The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

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The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place April 5-7, 2018, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. Registration opens in early December.

Stomping With the Stars

If I ever get my own sitcom, which I am actually working on, I’d call it either “Everybody Loves Jerry” (Ray Romano can star) or “I Love Jerry” (Lucille Ball can’t star because Lucy’s in the sky with Desi).

In the pilot episode, I would re-create Lucy and Ethel’s famous grape stomping routine. It would be based on real life because I recently went to Riverhead, New York, for a Grape Stomp Party at Martha Clara Vineyards, where I am a member of the wine club.

To steal a line from Groucho Marx, who also is dead and can’t sue me, I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member, but in the case of Martha Clara I have made an exception because the wines are really good and I had grape expectations (ditto Charles Dickens) for the party.

I do not pretend to be an oenophile with a discriminating palate, mainly because my files are disorganized and I don’t like to paint, but I prefer red wine because it is, according to my doctor, over-the-counter heart medicine. And for a geezer like me, that’s very important.

So when I received an email invitation to the Grape Stomp Party from Gina Messa, Martha Clara’s bubbly hospitality manager and empress of fun, I readily accepted. Then I had a glass of merlot, just to set the mood.

Merlot grapes, as it turned out, were one of two kinds that attendees would be stomping, the other being riesling, a white variety that my wife, Sue, prefers. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to the party, so I chose merlot and hoped the grapes I stomped with my bare feet wouldn’t make their way into a bottle of Martha Clara Merlot Jerry 2017, the sniffing of which would certainly be something to sneeze at.

“No,” Gina assured me as the party got underway, “we wouldn’t do that to our customers. In fact, the grapes you stomp will be thrown out.”

That must have come as a relief to the other 130 attendees, who ate a light lunch  in the vineyard’s converted barn before going out back for the stomping.

There, all in a row, sat eight bins, each of which could hold a quarter-ton of grapes but contained only half of that to give attendees room to stomp them.

“The world of wine can be pretentious and snobby,” said Juan Micieli-Martinez, Martha Clara’s winemaker and general manager, “but this is going to be fun.”

No one had more fun than Juan’s 5-year-old son, Benecio, who had already stomped both red and white grapes.

“They’re squishy!” he told me.

“He can’t drink wine yet,” said his mother, Bridget, who used to work in the industry, “but he can help make it.”

When it was my turn, Gina asked me to take off my flip-flops. She looked at my naked tootsies and said, “You should have worn nail polish.”

“Since I’ll be stomping merlot grapes,” I replied, “I’ll get a red-icure.”

“You’re really getting into the spirit,” said Gina, who then helped me get into the bin, where we immediately started dancing in a shin-deep mass of merlot makings.

A crowd of attendees, wine glasses in hand, cheered us on as Gina twirled me around so dizzily that it felt like I’d already had a couple of glasses of wine.

After a few minutes, she helped me out of the bin and hosed off my feet, which were covered in juice and had crushed grapes between the toes. Benecio was right: They were squishy. His father was right, too: It was a lot of fun.

“A couple of years ago,” Gina said, handing me a towel, “two women showed up dressed as Lucy and Ethel.”

“If I don’t get my own sitcom,” I told her, “we could have a dance show, ‘Stomping With the Stars.’ ”

“I bet we’d win,” Gina said. “And we could celebrate with wine.” She smiled and added, “I know a guy who makes a mean merlot.”

— Jerry Zezima

Stamford Advocate humor columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. Visit his blog at Email:

I take a pill for this, but I don’t think it’s working

I’m not sure if it’s normal to worry as much as I do.

It seems like everybody else has different priorities. They’re just not as concerned as I am about things.

Like, why aren’t you guys more concerned by how long it’s been since the Yellowstone super-volcano erupted? That thing is forty-thousand years overdue.

It could blow at any minute. Boom!

We’ll drown in enough lava to cover the US five inches deep.

And if we survive that we’ll be starved out by a blanket of never-ending ash.

I mean, how much attention are they really paying out there?

Because every time I see Yellowstone on television they’re talking about somebody’s schnauzer being eaten by a grizzly, or the most recent bison goring. Which sucks of course but kind of pales in comparison to nuclear winter.

Are they really checking the seismometers as much as they say they are?

I saw a ranger check them on a Netflix documentary but that was probably for the cameras, and if you get a few feet of snow on the ground, maybe it’s just easier to say screw it because if the place blows it’s not like the monitor-guy is getting out alive.

