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Interview with Celia Rivenbark: Rude Bitches Make Me Tired

You always know where you stand with North Carolina-based syndicated humor columnist and essayist Celia Rivenbark. She doesn't suffer fools gladly, or, um, at all. She always has a unique and pretty clear-eyed, if somewhat excitable, take on modern parenting (mother to the teen-aged Sophie, often called Princess in her writing) and family life.

Her books are many and include Bless Your Heart, Tramp: And Other Southern Endearments; We're Just Like You, Only Prettier; Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank; Belle Weather, Mostly Sunny With a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits; You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Mornin'; and You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl. Several of her books were nominated for the James Thurber Prize for American Humor, only to be beaten out by David Sedaris and Jon Stewart. You Don't Sweat Much also made the New York Times Bestsellers list.

If Erma Bombeck were from Duplin County, she might sound a bit like Celia, but make no mistake -- Celia's voice is like that of no one else. It was an absolute thrill to interview her about her writing, latest book, and upcoming book; one of her favorite TV shows; what makes her go crazy and what "bless your heart," really means. Enjoy!

Squidoo Interview with Celia Rivenbark

By Stephanie Mangino, Squidoo editor

When did you first realize you could express your sense of humor in writing?

I’d always been interested in humor as a genre but it wasn’t until I had been a newspaper reporter for 13 years that I had the opportunity to write about a freak snowstorm that trapped me alone with three cats in a third-floor apartment on the ocean back in 1989. That commentary earned me a regular spot as a weekly humor columnist for a daily paper. From there, the column was syndicated by the New York Times group and now by McClatchy-Tribune. It was a little scary at first. I’d been “class clown” all through school. The truth is, everybody has three very funny columns in them. It’s coming up with 52 a year that’s the tougher part. I have been doing it now for 22 years, 52 weeks a year. I can’t cipher good but I know that’s a lot.

How much of your humor is tied in with being a Southerner, and a Southerner raised in a rural area?

I guess all of it because I can’t write without a Southern voice. Like most Southerners I love to play around with words and tell tall tales so it was a natural fit. It’s no accident that the South has a disproportionate number of writers. We love words and puttin’ them together in a way that gets the best reaction. In my case, I’m going for a laugh. I don’t specifically write about Southern issues very often but I do throw in a lot of expressions that I grew up with and those are uniquely Southern.

Your newest book, Rude Bitches Make Me Tired: Slightly Profane and Entirely Logical Answers To Modern Etiquette Dilemmas, is full of funny and absolutely true advice (particularly about how you never bring store-bought food to a grieving family.) You make your opinions known, no-holds-barred. Have you ever had a tough time speaking your mind?

Not a tough time exactly. In “real life” I don’t speak my mind as outrageously as in these books. I know that would be off-putting and borderline rude. Comedy is exaggerated for effect. That said, I do get around to making my opinions known but not quite as brashly as in print.

Chapter 11 ("Mom to Mom: It’s Complicated”) of Rude Bitches Make Me Tired could have been taken from my life — especially the negotiations on going to a Story Time. How much of your humor really comes from making people recognize themselves?

A great deal of it! I write about what has happened in my life and in the lives of my friends and I find that there are universal themes that everybody relates to. Few parents have escaped the braggy playground mom, for instance. I get mail from all over the place, including a fair amount from the West Coast.

What’s your favorite chapter from Rude Bitches Make Me Tired? What passages have gotten the most attention?

I tend to put my favorites out front in all my books so, well, the check-splitting and wine-hiding stuff was a lot of fun to write.

What’s your favorite book of your own?

All of ‘em!

Which humorists have influenced your work?

Dave Barry, Lewis Grizzard, Jim Gaffigan, Erma Bombeck, David Sedaris, Jon Stewart, Kathy Griffin . . .

Is there any subject matter you’ve held back from writing about — that made you laugh, but you knew would just be too offensive to put down on paper?

I don’t joke about anything to do with race. I admire the comedians, black and white, who do this skillfully but I’m not brave enough to go down that road. It’s the only thing I’ve never joked about. And I never will.

For the non-Southerners — what does it mean when a Southern woman says “Bless Your Heart?”

I’m glad you asked me that. To be clear, “bless your heart” isn’t always a slam or insult. It can be very sincere and heartfelt. If your new friend from the North says she has a migraine and you say “Bless your heart” you’re not being rude, you’re being empathetic. However, if you are commenting on another’s behavior or appearance and you want to soften an insult, you can preface it with “bless your heart” as in “Bless her heart, she’s so buck-toothed, she could eat an apple through a picket fence.”

Weird question — I love that I’ve seen mention of Barney Fife going to Raleigh and phrases like “nip it, nip it in the bud,” in your columns and books. Are you a big Andy Griffith Show fan or do you think knowing lines from the show just part of being Southern? (Just FYI: my mom, who grew up just over the state line from North Carolina in Virginia, has been saying the “nip it” line to me for as long as I can remember.)

Yes, I am a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show and try to watch it at least a couple of times a week. No sitcom that I know of has ever stood the test of time like that one. The show plays well in many parts of the country in syndication and, although it’s Southern in many ways, the themes of kindness and forgiveness and acceptance are universal and enduring.

What current cultural trend makes you cringe and has you ready to write?

Nonstop texting (at dinner, in the theater, in church). Drives me batshit.

How do you think your writing will change when Princess heads to college?

I have no idea. I guess we’ll just have to find out together!

Do you have another book in the works? If so, when is it slated to appear?

Yes, I am currently working on a pitch for my 8th book. The subject is a humorous take on being in the Sandwich Generation, tending both teens and elderly parents.

Is there anything much better than being paid to be your own, awesome, smart-assed self? And if there is, what is it?

I can’t imagine what it would be! I am very, very lucky. My daddy worked so hard as a public school teacher, textile mill worker, encyclopedia salesman and even sold burial insurance to make ends meet. Me? I make more than he ever did just writing fart jokes part-time. Life isn’t always fair.

Where can people find your work online?

The easiest place to read the weekly column is at my home paper, the Sun News of Myrtle Beach, S.C., www.thesunnews.com. My website, www.celiarivenbark.com is also a good resource for general info.


Bless Your Heart, Tramp: And Other Southern Endearments
Bless Your Heart, Tramp: And Other Southern Endearments

Start at the beginning, with Celia's first book of columns.

 

Stephanie Mangino, Squidoo editor, LOVES to interview fiction, humor, cookbook and craft authors. If you're an author who'd like to be interviewed please e-mail her at stephanie@squidoo.com. Squidoo royalties from this lens go to the Room to Read charity.

Do you love this book or any of Celia's other books? Write your own review right here.

 Last updated on May 13, 2014

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Guestbook 6 comments

Roger Hackney profile image

Roger Hackney 4 months ago Level 1 Commenter

Interesting author. Wish I had that kind of talent (luck) ambition, etc. and could make a living writing "Fart jokes" as she puts it.


TerriCarr profile image

TerriCarr 4 months ago Level 5 Commenter

Great interview and it sounds like a great book. I have to say, she's sounds quite entertaining.


StephanieMangino profile image

StephanieMangino 4 months ago Hub Author

@TerriCarr: Thanks! Her books are great. Definitely check them out.


Rhonda Lytle profile image

Rhonda Lytle 4 months ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie Level 6 Commenter

She sounds hysterical. Great introduction!


StephanieMangino profile image

StephanieMangino 4 months ago Hub Author

@Rhonda Lytle: She is. :) Thanks!


PAINTDRIPS profile image

PAINTDRIPS 4 months ago from Fresno CA Level 5 Commenter

This sounds like a book to have. Thanks for the introduction.

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