Friday, November 30, 2007

Welcoming Christee Gabour Atwood!

Today I welcome Christee Gabour Atwood!

Her latest book is "A Celebration of Midlife … and Elastic Waistbands" &

Welcome Christee!

Was it always your goal to do a book on midlife crisis?
Well, actually, it was my goal to do any book that lots and lots of people would buy and I would end up rich enough to have a maid so I could see what color my carpet is.
Instead I wrote this one…
I truly love to write and this book was actually born because I found that writing is not only a hobby, it’s my therapy. I started writing all the things that drove me crazy like the fact that Victoria’s “Secret” was that all her pictures are airbrushed. And the fact that my inner child and my outer adult have traded places and refuse to go back to their proper positions. And the realization that I have an exercise bike but it functions as a coat rack.
Then it all came together when a good-looking young fellow held the door for me and called me “ma’am”. I realized that was it. I had started midlife and all these things were part of that experience. To be a little Dickensian – it’s the best of times; it’s the stinkiest of times. (Okay, I took a little license there…)
Since this book came out, I’ve found there are a whole bunch of us who are living in midlife crisis … and actually celebrating it! And being able to share those adventures makes this period of life really funny.

You offer a lot of workshops - which one do you enjoy the most?
I love doing the writers’ workshops because I can really relate to the groups.
I do one workshop where we write the “world’s worst novel”. Talk about a fun way to take the pressure off yourself when writing. We’ve created everything from vampires who faint at the sight of blood to heroines with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That’s just good stuff…
I also enjoy my sessions on presentation skills for writers, because most of us find it hard to narrow down the description of our works. I like to remind writers that we need to be able to describe our books in 30 seconds. That’s called an “elevator speech” and it’s great in case you find yourself in the company of an editor or agent. You can get the whole plot across to them in the time of an elevator ride. (Then, if the elevator breaks down, you can go through a chapter by chapter description until they finally try to crawl out of the top of the elevator to get away.)

Talk to me about this 101 Uses for a Rubber Chicken workshop!
I find that rubber chickens are a valuable tool, no matter what your profession. They help us keep perspective. They are an attention-getter. And when you use them, no one gets hurt…
For example: I use a rubber chicken in meetings. Whenever someone says something negative, they get the chicken thrown to them. Then they’re stuck with it until someone else says something negative. So the chicken continues to be thrown to anyone who says anything negative. This is a great tool for reminding us to use positive language … and it’s just really funny to watch a naked chicken flapping across the room during a meeting.
I also carry a rubber chicken keychain with me at all times. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously. It also never gets lost at valet parking.
These are the sorts of things we discuss in this workshop. It’s a workshop to remind us that “If I laugh at myself first, then the rest of the world is laughing with me, not at me.”

You write a column for City Social Magazine in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Do you find the routine challenging sometimes? Did Katrina affect the content of your column?
Writing a column is the best exercise for me. Especially since I really fail at the other kinds of exercise that involve that nasty sweating thing…
It’s challenging, but it’s also a way of never allowing myself to use the excuse of “writer’s block”. After all, no other profession allows you to say you’re blocked and take off work. (“I’m sorry. I can’t operate today. I have surgeon’s block.” Nope, that wouldn’t fly at all.) So, it’s good for my discipline.
But there are days when nothing seems funny. Katrina was definitely one of those times. I was working at the makeshift animal shelter as evacuees came in and it affected me in a way I can’t even explain. I truly couldn’t find any humor in me.
So, I turned to my quote collection. I found quotations that were inspirational or cheered me up. I introduced the column by explaining that I just wasn’t finding anything to laugh at on that day, and that these were the words that lifted me in these times. As I read through them, it actually helped me. I hope it did the same for others.
Anybody who keeps a journal everyday is taking the first step to being a columnist. I highly recommend that people look at the single issue that bothers them the most in their journal pages every day and turn it around by taking a few jabs at it. You’d be amazed what it does for your mood! And it’s much less expensive than a psychiatrist.

You are an "Ambassador of Mirth". Do you find optimism a tough sell sometimes?
Great question! And, “Oh Yes!” is the answer.
Isn’t it a shame that being happy is considered childish?
Act your age.
Stop acting like a child.
Oh, grow up.
So, the message seems to be that if you enjoy life, you’re not an adult.
Every day people lock their joy into the pocket of their briefcases next to their PDA and leave the spring in their step in the tennis shoes that they push out of the way to get to those basic black business shoes. They save their laughter for the occasional email joke or for lunchtime.
What’s great is that all it takes is one person with the nerve to laugh at herself or himself to give us permission to lighten up. I like to think I’m that person. When I walk into classes or a client’s workplace with a rubber chicken poking out of my pocket, it’s amazing to see how many people respond positively. It’s easier to be creative, to be open to unusual problem-solving, and to be less self-conscious when you’re laughing.
By the way, laughter also burns calories. When I want to lose a few pounds, I read reports from the Louisiana legislature.

