Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Interview with Humor Writer Celia Rivenbark

Today in St. Peters, MO: Partly cloudy, high 80 degrees. Another beautiful day.

As part of the WOW! Women on Writing Author's Blog Tour, I'm tickled pink to have as my guest today Celia Rivenbark, a flat-out-funny writer from North Carolina. So far I've read three of her books published by St. Martin's Press: Belle Weather, Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like A Skank, and her latest book, which includes some yummy recipes, You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start In The Mornin'. Her books are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Here are my interview questions for Donna's Book Pub (DBP) and Celia Rivenbark's (CR) answers:

DBP: Humor is so hard to write, yet you make it seem effortless. How did you get started as a writer? And how would you describe Southern-style humor?
CR: I started as a newspaper reporter for my hometown paper, circ. 3,500. It was a terrific experience because I was the ONLY reporter most of the time and covered everything from weddings and ribbon-cuttings to murders and arson. Often these were in the same day. It’s a wonder I didn’t throw rice at a bank robbery. Southerners usually have a very self-deprecating style of humor, preferring to make themselves the butt of the joke. We’re great storytellers and often tell long, looping jokes and stories that would drive someone else completely mad. Much of our humor is inspired by the crazies in our families.

DBP: Speaking of families, you write about events and situations that have happened to your family, friends, neighbors—even celebrities. Any fallout from family, friends, or neighbors? Have any celebrities contacted you about what you’ve written about them? Britney Spears, maybe?

CR: Friends and family names are disguised well enough that they don’t take offense. As for celebrities, I’ve only had one, Kathy Ireland, who took me to task for a potshot. I don’t care; it was a good joke and she’s a big girl; she should be able to take it.

DPB: In one of your books you wrote about the response you got to a column you wrote about Clay Aiken. Which of your columns has gotten the most response or the most passionate letters from your readers?

CR: Without a doubt, the biggest volume of mail I’ve ever received came from a column I wrote about the stitch-and-bitch knitting groups springing up. I’m still getting hate mail on that one. Apparently they thought I was quite serious. Like I said at the time, I fully expected to come home one day and find a tiny little knitted horse’s head on my bed. I understand it in a way. You see, not all newspapers that pick up my column run it every week or even every month so people unfamiliar with my byline think I’m a Serious Journalist. The Clay Aiken fans wanted to roast me on a spit for “implying” that he might be gay. This, I should add, isn’t a slam in my book; gay men love me! I never heard from any of them after he finally, mercifully came out.

DBP: That's so funny. What is the most surprising, stupid, annoying, fill-in-the-blank comment you’ve received from a reader?

CR: It’s not just one; it’s the mail from people who, again, don’t get the joke. I got some pretty hateful stuff from people who take medicine for Restless Leg Syndrome for a column I wrote lampooning the drug for the ailment. Side effects include “casino gambling.” Are you kidding? That’s hysterical! They insisted I was making fun of their disease. It was idiotic.

DBP: I love the recipes you’ve included in You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Mornin'. In fact, I’m going to make some “You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw” Apple Enchiladas for my Bunco group. Where did you get the fabulous idea to include recipes in with your book? And, how do you make Firefly Sweet-Tea Vodka?

CR: I was talking to my mom about the book and saying that it was coming up a little short, content-wise, and she said, “Why don’t you do like that nice Doris Roberts and write a book with recipes?” So there you have it. The harpy mother from “Everybody Loves Raymond” reruns decided the book’s fate. But I really did love doing the recipes and found that it was very easy to fit them in with the chapters. As to the vodka, it’s available at your likker store and it’s quite delicious.

DPB: Your mother is a wise woman. I'm glad you took her advice and included the recipes. Switching gears a bit, what were your favorite books, or who were your favorite authors growing up?


CR: Growing up I devoured all the Nancy Drew mysteries, of course, and still have a weird crush on Ned Nickerson. Later, I read a lot of political books and biographies. I read all of Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism stuff and loved that. Now I read mostly novels written by Southerners or people with a Southern sensibility. I just finished “The Help” and on my nightstand right now you’ll find Pat Conroy’s new book, Elizabeth Edwards’ “Resilience” and Ruth Reichl’s “Comfort Me With Apples.” I love to read cookbooks and food-themed novels. Very satisfying.

DPB: Nancy Drew books were my favorites growing up, too. The other books you mentioned sound interesting. I'll have to check them out. Most of my visitors are writers, and as writers, we're curious types, so I have to ask: What’s most gratifying about being a writer? Most disappointing?

CR: Gratifying? You make your own hours and you define how the work is going to be done, what direction it will go. I like the solitude of just me and the computer. Most disappointing? That I’ve written five humor collections and still haven’t hit the “Times” list. But I’m not giving up!

DBP: That's the spirit! With your writing style and humor, I'm sure one day we'll see your name on the top of the "Times" and other best-seller lists. Here's another question about writing: what’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? The worst?

CR: Best advice: “Read great writing." It really is true. If I’m blocked, I’ll just sit and read something wonderful for an hour or so and it really helps. Worst advice: “Don’t quit your day job.” In fact, I did, and, although I sometimes miss the camaraderie of being in the newsroom, it was the right decision for me.

DBP: Thanks for sharing that advice. I for one am glad you quit your day job to write books full-time, because I enjoy reading them. So, Celia, what are you working on now? Are you still thinking about writing a vampire cat novel you mentioned at the end of your latest book?

CR: I have a contract with St. Martin’s Press to write two more humor collections and I’m working on the first of those now. I think I might do something with the redneck vampire but it’ll probably just be a chapter in the collection. I’ve also got a fantastic idea for a children’s book that I’d love to do after that.

