27-year-old Jessica Cutler is perhaps the most famous ex-blogger around, especially considering that she only blogged for less than two weeks. Oh, but what a blog it was, filled with enough sex, drama, youthful hijinks and political intrigue to liven up the gossip pages and blogosphere for months. After attending, but not graduating from, Syracuse University, Cutler worked briefly in New York as a journalist in for a footwear fashion trade publication, before a bartending stint and her eventual move to D.C.
Her breezy, racy blog covered her active sex life and incessant search for fun and excitement. When her tales of having sex with married Bush officials in Capitol office buildings and subsidizing her $25,000 salary as a mail clerk for U.S. Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) with cash from her suitors became public, she was called everything from a whore to a heroine, "unbalanced" and "honest" to a "vain, young, trash-mouthed skank." Outed by political blog Wonkette, Cutler took a turn in the spotlight before penning the largely autobiographical novel The Washingtonienne, just published by Disney-owned Hyperion, in which heroine Jacqueline escapes New York for D.C. after a breakup only to find herself in an endless round of drugs, sex, gossip, and mischief. Cutler was recently slapped with a legally complex invasion of privacy lawsuit by former lover Robert Steinbuch, referred to as “RS” in her original blog. How does the real-life Cutler rack up next to her fictionalized self? Gothamist emailed the chatty, practically effusive Cutler to find out if she has any regrets, her high and low moments, and why the single girl and scandalmonger now calls New York home.
When you started your blog, did you have any idea that it would wind up causing such a huge scandal?
No! It was really just 13 days of girl talk. I would have left out the parts about the taco eating contest and the Martha Stewart Catalog if I had meant to cause such a sensation with it. It’s funny, but whenever I read the blog, those are the parts I feel most embarrassed about!
Did you have anyone advising you after the scandal broke as to what you should do or were you making the decisions on your own?
I was totally clueless. I felt like my life was over, and I was desperate for someone to tell me what to do with myself. I sat around my apartment for three days, and then I started getting phone calls from reporters. One of my boyfriends called me up, asking me out to dinner. He knew nothing about the "scandal." I told him everything, and he was like, "Call these reporters back, or one of them might show up at your house." Remembering what I would have done as a reporter to get a story, I knew that was a very real possibility.
So I did interviews, and the one I did with Richard Leiby at The Washington Post made the story jump the Beltway. People in New York started hearing about it, and that’s when literary agents began calling. Again, I was clueless. So I went with the agents who were the most enthusiastic about working with me, and they pretty much saved my life.
There are photos floating around the Internet of you out and about with Wonkette editor Ana Marie Cox. What exactly happened on your wild night on the town with her?
We met at the Four Seasons for "a drink." But you know how us girls love to talk, so we were there for a few hours. Ana was like, "You know what would be funny? If we took some pictures that look like we’re making out." And I agreed, "Yes, that would totally take the edge off!" We needed to get drunker, so we went to Blue Gin in Georgetown and we got some random dudes to take the photos. I was a mess, so Ana took me to her house. I barfed in the cab, and in the extra bedroom that she works out of, but she was nice about it. That was the only time we ever hung out, and we don’t speak to each other anymore. I can tell you why when we’re off the record sometime. It’s a very funny story!
How much of your novel is fictionalized, and how long did it take you to write it?
It’s a big composite of various experiences that I had in Washington, so much of it is from real life, but much of it is also made-up. I wanted it to read true to the people who live and work there, but I also wanted to make it interesting for people who had already read the blog and were following the story. It took several months for me to finish, and I had to do at least four re-writes before it was approved.
What was the most challenging part of the writing? Were any parts removed for legal reasons?
The big problem I had was that my story was too convoluted, and the characters were too inconsistent. In real life, people are constantly saying one thing and doing another, but if you write your characters that way, the story becomes too hard to follow. Life is always so much stranger than fiction, so I had to streamline everything. I’m not a lawyer, so I didn’t know the criteria for what was fit for print. In a case like mine, the publisher has to be careful, so we went over the manuscript, and yes, we made changes.
You emailed me soon after my Village Voice column about you went up, so I’m curious whether you Google yourself or keep track of what’s written about you.
I get Google alerts, but I only recently set that up. Last year, I would just punish myself and read everything, but I had to stop when I started writing the book because it was way too distracting. Now I’m at the point where I read something, and I’m like, "Whatever, I’ve heard worse." But it makes me feel so much better when I read something that is even a little sympathetic. It makes me feel less alone.
You also wrote to me that, "I don't mean half of the stuff I say in interviews. I usually have no idea what to say, so I just make stuff up. The more infuriating, the better." Is this because you’ve been burned by media portrayals of you, or you just don’t care what people say, or you just love to stir up controversy?
It’s a combination of the three, and it depends on whom I’m doing the interview with. It’s hard for me to take any of this stuff seriously, so it’s funny when other people do. I’ll say something completely absurd and it will go to print. This is an endless source of entertainment for my friends and me.
