Novelist, memoir writer, and advice columnist Cheryl Strayed on her accidental route to writing Wild, the birth of Tiny Beautiful Things, and how writing for free brought in the biggest paycheck.
Cheryl Strayed is the author of number 1 New York Times bestseller Wild, which was made into an Oscar nominated film. Her collection of Dear Sugar columns, Tiny Beautiful Things, has been adapted for a new Hulu television show, and she now publishes a monthly Dear Sugar newsletter on Substack. She's also the author of the novel Torch, the book of quotations Brave Enough, and has been published in The Best American Essays, the New York Times, the Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, and elsewhere.
Cheryl Strayed 00:00
What I thought was, well what you know who wants to read about my hike
Eden Dawn 00:11
Welcome to We Can’t Print This
Fiona McCann 00:13
it's a podcast that tells you the story you don't know behind the story you do.
Eden Dawn 00:17
My name is Eden Dawn.
Fiona McCann 00:18
My name is Fiona McCann.
Eden Dawn 00:21
And every week we interview a writer of some kind about the stories behind their stories.
Fiona McCann 00:28
And this week, no big deal. We welcome local national, international
Eden Dawn 00:35
Fiona McCann 00:36
Legend? Cheryl Strayed. Yep, kind of a big deal. Anyway, before that, we're going to talk some updates because after all, this is our season two premiere we took a little summer break. Did you miss us?
Eden Dawn 00:57
Yeah. Did you miss as
Fiona McCann 01:00
we were obviously just sitting in our offices all summer with cocktails in our hands.
Eden Dawn 01:04
I was absolutely not. I was not. Neither were you. But um, I completely joined the cult of drag queens. Because I was one of the producers for a world record attempt to put on the longest drag show in history.
Fiona McCann 01:22
Really didn't tell me more attempt. Fascinating.
Eden Dawn 01:25
Fascinating. Let me see 60 drag queens and kings, 55 emcees, celebrities witnesses, judges, nonstop just news everywhere, sequins, sparkles, sweat, drama.
Fiona McCann 01:42
and there's definitely at least one Kylie Minogue song and there isn't there is at
Eden Dawn 01:45
least one Kylie Minogue song on there. I'm glad you think it sounds fascinating because this is a good time to announce today that we have a five episode mini series called Slaying a Drag-a-thon about the making of Drag-a-thon coming out on September 28. I was recording for months in the lead up to the show Fiona and our lovely audio producer we're on site recording people down in the basement dressing room. We have interviews with a ton of celebrities from Saturday Night Live and RuPaul’s Drag Race and basically we had the best time ever and it's the most exhausted I've ever been in my life and you know sleeping no sleep notice you stay tuned to the very end of this episode, which of course you will because Cheryl is very sassy. You can you can hear the trailer and you can go subscribe to that own Apple channel right now at Slaying a Drag-a-Thon. Oh, sorry. I'm supposed to say wherever you get your podcast.
Fiona McCann 02:47
Oh, well done. Good job. Good job. And if that doesn't sound like enough, which honestly, we're really spoiling all our listeners. But beyond that, because we never do things by half. We also have our season two coming up where we've got fashion writers cookbook writers short story writers award winners galore, Pulitzer Prize winner. We really just love to say this word. And I decided to go with two. So that's what I'm doing.
Eden Dawn 03:15
And I'm saying, Pull, it's Pulitzer. Yeah. And we have Pulitzer people in season two, and it's gonna be amazing.
Fiona McCann 03:24
And Season Two also coincides. We got the Portland Book Festival coming up. What will we be doing there? Eden.
Eden Dawn 03:31
Portland Book Festival is coming up. If you don't know. It's a huge book festival in November, the first week in November here in Portland, where people authors come in from all over the country International. It's kind of our jam, isn't it? It's a huge deal here. We will both be quite active in the festival. I'm bringing back my live talk show Bad Dates. As somebody who writes guidebooks about about where to go on dates, where my husband and I interview people about their worst states they've ever had. And then its own show on Friday, November 3, and Fiona has been one of our guests before and brought the house down talking about running across the salt flats of Bolivia chasing a fella.
Fiona McCann 04:10
I landed him not to give you any spoilers I just want you to know.
Eden Dawn 04:15
And it will be fun. So come to that. And then the day of the fest, Fiona and I will be on stage interviewing all kinds of authors. So keep an eye out. We'd love to see you there are so much to announce. I know. This is what happens when you keep us quiet for a couple months.
Fiona McCann 04:30
I mean, yeah, I hope you all had a great summer. Now typically at this point, we do a little bit thing all as you all probably know we'd preview some of the things that emerged from our interview with Cheryl and we talk a little bit about it. By the way, I tried to teach even her to say Cheryl with the Dublin accent.
Eden Dawn 04:46
Oh yeah, tell everybody Churrrylll.
Fiona McCann 04:50
I just wanted her to say that she's trying to say share to share it all. Great.
Eden Dawn 04:54
I just feel like it's I've had one too many Sauvignon Blancs and I'm like Cherrrrryyyyyyl
Fiona McCann 04:58
And now, but look, it's Cheryl. It's Cheryl Strayed. And you probably just want to hear her because you may know her from her absolutely staggeringly blockbuster memoir Wild, which also got made into an amazing film with Reese Witherspoon. And Laura Dern. Or you may know her from her novel Torch or from her Dear Sugar column with the Rumpus, which went on for such a long time. And she now has a substack about it. And at that became Tiny, Beautiful Things, the book, and then that book became a very new TV series starring my best friend, Katherine Hahn.
Eden Dawn 05:38
love Kathryn Hahn.
