Today I’m pleased to interview Christee Gabour Atwood, a woman who has worn many hats—syndicated columnist, anchorwoman, radio personality, stand-up comedian, actress, editor, lobbyist, consultant, training manager, public speaker, and Universal Studios tour guide. She has spent November on a “book tour by blog,” visiting blogs to discuss her book Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis, published by Cardoza Press.
Congratulations, Christee, on the recent publication of your book, and thank you for visiting my blog.
Thanks for inviting me, Shauna. I always enjoy getting to visit with you.
I’m having so much fun with my book. Just finding out that other people are insane just like me makes it worth the public humiliation. And I get to visit with lots of famous writers before they get the restraining orders in place.
I know you're a big fan of the elastic waistband, so I thought you might be able to answer a fashion question that's been bugging me. How do clothes without elastic waistbands work? I mean, if I were, for some masochistic reason that escapes me now, to buy a skirt without an elastic waistband, what would I do? Buy it in four sizes and then change into the next larger size after each meal?
Good question. I think they put silly stuff like buttons or zippers on some skirts, but what is the purpose of that? I mean, the old “extender” of a rubber band around the button and through the buttonhole is frowned on—even in a society that wears pants so low that plumbers get embarrassed.
I guess they expect us to stay one size. Lack of versatility there. And I won’t fall prey to that kind of stagnant thinking.
So, to make a long answer longer, don’t even consider clothing without elastic. If it’s good enough to keep Santa’s beard on, it’s good enough for us!
Your book takes a humorous look at both middle age and your writing career. Which has been funnier, middle age or your career?
They take turns. But, judging by the way people laugh when they’re reading it, I think my résumé must be the funniest thing ever written… And it’s one of the few fiction pieces I’ve done. Everything else I’ve written has some truth in it…
I look back on my writing career (I use “career” in the loosest sense of the word) and I have to laugh. I remember the days of typing stories in my office (aka hot-water-heater closet) when I was in elementary school, and I laugh because I can’t even fit into that closet now. (Yeah, there’s that elastic theme again.)
I think of some of the first Great American Novels I sent off to publishers, and I’m embarrassed to have killed those trees. My manuscripts have traveled more than I have. They’ve really enjoyed it, and I live vicariously through the postmarks.
I’ve gotten rejection letters that were so “personal” that they had been copied with a hair on the copy machine. A giant curl on your form rejection letter is not as funny as you’d think—until some years later. And that’s the thing—it all seems funny now. So my writing career is pretty darn funny to me. And all that rejection is going to sound so good when I can say, “Yes, Mr. Letterman, those early days in writing were tough. I can’t imagine how I ever got along without my third yacht.”
Midlife, however, is a pretty funny thing too. Any period of life where I can blame hormones for everything is pretty darn fun for me.
- “So I yelled at the cat. Hormones.”
- “Yes, officer, I was speeding. Those darn hormones made me do it.”
- “Well judge, I admit I did smash the mirror in the JCPenney dressing room. But it was hormones… and the fact that the XXL fit.”
Did I answer the question? What was the question? Oh yeah, is midlife or writing career funnier. Both. It just depends on the day.
I'm 51, and I'm really enjoying the perks of middle age. I'm expecting my fifties to perhaps be the best decade of my life. What’s wrong with me?
You obviously are much too well adjusted.
I doubt many people would agree with you!
It’s time for you to get your AARP notice in the mail. That will knock you down a notch! They keep sending ones to me and I return them with a nasty note reminding them that writers never retire. We just move to large-print versions.
I actually do like middle age. I’m loving the last of my 40s because I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’d like for their to be a little less of that skin and for it not to have quite so many little roadmaps appearing on it, but it fits me just fine.
Just keep being a writer. That’s the best way to keep from getting too content. Those publishers sure can help you stay humble, can’t they?
You believe in humor as therapy. How can people add humor to their lives to help them deal with writing problems, midlife problems, post-Katrina problems, or the year remaining of George Bush's presidency?
I can help with ideas for humor for all those problems, except maybe the Bush thing. That’s too scary to joke about.
Here’s a couple of methods to add humor to your life:
- Read the newspaper. No, not the depressing stuff—just the headlines. I love finding mistakes. Some of my favorites: “Blizzard Hits Four States. One is Missing.” “Lawyer to Offer Poor Free Advice”
- Read quotes from celebrities. For example:
- Vanna White said, “It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.”
- Samuel Goldwyn said, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
- And Dan Quayle … well, there are just too many to list.
- Read bumper stickers.
- “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools.”
- “I still miss my ex-husband, but my aim is getting better.”
- Carry a rubber chicken with you at all times. I personally use mine as a tool in a multitude of ways. I love to stick it in the car window, roll up the window so that just the head hangs out, and let it flap around as I’m driving. People never tailgate you when you’re driving with a chicken head in your window. I don’t know why, but it’s fun.
