Interview with Pamela Ribon, Author and Roller Derby Girl

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Pamela Ribon, a fellow former Television Without Pity recapper, is pretty much a rockstar these days. Not only does she pull some sweet television writing gigs, but she's got three books under her belt and is a bad-ass roller derby girl, and, coincidentally, so is the heroine of her newest book, Going in Circles.

From the book cover:

Charlotte Goodman has had enough surprises. In fact, she reached her life's quotient when her husband of five years walked out on her only to abruptly change his mind and move back in. Stung by a whiplash of grief, resentment, and confusion, Charlotte calls a time-out, taking a small apartment where she can figure out what she wants. Instead, the thought of making even the simplest choices triggers an anxiety attack. In order to get out of bed in the morning, she must concoct a to-do list for each day, The Plan, one with absolutely no surprises:

"Without The Plan, horrible things can happen. I'm likely to end up sitting on a curb beside a taco truck on Sunset Boulevard, crying over a carne asada burrito, wondering where my marriage went. I can't handle being the Weeping Burrito Girl."

Charlotte knows all this self-absorbed introspection isn't good for her, but she's running out of people to turn to, as seemingly everyone in her life is pressuring her to make an immediate decision about her future. Then her new friend Francesca -- an impulsive, smart-ass coworker -- offers Charlotte salvation in the unlikeliest of places: the fast-paced, super-tough, bump-and-bruise-filled world of roller derby.

Sure, it's dangerous. Yeah, she could get hurt, But what's a little physical pain when healing your soul is at stake? The question is: whether she's on or off the track, will Charlotte be strong enough to stand on her own two feet?

Pamie Ribon

Photo: Marina del RAGE (aka Rachael House)

If Pam broke my heart with Why Girls Are Weird, she completely pulverized it with Going in Circles. This most recent book might be a work of fiction, but the writing is so unvarnished, so intimate that I had a really hard time keeping myself from cross-examining Pam about her personal life. Reading the book, you can tell that Pam knows exactly what she's writing about. Anyone who has been through a tough breakup will see themselves, their emotions and their thoughts in this book.

Going in Circles is not sappy or moony and, quite frankly, that's what I love most about it. It's honest about the ugliest sides of heartbreak, and it stares unflinchingly at the blind confusion and disorientation that comes with the separation from someone you thought you'd be connected to your entire life. However, through all the tears and therapy and brief experiments with antidepressants, Pam, true to form, still manages to bring the funny in a big way.

I'm not usually one to force people to read books, but seriously people, if you don't pick up Going in Circles this summer, you clearly don't love books enough. Buy it, read it, love it.

A Ten-Question Interview With Author Pamela Ribon

1. More so than your other books, Going in Circles feels extremely personal. Do you feel particularly close to this story more compared to Why Girls are Weird and Why Moms are Weird?

What's funny is that I'm asked this question with each of my books. I think that's probably a good sign. I feel close to all the stories I tell. If there's a distance, I didn't write it the right way.

2. At one point Charlotte calls someone she thinks Matthew might be dating a "Hot Pocket," which is just too hysterical a description to be a complete invention. Outside the book, have you actually ever referred to anyone as a "Hot Pocket" or any other sort of microwaveable treat? An Uncrustable, maybe?

I came up with the Hot Pocket joke at the time I was writing, I remember that. I mean, eating a Hot Pocket is something that seems like a good idea at the time, but then later you usually don't feel very good in your stomach or your mouth. Lots of regret. A temporary fix to a hunger situation that only makes things worse. For further (better) jokes about Hot Pockets, please see Jim Gaffigan.

3. One moment in the book that really hit home with me is when Charlotte wishes Matthew had actually hit her, because she would *know* that she had a solid reason to leave him. Not only have I been in that situation, but I know others who have expressed the exact same thought. I was startled by how incredibly raw and real that moment was for me. When you wrote that, did you have any idea how universal that feeling might be?

I did, yes. Because we all often prefer to have the difficult decisions made for us. With something like that, we think we'd know exactly how we'd behave. "Okay, it's not really a decision anymore. Now I just do X, Y and Z." Like somehow you're no longer making choices, you're just following a plan that's all laid out In Case of Emergency.

Except if you're ever unfortunately actually *in* that situation, it's never that cut and dried. Most people have had moments of frozen indecision, wishing they had one more ounce of "proof" that would illuminate the "right" path, the one that has no regrets. I was just asked last night at a book reading, "How long does it take to get over a divorce?" and I had to answer, "I have no idea. Forever?"

4. I have to admit that I loved the way you took on Eat, Pray, Love. I read the book and completely hated it. It drove me up the wall in so many ways. However, your rendition -- I think you called it Eat, Cry, Shove? -- is definitely my preferred way of dealing with things. Did you read Eat, Pray, Love?

I did read Eat, Pray, Love. It came to me in a rather funny way. More than one woman said, "I'm reading this book that's making me think of you and I want you to read it, but I also don't want you to read it at all." Eventually one of my friends gave it to me with an apology. "The first forty pages are going to be a killer, but try to get through it."