Fiona McCann 05:39
She's very close to me, even though we haven't met.
Eden Dawn 05:42
You love her so much. So we should just get on with it so people can hear us. Stick around for Cheryl's dirty joke. Hello. Hello,
Fiona McCann 05:51
Cheryl. We're very excited to have you in our studio today. Thank you for joining us on weekend print this.
Cheryl Strayed 05:58
Thank you for having me. I'm so thrilled to be with you both Eden, Fiona.
Eden Dawn 06:03
We're so polite.
Cheryl Strayed 06:06
Here we are Portland, Oregon.
Fiona McCann 06:08
Yeah, it's hot.
Cheryl Strayed 06:10
Hot, August day.
Eden Dawn 06:12
Okay. I think we should just be honest and dive in. Because we were obviously talking before we started recording and I need to know everything about Kathryn Hahn possible. I have loved her for so long.
Cheryl Strayed 06:25
Oh, I know is she really? I felt this for a long time that she feels like everyone's best friend. Yes, she has that wonderful mix of really funny and really smart, but also always kind of messy,
Fiona McCann 06:38
which I love about her. Yeah, we can be friends we can be because
Cheryl Strayed 06:42
she's like all of us. She is a kind of every woman. And she like she's also kind of she's all of the roles she's played. She has this kind of undercurrent of feminism and a sort of boldness that I really love to i
Eden Dawn 06:55
and she can be so dry in a way that I always admire, because I can't keep a straight face that long. And I just think she's a delight. So how did she end up coming to be part of it? Or I guess we should be back to the origin of time. We
Cheryl Strayed 07:09
don't even know what it is. We don't even know what it is. Let's go back to Tiny, Beautiful, Things—it depends on what the meaning of it is.
Fiona McCann 07:15
Let's go back from Tiny, Beautiful Things to Dear Sugar, I guess. Is that a good place to start? Let's go back to
Cheryl Strayed 07:22
Okay. Okay. If we begin with Dear Sugar, we actually have to go back to Wild because they're connected. And then in some weird way, we have to go all the way back to Torch my first novel. So I sold my first book orch, which is a novel when I was pregnant with my first child Carver who's now 19. Okay, wow. And I was just a few months pregnant. I was so unbelievably sick and nauseous. And I and I sold the book and I was excited. And I couldn't believe my fortune. And my the editor who purchased it said, Okay, when do you want to turn in your revisions? I'll get you the notes soon. When do you want to turn the revisions, and I said, I set the date for June 30. And my son was due at the end of April. So he was born April 29. And what I what I thought is, while he's like lounging quietly in a little basket at my feet, I'll do other stuff when he's asleep, like a kitten, maybe, you know, he's just quietly you know,
Eden Dawn 08:26
I'm the only person here not a parent, even I don't know, girl.
Cheryl Strayed 08:32
But you know, as I say this to you, I realized that this this magical thinking is a kind of sort of classic Cheryl Strayed and it's, it's what's gotten me into so much trouble with so many creative projects, because I always think best case scenario. So what I thought then is the child will be born. And eight weeks later, I'll hand in the major revision of my first novel course. Okay, so it didn't work out that way. I did finally get those in and the novel came out, but by the time Torch was published, I had two children under the age of two. Because, of course, after that first baby, I had a second 17 months later. And what I thought at the time, was, I don't know how I'll ever write another book, because I was so overwhelmed with how hard it was to write towards and finish it and see it all the way through, and also how hard it was to be a mother of have essentially two babies. And where, you know, where is there any room for my creative life? I didn't know the answer to that question created
Fiona McCann 09:33
a book and a baby and a baby. That's a lot of babies. That's a lot of a lot
Cheryl Strayed 09:38
of babies and babies. And so then what happened is I you know, I'd written all these essays and publish all these personal essays and magazines and I thought, what I can do since I can't, I don't have the attention to write a full book, I'll just gather all these essays most of them were about my 20s and try to sell an essay collection.
Fiona McCann 09:56
And I really good 20s for that as well.
Cheryl Strayed 10:00
Dude, I had an adventurous wild 20s. But as I looked at those essays, I was like, Well, you know, what's missing is my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. And so
Eden Dawn 10:09
I wasn't even in the initial collection.
Cheryl Strayed 10:11
No, I mean, no, I had
Eden Dawn 10:16
come to think of it.
Cheryl Strayed 10:18
And what I thought was, who wants to read about my hike, right? And my husband, Brian had always said, from the moment I met him from the night I met him, he would say, you have to write about your hike, I met him nine days after I finished my hike, you have to write about it. And all those years later, I was like, Okay, I'll write an essay and try to sell this collection. So I started writing it. And pretty soon, I was writing, and writing, and writing and writing and writing. And I realized this essay was becoming something bigger. And that's how Wild was born.
Fiona McCann 10:51
So it who wants to read about your hike?
Cheryl Strayed 10:55
But that's, you know, people, I found it through writing, you know, and then I wrote Wild, but so yeah, I mean, Wild got done, I finished the first draft. And I just
Fiona McCann 11:07
have to pause you Wild got got a bit of an understatement.
