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That stillness pervades Strayed's Dear Sugar columns, which profit from all the advantages of the Internet--its anonymous e-mail forms, endless terrain and capacity for comments and community building--but provide refuge from its white noise. It's partly because of the emotional content of each letter and response but also due to the inherent intimacy of the form. Direct address is as old as lyric poetry: it's just I and you, and the rest of the world gets to listen in. Most listen kindly. "You'd think that I'd be deluged with mean e-mails," Strayed says, but on the whole, in Sugar's corner of the online world, niceness prevails.
Strayed officially revealed herself as the "I" behind Sugar in February. She plans to write the column less frequently now, in part because she doesn't want to repeat herself--"How many stories does one woman have?" she asks, only half rhetorically--but also because she's writing other things. She's working on a long essay called "Places We've Never Been," about the first trip she took by herself, in her pickup truck in the American Southwest. She's researching a novel in which one of the main characters is an astrologer. She wants to try her hand at creating a fictional TV series based on her column. Reese Witherspoon has optioned Wild for film development, with herself to star and Lisa Cholodenko, who made The Kids Are All Right, in talks to write and direct; their hope is to start shooting next summer.
And Strayed is fielding questions--as Sugar and as Cheryl. At readings, people ask her, Are your feet O.K. now? (Yes, she says, though "it took a few years for my toenails to be normal again.") Should we hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer? ("Go!" she says. "Do it!") At the breakfast table, knowing I have come to talk to his mother about her writing, her son asks, Are we characters in this story? She dismantles the problem into the distinction between characters and people, which gets to the heart of her ambition. "The thing that I always wanted most to do is write stories that seemed like real life," she says of her work. To write characters so real that they move people--characters like Sugar.
FOR MORE ANSWERS FROM CHERYL STRAYED, GO TO time.com/strayed