DBP: Redneck Vampire, I love it! Your children's book also sounds great! I'm sure my blog visitors want to find out more about you and keep up with what's going with your books, so what’s the best way for readers to find out about upcoming book signings, appearances, or other events?

CR: Visit my brand new, just redesigned website, celiarivenbark.com and click on “Y’all come!” I love meeting readers in person. It really is my favorite part of the job. I mean, besides cashing the checks.

DBP: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us today. I surely do appreciate it, and good luck with your current book and future projects. Your writing definitely makes me laugh.

Final Note: One lucky visitor who leaves a question or comment for Celia will receive an advance readers' edition of Celia's latest book, You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start In The Morning. So, don't be shy, ask away!

18 comments:

  1. Good interview! I'm sorry to say I haven't read any of Celia's books yet, but I certainly will.
    Also, Celia, since you love to read food-themed novels, I have some suggestions for you....even though they aren't written by a "GRITS"!! The author is Judith Ryan Hendricks: Bread Alone, The Baker's Apprentice, Isabel's Bed, The Laws of Harmony. Fabulous stories about strong women, coping with life. Very "food-themed"!!

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  2. Love the knitted horse head comment! Great advice for what to do when facing writer's block.

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  3. I really enjoy many Southern writers - Gurney Norman, Fred Chappell, Ron Rash, and Tim Gautreaux among others. Who are some of your favorites? Would love some recommendations for fine and perhaps overlooked gems!

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  4. I, too, love southern writers. (Interesting that you recently read "The Help". After several months I'm still recommending it to friends). I also love Fanny Flagg's books.

    There's just nothing like southern humor. It's kind of offbeat and definitely appealing.

    What southern writer (aside from yourself, of course) does the best job of tickling your funny bone?

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  5. Fun interview. I wonder if humor books sell better during tough times? The book sounds great - I want that apple enchilada recipe!

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  7. I just wish y'all could actually HEAR Celia, 'cause she's one of those people (and by people, I mean "Southerners")who talk as funny as they write! I saw Celia at a book festival here in what we call the metro Atlanta area and she read a piece from one of her books...I think it was about Brittany Spears. But I KNOW she (and the writing) was a hoot and a half!

    Is that enough to get me picked for the book? 'Cause I could, you know, keep going...:-)

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  8. Celia...Humor and recipes. Now that's my kind of reading. After this interview I will surely grab your books from our local B & N and laugh my way right through a meal or two. And I'll cross my fingers for your New York Times debute. I like the southern attitude on all things...eating, storytelling, writing...it's all great and I imagine it gives you a ton of material. Redneck vampires? I love it. You remind me of a young Fanny Flagg. In my opinion she's just so underappreciated. Keep writing and I'll keep watching for new things from you. Louella Turner...a proud redneck writer.

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  9. Oh my goodness, all ya'll ~~
    The proper spelling for Miss Fannie Flagg, is the way I just spelled it....F-a-n-n-i-e!!
    Now....do I win the book, because I caught the misspelling?? I just hope Miss Fannie Flagg never reads these comments and sees the mistakes! ;-)

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  10. Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. That is hysterical. This book sounds great! Thanks for a great interview.

    Margo Dill

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  11. I have just returned from the South! I wanted to see Georgia the state, along with Savannah and Charleston. When very young, I had NO appreciation for Southern anything. But as I age, I am developing an appreciation for the uniqueness of Southern Everything. As for food, I got to eat at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, GA...it was nice but they served what I serve everyday other than the turnip greens and fried green tomatoes. I guess I cook Southern more than I ever realized!!!!

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  12. Thanks for a fun interview.
    Celia, I have not yet read your work but certainly will now. I can hardly wait to pick up a copy of You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start In The Mornin'. The thought of a good read with recipes is just too enticing.
    I have a niece who lives in Virginia; I had no idea her brand of humor was a regional gift. Thanks for the chuckle.
    robyn
    rcponders.wordpress.com

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  13. Hi y'all. Celia here.
    Tricia: The recipe is on p. 237, super easy.
    Anon: How rude.
    David: Sarah Addison Allen, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Clyde Edgerton for starters...
    Becky: Thanks for the great reading suggestions!

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  14. Hey All,
    I'm removing the rude comment Anonymous #1 left at 1:37 p.m.

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  15. hiya ceclia, i will try one of your books, it was a great idea getting this interview for all of us to get to know you.

    i can see you writing about a hillbilly vampire
    [i'm a hillbilly from poplar bluff mo.] that retired for lack of teeth. nice interview, nick

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  16. Celia: You are very welcome for the reading suggestions.
    Bookie: After reading your comments, I went to your blog and read some of your travel posts. How wonderful! And you won't believe it, but I have eaten at The Blue Willow Inn a few times!! My sister and her husband LIVE in Social Circle, Georgia!! Small World!! Don't you just love that for a name of a town? When my sister told me they were moving there, I said I could just picture her sitting around at "quilting bees"!

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  17. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks so much for your comments and questions for Celia.
    And Celia, thank you for taking time from your busy book tour to answer my interview questions and leave comments and answers on the posts left here.
    Best of luck with your current book and your next book and making the NY Times best-sellers list.
    I will keep the posts open and announce the winner on Monday, so stay tuned!
    Donna V.

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  18. Celia: I just realized I made a MAJOR error with one of the names of Judith Ryan Hendricks' book titles. The one I referred to as Isabels's Bed....the correct title is: Isabel's Daughter.
    My HUGE apologies!! Okay, now everyone can really make fun of me, because I gave some of you trouble for a misspelled word yesterday!

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