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Q&A with Katie Arnoldi

October 3 , 2008 - by Hans

Q&A with Katie Arnoldi

chemical pink author katie arnoldiChemical Pink, Katie Arnoldiís controversial novel about the world of womenís bodybuilding, came out in 2001. Joan Didion called it a ďdazzling first novelĒ but unsurprisingly it upset a lot of people in the sport who thought it portrayed female bodybuilders in a negative light. New Line Cinema optioned the novel and originally planned to make a movie directed by Fight Club director David Fincher. After that idea came to nothing, another producer, Ted Field, bought the rights and Arnoldi wrote a screenplay. But the producers have not yet found a solution to the biggest challenge involved in the project Ė finding someone who can play Aurora Johnson, the aspiring female bodybuilder who is the lead character. As the novel is re-issued this month, we talked to Arnoldi about the movie, muscle chick lit and the Mecca in the eighties.

Do you still follow womenís bodybuilding?
Not really, I still train at Goldís Venice, so I do from a distance. But I canít talk about individual competitors at this point, because after Chemical Pink came out, people were mad! Eventually people accepted it, but when it first came out people mad as hell about that book! I didnít go to Goldís for two years. But the only reason they were mad is because I was talking about what was really going on in the sport. Nobody said it was inaccurate, because I was really careful with my research. I had two separate guys that I met with weekly that had put multiple women through shows and done their supplements. I went through everything with them like what drugs and how many ccís because I didnít want anybody to question the accuracy of it - and no one did.  The upset was just that I talked. This was before steroids in sports became such a big issue. People didnít know about it, especially women and steroids in sport.

How did people react?
There wasnít a lot of direct confrontation but there was a lot of gossip and whispering behind my back. Chemical Pink is a literary novel that happens to be set in the world of womenís bodybuilding. Itís about obsession and control Ė those are the themes that are interesting to me. I set it in this world because itís a fascinating world and something I knew a little about. But all the characters are fictitious. There were people that thought Aurora was a specific person and she wasnít.2

When do you first get involved in the bodybuilding scene in Venice?

I started training at Goldís in the early eighties. I went to Goldís and hired Kay Baxter to train me Ė this might have been like Ď83. She was wonderful. Back then I didnít realize how these girls got so big and hard - I really wasnít thinking about it. I really liked to train, I liked the gym, and I couldnít believe the results I was getting from lifting weights, so I was just intoxicated by the whole thing. Kay put me on a pretty amazing diet but I didnít know about the drugs until later.

What did you like about it?
There is something exhilarating about learning your body and controlling your body. You decide you want to shape your body a certain way and through training and diet you can do that. That is really empowering. It feels great. But getting ready for contests is not a very healthy thing. I love the shredded look Ė I think it looks great. But it isnít very healthy.

When did you start competing?
Iíd always been a fiction writer but Iíd never had much luck selling anything. I had a difficult second pregnancy and had to lie in bed for six months. I was lying in bed thinking, ĎForget it! When I get up, Iím never going to write again and Iím going to be a competitive bodybuilder!í My daughter was born in July 1990 and I won the Southern California in í92. It was about regaining control of my body. After that contest, I realized it wasnít a road I wanted to go down but from that experience came Chemical Pink.

What was Venice like in those days?
It was amazing - back then Goldís really was the Mecca. The sport has got more popular so there are lots of great gyms all over America now, but there was a time when people would save up money to come out to Venice. In the late eighties, I knew this one girl Ė I wonít say her name but she was really amazingly beautiful and was on a lot of covers in the early days of womenís bodybuilding. Back then, the drugs were all new and her boyfriend was experimenting with her. He would feed her thyroid Ė he would take her up to the point where she was shaking and then back her off a little bit. She looked great for a couple of years and then her metabolism completely crashed - just like May in Chemical Pink - and she blew up and could never lose the weight again. I saw several examples of that because nobody knew what the drugs would do to the girls.

Which female pros hung out at Goldís in those days?
Tonya Knight was there all the time. Janice Ragain Ė she was lovely.

chemical pinkCory?
She occasionally trained at Goldís but she was in the Valley more.

Denise Rutkowski?
Yeah, I remember her training and being photographed a lot, but I didnít know her!

Whatís the latest on the movie?
Itís been such a rollercoaster. I canít believe itís taken so long. Ted Field bought it from New Line and they went through a bunch of actresses like Jessica Biel but nobody wanted to do it. A few years ago I met with Patricia Arquette, who started training and went on a diet - she was pretty great actually. She did it for a couple months and then the funding felt through and she took another job and things moved on.

Do you think she had potential as a bodybuilder?
Genetically I think she could have been good but it would have taken a while!

So what now?
The latest is that they want to find a real girl to do it Ė which is what I wanted all along Ė and have Charles be the big name actor. There was some talk of doing a reality show like ďIn search of AuroraĒ - a kind of a documentary of the casting of this film but do it as a reality TV show - but I havenít heard anything more about that. I think it would be fantastic to find a bodybuilding girl who can act - faking the muscle on this thing would have broken my heart. In the script I intentionally pulled her way back so sheís a beginner so she doesnít have a lot of mature muscle on her. Sheís beautiful and muscular but sheís not huge, which makes it a lot easier to cast.

But do you think many female bodybuilders would audition for it? A lot of people think Chemical Pink portrays the sport in a bad light.
In my opinion, I wasnít portraying it in a good light or a bad light. I was just showing it. This is what I saw going on. I didnít sugar coat it, I just wrote the truth. But I really donít feel negative about the sport. There are good and bad things about it, but that is true of any professional sport. The novel is more about the relationship with Charles and the place he is leading Aurora. Itís about his obsession about experimenting on her. Itís not the sport, itís the relationship between the two characters. If Iím judging anything, itís obsessive, controlling men that try to take over womenís lives.

Katie Arnoldiís website is

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Last updated: Oct. 9, 2008 @ 9:25 a.m. PT