Eden Dawn 11:12
Passive. As your editor, passive writing,
Fiona McCann 11:15
no, but also, anyone who's ever written a book is like, nothing gets done. It was
Cheryl Strayed 11:19
Well, you know, I don't know if you guys want to hear the story. But you know, it was a gnarly experience, because it was one of those experiences that, you know, when when something bad happens, and you just think, Okay, this is a disaster. And this is so terrible. And then it ends up being the best thing that happened. It's the good thing. So what had happened is my first book Torch was published by Houghton Mifflin. And I really desperately needed the money that would come from selling the second book. And so I wrote like the first 100 pages of Wild or something, and, and my agent took it to Houghton Mifflin, because they had the right of first refusal to my next book. And they were excited about it. And my agent said, they're going to make an offer. And I was just waiting and literally going in and like, okay, maybe we're not going to lose our house. My husband, Brian Lindstrom is a documentary filmmaker. So that means we were just very to paycheck and we didn't have a paycheck. We had freelance. That's right project to project. Yeah. And she called me with what I thought was going to be the offer. And she said Houghton Mifflin is basically collapsing. And they're not acquiring any more books right now. We're just kind of like, as she said, it's like a bakery saying, we're not going to bake any more bread. And I just thought, oh, my gosh, this is a disaster. The house is falling down the house. Yeah. And I'm not going to be able to sell this book now. And they've collapsed. And what am I going to do? And what I did is I just kept writing, I kept working on Wild. And a few months later, the good thing about about Houghton Mifflin having to say no, because they were not acquiring any books, then I was free to go anywhere. And so a few months later, we took it out and to several publishers, and I had really the pick of many beating war. Yeah, I feel good. So it was like one of the it was a really great lesson for me to, you know, really keep faith with the work. So there was nothing I could do about the business of publishing. But there was everything I could do about writing my book,
Eden Dawn 13:28
that feels like very good advice for many writers right now with the business of publishing to not lose hope and to keep going and focus on the work.
Cheryl Strayed 13:37
Yeah, I mean, even for as long as I've been a writer, the news about publishing has been bad. Yeah,
Fiona McCann 13:43
it's always great.
Eden Dawn 13:45
A long time journalist. It's never been good either.
Cheryl Strayed 13:48
Back when I was when I was on my book tour with Torch, I remember going to bookstores and you know, if it was a very low turnout, the books, the bookstore, people workers would say, oh, it's because it's a sunny day. And people just don't come into bookstores on sunny days. And then other times, no one would shop and it'd be a rainy day. And they'd go, oh, it's because it's raining.
Fiona McCann 14:08
Book sellers are awesome.
Cheryl Strayed 14:10
I know. I love that. And I was like, there's there's some deep wisdom in this is that it's always there's there's always some external reason that things don't turn out well. But what you have to do is persist whether it's sunny or rainy, or the news is good or bad, or the publishing industry is thriving or not. Your writing is about your work, your creative practices about your commitment to that call that you've decided to answer. And that has been a guiding light to me through everything.
Fiona McCann 14:42
That's incredible and very difficult to pull off. I think it's so easy to lose hope. I mean, we're all laughing about the state of the industry now, but I can also send us money. But it's true. It's very difficult to keep going. I mean, people have to get a paycheck sometimes. They do. Yeah.
Cheryl Strayed 14:57
And you know when I sold Wild and so we are winding our way I hear too Tiny, Beautiful Things. But when I sold Wild, it was very much that ship was going down the ship of my little family, me and Brian and our little kids. And it was like, okay, he was at the time making his documentary Alien Boy, which was about the death of James Chasse in police custody here in Portland. And, you know, which was really a project done basically, on our credit card. And, you know, it was really like, okay, one of us is going to have to sort of give up a bit and get a job. And so Wild saved us from that. And I finished a while. And I, but I, you know, I sold it, and then I had to finish writing the book. So I had about nine months to do that I had these little kids, everyone every month was getting like the bubonic plague and you know, scarlet fever. And
Fiona McCann 15:52
as soon as you said, nine months, I was like, Cheryl, don't tell me how
Eden Dawn 15:57
she did this one was just of the literary type.
Cheryl Strayed 16:02
But it was like, you know, everyone kept getting sick. They do. And every the kids gets, and then you're just you and you're not, and then you get set up close. And so and I'm gonna say this, because I do think that there are some people who need to hear this, some other some other parents, writers who are parents out there, and especially, I think, mothers. So what I was almost done writing Wild, I was about to meet my deadline and actually handed my book on time. And because there had been so much labor required in the way of mothering. And everyone had gotten sick. And there were all these delays. I just said, I have to get out of here. I have to go away from little kids. You know, my kids at this point, were like four and six or something like that, at an age where I hadn't really ever left them for more than a night or so. And I have this friend Jane O'Keefe, who lives way down in rural like far rural Lake County, Oregon. Okay. And she and her husband have this big cattle ranch. And she always said if you need to get away, I have places you know, we all have like cabins.
Fiona McCann 17:13
Yeah. Good for you, Jane.
Cheryl Strayed 17:14
Eden Dawn 17:15
I just told Fiona today that as the childless person, I really try to encourage particularly mothers, I'm like, I think it's good to leave your kids for a few days. I'm not talking about moving out of the home. But I think that when you're at home, you're always on, always on, even if it's like, no, this is your time, you're never off. And so I think it's that's my role, again, as the child's friend to be like, you can do it,
Cheryl Strayed 17:34
you can do it. And I didn't leave my kids for a few days. I left my kids for a few weeks. Wow, I left for three and a half weeks. Jane's friend Sally had this this little beautiful little house. And it was so remote. You can't even imagine it was in plush Oregon. It's just this teeny, tiny town that just has a like a bar and a gas station. Wow. And it's beautiful and remote. And there's nothing around. But while down in animals and cowboys. And I I you know, it was so painful to be away from my kids for three and a half weeks that I what I did when I went away is I just decided I was going to actually try to avoid thinking about them. Like instead of dwelling on it. I was there to get my work done. And I did I finished Wild there. Good free. I wrote the final chapters. I read it out loud to myself, I cried, I walked I really had, you know, a big experience. And I finished my work. And then I came home. And what was beautiful is my kids were absolutely fine. They have a wonderful father. I did the work I needed to do. And there was no harm done. And I think it was a really powerful experience for me to say that part of who I am like I am totally their mother. And I'm also a writer. Yeah. And to honor that and to you do have to buck against not only your own internal sense of like, I can't leave my kids but the whole colossal expectation that we placed on women who have children,
Fiona McCann 19:11
And they guilt that you feel every time you make a decision that's for you. Yeah, it's astronomical.
