By: Kait Heacock
Chloe Caldwell, essayist and author of Legs Get Led Astray is a recent transplant to Portland. Her book came to Portland first, published by local press Future Tense Books in April of 2012. She followed in September. Caldwell now divides her time between writing, house/cat sitting for friends, and working part-time at Powell’s. A New York native, Caldwell wrote the bulk of her book in Seattle while she lived there from 2009-2010, working as a nanny. She was twenty-three and had a drive to write.
I met Chloe for an interview at her current residence, author Cheryl Strayed’s home. The author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things is currently on vacation out of the country, which gives Caldwell a place to bide her time as she considers whether to stay in Portland or move back to New York to be closer to her family.
How long have you been writing?
My whole life. Extensive journaling. I’ve tried on a lot of artistic things. When I first moved to New York I was trying to draw, which I suck at. I needed this outlet. Writing was just this journaling thing. It was the only thing I didn’t quit. I started keeping a journal when I was eight. I think that people who can’t stop writing are the ones who should be writing.
How long have you considered yourself a writer?
When I moved to Seattle. It was all strangers. I would hang out in bars by myself writing, and I didn’t have a problem calling myself a writer. I started calling myself that and then I started writing like crazy. I don’t like that thing where people won’t call themselves a writer.
This is the thing I can do and give to the world.
Is it easier or harder to be a writer in Portland? What is the community like here?
If you have the discipline to write, you can write anywhere. I do think it’s easier here. I can work less and write more. In New York I worked at a jewelry store and never had a day off. Here, I can write ten hours if I want to. Working at Powell’s, I see how excited people are about books. Everyone is buying and sharing books. Part of being a writer is the community. Portland has so many great free readings. It’s great to be around that because it gives you faith in your writing and faith that books aren’t going anywhere.
Tell me about your experience working with a small press.
It’s great to be a part of that process. You have more decisions. You get to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff. Being in on the choices was really great. The success of the book depends on how much the author wants to put into it. You have to get a strong backbone and go into the bookstores to sell it.
Small press is very Portland. Portland is like its own country.
What are you working on now?
In December, Thought Catalogue (http://thoughtcatalog.com) published a thirty-page essay that was too long for the book called “The New Age Camp.”
Goodbye to all That: Loving and Leaving New York an anthology of women writers from New York comes out in fall of 2013 from Seal Press.
Tentative title of the next essay collection is Floundering. Whereas my first book was about my early twenties, this one will be about my mid-twenties.
Do you ever write fiction?
No. I’ve tried to write it, but I can’t even write a sentence. I’m drawn to the personal essay genre. But I’ll never say never.
The outline of a personal essay comes really easy. Intro, middle paragraphs, and conclusion. It’s like the essays you write in high school. I’m really good at those. If I write fiction, I can’t write a plot. I feel comfortable with nonfiction. I know it’s sick. Again, it’s what I can give to the world. It’s what a lot of writers have given to me.
Tell me about your experiences as a woman writer.
I had a really good experience with my book. I didn’t feel condescended to or frightened in any way. I had a lot of opportunities as female writer. It helped that I had a lot of mentors I was close with. It also helped that I was in the small press bubble.
In an interview, Steve Almond said of me: “She gave herself permission to write this way because nobody else would.”
Who are some female writers you admire/look up to?
Lidia [Yuknavitch]. Cheryl [Strayed]. Catherine Texier, a French author who wrote the book Breakup. I read it while I was living in Seattle and it really inspired me. Michelle Tea. Krista Bremmer. Eileen Miles. Mary Gordon. Melissa Febos, one of my teachers in New York who helped with my book. She wrote Whip Smart, a memoir about her time as a dominatrix. Jillian Lauren, author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem.
And there are some men too.
To learn more about Caldwell, her upcoming readings, and where to buy her work, visit http://chloecaldwell.com.
Chloe Caldwell was born in Massachusetts and raised in a town of like 200 people, in upstate New York. She’s lived all over Seattle, Washington, Berlin, Germany, and in four different neighborhoods of New York City. She is currently living in Portland, where she cat and dog sits and works at Powell’s books.
Three biggest differences I find in the west coast and east coast comparison:
She’s never parked in a parking garage, had someone pump gas for her, or eaten kale until moving to Portland.
She’s never seen a therapist until this year. She sought one out because of her problems with binge-eating, among others.
She drinks four cups of coffee per day.
She is not vegetarian or gluten-free.
She used to be obsessed with Gwen Stefani.