Q&A With Christie O Tate
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Q&A With Christie O Tate
Tonight I have the honor of doing a Q&A with New York Times Bestselling Author Christie O Tate. Christie is the author of “Group,” and her recent novel “B.F.F.”. Both of those novels are Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks in 2020 and again in 2022. On top of being an author Christie is an essayist. Christies work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Pithead Chapel, McSweeney’s, Motherwell, Entropy Magazine, A Perfect Wedding, Together.com, Brain, Child and others. That is a pretty impressive list.
Q: When did you realize in your life that writing was your calling?
A: “Calling” is such a beautiful word. Biblical, right? I love the idea of being called to writing. The truth is that writing called to me from a young age, but I was too scared to listen or heed. I had so many ideas about who could be an artist or a writer—men, rich people, gorgeous women with long hair, bohemians, anyone who lived in New York City or Paris, people with stellar SAT scores. I had defined “writer” as a category I could never fit into. Thus, I’m a late bloomer! I didn’t really let myself imagine that writing could be my calling until I was 45. At the time, I was a full-time lawyer, mother of two kids in grammar school, and I couldn’t write full-time, but I began to claim it as a calling. Once I let myself have more than one calling (mother, lawyer, writer), I was able to answer the call with my whole heart.
Q: Since both of your books are memoirs, what advice do you give to those who want to write memoirs about their lives?
A: My advice is to write your story and surround yourself with other writers who write nonfiction/memoir. It’s extremely scary to tell “true” stories, and every memoirist I know has to grapple with the specter of the disappointed, angry, hurt people (mothers, usually) in their lives who may have big feelings about the writing. I could never have birthed my two books if I didn’t have other writers to lean on and encourage me to write the story I needed to write. I work with other memoirists and my therapist and therapy group to iron out the ethics and how to navigate the tricky relationship issues that come up when writing memoir, but that is all after I have written the book. Memoirists, please write your books!
Q: How do you juggle being an author and writing publications for famous news media outlets?
A: For me, when I’m working on a long-term project like a book, I need to dip out occasionally and turn my attention to other, shorter projects. When I was writing Group, I often needed a break from writing about therapy and all my romantic disasters. During the breaks, I wrote essays about my grandmother or watching the Chicago Marathon. Toggling back and forth kept me on the page and growing as a writer.
Q: What advice do you give to those who want to write publications for such famous media outlets like The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post etc?
A: If you want to write for those pages, you must read those pages. Study them. Learn the moves. I read dozens of Modern Love essays when I worked on my own. I studied the opening paragraphs and the progression. I also listened to podcasts about submitting to Modern Love. I also used my writing group to workshop my essays. I simply could not see what needed trimming or expanding without having other people’s feedback.
Q: Your books were picked to be Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks. What was that like? Also what’s Reese Witherspoon like? Reese Witherspoon seems like a down to earth woman.
A: Hearing from my editor that Reese Witherspoon had chosen my book for her book club was one of the greatest surprises of my life. I screamed so loudly that my husband thought something terrible had happened. And I had the great fortune of meeting Reese Witherspoon over Zoom, and she was incredibly warm, engaged, and prepared. She makes it look easy, but I have to think an incredible amount of focus and preparation goes into all of her conversations with authors. She knew my book intimately and asked me insightful, detailed questions. You can’t fake that kind of engagement. There is so much I admire about Reese Witherspoon, but her brainpower is at the top of the list. Yes, she gorgeous, warm, and stylish, but she’s also a mental powerhouse, and my experience with her and her team was a completely thrill and privilege.
Q: Are you currently writing something now? If so can you spoil what your next book is about?
A: My second memoir, B.F.F.—A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found, will be out in February 2023. It’s about how my friend Meredith changed my life by inviting me to work on friendship, something I wasn’t super great at until mid-life. So it’s a book about ghosting, envy, competition, and learning how to show up as a friend regardless of how much baggage you have.