Contributors Archives

Antonia Crane

A Sexual Greed, Profound and Shallow: Q&A With Chloe Caldwell

There’s a matter-of-factness about Chloe Caldwell’s sexually uninhibited, confessional essays, Legs Get Led Astray (Future Tense Books). “I am the type of person who will give anything to anyone I feel I could love, ” Caldwell writes at one point.

Caldwell is young—her work reflects that—but that is not to say the writing is immaterial or inchoate. It’s what I would call a greedy, ugly kind of “young,” the kind that makes you wonder if we are most alive, in a monstrous way, when we’re being hideous and awful. We spoke to her over Facebook about her frank and voracious book and how it explores horniness, a very large and very small thing that is as profound as it is shallow.

ZYZZYVA: In the essay “Yes to Carrots,” you write about a lover who lived with his girlfriend, and how the exciting tension in the relationship was between you (side project) and the other woman (lover’s girlfriend). The flips you did with that triangle were fresh. I loved how you constantly referred to her, shared with her and competed with her. There were signs of her everywhere and she took center stage. The lines I obsessed on were: “I was a guest on your toilet,” “I sucked your boyfriend’s cock religiously” and “Thoughts of him made me crazy. Thoughts of you made me calm.” Can you say more about how you gave your hungers free flight in your essays?

Chloe Caldwell: The things I was totally possessed by (the other woman, the man I loved, sex, my mother) were the easier pieces to write. They were written because I couldn’t not write them. “Yes To Carrots” flowed more naturally than any other essay in the book, because I was so worried about that situation all the time, and was writing it in my head constantly. I was journaling about the love triangle so often, taking notes on it. The sentences you mentioned were not me trying to be crude but just cutting to the truth, being realistic. It hurt to admit both of those things. Neither are things I was proud of. But for the sake of the essays, I had to push myself and write the uncomfortable things. For readers to relate to my writing on a deep level, I had to get a little uncomfortable. When I’m uncomfortable, I’m doing my job as a non-fiction writer.

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The Thousand-Plus-Mile Journey to Sugar: Q&A with Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed (photo by Joni Kabana)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is Cheryl Strayed’s brave and beautiful memoir about the author embarking as a young woman on a journey she’s underprepared for, doing so at a time in her life when she needed to move mountains—or at least, move among them—to feel complete again. When Strayed’s mother dies unexpectedly, she grieves hard and becomes feral. The phrase “walk it off” comes to mind as Strayed follows through on the heroic impulse to hike 1,100 miles alone. It sounds miserable. It sounds impossible. In her youthful stubbornness, she doesn’t know she can’t do it. So she does it.

The hugest, most meaningful shift that occurs in Wild is internal. I was prepared for the triumph intrinsic in overcoming extreme conditions. But it’s the quietly beating heart of Wild – the author’s tenacity to press onward no matter what, even when admitting her fear – that surprised me. I spoke to Cheryl Strayed about transformation, the daily quest for water, her wildly popular advice column, “Dear Sugar,” and her fierce determination.

ZYZZYVA: In Chapter One, you write that your hike of over 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail began more than four years before your trip, before you’d “even imagined it.” Can you say more about that?

Cheryl Strayed: In metaphorical ways my hike began in my darkest hour—the one during which my mother died. It was her death that set my life on its particular trajectory, which eventually led me to the PCT. By the time I finished the hike I wrote about in Wild, I understood that. I could see that the journey I’d taken was the heroine’s journey, in a classic sense. I went into the darkness and emerged changed. I had to slay some fire-breathing dragons along the way.

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A Fortunate Literary Community in L.A.: Wendy C. Ortiz and Rhapsodomancy

In Los Angeles, a person can’t get anywhere in seven minutes. There’s no Muni, BART, quaint Italian streetcar or the tried and true 22 Fillmore. Attending readings can be a chore that involves multiple freeway changes and nail biting, bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s difficult to lure people out for free drinks, a cheese plate, and a discounted literary journal here, where an iffy parking situation can make or break an event.

In L.A., I show up to readings because I value the time spent crafting a story, the twenty-four revisions and the manic rehearsals that go into a reading. I know the shoulder knots from hovering over a computer too long while buzzing in a caffeine trance. A few of us Antioch grads still regularly write together and rely on each other for input and support. We tap away on keyboards until our wrists are sore, our fingers numb and our necks tweaked. We pop Advil like Tic-Tacs and stare at computer screens until we’re reduced to giggle fits.

I go to local readings to hear my friend’s work because I believe that the next to impossible is still possible: Our literary community will hold strong in a place where celebrity culture reigns supreme.

While bookstores close across the country, writers in L.A. bring their prose to art galleries, bars, and cafés and read their poised work — stories bleeding wrath and heartache, violence and unrequited love. If it means driving an hour to cheer on and hear a friend’s stories we do it.

On an uncharacteristically chilly Sunday night, at the Good Luck Bar in Los Feliz in early December, four writers unfazed by the ghost of bookstores-past arrived for a quarterly reading series called Rhapsodomancy.

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Reviving the Corpse of the L.A. Lit Scene: Q&A with Slake’s Joe Donnelly

Joe Donnelly

Slake, a new, Los Angeles-focused literary journal, put on one hell of a release party for its newest issue on a recent Friday night in Atwater. There were couture food trucks serving gourmet hot dogs and fried chicken. Hot girls serving flatbread strutted around in cute ‘70s cocktail dresses. The Guggenheim guy (Hank, or something) I heard read at Book Party, a West L.A. reading series that no longer exists, was holding court within a circle of smiling blondes. There was an open bar.

It was remarkably lively, in a way I haven’t witnessed since the Rumpus Monthly, a packed literary event in San Francisco run by Stephen Elliott and Isaac Fitzgerald that combines readings, comedy, music and raffle prizes. Joe Donnelly, Slake’s editor and co-founder, is hell-bent on resuscitating the corpse of the lit scene in L.A. with his new baby, into which he’s put his last dollar. Literally.

The writing and art in Slake has two things in common: 1) Los Angeles stories that move and delight, and 2) guts. Take Sage Vaughn’s wistful, compelling paintings from Issue 2, which juxtapose innocence with war. That same issue features edgy, thoughtful and patient stories such as Cindy Carcamo’s “Return to Sender,” a cyclical and sad immigration story, alongside Rachel Resnick’s saucy “Natural Born Butcher.” And Issue 3 has stories that will rock your shit, such as Matthew Fleischer’s “From Mushrooms to Mecca” and Jerry Stahl’s “American Girl,” which contains all things Jerry: creepy, delicious and downwardly mobile stories about your county fair relatives.

I wanted to talk to Joe about the journal. He is overextended and understaffed. Getting him on the phone wasn’t easy. While I flipped off the parking patrol guy who gave me a $68 ticket as I was in a café ordering lunch for me and my coworkers, we commiserated about the golden age of LA Weekly, when Joe and our super intellectual friend Ron Athey ran things there, then talked about Slake.

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