Eden Dawn 19:17
And I love the idea that the mental picture I'm getting of you writing this story about being alone in the beauty of the world and nature and you finishing that alone in such a beautiful place surrounded by nature like it, it just seems so perfect to have a little book in for that.
Cheryl Strayed 19:36
Absolutely. And I that wasn't lost on me. And walking is such a big part of my writing practice. It's it's what allows me to think when I feel stuck or it opens up the work in really powerful ways and that's amplified if I can walk in nature.
Fiona McCann 19:53
Can I also just give Jane a shout out because this is also testament to female friendship. That's right important it is to have a friend who's like, come pick you up?
Cheryl Strayed 20:02
Yeah. And her friend Sally. Yeah. Oh, and Sally. Cheryl. Yeah,
Eden Dawn 20:06
And Brian, because not all partners are not that supportive. And that's a really lovely thing. I mean, I still feel like I know those fellas who talk who refer taking care of their own children as babysitting. Yeah. Which is I am not for that term, and that she signed up for three and a half weeks.
Cheryl Strayed 20:21
Lovely. Yeah, it was. We did it. We, you know, we, Brian and I have always worked like that as a couple. And you know, I think that's so central to our relationship is supporting each other in our writing projects. And in our in our creative projects, obviously, his films. But yeah, it was big. And so I got home, I sent that book off to my editor, first full draft of Wild which just for the record, is 20,000 words longer than the published book.
Fiona McCann 20:51
I want to read those
Cheryl Strayed 20:53
extra words. So there's like extra words. And I was just relaxed, and happy and free. And I knew that my editor would be sending back notes, but for the time being, I was just like, I finished it.
Fiona McCann 21:09
A quick interruption here for the trailer of our brand new side cast.
Eden Dawn.This is Emma McIlroy. I have a slightly bonkers idea that I wanted to get to.
Eden Dawn 21:22
So we went from that to this
rally tonight. Right now we're about seven hours into a world record attempt by performers in Portland for the longest drag show ever. 48 hours straight.
Everybody on peppermint, I think drank is healing drank his freedom, and dragged under attack I got I just saw Fred Armisen has asked ourselves historics there's nampak Johnson, that wants to be a part of history. This is Dragon. Let's get this record.
Did I mention we'd never produced a drag show before?
Hi, I'm Frankie Grande. Sounded like a toilet exploded.
Eden Dawn 21:59
So that's my execute. Welcome to Slaying a Drag-a-Thon. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Fiona McCann 22:08
And now back to Cheryl Strayed.
Cheryl Strayed 22:11
And I got an email from Steve Almond, the writer Steve Almond. Now, he at the time was just an acquaintance of mine. We had both taught at a writers conference the summer before. And I had been an admirer of his work a fan of his fiction and essays. And I got this email from Steve that said, hey, Cheryl, I write the Dear Sugar column at the rumpus. And I don't want to keep writing it anymore. And you wrote me a fan letter. You wrote to Sugar, a fan letter. And you're the only person who's written me a fan letter, which I thought he was being hyperbolic. But later I thought it was true.
Fiona McCann 22:55
Did you know it was him?
Cheryl Strayed 22:56
No, I didn't know it was him. I wrote him an email saying I love your column. I started reading this column that it would appear intermittently on the rumpus. And I thought, whoever this is, I love this sense of humor and this sensibility. And I just admired the writing. And I said that. And so in his email to me, he said, You know, I, you're right, I don't write it very much. I'm not really into it. And when I got your email, which is the only fan letter I've received for writing the column, I realized, having read Torch and read your essays, you are Sugar, you're the real deal. Sugar. Do you want to take over the column? And it pays nothing. Great. Like, I realized I would tell this story, and people would think I meant that in a sort of, like, metaphorical way. Like, like hardly any like, Oh, it's just for peanuts. No, nothing. I mean, when I say nothing, I mean, zero. It pays nothing at
Eden Dawn 23:50
It pays, as we like to say in good vibes.
Cheryl Strayed 23:53
And you don't even get exposure because it's anonymous. So there's nothing Okay. I will not get exposure or money. He says, Do you want to take it over? And I immediately said, Yes. Why? Sure. I know
Fiona McCann 24:12
what you guys do that if I was advising you, I'd be like, you don't work for nothing. I know. And yet, that would have been bad, right?
Eden Dawn 24:18
Yeah, it was like yet. I mean, you're getting a very belated paycheck now is how we like to think of it. That's right, late payment.
Cheryl Strayed 24:25
That's right. I did it for the reason, you know, in Tiny, Beautiful Things. I give this advice over and over again. I did it because I just trusted myself. I listened to what my body said my body was sparked. You know, I was I was intrigued. I was excited. I was invigorated. It sounded like fun to me. And I thought that that's all it would be like I really did think well, this will be an interesting experiment and me being kind of like I really thought I could I would just be funny. It was a time on the internet. And when the predominant literary style was to be very snarky and cutting, and witty, which I think of as very opposite of who I am. I mean, I do think I'm funny, but I also have a sincerity, you know, and a seriousness that maybe the internet writing of that era was different than that. But I said, Yes. And I did say, Listen, I'm not going to be as funny as Steve, I'm not going to have his same style. I am going to bring my sincerity, but I'll just give it a try. And what's so cool is when you are being paid nothing.
