Hostile Questions: Chelsea Cain

Booklist wrote of Chelsea Cain, author of Heartsick, Sweetheart, and more: “Popular entertainment just doesn’t get much better than this.” Aw, wuddn’t that nice of us? We’re not always in such a giving mood. Take, hmm, let’s see, today for example: I’m dying to lock horns with Cain–her oeuvre of bestselling, critically acclaimed serial killer thrillers be damned! Will I end her reign of terror? Or will I be her latest victim?

Just who do you think you are?

I am a fish-, cheese-, and chocolate-eating vegan and I refuse to take any shit for it. I won’t eat sheep, but I have the head of one (taxidermied) in my office. I worry about BPAs and mercury and the incoming debris from the Japanese tsunami. I have double-jointed ankles. I drive a Prius, but sometimes I don’t recycle and instead just throw the plastic hummus tub right into the garbage. Then I nudge it down a little so my husband won’t see it. Once, in college, in front of a lecture hall of undergraduates, I noticed the professor couldn’t find his pen, so I offered him one from my bag. It was only after he’d started class and was waving it around to make a point, that I realized I’d handed him a tampon.

We’re just gonna assume she’s holding a battleaxe down there.

 

I have also lied (repeatedly) about being able to play guitar. The truth is, I cannot play guitar. When I was 10 years old I touched Liza Minnelli. I once shared a frozen yogurt with Oliver Stone and I kept the plastic spoon as a memento until one day I accidentally threw it away. My mom died when I was 24 and it was fucking awful. My favorite numbers are 42 and 36. My daughter’s middle name is “Fantastic.” I have never read a single book by Kurt Vonnegut and I keep meaning to correct that. I love movies and television shows. I spent my early childhood on a hippie commune and I still know how to macramé. I was a weird kid. I used to chew food the same number of times on each side of my mouth so one side wouldn’t feel bad. My middle name is “Snow.” I have daydreams–entire universes full of characters I’ve constructed–that I’ve been mentally visiting every day since I was 14 years old, and I’m beginning to think that’s not normal.

Where do you get off?

I get off in Portland, Oregon, where I’ve been getting off for about 15 years. I set my books here, too, because it’s a great fucking location, and also because I live here and I’m lazy and it seemed like the clever thing to do. Portland is having a pop culture moment right now, and I’m happy to wave like a beauty queen from the back of that bandwagon. I really try to give a sense of Portland in my books, though if I’m honest there aren’t really as many serial killers here as I may have led people to believe. I love Portland’s dark beauty. The constant rain. How everything exists in a continual state of entropy. Even the cars have mold on them. I love how nature kills people here suddenly, for sport. People will be walking along the beach and a sneaker wave will snap them off their feet and carry them off to sea. Hikers disappear and are found the next spring, naked, half-decayed, clutching a bag of Oreos, dead from exposure. Avalanches bury skiers and mountain climbers. The river sweeps away toddlers from picnics. It’s just constant carnage over here. Bones everywhere.

What’s the big idea?

I write about the relationship between a dogged, damaged detective and the beautiful serial killer he’s been pursuing for over a decade. If you like hot cop-on-serial-killer action, these books might be for you. I’m interested in the intimacy of violence and the dark places people can let themselves go if they’re not careful. The books are twisted. The New York Times called them “steamy and perverse,” which is my favorite quote ever. But the characters say funny things to each other and I hope that the whole enterprise has a dark wit to it. But then again, I think that pulling out someone’s small intestine with a crochet hook is funny, and not everyone does.

What is your problem, man?

I have a vagina that seems to bother people. “How can your write what you write, as a woman?” they ask. They are always very nice, smart-seeming people, very friendly, a little tentative, a little concerned. The question floors me every single time. You’d think I’d be prepared by now, right? I’m too busy playing guitar, I guess. Maybe I’m thick, but I don’t get the question. Women can’t write about sex and violence? Women can’t be graphic? Women deal in bodily fluids all day long. Blood. Shit. Piss. You want to know graphic–talk to a mother. What should I be writing, exactly? This is where my head goes. This is the story I have to tell. I like sex and violence. Sex and violence are exciting to read about. God, those people infuriate me.

Haven’t you done enough?

Not even close. I have a lot of murder left in me. It’s really cathartic. Whenever I’m behind that asshole in the parking garage who decides to just sit there and idle, holding the rest of us hostage behind him, rather than continuing to the top of the garage where there are tons of open spaces, I take solace in the fact that I get to go home and kill someone. How many people get to say that?

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About the Author:

Dan Kraus, senior editor at Booklist is the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award.

2 Comments on "Hostile Questions: Chelsea Cain"

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  1. bill ott says:

    OK, I’m the wimp who said that popular entertainment doesn’t get much better than Chelsea Cain. It ain’t hostile, but it’s true. And I’m not all that nice, either, Dan: I almost always throw the hummus tubs into the regular garbage, and now and again, the scotch bottles land there, too.

  2. jon@crimespreemag.com' jon jordan says:

    Damn, I wish I had done this interview. Awesome questions, awesome answers, awesome writer. (And pretty damn good interviewer too)

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