One-Woman Odd Squad

When Hillary Carlip refers to herself as a "multi-mediaist," she's not spinning dross. The award-winning author of Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out appears to be leading seven lives at once, all of them artful. Carlip is the creator of the acclaimed literary Web site Fresh Yarn: The Online Salon for Personal Essays, which averages six million hits a year. She's a regular commentator on NPR's All Things Considered; runs a boutique record label; shows her found-art assemblages in several prominent L.A. galleries; fronts a rock band called Angel and the Reruns, and in her spare time (ha!) designs and produces Web sites for movie stars like Jennifer Aniston.

It's anyone's guess when Carlip found time to write a memoir, but she did. Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories From a Life Unaccording to Plan is already getting big buzz, a fact that hardly appears to faze the prolific oddball, who somehow found 20 spare minutes for a telephone interview.

Robrt L. Pela: Oh, no! Another memoir about a quirky kid! Tell me about your new book.

Hillary Carlip: I know. "Another one!" But I've done a lot of unusual things in my life, and as a young person I just thought, "Okay, I'm an outsider. And I'm going to go for it, full-force." The thing I hope sets my book apart, post-James Frey, is that I have journals from when I was 13 to the present. So if people say, "Is this real?" I have a ton of proof -- I even have video and audio!

Pela: Yikes! You mentioned James Frey!

Carlip: I know. But I think in a way the whole Frey thing -- even though it was a debacle -- really gave a huge boost to memoir as a genre. We have Oprah to thank, in part, because she was the one who turned it into the circus it became.

Pela: You were on Oprah! Tell an Oprah story.

Carlip: No! You have to read the book. But I will tell you that she inadvertently led me to the realization that I never felt like I was enough, which is something Oprah talks about. And she overcame that thinking.

Pela: Oprah was never suspended from third grade for smoking.

Carlip: But I was. I took on all these different personas as a kid, because I always wanted to be someone more interesting. I loved Gerry and the Pacemakers, so I spoke in a British accent; or I'd dress up like someone I admired from TV. I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's and I was so impressed with Holly Golightly, with her independence and her gloves and her cigarette holder. I found a pair of elbow gloves in my mom's closet, but I got suspended and sent to a child psychologist for smoking on the playground. It worked out okay, because not long after that I was chosen -- out of all the kids in my school -- to appear on Art Linkletter's House Party. So my strange behavior was eventually rewarded.

Pela: I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I understand that you sometimes tour with the Flying Karamazov Brothers as a fire eater.

Carlip: I do. I was just on Ellen, teaching her how to eat fire. It was fun, but she chickened out and wouldn't really eat the fire. But then Liza Minnelli came running out onto the stage with a fire extinguisher, and nothing can top that.

Pela: Liza Minnelli can run? Speaking of divas, I understand that you are friends with Carly Simon and Carole King.

Carlip: Well, I was when I was 14. That's also in the book. I befriended them in the '70s, at the start of their careers, and they couldn't have been more gracious and supportive.

Pela: I was friends with a famous singer for a few years, myself. Are they all insane?

Carlip: Most people driven to be really famous are insane. But Carly Simon and Carole King were not insane at all. Can I guess who your famous singer friend was?

Pela: Not in print. Now, I read where you won the grand prize on The Gong Show.

Carlip: I did. And I beat out Cheryl Lynn [who later went on to fame as an R&B singer]. I also got cruised by Jaye P. Morgan. I won with a comedy/juggling act that -- if time permits -- I'll be reenacting at my Changing Hands reading next month. So stay tuned.

Hillary Carlip will read from Queen of the Oddballs at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 South McClintock Drive in Tempe.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela