Doing Amazing Things:
I met C.J. in a ski mountain lodge with decent food and great beer. She came in loud with big hugs, which is how C.J. operates pretty much every day. She has an endless supply of in-your-face stories and always has something exciting, interesting, or weird going on. Last year, C.J. decided to quit the daily 9-5 and try her hand at independent, out-of-the-box work and has, so far, survived while adding a multitude of new and quirky stories to her repertoire. With her new book officially funded, we wanted to get a chance to hear more about the book, the experience, and how C.J. has been developing as a professional athlete and writer.
You have a new book that did pretty well on Kickstarter.
Yea, it was an exercise where I learned about people, marketing, and leveraging relationships and social networking. I learned it all in one month and I was self-taught. I sought publication through a traditional route for about a year and everyone wrote back and said you have a great voice in your writing and we were really entertained but it seems like a niche market. These publishing companies would tell me that it appeals to outdoor adventurers or people that would read Jon Krakauer. All these traditional publishing houses were like, “We don’t even know what to do with that. It’d be great if you were already famous.” That’s sweet. One day, you’ll be eating your words.
With a lot of encouragement with the editor that I will be working with I decided to go the self-publishing route. I could have easily just gone the e-book route but as an educator, I always felt it was critical to actually have an idea in physical form.
That’s sweet. One day, you’ll be eating your words.
I decided to give Kickstarter a shot. Everyone told me, “$12k, you’ll raise that no problem.” I put the video and Kickstarter page together and launched it. It went nowhere. The first three weeks I was very discouraged. And then I hit this point where, they say after 60% is funded the rest comes in. I wasn’t 60% funded until I had 4 days left and it was during the 4th of July week. I really screwed up the timing. No one uses computers on weekends and the holidays would be a scratch. At the end I was raising about $2,000 a day but I was freaking out. I didn’t sleep for, like, four nights.
Now that the book is funded, when does it go into publishing?
The book is 75% finished. I have 25% to go. I like writing for long amounts of time over short periods of time. I once wrote a thesis in 10 days. The last part of the book will go fast. It’s been 2 years in the making.
I really screwed up the timing. No one uses computers on weekends and the holidays would be a scratch.
Give us the elevator speech of why you wanted to write this book.
I have had a pretty adventurous life. I don’t live within the confines of a box. When people ask me what I do for a living…it’s hard to explain. I don’t have a one sentence answer that is what I do. I am a teacher, a coach, I take classes myself, and I ski and I bike and I paddle…it goes on and on.
I came to the discovery that when I would tell people stories about my life they found it really funny because it was misery to me. I was entertaining telling these stories and I thought it would be interesting to run a blog and then convert it to a book. I always had a book in the back of my mind.
I am dancing around yelling, “I got the ballerina!”
Nora Ephron was a great influencer in my writing the book. She died in the middle of my Kickstarter campaign. I was really devastated by that. It took some spiritual motivation and I thought, “Maybe it’s a sign.” She has a quote in one of her books, “My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have to potential to be the comic stories the next.” So I started to frame my life into funny stories to share so I wouldn’t feel so bad anymore.
The epitome of that was a story that is in the book. I went to a five-mile charity race in Island Pond, Vermont with staff members from Burke Mountain. The town is dominated by a cult. They own stores and businesses in town so the vibe is strange but the town is nice. So at this charity race they are giving out prizes. I look at the prize table and see a picture with a ballerina. I wonder, “Do you win the frame or the picture?” It looked like one of those pictures in the frames you pick up at the store. Like it was just a stock photo they threw into a frame. The prizes were pretty hokey. Is it a frame or a painting?
I have had a pretty adventurous life. I don’t live within the confines of a box.
They call my number and I picked up the picture frame and I am dancing around yelling, “I got the ballerina!” I gave it to my friend, Jodi, and this woman taps me and asks to trade her the picture for her maple syrup. I really wanted the syrup but wanted to play up the joke about winning the ballerina. Then she told me it was actually a picture of the woman that the race memorialized that had died. I destroyed the sanctity of the whole event. We ran away completely feeling terrible. The only way I can make it right in this world is to write about it so people can laugh at my humiliation.