Is someone monitoring the monitor-guy?

I worry about that.

Do worms feel pain?

I’ve been fishing for decades and they act like it hurts when I run them through with a hook, all squirmy and writhy.

That’s pain, man.

And you’ve got to hook them through the head area to really get them to work realistically as bait, and they just hate that.

Remember when David Foster Wallace covered the New England Lobster Festival and wrote about the ethics of boiling live lobsters?

The lobster-eating people said, “No, no, it’s cool, because a lobster has no cerebral cortex, the area that generates the pain sensation.”

But David Foster Wallace was all, “I don’t know man, they sure do scream when you boil them alive, and they kind of claw at the lid of the pot.”

And if the lobster is having a cow in there, why wouldn’t the worm be in the same sinking ship? I know they’ve only got ganglia, but I’m thinking we really sell ganglia short.

Someday I’m going to die.

I worry about that.

Someday I’m going to die and God’s gonna be all, “Hey, you really could have used plastic worms. And, you know, Red Lobster sells salads.”

David Foster Wallace probably never fished much, but he did hang himself.

Sometimes I worry about how much I worry.

“Stop worrying so much,” my dad always tells me.

He isn’t worried that I worry so much, or maybe he actually is, and that’s why he’s always bugging me to stop.

I take a pill for this, but I don’t think it’s working because I’ve started keeping a notebook in my nightstand with letters to my kids, telling them they’re really great people and that I’m sorry I had to die in my sleep and you boys are both winners no matter what anybody ever says and go to college and here’s where I keep the key to our safety deposit box.

I have different categories in that notebook.

There’s a tab for letters to read in the event of a growth in my parietal lobe, one for if I drive into a retention pond, and one for if I have a stroke and am still alive but can’t talk any longer.

I want them to know I can probably still hear them, so they shouldn’t say resentful stuff around me, even though they’ll want to.

I worry about that.

– Laura Jackson Roberts

Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer living with her husband and their young sons in West Virginia. She holds an MFA from Chatham University and writes nonfiction and humor. Her work has recently appeared on Matador Network, in Brain, Child MagazineVandaleerAnimal: A Beast of  Literary MagazineDefenestration, and The Higgs Weldon. She also writes a regular nature column, Valley Views & Varmints. Find her at


Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, a one-woman show playing on stages around the country is bringing Erma’s wit and humanity to a new generation.

Audiences are discovering what we already know: Erma’s writing is timeless.

This summer, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park extended the play’s run a remarkable three times. In the Cincinnati production, Barbara Chisholm reprised the role of Erma from the play’s 2015 world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Chisholm also gave a standing-ovation performance of Allison and Margaret Engel’s play at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop before 400 attendees, faculty and keynoters, and the Bombeck family.

Here where you can catch this can’t-miss one-woman show between now and June 2018:

The Marco Players, Marco Island, Florida, Nov. 29-Dec. 17 (Starring Beverly Dahlstrom)

Fountain Hills Theater, Fountain Hills, Arizona, Jan. 5-21 (Starring Barbara Chisholm)

Geva Theatre Center, Rochester, New York, Jan. 25-Feb. 11 (Starring Pam Sherman)

Virginia Repertory Theatre, Hanover, Virginia, March 2-April 8 (Starring Catherine Shaffner)

The Human Race Theatre Company, Philips Creativity Center, Dayton, Ohio, April 19-May 13 (Starring Jennifer Joplin) Special preview performances April 19-22 will benefit the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Cape May Stage, Cape May, New Jersey, May 23-June 22

To fold or roll

It’s like a toy on Misfit Island from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. A single sock lies rejected, on the floor in my house waiting to be claimed by its owner.

It is amazing to me that everybody walks by it and nobody picks it up.

Are they blind? Do they not see it?

It’s been a week now.

How long till one of my kids pick it up? I know if it was a dollar bill they would be all over it, fighting till the death. Only, nobody is compelled to pick up a sock.

I looked at the sock and knew it had to be new since it was without holes and initials. Since more than one person wears the same sport sock and sock theft is rampant in our house initials adorn all socks.

Looking at the sock, I pondered the location of the other sock. Was it in a drawer, crying for its mate?

I checked the drawers.

Upon my investigation I saw socks that were stashed two different ways – rolled into a ball or folded in half.

Each person has a different system. Are you a roller or a folder? It’s a personal choice. Just like there are two ways to fold socks, there are two ways to put on your socks and shoes.