- I also like to label my trash can as “Inbox.” And when someone I don’t want to talk to calls, I pretend to be an answering machine, beep, and hang up before they can “record” their message.
You've done some creative—no, I have to be honest, Christee, they were really bizarre—things to promote yourself. Could you talk about some of them and how they worked for you?
What’s bizarre about dressing in a full-body chicken suit and sitting in a bookstore window in a mall to write a novel in 30 days? Yeah, that was for National Novel Writing Month.
You know, I’ve done a few really impressive things in my life. I’ve been awarded a Senate resolution, been named Young Career Woman, won Adjunct Faculty of the year, had the highest radio ratings in the history of Louisiana, and been a professional speaker, an executive, a media personality, etc., but it took a chicken suit for me to get national attention (see CBS News article: Write a Book in 30 Days). What’s wrong with that picture?
I’m trying this virtual book tour this month, and it’s a fun way to do a book promotion. I get to talk about myself all month and I never have to get out of my pajamas.
For booksignings, I’ve learned a lot of things. I never sit down. I babysit kids while their Moms shop. I give directions to the restroom. I stand next to my book on the shelf, reading it and laughing. (Which is not terribly convincing, since my picture’s on the cover.) Whatever it takes… I’ll try it…
I like to create events—like the Menopause Fashion Show and my Thirsty Thursday Drinking Club. I’ll speak to any group that leaves their door unlocked. I give bookmarks to trick-or-treaters and drive-thru workers. I wear shameless shirts that say, “Will write for food.” I’ve been everything from Harry Potter emcee to Mrs. Claus.
All of this has combined to give me media appeal that works well for me. I get lots of interviews on talk shows, syndicated radio shows, and things like that because they see this strange stuff and realize that this is not a normal person. They know I’ll be “different.” Yes, I humiliate myself, but it works for me. I’d rather do it to myself than have someone else do it for me.
So many people start books; so few finish. Please compare and contrast your writing method with theirs. This question constitutes 10% of your grade.
Those people worry about silly things like writing quality, correct use of nouns, verbs, and modifiers, and paying their mortgage. By eliminating all of those things and being prepared to move into a refrigerator box at any time, I’ve been able to finish my books.
I’d stop there, but since my grade is riding on this one, I’ll also say that I don’t accept the concept of writers’ block. Why should we be allowed to claim “I’m blocked” and get off work? The garbage man doesn’t get to do that. The kid at the drive-thru can’t call in and say “I’m blocked” unless it’s a health condition caused by the food. And I’d be darned perturbed if my surgeon called in “blocked” on the day of my surgery. What makes writers so special?
So I believe in writing when I’m in the mood, when I’m not in the mood, and when I forgot to check to see if there’s any mood present. And sometimes it stinks, but in between all those stinky words, there will always be a few not-so-stinky ones hiding. When I cull the others out, I can usually find something to salvage in a day’s work.
Why are rubber chickens funny?
Because they have nothing to hide. Yes, with a rubber chicken, what you see is what you get.
Plus, they make such a great tool. (Remember the car tip earlier?) I even use them in meetings. If someone gets negative, they get the chicken thrown to them. Then they have to hold it until someone else says something negative. It reminds people to be positive … and it’s just darn funny to watch a rubber chicken fly around the room.
Having a little rubber chicken on my keychain has been a wonderful thing for me too. I never lose my keys in my purse—nothing else feels like a rubber chicken. And valet parkers never lose my keys either. Plus, I carry it hanging out of my pocket. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously. Hard to be a bigshot with a chicken hanging out of your pocket.
Could you tell us a little about the other things you've written and why my blog readers should drop everything and rush out right this minute and buy them?
Well, right now I have three business and training books in various stages of publication. The first one is out—Succession Planning Basics. It outlines a format to create career maps in your workplace. Yes, someone actually had me write a serious book. How scary is that?
My other two will be out within the next few months. They are Presentation Skills Training and Manager Skills Training. Pretty cool. They are entire two-day seminars—ready to go. They even include a CD with PowerPoints, forms and handouts, etc. So basically, anybody could pick these up and teach a workshop on these topics. If someone is thinking of going into the business of seminars or training, these are great starting places. And yes, they’ll notice that I even sneaked in some humor. No one is safe from my sense of hummus. Oops, I’m getting hungry. I can always tell from my typos.
I also write a regular humor column in City Social Magazine in Louisiana. “Life’s Lumps” has been a feature of that magazine since 2002.
And the sequel to Three Feet Under is in the works. Look for In Celebration of Elastic Waistbands, coming soon to the bargain bin at a bookstore near you!
Thank you again, Christee, for stopping by my blog on your virtual book tour.
Thanks for letting me visit with you, Shauna. We miss you here in Louisiana! And remember, anything you read about me on the Post Office wall is greatly exaggerated…
Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis is available for purchase at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Christee maintains a blog about writing, "Elastic Waistbands," at http://elasticwaistbands.blogspot.com/ and a Website about her book at http://www.journalofamidlifecrisis.com/.