Those first forty pages shredded my heart. But I did enjoy the book. Sure, it's a little precious in parts, but that's kind of the point. And I will be first in line to watch Julia Roberts in pretty places this August. I identified with it to a frightening degree. Like: I had already done the "meditation" part. For a few months I was going to a Buddhist temple, taking classes in How to Solve our Human Problems. Dealing with Anger. How to Let Go. My teacher was this little lady nun who looked exactly like a bald Emma Thompson (like when she was in "Wit"). She'd talk about pain and anger and then lead us through these twenty-minute meditations where I'd end up bawling. Fifty people around me in silence and I'd be snarfing away, failing miserably at the exercise because I kept shuddering. I had to stop going, mostly because I felt guilty for the number of strangers who were breaking their meditative states to ask if I was okay.

This all used to be in the book, by the way. I cut it. Because while I was aware I was writing my own version of Eat, Pray, Love, I didn't want to follow it too closely. But the bathroom scene? That's a little shout-out to Elizabeth Gilbert's story. Because I have a feeling some of the most wonderful women in the world have had their darkest, most sorrowful moments on the floors of their bathrooms.

5. So, we know why Charlotte got into roller derby -- to help get over a dead or dying relationship -- did your reason for getting involved in such a completely violent, yet cathartic, sport run along the same lines of getting past a difficult patch, or did you join up because it sounds so freaking scary?

I joined the second I found out I could. I didn't even think about it, or what it meant to do it, or how hard it was going to be, or what it was going to require from me. I didn't think about whether or not it would be helpful or therapeutic. I just knew I had to be there. It felt like I was getting to live out a childhood dream. I wanted to have already been there for years.

6. It seems that with your book, a particular episode of Psych and the movie Whip It, roller derby is coming back in a major way -- what do you think caused the resurgence in interest?

Well, it isn't the old roller derby, the one we all knew from back in the day. That's probably the biggest obstacle to getting modern roller derby to be taken seriously. It isn't fake. It isn't about spectacle. It's a real sport. And I think it's catching on because some of the coolest women in the world are taking part in it.

7. How many bones have you broken at this point? How many major injuries have you had?

I haven't broken a bone in my life. Well, that's not exactly true. I haven't had to wear a cast. But I did something bad to my tailbone. Probably I broke it. I didn't get an x-ray or anything, but the doctor said it was most likely broken. I've hyperextended my elbow when someone landed on it and bent it the wrong way. I fell off the track once, which caused some ugly bruises and tore a chunk of muscle out of my right thigh that has never returned. I've had some gnarly hematomas. You can feel lumps and bumps still under the skin on my shins. After two years of derby, my feet looked like -- to quote Samantha Who? -- apricot scones. Most recently, I tore my PCL, which put a rapid halt to my derby life and is keeping it currently in limbo while I wait to find out if I'm ever cleared to fall onto my knees again.

8. Has your mother watched you get smashed around in derby?

She's watched two of my bouts online. After the first one, she said, "Well, I made it through THAT." She is not a fan. She's proud of me, and she's impressed, but she would rather I spend my days in the Bubble Boy's apartment, drinking Purell and sitting next to her at all times. This isn't a new thing. When I was little, the first time I ever crawled out of my crib on my own, she placed me back in the bed and said, "Now, show me how you did that." As I went to climb out, she kept gasping and shouting. "Ooh! Oh, no! You're gonna get hurt! Oh! Watch out! Be careful!" until I got super-nervous, climbed back into the safe center of the crib and sat there. From that moment on, I've always been kind of worried about getting hurt if I do something reckless. This is because I DO get hurt if I do something reckless. My sister could jump off the roof of our house and walk away without a scratch, but I tried to ride my ten-speed in flip-flops one day and ended up ripping the left side of my face off in gravel. That's true. At school, they called me "Scarface Al CaPam."

My mom was watching the bout online when I tore my PCL. Don't think I don't think she had something to do with it.

9. Are you continuing with roller derby? And how long do you think you'll do it?

'm going to physical therapy with the hope of being allowed back on my skates someday. When I got hurt, I was really close to getting drafted for a team. I'll have to basically start all over again...which for my league means six months to a year, at least. It's heartbreaking on many levels.

10. Given your experience in writing for television, what about developing a
Friday Night Lights-type show about roller derby? (I'm kidding. Sort of. I'd watch it.)

I swear to you, I'm trying with all my might.

*****

Note: I learned more about roller derby from Going in Circles than from Whip It, but Pam also recommends Down and Dirty: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby if you want to learn even more about this brutal (yet clearly awesome) sport. Going in Circles inspired a read-along and live chat with Pam at Tomato Nation and was a recent bookclub pick at Oprah.com. Pam's currently on tour for the book, so check out her site to see if she's coming soon to a city near you.

Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, Pop Culture Contributing Editor for BlogHer, blogs at: The Grub Report and KQED's Bay Area Bites. Stephanie is the author of Vampire Smarts, a trivia game you can sink your teeth into.

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