Writers are complex creatures as are the characters that fill our pages. Actress and author Kristen Johnston knows this all too well. Always larger than life in the roles she undertook on the popular sitcoms 3rd Rock from the Sun and The Exes, Johnston battled childhood memories and her deep addictions to drugs and alcohol. When the opportunity presented itself to write about her life, Johnston dove into the challenge head first and rarely came up for air. The result? Her memoir appropriately titled Guts.
Lori: Was writing something you enjoyed in your childhood? Had you written anything literary-related before your book?
Kristen: I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. I love all books, all formats. I read obsessively, even hiding books within open Chemistry or Algebra books so my mom would think I was studying. I never wrote a word before Guts, not even in a journal. But a few years ago, friends of mine started commenting that my emails are entertaining and telling me I should write.
I’d say “yeah, yeah” but then I met a book agent, and she encouraged me to write about the one topic I NEVER in a MILLION years thought I’d write about. I mean, no one really knew I was an addict and for the longest time I thought it would remain private.
Until I realized shame and secrecy are killing people, along with addiction. It’s now a disease that kills more people than guns. It kills more people than car accidents. It’s an EPIDEMIC, and no one is saying anything.
Your writing and storytelling are gritty and raw . Did you consider writing the book in any other way/style or did Guts come right from your gut?
It had to be told the way it was. Some people have griped about the lack of “3rd Rock’ dirt, but there IS none. They kvetch that I skirted over my addiction, which I strongly disagree with. It is what it is. It’s my truth. I don’t know how else to explain it.
I honestly had NO IDEA [Guts] would resonate so strongly with so many.
What sort of reactions from readers and addicts have you received since Guts was launched? Any that surprised you?
Oh my God…I honestly had NO IDEA it would resonate so strongly with so many. Not just drug addicts or alcoholics. But self-harmers, people addicted to food, sex, approval, the list is endless. Check out the feedback section of gutsthebook.com. It’s been mind-blowingly beautiful. But I’ve been most surprised and gratified by the reactions from people who love (or loved) an addict. They’ve said they finally understand addiction for the first time ever. THAT’s been the best part.
Well, that, and the fact that thousands (no exaggeration) of people have been inspired to change their lives because of it. I’m staggered by it.
What did you enjoy about the writing process? Any other writing projects in the works?
To find out, in my early 40’s, that I’m a decent writer has been…well, there are no words. I loved every single second of it. Even the times that were stressful, like editing the book all night and shooting my show The Exes all day….it’s just been pure joy. I’m deeply proud of myself, and trust me-that’s not a feeling addicts take for granted. There were too many years of feeling like the worst person alive.
I’m working on my next book, and I can only say it’s non-fiction. Sorry! The rest is a secret!
You have mentored girls in New York on self-esteem issues. What have you discovered and what do you tell them?
Here’s the deal: YOU DON’T WANT TO PEAK IN HIGH SCHOOL. I tell girls that every single person I know who’s now a success was once a dork in high school. Except maybe Andy Cohen (Bravo television producer). He’s been popular his whole life. But EVERYONE else was a nerd.
The bottom line is, I’m so grateful to all those experiences. They made me an interesting, empathetic, funny, weird person.
For the longest time I wanted to call my next book “Trust Me – The Prom Queen Always Ends Up a Fat Cow”. But I thought it might be a tad offensive, since addicts and overweight people are still the only people I know where it’s just fine to make fun of. I didn’t want to add to that.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not performing or writing?
I love being with friends, going to flea markets, spending time with my dog Pinky. Oh, and reading!
(Editor’s Note: You might be interested to know that we reviewed Kristen Johnston’s Guts in the December 12 issue of Hippocampus.)
Lori M. Myers is a New York-based award-winning writer and Pushcart Prize nominee of creative nonfiction, fiction, essays, and plays. Her work has been seen in more than 45 national and regional magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Her plays have been produced overseas, in Canada, and across the US, three are published, and one was a Broadway World Award nominee. Lori has a masters in creative writing from Wilkes University and currently teaches at Dominican College in New York.