One of the themes of your novel is New York vs. D.C. Jacqueline moves to D.C. to get over a guy and makes some pretty scathing observations about women in New York and men in D.C. What are the main differences you observed in terms of socializing and dating in each city? Is it easier to be a single woman in New York or D.C.?
Really, the most successful people in the world live here, not in Washington. New York is where you go to catch a big fish. Having said that, it’s easier to be the big fish in a small pond like D.C. When people tell me that the female-to-male ratio is 2:1 in Washington, I can’t believe it. It always seemed like it was the other way around. It’s way easier to be a single woman in D.C., because the boys there are so much easier to impress. Women in New York have to work much harder to compete with the supermodels for attention.
Are you currently single?
I am way too selfish to be in a real, grown-up relationship, so I’m dating around.
It seems inevitable that you’ll get compared to New York’s other famous D.C. sex scandal star, Monica Lewinsky. Have you met her or had any contact with her? How do you feel about the comparison—do you see yourselves as having anything in common?
She had a relationship with the President, and I was dating a bunch of nobodies. But I don’t understand how people can be so hard on someone they don’t even know. I don’t know her, so I really don’t know what else I can say.
Where are you living now? Do you feel more comfortable in New York than D.C.?
New York! People here don’t give a shit. I had to pose for some pictures in the Hart Senate Office Building in D.C. last month, and all these losers stood outside of their offices to stare at me. Then one of them e-mailed Roll Call newspaper about it. They should send these kids to go find Bin Laden with all the free time they seem to have.
At one point in the blog, you write, "Shit. I'm fucking six guys. Ewww." Did it take writing them all down for you to realize that’s what was happening?
Exactly. I never stopped to think about what I was doing. The blog was actually helping with that. I could actually see in black and white how ridiculous I was being. But doing something about it is another thing. I was sort of hoping that these guys would eventually drop out of my life because I hate break-ups. All of these relationships would have ended badly anyway, but the way it played out in the end was much worse than I could have imagined.
There’s a sense in the novel that a lot of what you were doing you were doing out of sheer boredom. Is that accurate? Did the lack of nightlife in D.C. push you toward sexual experimentation, or would that have happened wherever you were?
Yes! Everything closes at 1 am, 2 am. Sometimes I felt like I was in a huge rush. If you’re still in a bar when the lights go on, you are a loser. Ideally, you’re in bed with some guy with a huge dick who gives great head, but that’s only if you’re lucky. But I always feel like I’m missing out on something, that someone is having more fun than I am, so I take measures to make sure that is impossible.
Have you been surprised at the reactions you’ve gotten from the public and the media?
I was, but those outraged people are in the minority. Normal people have sex lives of their own to worry about.
Since you got fired, have you heard from any of your former Capitol Hill coworkers?
Not from my office, and I like it that way. But I do have friends elsewhere on the Hill, and they think what I did was hilarious.
At one point you presciently quote Wonkette in your blog saying "I love it that you can get famous for just talking." Did you intend or want to become famous?
No, but I thought that statement had a lot of candor. I always regarded people who want fame with a lot of suspicion. Unless you have a product to sell, I don’t know why anyone would want to be famous. I can’t imagine what need that would fill.
Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time, would you still create your blog? Is there anything you’d do differently?
I don’t think that way. There’s no point in living in an alternate reality.
One reviewer on Amazon calls your novel "Morally Repugnant, Wildly Entertaining," and that seems to be a pretty accurate description of many people’s reactions to the book and the scandal. How do you feel about being repeatedly judged for your sexual decisions?
Obviously, people are using their own moral standards to judge others. People who make such statements are really saying more about themselves than they are about me.
Do you feel like you’ve matured since your time in D.C.?
I was in D.C. last week, and I was still getting trashed and making out with strangers in my hotel room. I realized that I haven’t changed my behavior in any way. One day, I won’t be able to do this stuff anymore, so I want to have as much fun as possible before I get married/die. In a way I’m like Jerri Blank when she says, "I’m still doing all of the wrong things, but now I’m doing them for the right reasons."
What are the best and worst things that have happened to you since your blog was discovered?
Getting a good review from The Washington Post is up there. And The New York Times Book Review made me cry, I was so happy when I read it. Both times, I felt like it was all worth it. The low-point was crying to my agent because I didn’t think I could finish the book in time. When you know that there are people rooting for your failure, you put so much more pressure on yourself. That’s when I started doubling my medication.
When you did a reading at Olsson’s in DC, you got served with papers from a lawsuit by Rob Steinbuch, "RS" from your blog. Can we expect anything as exciting to happen tonight at Astor Place?
My father will be there, and it’s his birthday. I’m sure someone will ruin it by asking a rude question during the Q&A.
After your publicity duties for your novel die down, what’s next on your agenda?
I want to finish my next book proposal before I go back to work, but I hate making plans. Every time I make plans, my life goes haywire and I have to start all over again.
Jessica Cutler reads from and signs The Washingtonienne at 7 pm tonight at Barnes & Noble Astor Place. Her novel, The Washingtonienne, is out now. The archive of her blog, The Washingtonienne, can be found here.
Photo by Mark Dolan