Cain, Chelsea 1972(?)–

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Cain, Chelsea 1972(?)–


Born c. 1972; married; children: one daughter. Education: University of California at Irvine, B.A.; University of Iowa, M.A.


Home—Portland, OR.


Freelance writer. Contributor to the Portland Mercury; writes a humor column for the Oregonian; previously worked as creative director of a public relations firm in New York, NY.


Dharma Girl: A Road Trip across the American Generations, Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 1996.

(Editor) Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture, foreword by Moon Zappa, Seal Press (Seattle, WA), 1999.

The Hippie Handbook, illustrated by Lia Miternique, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2004.

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: A Parody, illustrated by Lia Miternique, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2005.

Heartsick, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.

Sweetheart, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2008.


Writer Chelsea Cain is a graduate of the University of California at Irvine, where she earned her undergraduate degree in journalism. After briefly working toward her graduate degree in journalism at the University of Iowa, she applied to and was accepted at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, where she ultimately earned her master's degree. The daughter of hippies and raised on a commune, she had diverse aspirations during her childhood. At one point, while still quite young, she was convinced that she wanted to be a firehouse dog, inspired by the vintage fire truck that was part of the equipment at the nearby park where she played. Although her parents never came out and disillusioned her regarding her potential as a Dalmatian, her mother held on to the hope that Cain might someday be a potter, working with clay. Cain acknowledges, however, that she was in all likelihood not a normal child. She had an early fascination with the macabre, starting a pet cemetery for the neighborhood. When she was ten years old, she found out about the local serial killer, known as the Green River Killer, and that first encounter with the actual dangers of the real world spawned a fascination with the case that resulted in her keeping up with reports of the killer's victims, primarily prostitutes, most of whom were still in their teens. Perhaps this early fascination with the news was what prompted her to study journalism, and at Iowa she wrote for the Daily Iowan. However, while Cain was intrigued with the storytelling aspects of journalism, she was less enamored of the interview process; she disliked talking to strangers as a rule, and journalists spent far too much time engaged in the activity for her tastes. This, ultimately, led her to shift her concentration toward writing books.

Cain's first effort, Dharma Girl: A Road Trip across the American Generations, was published in 1996, and was written while she was still an undergraduate. The book was spawned by a road trip that Cain took with her mother shortly after she had been diagnosed with melanoma. Cain had been feeling disconnected from the freedom of her upbringing, and so the two women decided to return to their roots together. They drove from Oregon to Iowa, and Cain shares not only her memories of her childhood, but her reunions with a number of the individuals she knew on the commune in her youth, many of whom she credits for shaping her personality as an adult. The book also offers readers an insider's look at the political scene during the 1970s and the role of activism in shaping the decade, as well as the potential for shaping generations to come. Joanne Wilkinson, writing for Booklist, called Cain's effort an "earnest and loving paen to the author's parents." A writer for Publishers Weekly opined that the book "is neither Kerouac nor Thelma and Louise, but is a pleasant enough roll."

Cain also served as an editor for Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture, a collection of essays that were written primarily by the now-adult hippies of the late 1960s through the 1970s. The book provides honest looks from the vantage points of young women who lived through the period, addressing issues of drugs, sex, communal living, and the ways in which hippies interacted with the more conservative individuals living around them. Booklist reviewer Ellie Barta-Moran called the book "a trip home for other hippie children and a window into their world for those who missed out."

In Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: A Parody, Cain offers readers a fictional, humorous look at the supposed memoirs of teen sleuth Nancy Drew, published after her death in order to set the record straight regarding her adventures as chronicled by author Carolyn Keene, Nancy's old college roommate, who decided to make her name by writing Nancy's unauthorized biography and by taking great liberty with the actual events. Each chapter provides a retelling of one of the adventures from Nancy's life, revealing the truth regarding her relationship with her mother, her housekeeper Hannah, and those infamous Hardy brothers—Frank Hardy in particular. Debra Hamel, writing for Book-Blog, commented that "you'd have to be well-steeped in Nancy Drew lore to appreciate all the in-jokes in Chelsea Cain's clever, charming parody. But even if you haven't read a Nancy Drew novel in decades—or at all—you'll enjoy the read."

