Sheila McClear, ‘New York Post’ Features Writer
by Andrew Piccone
Tell me about your job.
I write features which are anything that’s not hard news — longer form articles that aren’t attached to the news cycle. Things that might be more in the cultural ether, maybe profiles of people, or stuff like that. I did a couple fashion stories on the Golden Globes, what people wore, what people wore in the past, I interviewed a bunch of stylists, talked about what it all meant. I’ve done more interesting things than that, but that’s the most recent one. I like writing features, you get the luxury of time, where it’s more of a weekly deadline than a daily deadline. In the case of blogging it’s more of an hourly deadline, so it’s nice to be able to have more time, there is a certain luxury in that. You get a lot of ink too, features are longer, 700 to 1000 words per piece.
How did you land the job?
I did some freelancing for the Post writing book reviews, and I was pretty persistent about writing book reviews only. Then I got to writing features, which is what I do now, and they were hiring someone and they brought me in and I did a two-week audition, and they brought me on full time. I’ve been on staff for 10 months, I was freelancing for maybe a year and a half before that.
Who’s the coolest person you’ve interviewed?
Vince Neil from Mötley Crüe, that was pretty awesome. It was at the Peninsula Hotel, at first it was at the bar but the publicist had switched it to the restaurant, to which I was like, ‘okay.’ I got there and she says not to ask him about his DUI because he’s not legally allowed to talk about it, and I realize maybe that’s why they switched it from the bar to the restaurant. It was totally awesome in a childhood-like, surreal way. He’s just so over the top, he had this huge watch sparkling with diamonds encrusted on it. He’s a total gentleman, but he’s also not, and you can just see the wheels turning in how Vince Neil works. I don’t think he’s that deep, but it was pretty cool.
Before the Post you were writing for Gawker?
I was removed from Gawker in December of 2008. It sort of felt like college working there, I thought it was really fun. It was good training for working at a newspaper, because even though you’re not creating your own content that much, you’re still working on strict, hourly deadlines. It really taught me how to crank shit out, get it done. I think if I didn’t have that I would still have the problem where I was paralyzed by deadlines and can’t get stuff done. Now I’m not. I’m not a better writer, but more serviceable and professional. I don’t read it much anymore. Now that I don’t work there I realize that I read stuff in its original source. I read The Times, I read the trades for fashion coverage and all that. I don’t know, I kind of feel when I go to Gawker now I’m going to the twenty-something version of CNN.com. I felt like I understood what it was about when I was there and before I was there, when I was a reader, but now I don’t get what they want to be.
Do you ever miss your days at Gawker?
Yeah, it was super fun and it had that start-up feel to it. It felt like a very modern job to have at the time. I liked the freewheeling sort of aspect of it. It would get pretty chaotic and your stuff doesn’t really get looked at by anyone but you until it goes up. It was always interesting.
How do you feel about gossip websites in general?
I really like gossip, I do. It’s giving people what they want. People always talk about gossip like it’s a bad thing, I never think of it that way. I think it’s a really natural impulse.
What advice to you have for a younger generation that glamorizes blogging?
Have a clear idea of what your goal from it is. My goal was that I wanted to write for print and now I do. I know a lot of people write for blogs and their goal isn’t to be a writer, and that’s fine too. I would just not look at blogging as an end game. It’s good to have something after that. It’s a really good way to get your name out there, and if you’re specific enough about what your vision is and what your voice is it can be really helpful. If it’s sloppy and all over the place and not responsible then blogging can be a deterrent because your name is always linked to something on the internet.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received about something you’ve written?
That’s a good question. Knowing someone feels the same way about the weird little things I like or notice. It’s cool when you like accidentally connect with a whole bunch of people. I remember the threats more than the compliments. I wrote for a community paper, Chelsea Now, during my freelancing-slash-unemployment time, and I wrote about a bodega that was closing down. The guy at the bodega had been working there for like 30 years, and I did a sort of portrait of him. This elderly couple wrote in to the paper and said that was a really accurate portrayal of this guy and they really enjoyed it, which I thought was cool.
So you have a book coming out?
It’s called The Last of the Live Nude Girls and it’s coming out on August 1st. There were three peep shows left in Times Square when I worked there, I worked in two of them. I think it was a combination of having just moved to New York, and being isolated, and able to do anything I wanted without consequences, and being shy and insecure. I thought it was a way of testing myself, but I think in reflection working in a peep show only leads to more disconnection and alienation between you and the rest of the world. Looking back I sort of got dragged into it and I really had nothing going for me, I didn’t know anyone in New York, I had no job prospects, I was getting fired from menial jobs left and right, it was just a ‘fuck it’ kind of moment.
Did you start with the intention to write about it?
No, not at all. I didn’t take notes for a long time. A friend of mine who I always told stories about it would say it would be great for my book. At first I was like, whatever, I didn’t even take notes. Taking notes made it seem like it was somewhat permanent or long term. I didn’t plan on writing it, quite frankly I think it’s an important story for the historical record, but I didn’t enjoy writing it. It was hard! I would’ve rather written about something else, but once I got into it I realized I had this responsibility to write about something that hasn’t really been written about before, not from an individual’s perspective.
How does the development of Times Square play into it?
There is a chapter about the history of the peep show, when that began. The vice crackdowns and different laws over the years that applied to burlesque and peep shows come into play too. It’s super easy to romanticize the rawness and grittiness of Times Square of the past, I certainly do when I remember my time there — even though it was so recent! But going further back, it was really bad. It’s almost selfish in a way to romanticize it, because it was really bad. It might be interesting to have underage prostitutes and junkies and every type of freak show on display, but I don’t know if it was good. I’m sure it was incredibly entertaining and invigorating, but I don’t know if I can be nostalgic for something that I didn’t really experience and was totally horrifying. I couldn’t have probably worked there in the 70’s or 80’s because it was so dangerous. I couldn’t have rode the subway.
Speaking of the subway, what is your biggest pet peeve while riding the rails?
Oh my God, people clipping their nails. They do that, it’s incredible. You would think people would not clip their nails, but I’ve seen it on several occasions, it’s horrible.
Andrew Piccone is a photographer in New York.