One way is to put on sock, sock and then shoe, shoe. The other way is to put on sock, shoe, sock, shoe.

Again, it’s a personal choice.

However, if it’s summertime and you’re wearing sandals there is no need for socks.

If you are one of those men who wear socks with sandals, take my advice, “Stop it, right now! It is not attractive.”

I checked the house and did not find the sock.

During the week I watched the sock get stepped over, tripped over and cursed at. I watched it get tossed aside, kicked aside and placed outside.

Finally, after a week of witnessing sock abuse, I picked up the sock at the exact moment my husband walks by, sees the sock, grabs the sock and proclaims, “Thanks, I’ve been looking for this.”

I took his advice to put a sock in it to squelch my screaming.

Where I put the sock, well, that’s my personal choice.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Mattersand Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.

When bad things don’t happen to you

All kids (or at least all two-braided children with a penchant for eating twigs) at some point really really really really want something terrible to happen—preferably something like surviving a tornado.

You imagine scenes of total chaos with sad concertos playing in the background and you watch windows disintegrate and roof tiles fly around you until you look down and realize that your leg has too many angles and a rib is poking out of your skin.

You imagine being rushed on a stretcher to a hospital where faces wearing horror and pity swarm around you like a kaleidoscope.

Nothing like that has ever happened to me.

So when my brother broke his arm skiing during my second grade year, I felt a lot of jealousy.

Unfortunately, I was neither brave enough nor smart enough to realize that if I started doing dangerous things like jumping on the trampoline on top of a full sized rocking horse, as my brother did, I might get a chance to break a bone or crush my skull or disembowel myself. If I could just do crazy things, I might have my day of physiological trauma and a recovery where, in my mind, classmates would bring me baskets of flowers and chocolate.

I also couldn’t think of any way to have so many things I wanted, like admiration from peers and sympathy from adults, without seriously compromising my ability to do things like carry a plate of burritos from the microwave to the table.

But, I did know that not every injury was dramatic. Something simple like tripping or climbing a tree could make you break your arm, too. Then I realized, just maybe, I could get away with not breaking my arm but it seeming as if I had.

So, one morning, shortly after my brother’s arm was better, I got up extra early and hid the thick brown bandage in my backpack. I started my walk to school, paused along the road so my brother would go ahead without me, and wrapped it around my arm.

My second grade teacher, I’ll call her Mrs. Finnigan, noticed immediately when I walked in just as class was starting.

I explained how I had been casually jumping on our trampoline—a believable, solid story for a stereotypical good girl—when the wind blew me off course and I fell helplessly to the ground, breaking my arm.

So far, it was probably the best school day I had ever had.

No one else said anything about it, but I wasn’t too worried because they still had plenty of time to show up at my doorstep with flowers and chocolate—they had weeks.

Sadly, however, someone must have noticed and passed the word along, because my brother cornered me about it after school.

Brother: Lizzie, did you wear a cast to school today?

Me: Nope.

Brother: Are you sure?

Me: Definitely.

Brother: Okay. I’ll believe you.

Me: You will?

Brother: But if I see you wear a cast tomorrow, I’ll tell everyone that you lied.

So I didn’t put it on the next day.

The worst part was that nothing terrible happened.

My brother didn’t report me to my parents or the principal or all of his friends.

I didn’t even get in trouble for misbehaving.

I didn’t even have the guts to keep on misbehaving.

You would think that if I couldn’t have my day—or days—in a cast, I could at least get some notoriety for misbehaving so badly. Instead, I remained the not-trouble maker to whom life-threatening situations and other disasters didn’t happen.

-Alizabeth Worley

Alizabeth Worley writes The Earful Blog and has work in or forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review, Juked Review, Relief Journal, and elsewhere. She is an MFA student at BYU.

Call for submissions: humor anthology

(The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is teaming with prolific author Allia Zobel Nolan on a humorous anthology on aging. Here’s Allia’s update on the project.)

Call for Submissions: Humor Anthology
Deadline: Monday, Oct. 23

Breaking news!

We’re back with an update on the Allia Zobel Nolan/Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop humor anthology.

For a variety of reasons, the proposed humor anthology, Age Spots, has taken a new direction. That’s right. We’re changing the title. We’re adding more fun. And we’ve decided (because it’s in our best interest and allows us more freedom) to publish this side-splitter ourselves.

