Chloe Caldwell is the author of the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (Future Tense Books) and the e-book The New Age Camp (Thought Catalog). Both were released in 2012. She writes about being young and hungry for motion and love in all its forms, and about losing direction, reflecting, starting again. Her personal essays have appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, and The Sun, among other publications, and she has work forthcoming in Canteen, Yoga Dork, and Men's Health. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Chloe is simultaneously serious about her craft and grounded, the type of writer I admire. Seeing how prolific she is at a young age motivates me to work to do the same. I recently interviewed her over email.
Nonfiction Pizza Party: To start, I'm curious about the Portland writing community. Could you describe it a bit and how you've created a writing life in the city? Also, how does the city's overall vibe compare to the Portlandia stereotypes?
Chloe Caldwell: I came to Portland for the first time in September 2011. I met the Future Tense Books publisher Kevin Sampsell and did a reading called "Booty Call" with Steve Almond and Jillian Lauren. I basically had the time of my life. I was really stunned and cheered at how supportive the writers were to one another and also what big turnouts readings get. I really craved that kind of community in my life. I came back to visit Portland three more times that year while house-sitting for Cheryl Strayed. I made so many dear friends and kept being drawn to Portland, so I enrolled in a yoga teacher training program in Southeast Portland. As for my writing life, I usually house and pet sit at my friend's places and do my writing there, and at cafes. I go to readings often and I work at Powell's Books part-time.
I love Portlandia. (My fave shows are Portlandia, Girls, and Parenthood.) Sure, Portlandia is a lot like how it is here. But upstate New York (where I'm from) is a lot like Portlandia, too. The show is universal which is what makes it so appealing. Not to mention, it's fucking hilarious.
NPP: What's your favorite essay in Legs Get Led Astray and why?
CC: Such a difficult question. I can't pick favorites because their feelings will get hurt. Just kidding, I'm not that sick. I think "Yes To Carrots" is probably my strongest personal essay, craft-wise. But they all have things I like and dislike about them.
NPP: After I read the collection, many of the essays that stayed with me were the repetition based pieces, like “Underground” and “You Had Me.” Those two also use the second person address in an inventive way. Could you discuss how you developed their style? Were they influenced by music or poetry?
CC: Definitely, they were influenced by both. When I write, I like to listen to the same song or album on repeat. I like the repetitive stuff at times. It's fun to get into a rhythm and write that way. And for me, sometimes it just works better. For example, "My Mother Wanted To Be Betty Boop" was originally a personal essay about my mom. I wasn't sold on it though—there was just no thread—it was mainly vignettes about my mom. So I tried a new way, which was starting every paragraph with "My Mother..." The style is inspired by Joe Brainard's book, "I Remember".
NPP: What's your advice for writers early in their careers trying to decide where to submit their work? Sometimes I have trouble weighing payment vs. exposure vs. a publication's literary credibility.
CC: It's good for writers to be familiar with the places they submit to. For example, when I first submitted to The Rumpus, it was because I was reading it every day and I knew what sort of writing they publish. I do yoga so I'm getting involved with Yoga Dork. I've had substance abuse issues so I have an essay coming out on the The Fix. Having something in common with the publication and being familiar with their work is key. I don't think about payment, until I'm hungry and hitting my friends up for bus money. If people got rich from online writing, everyone would be doing it, right?
NPP: How did your recent Kindle single, The New Age Camp, come about, and how did the experience meet your expectations?
CC: Thought Catalog wanted to work with me on something and I had The New Age Camp finished and unpublished. It's too long of an essay for online publications, but perfect length for an e-book. I didn't have expectations (for once!) but TC was awesome to work with. They were kind and efficient and communicative.
NPP: Reese Witherspoon wants to play your pal Cheryl Strayed in the movie adaptation of Wild. If they (Hollywood/Michael Bay/etc.) were to adapt Legs Get Led Astray, who should play you and why?
CC: Since I love Parenthood, I'll choose Mae Whitman. She cracks me up. She's also really emotional—she's a good crier.
NPP: There's a decent amount of late nights in your book. The most important question: Favorite midnight snack?
CC: In LGLA, I talk about how I ate Zebra Cakes while drunk. If I were up late than I was usually drinking and when I was drinking, I would eat anything, but mainly gross things. The pizza bagel sort of food group.