I saw that you were also at Book Expo 2006 (and sorry we missed one another!); what was the highlight of that event for you?
I got a picture with Dave Barry!! And Dr. Ruth!! Not sure which one thrilled me the most. Dave Barry is such an incredible writer. And Dr. Ruth … well, she’s Dr. Ruth!!
I visited with a number of prominent authors I really respect. I’ve even stayed in touch with a few of them. Which brings up a non-related question: What does the term “restraining order” really mean?
On May 29 through June 1, 2008 I’ll be signing copies of my three newest books at Book Expo, so I want to invite you and any writers in the Los Angeles area to come visit! These three are business and training books, Succession Planning Basics, Presentation Skills Training, and Manager Skills Training. Even if you don’t want the free book, I’ll have free candy on my table. Yeah, I’m not above bribery…
Book Expo is one of the most exciting events you can attend. It’s just amazing to experience the energy and electricity that you get from being around writers, publishers, librarians, and so many other people who respect books like we do.

You have accomplished so much! What were your first steps of success?
Having career-induced A.D.D. was the first step of my success. I just couldn’t stay with one project for a long period of time, so I accumulated knowledge about a variety of useful --and many useless – things. Sooner or later all that knowledge has come in handy.
I’ve been writing since I was a child and that constant emphasis on the written word was the basis of my communication skills. Then, in high school, I got into radio and that helped me focus on the spoken word. The combination of those two has made me a better communicator and that’s been the magic ingredient in everything I do.
That ingredient was useful when I worked in television, newspaper, corporations, and as a Universal Studios Tour Guide. (That’s the occupation where I learned to point to my left and my right.) And it’s been priceless as I’ve started learning about the world of book promotion. The ‘communication’ that is, not the ‘pointing to the left and right’.
Also, with my attention span of a gnat that’s had too much caffeine, I continue to learn new things every day.

What tips can you offer for surviving a midlife crisis?
Laugh. It’s going to be funny to you someday, so why not just push fast-forward and laugh at it now?

Refuse to accept the fact that midlife crisis is a bad thing. If it’s an excuse to wear elastic waistbands and buy a shiny red car, it can’t be all bad!

And remember, you’re not alone. There are millions of us going through the same thing. Share those experiences and we can laugh together. Try to hide them and you’ll be embarrassed alone.

Any advice for authors & speakers who want to continue to grow as such?
Well, I’m not the world’s greatest overnight success story. In fact, I have a workshop called “Overnight Success…the 48-Year Method.” I possess what I believe to be the world’s largest collection of rejection slips … including one that was actually copied with a hair on the page. What a blow to the ego when they don’t even clean the copier to send you a form rejection letter…

But whatever success I do have is due to my persistence and my willingness to continue to learn, practice, and beat my writing into shape with a ball peen hammer.

I would make this recommendation: Find topics or stories that you’re passionate about and you will find success. Then you’re writing for yourself, so you know you always have an audience. And even if it’s not an accepted genre or keynote topic, your passion is what can make it become one.

Also, write or speak even if there’s not a check involved.

I’ve been doing presentations since 1976 and I still find every opportunity to speak to groups. Yes, I’ve been known to turn around in the elevator and say, “I suppose you wonder why I called this meeting.” That’s how I keep improving. Some day I may even get it right…

My other recommendation: Write every day, even if it’s just a journal entry. Opera singers clear their throats before they sing. We should clear our throats on paper so that, when we’re ready to “sing” our stories, we’re already warmed up.

And the final humorous word.
You know what my favorite word is?


It means that no matter how badly I mess something up, I’ve still got another chance.

As for my final humorous word, I would have to step aside and quote the queen, Erma Bombeck. She had the right idea when she said, “Seize the day. Remember those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” How can you top that??

Thanks so much for letting me be a guest on your blog. I love communicating with people, laughing with them, and making them feel better about themselves by letting them see how much better off they are than I. Yes, they might be crazy, going through midlife crisis, and at the fat end of their closets, but I have all that and I quit my day job. If nothing else, that should make them feel really good about themselves.

Make it a marvelous day!
Christee & her pet rubber chicken, Elvis

Thanks, Christee!


Unknown said...

I'll be lurking around here today, in case anyone has questions ... or would just like to heckle!!

Happy Friday!

Nikki Leigh said...

You're asking for hecklers :) That could be dangerous and especially on a Friday, but better than a Monday morning :)

Nikki Leigh

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Christee, this was left at The Writer's Meow on Deviant Art, where your interview is posted in our journal as well:

Man.. awesome interveiw! She seems like such a character...
- HiddenCaitastrope on DeviantArt

Unknown said...

How nice!! I like to think of myself as a character -- other than a member of the Addams Family.

I'm just so excited when people 'get' me. It sometimes takes a while for people to acquire a taste for my kind of humor, and then it's such a short window between that and 'wearing out my welcome'...

Basically I just love laughing, even if it's at myself. I believe strongly in Kurt Vonnegut's philosophy:

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I prefer to laugh because there is less cleaning up to do afterwards."

Isn't that great?

Thanks for passing on the wonderful comment. It just made my week!


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Another one from Deviant Art, Christee-

hey great interview!
she sounds like such a fun person
and i have to say- im only 18 but i act very happy and exuberant most of the time.. and alot of people tell me to grow up too! hate to see what happens when i get older
- Mental-Mishap on Deviant Art

Unknown said...

What a great response!

I like to think my inner child and outer adult got permanently switched. Hope it stays that way for our 18 year old friend! Life is so much more fun when you approach it with fresh eyes.

Thanks so much Diane. You've really made this a fun experience for me!