Life (and Writing Career) After Going Viral
Author Natalie Beach talks with Sari Botton about the controversial essay about Caroline Calloway that put her on the map, and changing the narrative with her new essay collection, Adult Drama.
This is the seventh in a series of behind the scenes video interviews with authors, editors, and others in the field about aspects of publishing personal essays, essay collections, and memoirs. Previously, I’ve interviewed memoirist Pam Mandel about adapting her memoir for the screen; poet Maggie Smith about switching to memoir; author Abigail Thomas about her latest memoir with tiny Golden Notebook Press; Chloe Caldwell about acting as her own agent, Tajja Isen about the limited value of critical acclaim, publicist Lauren Cerand about aspects of book publicity you can handle yourself.
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When I was taking courses in writing and pitching personal essays back in the 90s, often teachers would suggest you’d have a good shot at breaking in and making a name for yourself if you wrote pieces that called tremendous attention to themselves—and to you. Hot controversial takes. Dark confessions. Sensationalist exposes of yourself and others.
In September, 2019, Natalie Beach’s first major piece was a viral essay in The Cut called “I Was Caroline Calloway,” in which she revealed she’d been secretly ghostwriting for her friend, a popular influencer, author, and self-described scammer. The piece made a huge splash, and as often happens with pieces like it, had a polarizing effect. Readers took sides, some defending Beach’s right to analyze in print the dynamics of a friendship/ghostwriting relationship gone sour, others excoriating her for dishing on a friend for clicks—and book and movie deals, both of which she landed immediately afterward.
On June 20th, Beach published her essay collection, Adult Drama, which includes both the original viral essay, and a follow-up essay reflecting on various aspects of the first one. Earlier the same week, Calloway rushed out her own self-published memoir, Scammer, in what seemed like an attempt to take back the spotlight from Beach, or to re-establish the authors’ symbiosis.
But Beach’s book contains eight other personal essays that have nothing to do with her relationship to Calloway. (A few weeks ago, I repritinted an excerpt, “Abortion Abortion Abortion,” about Beach’s experience as a clinic escort.) In our conversation, Beach and I talked about what it means to be tethered to another writer and their story, her trajectory from viral essay writer to author, and the book itself.
Below is our interview. Hope you enjoy it! - Sari