let them read my books when I no longer have the power to let or not let them do anything. Our kids will come to our books when they are ready to come to them. My hunch is 28. What’s yours?
CC: Eliza knows that if she reads my thrillers before she’s 30 all the fairies will die. But if she breaks down before that, I hope she reads One Kick. This is the book for the people who tell me they’re too scared to read my other series. The protagonist, Kick Lannigan, has some issues. She was kidnapped as a kid and spent five years with her abductor before she was rescued. But she’s determined to write her own story, and she’s doing something positive - she’s rescuing kids. It’s empowering and essentially optimistic, and it teaches valuable lessons like how to scale the side of a house.
CS: I think our children are lucky to have our books. Wouldn’t it be astounding to have books our mothers wrote? It would be extraordinary to have such an intimate, interior view of who they were intellectually and creatively outside of who they were to us. Don’t you think? No doubt this sentiment is amplified by the fact that—like you—I lost my mom young to cancer. Speaking of which, what do you think your mom would think of your books?
CC: My mother had absolute faith that I would do something creative, so she would feel thrilled and probably a little smug. You and I have talked about our childhoods. Our mothers couldn’t have done more to raise a couple of writers if they’d been following a how-to guide.
CC: If you were a superhero what would your power be?
CS: It would be something terribly book-wormy and nerdy. I’d don a glittery cape and clutch a wand and these things would give me the ability to make people fall in love with books. I’d wave my wand and the whole world would buy One Kick, for example. That would be my first task.
CC: Red wine or white?
CS: I prefer both, double-fisted. But can we have some tequila too?
CC: I am tempted to tell the story about that time I ordered a tray of tequila at the end of a party and someone ended up vomiting in someone else’s gift bag… But I’m saving that anecdote to sell to The Daily Mail.
CS: Hiking boots or high heels?
CS: The Midwest or the Pacific Northwest?
CC: The Pacific Northwest. If only it had lightning bugs it would be perfect. Besides, I can’t leave - all my books are set here. But you and I were both born in the Midwest, and like all good Midwestern girls we listen to Greg Brown. He signed an album for my sixteenth birthday and he wrote in your journal on your 21st birthday. Can you share what he wrote?
CS: He wrote an excerpt of an E.E. Cummings poem: "for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes” I’m hoping he was hitting on me. What did he write on your album?
CC: He wrote, “Chelsea: Happy Sweet Sixteenth! - Greg Brown.”
CC: We both write about monsters in our books. You call your backpack “Monster” in Wild, and Kick’s dog in named “Monster” in One Kick. I didn’t even make the connection until I was done writing, but I’m sure that it’s subconscious larceny. Are you mad at me?
CS: My lawyers are drawing up documents as we speak. But really, I love that Kick’s dog is named Monster! When I got to that part in your book it made me smile. Both Kick and I had a Monster who helped get us through.
CC: You gave yourself the last name “Strayed” - if you were to create a new last name for yourself today, what would it be?
CS: If I had to re-name myself I’d ask you for advice. You did, after all, come up with title of Wild. It was perfect from the moment you said it. Do you remember the other titles we considered as we brainstormed? I recall one was The Nature of Love, which would have been a disaster. What would you name yourself if you changed your name? When I was a kid I always wished I had a nickname. I tried to get people to call me Coco, but no one would do it. I think Coco would work great for you, in case you’re looking for something new.
CC: I will change my name to Coco Cain if you change yours to Cheryl Found.