How did you come up with the title, “Life Gives Me Lemons?”
I didn’t think about it for that long. I called my brother and told him I wanted to write a book about being an idiot in all my outdoor adventures. I told him it had to be something about how life gives you lemons and you have to make it into lemonade. I wanted to make other people laugh about it.
It was a decision to me that took risk and sacrifice. You have to want it so bad that this is what you do.
Who do you want to read your book?
Anyone who has an interest in an outdoor or active lifestyle. The stories would resonate with them. Even the weekend warrior or the couch person who just pages through Outdoor Magazine. Anyone who has an interest in camping, hiking, paddling, skiing, the stories would resonate with them. The book is written somewhat like Chelsea Handler’s books: short, first person non-fiction stories. There is an edge to them with romance and heartbreak. I think they can relate to stories about being an idiot. I want to be like everyone man or every woman. Anyone can do this. Someone said to me, “You have the most amazing life ever.” It was a decision to me that took risk and sacrifice. You have to want it so bad that this is what you do. I am a vagabond to be able to do so – it can be drawback where I feel isolated. I travel all the time. There’s no way to keep a relationship for more than six months.
What do you want to tell your audience through your book?
It’s a two-fold message: I’ve had great adventures but anyone can do that. And second, if something really bad happens in your life you can re-frame it into a funny or entertaining story. When you do that, it is a liberating perspective to have on life. You can learn from your experience and share it.
What does it mean to have a liberated life?
Sometimes I say to myself, “I hope something bad happens to you today.” It’s how I find my stories to write and also how I learn in life. When I lived in Killington, I skied and coached. People would say, “You are so lucky!” and I would say, “Yea, they have a lottery. They choose one person every year to move here and I got the ticket,” (insert heavy sarcasm).
Everyone gets too comfortable in what they do and we don’t have a lot of control over what happens in our lives. I have very little control over disasters in my life – I would have avoided them if I had control. I think too many people are living pretty sedate lives and they can read my book and feel like they live vicariously through me but I hope it’s inspiration to try something out of their comfort zone.
Roam Life is all about that. How do you get someone motivated to move?
A lot of people say they want to go to South Africa to race. (Editor’s Note: Josh completed the Cape Epic with partner, Jackie Baker this last April) But how many actually want to do it? How many people really want to pack the bike in the box, pack the clothes, be that in shape, and travel all the way there to race? Most people don’t want it as much as they say they do. To live more extreme you have to want it really badly.
I think too many people are living pretty sedate lives…
I took a huge risk in leaving my job and thinking I could float myself on a year in freelance writing. If it doesn’t work out I can go back to education. People said, “You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.” Nothing is guaranteed. To me, that’s a risk.
When you travel is there anything essential that you travel with?
I definitely don’t have any superstitions or things I have to travel with. If I can find a good latte wherever I am, I’m a happy person. Anywhere in the world. I don’t’ go to super exotic destinations. The most exotic place I’ve been was Morocco but I couldn’t get a latte there.
Where was the best latte had?
Oh, wow. Tough call. I had a pretty good one in Les Deux Alpes in France. The best latte I have had so far. But I’m still in constant search of a better one.
TP time: are you a folder or a crumpler?
I guess I’m a crumpler. I’d say I’m a crumpler of everything. I’m not really tied to physical things. I don’t feel like they have to be folded.
E-Mail Update from CJ: Here’s a good TP photo for you. My dad jokes that I’ll never run out. I just figure if I actually get to use a toilet, I better be well supplied.
CJ, we have the same first name which, I would argue is the best. So why the CJ?
My name is Christine but I write as CJ because there is a famous vampire romance novelist with my name. It’s a college nickname and once I wrote as that name people started calling me it, too. I always sign e-mails Christine. So people don’t know what to call me. People are thrown. I have so many other nicknames, no one really calls me Christine, anyway.
Christine J. Feehan is a freelance writer and media professional who currently resides in Vermont. Her non-fiction work primarily focuses on outdoor pursuits, and she is a contributing writer at Ski Racing Magazine and NCAA.com as well as a media specialist for the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association. She’s also a professional alpine ski coach and a competitive cyclist who races for Team Elevate Cycles.
To order C.J.’s book: [email protected]