Eden Dawn 25:33
You do what you want, you do whatever the hell you want to fire you. That's right.
Cheryl Strayed 25:38
You can do whatever you want. So that's what I did. I began writing the column. It was It was March of 2010, is when the first column was published on the rumpus that I wrote.
Fiona McCann 25:54
Do you remember that first one? What was that first letter?
Cheryl Strayed 25:56
Yes, of course. Yeah. It was the Known Unknowns. It was a letter from somebody who signed himself, Gump. And he had he had broken up with his girlfriend and then slept with her best friend, and he didn't know what to do about love. Yes, I've read that one. Yeah. And what's funny to me looking back is so the last, the last lines of that column, you know, I essentially say like, neither of these women has anything for you. And you know, essentially, you need to let it go. And but the last sentences of the column are and yet, and yet you are loved. And I do you think that Sugar has ended up essentially being about that? Yeah, is saying, you know, underneath everything underneath our suffering, or struggles or conundrums or bewilderment, if we can hold on to that truth, that we are all beloved in this world, that can be the light that guides us forward through anything.
Fiona McCann 26:54
But it I think, as well, you sort of broke apart a genre that we thought we were all very familiar with, with your responses, and you gave so much of yourself in those responses. And that was what felt so different. And I wonder is that what did you come to it thinking? Well, I can be vulnerable to or how did you decide, okay, these are, this is my approach.
Cheryl Strayed 27:18
I really just, I think of myself as an intuitive writer. And when I say that, what I mean is, I really go, you know, I let their work lead me I begin to write and I see what happens kind of like when I said, I thought I could write maybe a 20 page essay about my hike. And then that's how Wild was born. It wasn't an idea. It wasn't, it wasn't a concept. It was an experience of writing. And when I started to write the truth of my hike, I realized I had a story to tell. And I didn't know it, and still until I started to write it. And that's what happened with Dear Sugar to this thing that I thought would be really funny. And just kind of a little experiment in my life, a short term thing that I you know, it became some of the most important work of my life. And what I trusted is that, if I gave everything to, if I gave all of my intelligence, everything I learned about the writing, craft everything I knew as a human, if I was as transparent and vulnerable as I could be, in replying to these letters that were so bravely written to me that something new could be born, I wasn't thinking like, I'm going to turn the the genre of the advice column on its head. I just wrote essays that contained everything I had.
Eden Dawn 28:37
But the thing I noticed in all of your work, and I like, which makes me feel like I know you, and I bet this is the thing that happens to you a lot, is you clearly have a lot of empathy for humankind being flawed. Like, that seems to be a thing that a worldview you hold, is that you see that people are good and bad and deserve love and also, you know, screw up and all of these things. And that translates into the columns, which is not a thing that I had seen before with the agony aunt kind of format you know, I always read Dear Abby and stuff growing up and it felt much more like you're wrong move on, you know, it was a very definitive thing. And to even in the first one with and yet you are loved make so much sense to me, because that sounds like you as a writer, and I guess, I mean, does that feel like how you describe you as a person in general?
Cheryl Strayed 29:33
I think so. I mean, I don't think I can be separated from my writing. We just like I think, unfortunately, like, I'll never get to retire. It'd be like I have to retire as being chair. I mean, I'm just like, forever. We I mean, there really curses to this because it's like, also you're never off work. You know, it's there's this always it's just so much part of me that I can't separate it from me. But I will say that that thing that you're talking about out. I didn't know it consciously when I began writing the comp, but now I can see what it is is, is that that old format was I think of it as vertical advice is that I'm up here and I know the answers and I'm sort of superior to you ethically, morally, whatever it is. And I'm going to give you guidance, right. And Sugar I've always thought is horizontal advice. So when you say, I cheated on my girlfriend or boyfriend or I messed up and yelled at my kids, and, you know, our I have worked in this job that I've hated for 20 years, and I regret that I didn't pursue my real dream. I don't say like, well, this is the right course you should have taken or here's where you should go. I say, Yeah, this is part of the struggle of being human. I've been there too. And I'm going to tell you a story. Very often about my my own life, sometimes about the lives of people I know, that will help illuminate your story. You know, and I do think that most of us learn best by telling stories.
Fiona McCann 31:06
You know, what's, what's this reminds me a little bit of my mom who always had a story about a kid. And it never ended. Well, you instead of saying don't swing on your chair like that. She'd be like, you know, a little boy was Little Timmy O'Malley, Timmy could never walk again. And it took us until we were fully in our adult lives before my sister was like, my man, you have so many kids to whom tragedy because I don't think it was true. And we were all alike. But it's the same kind of lesson
Cheryl Strayed 31:43
I love though. Yeah,
Fiona McCann 31:44
the kid who's was paraplegic after falling off the chair, the kid who ate something off the street and died. Yeah, I remember his agonizing screams, and his mother couldn't help him.
