Chloe Caldwell, essayist, part-time Powell’s employee, author of last year’s collection,
Legs Get Led Astray, and all-around amazing woman, sat down with me in December
(in Cheryl Strayed’s house of all places—she was housesitting while the Wild author
was on vacation) and talked about sex. Oh, and writing.
Here is our interview for the inaugural Girl on Girl series
(interviews with females who write about sex, sheesh, what did you think?).
Is sex writing scary?
Yeah. I write really solitarily, and I am good at getting the voices out of my head. I have a piece called “Hunger”, which everyone calls “the orgy story.” That and my masturbating piece, there were moments when I wanted to take those out [of Legs Get Led Astray].
My mom hates that piece [“Hunger”]. She took me out to dinner and asked me to take it out. If I think about it too hard, it’s a little embarrassing. You have to be in a certain state of mind to write that way. It wasn’t the norm to write it.
Have you ever stopped and found you were censoring your sex writing because you were afraid of what your audience would think? Your parents?
I really try not to. There’s my dad. Then there’s everybody else. I’m not going to hold back for everybody else for my dad. My dad took my book on a plane and I put Post-its to tell him where not to read.
What is the best response you’ve received from your audience?
I only read that piece [“Hunger”] out loud once. It was only my second reading. I took some prescription drugs, maybe a few too many, and I read it. I was confident. I don’t really remember reading it. I probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise. The audience cracked up. Steve Almond talked about it on NPR.
I’ll never forget that reading. I will never read that piece again.
What’s the worst?
My first reading, Free Range NonFiction. I read my essay “Yes to Carrots” a year before the book came out. My parents came to it. It was totally humiliating. I wasn’t comfortable reading yet. My dad was there, while I was reading about getting fucked from behind. After that, I felt like if I could get through that, I could get through anything.
What’s the best advice you have for young women interested in writing about sex?
I would say, write it for yourself. Write it how you want to write it. Do the best you can to get the voices out of your head, to get your parents out of your head. If you’re writing it’s because you feel this inner need to write. Find what works to make that happen. Don’t think about it getting published. When I wrote Legs Get Led Astray, I wasn’t writing it for that. I was writing for fun, which made it come out more authentic. If you’re thinking about people reading it, you’ll screw yourself. You imagine people reading your book and judging you, but maybe your grandma will buy your book and put it on a shelf and never read it. You have to tell yourself that.
Do you think men get away with more when writing about sex than women?
I think it’s the opposite. When guys write about masturbation or cheating or sex they get called an “asshole.” With mine, people were happy I was talking about this stuff. Teenage girls are reading my book and writing to me, telling me they want to be like me. Other women yearn for that sort of honesty.
In light of Fifty Shades of Grey’s success, the magazine Cosmo has recently teamed up with Harlequin publishers to produce a series of erotica e-books. How do you think the erotica trend will affect literary fiction/nonfiction dealing with sexuality?
I try to stay out of this stuff because it messes with my head. I turn the other way. I try not to get riled up about it, to the point of it hurting me. People can do what they want to do and I’ll do what I want to do.
It’s interesting that the women of the world will want to read Fifty Shades of Grey instead of The Chronology of Water. I guess they have a hard time reading between the lines. I think it’s rather sad that people have to go to such an extreme to read about sex. It’s funny that people have to read such in your face stuff. Everything is sexual.
Time Out NY put her book on a list of ten books sexier than Fifty Shades of Grey.
Legs Get Led Astray is available for purchase on her website, as well as in your favorite local bookstores and Amazon.com.