big checks started coming in about nine months after
"Wild" hit bookshelves and started its climb
to the top of The New York Times best-seller’s list.
To Oprah’s Book Club. And, as of this coming week, to
movie theaters nationwide.
first thing author Cheryl Strayed bought was a $2,000
piano for her two children. It was something she never
had in her powdered-milk and government-cheese
childhood, but always dreamed of. Piano lessons,
piano was delivered, and the guys left and I put my
hands on it, and I just started crying," Strayed
recalled during a recent visit from her home in Portland
to Seattle to promote the film version of
"Wild," starring Reese Witherspoon.
"Because it felt like, ‘OK, I earned this.’
on her 44th birthday, Strayed paid off her student
loans, which she had carried (and kept current) for more
than 20 years. "I wanted to give myself a birthday
present," she said.
also opened a college fund for her kids.
the same year I paid off my college education was the
year I secured my children’s college education,"
Strayed added with an unabashed, satisfied smile.
did Strayed, 46, think that when she dropped her
backpack at the end of her journey on the Pacific Crest
Trail in 1995, she would eventually drop childhood
yearnings and college debt, and make sure her kids’
lives were more stable than hers had ever been.
was that 1,100-mile trek — desert, snow and everything
in between — that became the subject of
"Wild." The reception of the book has been an
adventure all its own for Strayed; not only a dance
through the madness-making that is memoir, but a
red-carpet walk through Hollywood.
find it so funny," Strayed said of the fuss and
flash. "I’ve had so many experiences where I am
standing on the red carpet and just laughing, wondering
‘Is this a real thing?’
I feel like, I’m a writer. I get this wonderful
opportunity to be part of this world," she said.
"So I greet it with a lot of amazement and wonder
and delight and gratitude. And also just a sense of fun.
I am having the time of my life."
was on set for the 35 days of filming in Oregon. Her
daughter, Bobbi Lindstrom, 9, played Strayed as a child
in the movie (she and her husband, Brian Lindstrom, also
have a son, Carver, 10), and Strayed has a brief
appearance and a few words of dialogue in an early
scene. (You can spot her by the casual air and steady
tone of her voice.)
days, Strayed’s fame has her dressing up and
making-up, but beneath is still the author who puzzles
over word choice, the order of sentences and the meaning
of things; and the mom who is quick to mention her
children, her husband and the Forest Service cabin she
bought in Mount Hood National Forest. She still hikes,
has made "dear friends" of "Wild"
director Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers
Club") and actress Laura Dern, who plays her mother
in the film and who came to Strayed’s five-day writing
workshop in Big Sur last year.
for Witherspoon, well, she is just "Reese."
met over the phone, after Strayed’s agent sent the
actress a copy of "Wild," knowing she was
looking for a project with a female protagonist.
read the book over a weekend and called Strayed a few
I was thrilled she was interested," Strayed said.
"But I wanted to hear what she had to say about it.
I didn’t want to just hand it over. It’s a big deal
to hand over your story, your life, your book."
wanted to be sure Witherspoon had the right intentions
and understood what the story was about: The aspects of
the self, grief, truth.
didn’t want Reese to say to me, ‘Oh, man, this is
going to be a blockbuster,’ " Strayed said.
"I wanted her to say, ‘Wow, I cried when I read
this book. I felt it in my bones and I, too, want to
tell a story about this kind of woman, who is so
complex, like me.’
that’s what she did. It resonated with her on a really
film got a little too personal in one scene, which
depicts Strayed having sex with two men. In an alley.
Behind a restaurant. Where she works as a waitress.
was the most difficult part of the movie for me,"
Strayed admitted. "Probably because it’s one of
the rare moments of the film that wasn’t taken from my
Glad to hear it.
was Vallée’s construction, Strayed explained, to show
how low she went after the loss of her mother and her
divorce. In her book, she could write about her drug use
and promiscuity, but the film had to show it very
it’s a shorthand way of showing that I slept with a
lot of guys," Strayed said.
more often than not, when Strayed sees the film, "I’m
thinking, ‘Oh, my God, this is really how it was!’"
though, her life will never be how it was before the
and Witherspoon are close friends. ("We text each
other, we talk, we email each other a few times a
week.") Just that morning, Strayed’s children
were doing their homework with erasers that look and
smell like real candy — gifts from the Oscar winner,
who they think is "the best person in the whole
world, because she gives them little gifts.
don’t get to write a Hollywood exposé," Strayed
said. "Nobody was mean to me."
she may write more for Hollywood. The film version of
"Wild" has served as an education in
screenwriting and moviemaking.
first love is books," Strayed said, "but I
wouldn’t rule out writing for television and
now, she is working on a novel and another memoir, this
one about her first solo trip, before her
"Wild" hike, a six-week journey through the
Southwest, researching both atomic history and the years
her mother lived there as a child. It also will include
her life after the "Wild" hike, and her time
as a new mother.
has it all changed her? Her feet are out of those awful
hiking boots and in much nicer shoes — but are they
still on the ground?
honestly don’t understand what that would even look
like, for me to change," she said with a laugh.
"I am just me, getting to have this crazy,
glamorous, exciting, interesting, bizarre Hollywood
is grateful that it is happening to her in her forties,
instead of her twenties, "When you’re still so
much trying to figure out who you are that you think,
‘Oh, yeah, maybe this is my definition.’ It’s not
more like, ‘Oh, this is a really fun part of life
right now. Isn’t this interesting?’"