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Humorist, Author, Syndicated Writer, NPR Commentator – Hollis Gillespie
With her dad a drunken traveling trailer salesman, a mom who divorced her father and designed computer systems for missiles, and an adolescence where she was unsupervised, drinking, doing drugs and truant, Hollis Gillespie’s early years sound like an episode of Jerry Springer. Even so, Hollis turned her life into material for three top-selling memoirs, one with film rights under option by a major Hollywood studio. Also a humorist, NPR commentator and syndicated writer, Hollis was named Writer’s Digest 2004 “Breakout Author of the Year,” “Best Local Author” by the Best of Atlanta Reader’s Survey (2004, 2005, 2006, 2009) and has even appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Hollis graduated from a remedial high school and attended the University of San Diego, spent one year at Oxford and lived in Switzerland. After leaving the corporate world where she “finally stopped trying to fit in,” Hollis eventually landed a job as a flight attendant and, being fluent in German and Spanish, a foreign language interpreter for Delta Airlines. Unfortunately, she had a fear of flying.
Jotting down ideas when she was supposed to be serving passengers (it distracted her from the fact that she was in the air), Hollis took advantage of her 17 years in the jump seat to see the world and write stories that would eventually become her three memoirs. However, Hollis claims she never would have put those words on paper if she actually thought anyone would read them.
As a child, reading and writing were always organic for Hollis, who can’t actually recall ever being taught to read. At seven years-old, she wrote a book and expected to see it on the book store shelves, asking, “Why isn’t my book for sale?”
Still flying, Hollis had a baby girl and landed a column in a major Atlanta magazine called Creative Loathing. It had a cult following, became a freak success and within three months earned Hollis her first of many “Best Columnist in the City” wins (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007).
Then September 11 happened. As many did after the tragedy, Hollis reflected on her life and decided that to be a role model for her daughter, she had to set an example and go after her dream. By November of 2001, Hollis was doing commentary on NPR, which in her mind made her legitimate. Eight months later she had a book deal with Harper-Collins.
The publisher contacted Hollis about writing a book after hearing her on NPR. Hollis didn’t have a book, but she did have 750 random pages sitting on the bottom of her closet written while she flew the friendly skies. Hollis actually let a few months go by without submitting anything, and then finally sent what she calls her “Big Ass Pile of Stuff” into cyberspace. Thinking too much time had elapsed since the initial call from the publisher, Hollis was surprised when the response was, “This is a book!” Right then Hollis was offered a two book deal with Harper-Collins. Eventually, the stories written on the back of flight crew lists became Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood, currently under option with Sony, and Confessions of a Recovering Slut: And Other Love Stories. Her third book, Trailer Trashed: My Dubious Efforts Toward Upward Mobility, was released in August, 2008.
Once Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch sold, new author Hollis thought she could live off the book royalties, but that wasn’t the case. Hollis realized she needed to “find a way to transform” and discovered an innate talent – telling stories to audiences and teaching. She enjoyed weaving in and out of stories, and as it turns out, she was fabulous at it. In addition to giving keynote speeches and serving as an emcee at events, Hollis does stand-up comedy with the likes of comedienne Margaret Cho each month at The Laughing Skull Lounge in Atlanta. All proceeds go to the fight against child trafficking in Georgia.
Hollis also offers writing seminars for aspiring authors on topics such as “Turn your Blog into a Book Deal,” “Blog Your Way Out of the Recession” and “Get a Book Deal.” Dozens of her students have scored book deals as a result of taking her classes. Currently only available in the Atlanta area, Hollis plans to launch online courses in the future.
In addition to her time on Jay Leno’s couch, Hollis has been on TBS Storyline, Monica Kaufman’s Closeups, Good Day Atlanta and TV Land. She has also been profiled in Marie Claire, Bust, Writer’s Digest and Entertainment Weekly.
What we learned from Hollis: “It’s important to stay above extinction and find different tributaries to survive in the industry. Transform yourself. There’s no finish line.”
Save the World
“Follow your heart, because when you follow your heart, you are doing what you can to keep the world from devolving into a big wad of wasted potential.”
“Don’t wait around waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder. If I waited for someone to ordain me a writer, I may not be where I am now. I realized I didn’t need to wait for someone to call me a writer, so I proclaimed it myself. I printed up business cards that said ‘Hollis Gillespie’ and under my name was the word ‘Writer.’”