Cheryl Strayed 31:54
Well, we all were amazing. All of us listen to stories instead of lectures. We all do. True. I mean, it's just, it's that's just a fact. And I think, too, that when you're telling a story, what happens is that thing you're talking about eating this there is complexity, that it's almost impossible. Maybe in your mom's stories, they were a little more of like the moral to the story. They weren't complex,
Fiona McCann 32:17
it didn't end well. Did you ever feel cowed by their sort of responsibility of it all? Because it seems to meet people put their deepest darkest secrets, their struggles in a letter to you and said, Tell me what to do. And I can hear myself thinking like, I don't know, what if I give them the wrong advice? What if I tell them something? And then did it ever? Did you ever just feel paralyzed by that sort of responsibility of it? Despite Yeah,
Cheryl Strayed 32:43
and you know, and I still do. So I, now I write the Dear Sugar column once a month as a Substack newsletter. And I still have that every month. I'm like, okay, which letter should I choose? And I feel this tremendous responsibility when I take somebody's life into, you know, into my consciousness, and I really do try to feel that sense of love for them as I write to them. But I do think that you know, and of course, I can't answer all the letters, there are 1000s of letters I'll never answer. But what I always think is I'm speaking in my letters, always to one person, the person who wrote to me, and I'm also speaking to everyone who identifies with that situation. And, and a lot of people, you know, what I hear a lot about, from people who read Tiny, Beautiful Things. They'll say, Well, when I read the letter, I thought, Well, this one doesn't apply to me, because this is about like somebody who had a miscarriage, and I've not had a miscarriage, and then they read the answer. But when you think deeply, and read them closely, very often, what they boil down to the questions at the core of those letters, those situations are not so different. You know, it is ultimately very often about how to listen to yourself, and then how to trust yourself. Which is, of course, a very complicated prospect.
Fiona McCann 34:00
Well, and I wanted to ask you, like, Who do you Who do you go to for advice? Journal to yourself, or your to me?
Cheryl Strayed 34:10
I do. Well, for one thing I do. I mean, I think writing is a wonderfully therapeutic practice, I think, yes. I used to deny that because as a woman, I you know, especially with like when Torch first came out people I would get this question a lot. And I'd always be like, No, I'm an artist. I always felt like the same. Anything was cathartic or therapeutic diminished. Its artistic value. Oh, interesting. And now I'm like, I own it. I'm like, Yep, it's art. And it also helped me grow. And it can be both things. Of course, I have a wonderful husband. He's my person and I have gaggle like a whole like, oodles of amazing women friends, and some men friends too, but I just have a lot of wonderful people in my life.
Eden Dawn 34:58
I would like to know how people found out you were Dear Sugar. I remember it being quite the hubbub when it was unveiled, but I don't know the the exact circumstances around it.
Cheryl Strayed 35:10
Yeah. Which I guess this winds us around to. What was happening is I was like, Okay, I wanted to unburden myself over the anonymity. And Wild was about to be published then. And so of the month before Wild was published, it was published in March of 2012. On Valentine's Day of 2012, I went to San Francisco had a big party and revealed my identity as Sugar. And what was really interesting about that is the next day, like, there was just every publication everywhere. Yeah, it was everywhere. And so then Wild came out a month later, and then four months after that tiny, beautiful thing. So those two books, you know, came out on top of each other, and were sort of written and on top of each other to
Eden Dawn 35:54
twins, twin four months,
Cheryl Strayed 35:56
four months. That's crazy. You do like to have back to back, baby. That's right. And your thing, which in retrospect, was probably a mistake, because what happened? Yeah, and what happened is, of course, Wild exploded. So, you know, basically, right, when Tiny, Beautiful Things came out was like, right, when Wild was like number one on the New York Times bestseller list. So I was going on my book tour for Tiny, Beautiful Things. And the stores were full of people with Wild in their hands. And so I'd be like, talking about Wild, but I'd be like, and then there's this other bug. So it's always, you know, I mean, it's it's done fine and had its own little life, but it was always a little tucked under,
Eden Dawn 36:36
how did Tiny Beautiful Things come to be the show.
Cheryl Strayed 36:41
So when we were making Wild, which we shot here in Oregon, and in Portland, Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon, and I just became really good friends. And we wanted to keep working together. And so we were talking as we were promoting the film, in my memory, we were in London, in a hotel bar after the premiere of the London premiere of the movie, we were like, Okay, what do we do next together? And I said, you know, I really think that Tiny, Beautiful Things would be an interesting TV show. So that was the first time that we talked about it, I lit just a little coffin for
Fiona McCann 37:17
you, by the way, this like, coven at a bar.
Cheryl Strayed 37:22
And it was like, what do we do next? You know, and it took some, it took some time for that then to come, you know, like, we all went off in different directions in some ways. And eventually, Reese founded her company, hello, sunshine. And she called me up one day and said, I have the perfect person, Liz Tigelaar. And so we brought her on board as the showrunner and creator and she is an amazing person. And so she and I just started talking about like what this could look like as a TV show. And so I'm on the project as an executive producer. And I was also in the writers room. I was one of the writers on the show. I do
Fiona McCann 38:01
think it's also just incredible that this project, which you took on that paid nothing but it just spoke to you in some way. And you it paid nothing and now it's turned into a book a you know, TV show a play like it couldn't be more lucrative probably. And yeah,
Cheryl Strayed 38:16
and it also led to the Dear Sugars podcast, which I did with Steve Almond for several years for the New York Times and WBUR. So it was it all I need now is a band called The Tiny Beautiful things and I've hit all the all the art forms when I'm in it, we have a surprise for you.
Eden Dawn 38:31
We're recording our album today.
Cheryl Strayed 38:35
Or interpretive dance, we can do a couple of different things.
Eden Dawn 38:38
I think we should be beat poets that do. Oh, yeah, yeah, we can do that.
Cheryl Strayed 38:45
And then also, and then also, I keep writing the column. So this new edition, so Tiny, Beautiful Things, like I said, came out four months after Wild. But then what happened is, as the 10th anniversary of both of those books was approaching, you know, I reached out to my publisher and said, You know, I've written all these other columns, like why don't we do a new addition with some new columns? And they were like, okay, but we only have room for like, you know, a handful of them and I was like, I could give you like another 20 or 30 But but the new edition does have just a handful of new columns a new introduction by me so it then it had this like Second Life to more recently
Fiona McCann 39:21
to read that one now because yeah, the old copy. Yeah, yeah.