Benefits of self-publishing

Self-publishing will enable us to:

Accept previously published material.
Require only First North American Rights, so authors will retain their work and be able to resell it.
Have finished books (we hope; we hope; we hope) by the next EBWW workshop or very soon after that.
Allow contributing authors to buy a certain number of books at a discounted price for their own personal signings.
Give a portion of the royalties to EBWW to help keep the workshop affordable for writers
Pay a modest advance ($75), which can be donated to EBWW if authors so desire.
Include an author thumbnail photo and a three-line bio at the end of the book.
Accept 25 pieces, original or previously published.
Broaden the book’s theme to allow for more than just aging.

New title: From Hot Pants to Hormones: Celebrating How We Were Then — and Where We Are Now — Before We Forget

As with Age Spots, the book will be marketed as “By Allia Zobel Nolan, with Side-Splitting Contributions from the EBWW.” However, all authors will be listed in the table of contents and be featured in photos and bios at the end of the book.

Proposed content

Those of a certain age have a storehouse of memories reflecting (pardon the idiom) “the way we were.” We ironed our hair, rolled it in soda cans to straight it. We slathered on cement-colored lipstick that turned us into zombie princesses. We secretly idolized people like Twiggy, yet wanted to be Gloria Steinem when we grew up. We wore hot pants and platform heels. We were secretaries and nurses and teachers, but only until, as our mothers prompted us, we found “Mr. Right.”

These and countless coming-of-age memories deserve chronicling, while we can still remember them and before they’re lost forever.

With this in mind, we are asking authors to open up the files in their minds marked “Then,” and dig out their most humorous episode — the one we’ll all relate to and the one that will surprise us. At the same time, we’re still looking for the humor in what it’s like to blink and wake up to be 50, 60, 70 and beyond. (It’s the humor in the “now,” and there’s plenty of that.)

And gentlemen, don’t be fooled by the title. We need and welcome your viewpoints. So please answer our call.

Now for the six people who made the original cut, we’d like to use your essays in this new book with this new title. So no worries there. We just need you to be aware of and cool with the change.

This new title opens up a plethora of possibilities: episodes on weight, hair, (remember the helmet head hair spayed look?), fashion, blind dates, family interactions (moms, in particular), bosses and generally the fun stuff of yesteryear.

So, authors have plenty of leeway in this new iteration, especially since we can take your funniest previously published stories including pieces about what it’s like to have kids, not have kids, our love/hate relationship with middle age, etc. It’s a whole new ballgame and we’re looking for work that will guarantee us a home run.


No scatological or vulgar humor
Length: no shorter than 800 words, and no longer than 1,000, please.
EBWW has the discretion to edit/reject a contributor’s submission
Work can be original or previously published
Authors who make the cut must sign over First North American Rights, but will retain all other rights to re-sell.
Submissions from both women and men are accepted.
Authors will be paid (one-time amount $75) and can, if they wish, donate their portion to EBWW.
Deadline is strict in fairness to all. No work will be accepted after the due date.
25 authors will be chosen.
Submissions must be double-spaced, List your name, email address, date, title and word count on the left-hand side of the page. No cover page needed.
Submit to no later than midnight (EST) on Monday, Oct. 23. Indicate EBWW Humor Anthology in the subject line.
Authors who make the cut will be announced on the EBWW Facebook page and web page soon after.
Authors who make the cut are asked to provide a recent photo or cartoon illustration of themselves and a three-line bio.

Nota Bene: Please do not send more than one piece as, because of limited time and man(woman)power, we cannot read more than one essay and will have to delete your entire submission altogether. Just choose what you feel is your best and funniest essay.

As always, thank you so much for sharing your work and proving, “You can write.”

— Allia Zobel Nolan

Allia Zobel Nolan has published close to 200 books, some for children, others for cat lovers, some humorous, some devotional. A former senior editor at Reader’s Digest, she attended her first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2016.

Stand me up at the gates of hell

My dad used to have this brown leather case full of cassettes. He played the hell out of them. Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. Cream and the Allman Brothers. He’d get his guitar out and strum along, no shirt, no shoes, Kool hanging out of his mouth, coffee sitting on his amp.

He’s inextricable from that music. He’s why I have guitars and a closet full of ’70s shirts.

I fell in love with those songs.

I was 9 years old when one of my favorite albums came out: Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever. I’ve been listening to it every day since Tom died.

I keep going back to one song: I Won’t Back Down.

“Well, I won’t back down,” it starts.
“No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

“No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground”

Here’s what scares me: the world can win.

