PW spoke with Traci Lords at the offices of Book Expo America 2003, which Lords attended to promote her forthcoming autobiography, Traci Lords: Underneath It All. As we spoke, Lords, platinum glamorous in a white blouse and skirt, pecked at a lunch of nuts and seeds, while a Dateline camera crew waited for her in the adjoining room.
PW: Why did you write this book?
Traci Lords: I'm at a place in my life where I'm really happy. I've done a lot in my career that I set out to do. At the end of 2000, when I was out promoting the [TV] series First Wave, I was getting a lot of the same questions about my past, about the porn, over and over again, and I kept seeing it in print, completely distorted, taken out of context, words that I didn't say, and I thought, "You know what? It's time for me to say, 'This is what really happened to me.'" And I'm finally at a place where there's been enough distance so I can write it.
PW: So you wrote the book to set the record straight.
TL: For several reasons, that being one of them. There is a huge problem in this country with kids, with prostitution and pornography. Because I was an abused child, I wanted to shed some light on that. It's a strange position to be in, because for most of my life I've been known as a sex symbol. The media in the mid-'80s, when it all came out, named me the "Ex—Porn Queen." But that was a terrible disservice they did to the public and to me. Because the truth is they should have written, "Ex—Child Prostitute." Because that's what I was. The truth is, there was nothing sexy about what happened.
PW: How did you write the book? Did you have a coauthor?
TL: I used my Mac. No, I didn't have a co-writer, I didn't have a ghostwriter. One of the reasons I ended up at HarperCollins was because they were so behind my doing this myself. And I didn't know if I could! I've been writing for a long time, but I've written songs and short stories. You know, the first draft I started in July, and I turned it in almost two months later. I've heard that's really fast.
PW: How did you write it so quickly?
TL: I don't know how to say this eloquently so I'm just going to say it was like throwing up. It was 500 pages and it was just all over the place. My working title was Girl on Film.
PW: It's interesting to see the response of people to Traci Lords. So many still perceive you primarily as an ex—porn star. It seems you'll have to carry that all your life.
TL: I don't think it's a matter of carrying anything. As I see my life, it has given me a tremendous amount of wisdom in certain ways, and I see it as a gift, because now I can perhaps share this with somebody else. My message, to kids and to parents, is that there is a way to be loved—don't do what I did. What people think of me, and what they put on me, that's their stuff. And who am I to tell people what to think?
PW: Where do you find the inner resources to deal with these challenges?
TL: You know about "angels on both shoulders"? I have them surrounding me.
PW: What are you doing to promote the book?
TL: I'm doing some interviews. I'm doing Dateline, and I'm very interested in doing Oprah. I'm doing everything from fun, fluffy stuff like Paper Magazine to working with Children of the Night, which is a house for runaways and prostitutes who are under 18. I've known Lois [Lee, founder and director of Children of the Night] for 13 or 14 years. Right now she's got six girls. And what she does is amazing. The biggest thing that I can do for her is to be the face and the voice. If you steal a car in this country and you're 13 years old, they send you to Juvie Hall and they rehabilitate you. But if you're 13 and you're a prostitute, walking on the street, nobody rehabilitates you. Why? I hope my book is a launching pad to help change that.
PW: What are you most proud of in your life?
TL: I'm most proud of the fact that I'm still standing. That I'm still standing! And I'm not just still standing. I am, in a way, the Rocky version of my world. It really was that hard, at times.