Reading Group Guide for Queen of the Oddballs
by HarperCollins

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 life?

2. 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?

3. How do Hillary's fellow teenage activists succeed in helping her come to terms with her low self-esteem about her body?

4. In what respects is Hillary's success on The Gong Show significant in terms of her personal growth?

5. 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?

6. "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?

7. 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 on life?

8. How does Hillary's experience on Oprah! reveal her own conflicted feelings about being a performer and her preference for lurking behind the scenes?

9. Of all of Hillary's encounters with celebrities and Hollywood figures, which did you find most entertaining and why?

10. 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?

An 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?

A: 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.

Q: Do you have regrets about any of your many encounters with celebrities over the years?

A: 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.

Q: For someone who has led a life of extreme extroversion, you seem to identify more with being an introvert. Can you explain this dichotomy?

A: 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.

Q: You founded a website,, which focuses on the literary genre of the personal essay. How would you describe this form, and what attracts you to it?

A: 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.

Q: What advice do you have for readers who believe themselves to be "oddballs"?

A: EMBRACE your oddballness! Know that being different or odd isn't something to try to hide or to fear; it's actually something to be celebrated.



Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan
by Hillary Carlip