Cain turns her hand to writing thrillers with Heartsick, a novel that delves into her own history and tackles the subject of serial killers. The story is set in Portland, Oregon, where a serial killer is on the loose. Archie Sheridan is put on the case, just two years after he himself was captured and tortured by a cruel female serial killer, Gretchen Lowell, who was the focus of a previous investigation by Sheridan and the Beauty Killer Task Force. Lowell was only captured because, after days of tormenting Sheridan, she suddenly spared his life and turned herself in. Sheridan agrees to help out reporter Susan Ward, giving her the scoop not only on the current case but on his previous experiences, but only if she agrees to impart knowledge of her own. It is clear from the start that Sheridan has numerous psychological scars from his previous imprisonment and torture, not the least of which was his ruined marriage, as he continues to visit Lowell in prison weekly, supposedly to learn where her remaining victims were buried, but in actuality because he has become linked to her mental game-playing. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews commented that "despite obvious red herrings, Cain … creates a cleverly contorted thriller plot and characters with memorable personalities." Bill Ott, reviewing for Booklist, called the book "one of the most original serial-killer thrillers to appear in several years," and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly opined that "a vivid literary style lifts this well above the usual run of suspense novels." Entertainment Weekly contributor Jennifer Reese wrote: "Cain has a crisp voice, a wicked sense of humor, and an imagination for all the horrors that can unfold in a locked basement."



Booklist, November 1, 1996, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Dharma Girl: A Road Trip across the American Generations, p. 477; December 1, 1999, "Girlhoods in the Counterculture," p. 663; June 1, 2007, Bill Ott, review of Heartsick, p. 5.

Bookseller, May 4, 2007, "The Mark of Cain: Katherine Rushton Talks to Macmillan's New Thriller Hope, Chelsea Cain," p. 24.

Entertainment Weekly, September 7, 2007, "Killer Aptitude," p. 81; September 21, 2007, "Chelsea Cain," p. 87.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2004, review of Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: A Parody, p. 837; August 1, 2007, review of Heartsick.

Library Journal, October 15, 1996, Janet Ross, review of Dharma Girl, p. 80; August 1, 2007, Teresa L. Jacobsen, review of Heartsick, p. 63.

Ms., January 1, 1997, Sharon Lennon, review of Dharma Girl; June 1, 2000, review of Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture, p. 79.

New York Times Book Review, March 27, 2005, Melanie Rehak, "Secret of the Old Crock," p. 15; September 2, 2007, Kathryn Harrison, "To Die For," p. 9; September 3, 2007, Janet Maslin, "His Girl Friday Meets a Sadistically Chic Serial Killer."

Publishers Weekly, October 21, 1996, review of Dharma Girl, p. 76; November 8, 1999, review of Wild Child, p. 57; July 16, 2007, review of Heartsick, p. 143; July 30, 2007, "PW Talks with Chelsea Cain: Northwest Noir," p. 52; September 24, 2007, Matthew Thornton, "The Briefing," p. 12.

School Library Journal, August 1, 2007, Charli Osborne, review of Heartsick, p. 143.

Utopian Studies, January 1, 2001, Carol Kolmerten, review of Wild Child, p. 154.


Bloomsbury USA Web site, (June 17, 2008), author profile.

Book-Blog, (November 5, 2007), Debra Hamel, review of Confessions of a Teen Sleuth.

BookPage, (June 17, 2008), Jay Macdonald, "Lady Killer: Female Villain Takes Center Stage in Chelsea Cain Thriller.", (September 7, 2007), author interview; Joe Hartlaub, review of Heartsick.

Chelsea Cain Home Page, (June 17, 2008).

January, (August 1, 2004), Lincoln Cho, "Living Reference for the Birkenstock Set."

Mysteries in Paradise, (March 16, 2008), review of Heartsick.

Via, (June 17, 2008), author profile.