Cheryl Strayed 39:25
You have the classic, the classic kind of like coral red. But now we have this this little teal one with a Sugar cube on the cover
Eden Dawn 39:32
as cute and your subject people can still send in stuff then yeah,
Cheryl Strayed 39:37
yeah, I'm gonna put you guys both on the list so you can get the Dear Sugar column comes out on the last day of the month, every month.
Eden Dawn 39:45
I'm going to write in what to do with my coworker co podcast house is more charming than me.
Cheryl Strayed 39:53
Oh my goodness. It's just the accents are equally charming.
Eden Dawn 39:57
Thank you, but it's true. She really gets away with that accent and you'll see she hands it up.
Fiona McCann 40:00
I do Lean In a bit heavily sometimes. I don't really think I have anything to say
Cheryl Strayed 40:05
how long have you lived in the United States
Fiona McCann 40:07
since about six weeks before my daughter was born? So my 12 years that's how I know almost 13 But
Eden Dawn 40:14
then Argentina before that, so she you've arrived. Yeah. But you haven't
Cheryl Strayed 40:17
lost that accent?
Fiona McCann 40:19
Well, it depends who I'm talking to Cheryl because sometimes I will be having a conversation with somebody and I realized that I'm really speaking American. I'm like, Oh, I went all in American and then I'll get back on the phone to my mother and I'm completely incomprehensible to anyone here. So I do think it seems to. I'm very fickle. I do lean into it sometimes. Especially when I'm on the stage at a drag show.
Cheryl Strayed 40:42
Fun I was a drag show that was so much fun. Oh, it was so much fun to hear about such heroes of that exploit you threw you out there and well, no,
Eden Dawn 40:53
not a joke.
Cheryl Strayed 40:54
I did repeat here. I did I know is this a PG rated?
Fiona McCann 40:58
Cheryl Strayed 40:59
I've avoided saying fuck on this podcast so
Eden Dawn 41:01
far. Do you want to tell any do you want to tell one of your classes or anyone that you would like to tell here? You told on state?
Cheryl Strayed 41:10
Okay, well, since we've all been like seeing the glorious Barbie movie, I have a Barbie joke. Yeah, okay, there are all kinds of there are all kinds of Barbies you know, right there's there's like flight attendant Barbie and this this that and the other Barbie but there's Have you noticed there's no pregnant Barbie? Why is that?
Fiona McCann 41:27
Why is that? Good question. Cerd Why is there no pregnant Barbie?
Cheryl Strayed 41:31
Because Ken comes in a box there you go. I love good. It's very oof the moment.
Eden Dawn 41:42
It's topical and people love topical. So I want to go as Bad Ken for Halloween. I don't want to be Barbie. I want to be Bad Ken
Cheryl Strayed 41:49
wasn't the most like amazing. What I loved is Weird Barbie.
Eden Dawn 41:54
Oh, Weird Barbie was, I mean, Kate McKinnon. So she's the best person she the combo of the two things of Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie was just a delight.
Cheryl Strayed 42:03
I know. I love everything she does.
Fiona McCann 42:05
That I keep coming back to is the men playing guitar at you. Oh, which?
Cheryl Strayed 42:10
Yeah, that is, look, I've
Eden Dawn 42:11
dated all of those men. Every single one I was I single.
Cheryl Strayed 42:16
That was like my whole 20s. And that is honestly that like I left the hardest at that because it was so on point. And then I love that it was that song? Because I have been trying to figure out that song for years. Because I liked the sound of it. Like it's a nice little poppy tune. But what does this mean? I want to push you around. I want to take you for granted. Is this romantic?
Eden Dawn 42:39
No, it's not. What does it mean? Fellows think it is? I have no idea. Is there anything else we should cover? Before we should we before we wrap up? I feel like you have been so generous with your time.
Cheryl Strayed 42:52
I don't know what else
Eden Dawn 42:53
You only said fuck one time.
Cheryl Strayed 42:54
I'm gonna throw it I have so many more fucks left in me
Fiona McCann 42:56
So many more fucks, not zero.
Cheryl Strayed 43:00
That's right. Yeah, the classic thing, I'm 54 You're supposed to say I have no more fucks to give. But I have so many more fucks to give you guys, you know, on this podcast.
Eden Dawn 43:09
Did you know that was the sweet sentence I needed to pull that out into an audiogram.
Fiona McCann 43:13
I do want to say that I have recently just reread Tiny, Beautiful Things. And I think it's a book that you can reread over and over and over and get something new from every time and it speaks to different essays speak to me differently now than the way they spoke to me in the past. People should read that a lot. Everyone should have a copy.
Eden Dawn 43:33
Well, and I'm in the midst of this show and feeling so emotional and attached to everyone. And I think about that being like, Well, yeah, because I this is great writing, and B these are real people. And I'm just like, Oh my god, these guys just want a hug. Everyone can I just start hugging people.
