Malibu Surfside News

March 29, 2001


by Peggy Hall Kaplan

The buff and tumble world of body builders is given close and biting scrutiny by Katie Arnoldi in her debut novel Chemical Pink: A Novel of Obsession.

The book, which has climbed to number six on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, is an edgy exploration of a culture with a dark and dangerous underbelly, one that Arnoldi became familiar with during her own forays into weight lifting and body sculpting.

katie-posing2At first meeting, Arnoldi seems the least likely person to have become involved with muscle building and body competitions. Petite, blond and athletic, Arnoldi grew up in Malibu loving the outdoors and learning to surf in the waves off Point Dume. She still competes in long board championships and cherishes the ocean and its surrounding environs. She continues to make her home in Malibu with her husband, the artist Charles Arnoldi, and their two children.

But during the 1980s, Arnoldi faced an identity crisis while bedridden during her second pregnancy. She had been writing fiction since she was in her 20s—a novel and many short stories—all of which had been rejected by publishers. It was an ego bruising experience that Arnoldi was reluctant to resume.

“I decided I hated writing,” she recalled while sipping a mug of tea at her kitchen table. “So I got really into body building because it was something I could control.” Before she had children, Arnoldi had regularly lifted weights, but after the birth of her daughter, she took it up several notches. She started an exercise regime in earnest with some of the best body building trainers in the world. She found she loved lifting weights for the physical challenge and for the sculpting effect weight lifting had on her body.

Arnoldi trained for two years with the goal of competing on a serious level. In 1992 she took third place in the Orange County Muscle Classic and won the Southern California Championship title. Confronted with having to take steroids and other muscle enhancement drugs to go any farther, Arnoldi quit the sport and went back to writing and competitive surfing.

Chemical Pink is a book that draws on Arnoldi’s extensive knowledge of body building, but it is a work of fiction, not a biography. In fact, Arnoldi believes that her earlier writing was far too much about herself, lacking fictional plot and character development. She sat down and wrote this novel in a little over a year and sold it in a few months. “I finally got out of my own way,” she said.


Chemical Pink pulls no punches, graphically detailing the often sordid, narcissistic world of serious body builders through the eyes of Aurora Johnson, a poor single mother who becomes involved with Charles Worthington III, a wealthy sociopath with kinky sexual tendencies and a fascination with women body builders.

Part of the reason for the book’s popularity is the sexual sensationalism, but another is its authentic depiction of what happens to women body builders who use illegal drugs. Aurora’s body soon begins to develop male characteristics from the steroids Charles injects, and the question is, will she be able to save herself before it is physically and spiritually too late?

Arnoldi witnessed the physical deterioration of women such as Aurora first hand—the growth of facial hair, the deepening of the voice, the acquiring of male body characteristics, and finally the total shutting down of metabolisms and body functions. “I am a camera,” she laughed. The book has been optioned by New Line Cinema; the fast-moving storyline and colorful subject matter make Chemical Pink a film natural. Arnoldi is finishing the screenplay so casting can begin.

If the film is even close to the book’s popularity, a new audience for weight lifters will be found.

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