Group Guide for Queen of the Oddballs
In Queen of the Oddballs, Hillary Carlip recounts a life spent
habitually straying from roads more traveled. We follow her as
a wisecracking third-grader suspended from elementary school for
smoking (in an attempt to imitate Holly Golightly), a headline-making
teen activist, a juggler and fire eater, a friend (NOT "fan")
of Carly Simon and Carole King, a grand prize-winner on The Gong
Show, a cult rock star, and a seeker of spiritual and romantic
truths that defy conventional expectations.
Carlip also includes illustrative ephemera from her many escapades-including
diary entries, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, photographs,
and a handwritten letter from Carly Simon-that present a virtual
time capsule of pop culture's last four decades. In its hilariously
offbeat celebration of one woman's transformative path to self-discovery,
Queen of the Oddballs embraces a creative life lived to the hilt.
Questions for Discussion
1. Why does Hillary feel injured when Carly Simon refers to her
as a "fan," and what do her efforts to connect with
Simon and the singer Carole King suggest about her own ambitions
In what ways does the unusual format of Queen of the Oddballs
(memoir interspersed with timelines, diary entries, screenplay
excerpts, photos, etc.) enable you to appreciate the diversity
of Hillary's life experiences?
How do Hillary's fellow teenage activists succeed in helping her
come to terms with her low self-esteem about her body?
In what respects is Hillary's success on The Gong Show significant
in terms of her personal growth?
How does Hillary's series of failed romances reflect her own emotional
insecurities, and to what extent does her relationship with Maxine
mark a personal transformation?
"Pick a character-any persona-who is imbued with traits you
desire." Why does Hillary feel the need to assume alter egos
that differ so dramatically from her own identity?
To what extent do you agree with Hillary's therapist that she
is attracted to "darkness" in her personal relationships?
How does this darkness color Hillary's sense of humor and perspective
How does Hillary's experience on Oprah! reveal her own conflicted
feelings about being a performer and her preference for lurking
behind the scenes?
Of all of Hillary's encounters with celebrities and Hollywood
figures, which did you find most entertaining and why?
Have you ever felt like an outsider, or done something out of
the ordinary, or a bit odd? Does Hillary's approach to living
a life unaccording to plan have any effect on how you view your
life or yourself?
Interview with Hillary Carlip
Q: Why did you decide to tell your life story through the unusual
format of this book -- replete with photos, clippings, journal
entries, and other documentary evidence?
I couldn't see writing a book about doing things in an unconventional
way, and put it into a conventional format. I've been an avid
documentarian, keeping journals and date books for decades. Since
I'm also an artist, they've all been incredibly visual. So it
seemed like a totally natural match up. Also now, after the whole
James Frey controversy, it's pretty cool that all these things
validate everything I write about.
Do you have regrets about any of your many encounters with celebrities
over the years?
Not at all. But I'm actually much more interested in the "minor"
celebrities. The offbeat oddballs. I've hung out with some really
famous people but I don't really go into that in my book. I'd
rather share stories about Jaye P. Morgan, Kristy McNichol and
the Home Shopping Network saleslady.
For someone who has led a life of extreme extroversion, you seem
to identify more with being an introvert. Can you explain this
For my sake, I really wish I could! It continues to be a challenge
and I really can't explain it. All I can do is try to accept that
that's just the way it is.
You founded a website, www.freshyarn.com,
which focuses on the literary genre of the personal essay. How
would you describe this form, and what attracts you to it?
To me, personal essays are justmini-memoirs. I began writing them
because I felt like I had stories to tell. Then I started performing
them at Spoken Word events, and what really struck me was the
overwhelming reception from the audiences. They were hanging onto
every word each reader spoke. I saw how much people love self-revelation.
They love humorous, moving, confessional work with universal themes
that evoke and invoke each of their own foibles, flaws, strengths
and insights. Our humanness.
What advice do you have for readers who believe themselves to
EMBRACE your oddballness! Know that being different or odd isn't
something to try to hide or to fear; it's actually something to