Cheryl Strayed 43:51
We wanted it to feel really real. And of course, even though the role that Kathryn plays the Sugar that Kathryn is is not me, you know, we decided that her life would be fictional, a fictional life. But what we also knew from the beginning is that she and I would share a past because I I felt sure because I to tell stories in the Dear Sugar column about my experiences, especially as a child and a young woman, losing my mom young to cancer, having you know, an estrangement from my father who was abusive growing up poor and working class in a rural environment. Those things made me so we knew that Katherine Hans character had to have had those experiences behind her. So in the show, you see these flashback scenes with Sarah Pidgeon and Merritt Wever who plays really, you know, a character very closely based on my mom, right? And so it's for me, it's a very split experience even because it's like, some of it like when you say real people, I mean, all of it. We wanted to give the feeling of reality. But when I watched those flashback scenes, and we see you know, Merritt Wever and Sarah Pidgeon and, you know, acting really scenes from my life. And so it's such a surreal experience. And one of the coolest things is both Merritt and Kathryn, have been nominated for Emmys for their roles. And, of course, Laura and Reese were nominated for Oscars for their roles and mother and daughter, mother and daughter.
Fiona McCann 45:22
Also fastest way to an Emmy is clearly to play Cheryl.
Cheryl Strayed 45:28
Isn't that interesting? So when, when they were both nominated, I was like, Oh, my gosh, so the actress is playing. Me and my mom now and in both film and television from two different books have been nominated. And that, that just moves me beyond words. Because of course, my mother, who I think lives in, in pretty much every sentence I write, never got to read any of them. And one of the last thing she said to me, before she died, one of the things when I cried to her, like, you can't, you can't die. Because, you know, and of course, in my youth, you know, I was 22. So I was it was all very self absorbed. Like you haven't seen what I have done yet. You know, there's always that look at me, Mom, you want your parents to see you. I said, you you have to live because you have to read my first book. She looked at me and she said, Cheryl, I've already read all of your books. And I think that in some way. I think we're laughing and crying here. But I think I think being a mother myself now and I'm, you know, a decade older than my mother ever got to be. I know what she meant.
Fiona McCann 46:46
Yeah. Gosh, what a beautiful thing for her to say to
Eden Dawn 46:52
You just punched me in the gut almost as fast as the Matchbox 20 songs.
Cheryl Strayed 46:59
I want to push you around. I want to take you for granted. You've got me and I will and I will.
Eden Dawn 47:07
We need to if now we know that Reese and Laura got nominated for the Oscars. And these two are getting nominated for the Emmys. We gotta get you Grammy and a Tony EGOT style
Cheryl Strayed 47:20
for tonight. That's why I said the band guys. And also we've already got the name the Tiny Beautiful Things. Yes. I mean, come on. It's just waiting to be a band.
Fiona McCann 47:29
Don't anybody take that that's our band.
Cheryl Strayed 47:32
Right away. I'm gonna play the tambourine.
Fiona McCann 47:35
Eden Dawn 47:36
Okay, I'm gonna play the triangle you guys
Cheryl Strayed 47:41
Fiona can be a sort of brooding Irish drummer bass player or something I'll go for that. I mean I never played either those instruments but you mine also you're so I mean you're wearing even like the what was that?
Fiona McCann 47:53
You're the lead singer
Eden Dawn 47:54
I'm sorry that I was dressed as an off duty whitch today which is also actually just shade of Stevie Nicks
Fiona McCann 48:00
Yes, I think you might be the lead singer Eden I know you don't want to but this is giving me lead singer and you've got
Cheryl Strayed 48:05
those that long gorgeous hair you guys don't
Eden Dawn 48:08
know what you're in for. I sound basically like a cat yeowling
Fiona McCann 48:12
we can fix it in production. We can fix it in post as they like to say we can fix it in post
Cheryl Strayed 48:16
and also you're not you're like you're just a cat mom like you're not a mom of humans. So you you have that kind of cool factor that Fiona and I we're just done. Yeah.
Fiona McCann 48:26
I’m Not done Cheryl
Cheryl Strayed 48:29
I’ll speak for myself.
Eden Dawn 48:32
Very cool. Well, thank you again to Cheryl straight for joining us. Her website is cherylstrayed.com. And you can find her on her socials at @CherylStrayed. That's it from We Can't Print This for today. You can see more info about this episode at we can print this.com where you can also sign up to our newsletter and get bi weekly culture picks industry news and on and on. Or also follow us on Instagram at we can't print this will put up a great picture of Cheryl doing something sassy and her band
Fiona McCann 49:01
tiny. We aren't backed by anyone. We are also doing this for zero pay but no debt someday it will all come to fruition. We're just two independent journalists giving you an insider look at writing because we love it. However, you can support our work on the podcast by giving us a Hulu deal or becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon. Thank you so much to our producer Miranda Shaffer and to Dave Depper. For our intro music. This podcast was recorded at the writer's block in Portland. And a big thanks to our third officemate, Rachel Ritchie, for explaining to her colleagues on a Zoom meeting why her two office mates were crawling across the shag carpet on camera. But that's a whole other story
Eden Dawn 49:44
and we lost our tiny SD card. If you are a writer with a great behind the story story please write to us at Wecantprintthis@gmail.com
Cheryl Strayed 49:53
Okay, okay though, who's going to play you guys in the movie when this gets you know picked up or TV show?
Eden & Fiona
Drew Barrymore both of you you can't both
Eden Dawn 50:03
me that's my
Cheryl Strayed 50:07
100% Okay, true. And Fiona What do you think?
Fiona McCann 50:11
I mean, Fiona who? I think Drew Barrymore should play us both now could be short her Drew and
Eden Dawn 50:17
my girl handle my girl. I don't know who'd you got? Are you? Well, if we're doing flashbacks get here, Sharon.
Fiona McCann 50:25
Sharon and I look just like her. With the right red hair on her. I think it gets serious. I would love Sharon Horgan to maybe actually shower Sharon complainy, please. Yeah,
Cheryl Strayed 50:39
yeah, no, I think Sharon would be a perfect Yeah, that's it. Drew and Sharon. There we go sorted. I'm gonna go to Hollywood and pitch it now.