It can make us sick. The grass is growing, the gutters are clogged and the shower’s leaking water in the closet. Is that black mold? It’s definitely black mold.

Phone calls. Bald tires. Blood tests. My lawn mower blade’s not engaging. I cut through the wiring on my trailer.

All the while, our art crouches like a shelter dog in the backs of our minds. She’s wimpering, and the cuckoo clock’s a’ticking.

“I know what’s right
I got just one life”

For the past four years, I’ve spent every spare moment working on a book. And for the past two years, I’ve written a newsletter every week.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m stealing time from a terrible beast, peeling food scraps off its teeth. What the hell am I doing?

And then, someone like Petty dies, and I remember. I put his albums on, and I’m back on Corwin Road. It’s a Saturday morning in 1992, and I’m waking up to dad’s music before karate lessons. I’m drinking three cups of orange juice, eating powdered donuts and singing along. I sound like sh**, but I don’t care. I’ve got nothing but time, nothing but this song right here. And it’s getting inside me, making me feel more alive than I ever could without it.

It’s art.

Twenty-five years later, I’m trying to make my own kind of music. The world will steal my time if I let it. I’ll steal it back.

There is no glass-walled studio beside a waterfall in the woods. There’s right now. There are a thousand obligations, a thousand opportunities to stand my ground.

— Fredrick Marion

A former columnist and staff writer at the Palm Beach Post and Rocky Mount Telegram, Fredrick Marion now writes on napkins, blogs and sidewalks. He earned an English degree from Wright State University, and he’s hard at work on his first children’s novel with representation by The Bent Agency. He also writes a weekly email newsletter full of writing tips, which you can find at www.daytonlit.comSign up for his weekly emails.

My gluteus maximus research

After close to a year of weekly blogging, I can say that I’ve learned some interesting things. Like when I researched different names for the gluteus maximus, sometimes called the gluteal muscles, or glutes, for short. According to, Wikipedia the fleshy mass of these muscles “in a quadrilateral shape, forms the prominence of the buttocks.”

In case you’re still on your first cup of coffee, I’m talking about the butt.

I researched this topic as a legitimate inquiry for a personal essay. I didn’t post the humorous essay to my blog at the time because I was too embarrassed, but it was accepted in a chronic illness publication. Those readers are used to the TMI, and hopefully appreciate a slightly warped sense of humor. Humor is especially welcome when one’s gluteus maximus and associated body parts are not pulling their weight.

As with all submissions to publications, the editors made some changes to my essay. Maybe I was a little too ballsy in my original draft, but I preferred my version to the edited one. And now, after more months of an uncooperative gluteus maximus and the associated undignified medical procedures, my prudishness has been whittled away. It’s gone from the level of a blue-haired Victorian spinster granny to that of a blue-haired Victorian spinster granny with a bold streak. To confirm my evolution, I’ve posted my original essay to my website, hidden not too deeply within a secret tab, but since you’re special, you can read it here.

In case you “don’t go there” literally and figuratively, here’s a limerick I wrote as part of the essay:

Inside my butt is my bowel.
That word is not really so foul.
It could be much worse.
I would have to curse,
Had my given name been Colin Powell.

I’m no Ogden Nash, but I had fun writing that silly limerick. So I’ve taken my gluteus maximus research and put it to good use, giving myself a good laugh in the process. Here’s my result:

My keister’s a thorn in my side.
There’s nothing that I haven’t tried.
To make it work well,
And, (in a nutshell)
Allow me to stay dignified.

It feels like a stick up my a**.
Said the woman, her words very crass.
It can’t last forever,
There must be some clever
Solution to get it to pass.

You say that’s going up my wazoo?
And then you’ll put WHAT up there, too?
I’ll warn you up front
And let me be blunt
It’s nothing I’ll take kindly to.

If you got through those limericks without your writing or personal sensibilities being offended, thanks for indulging me. I’ve found that the more I laugh at my most embarrassing moments in life, the less embarrassing they become. And I strongly believe that laughter is one of the best medicines. It may not heal my gluteus maximus in discernible ways, butt, if it lifts my spirits, that’s healing of another kind.


— Karen DeBonis

Karen DeBonis blogs about her wild adventures as a homebody, including writing (aka avoiding housework), meditating (aka napping) and serving a nightly smorgasbord to deer and other critters in her yard (aka gardening). She lives in a wonderfully emptied nest in upstate New York with her husband of 34 years.

Reflections of Erma