Susan Pohlman is an author, editor/writing coach and retreat leader from Phoenix, Arizona. Her memoir Halfway to Each Other was the winner in the Relationships category and runner-up in the Memoir category of the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Inspy Awards. She has written six short films for the Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project, and her essays have been published in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, Homelife Magazine, Arizona Parenting, The Review Review, Goodhousekeeping.com, Italiannotebook.com, The Mid, and The Sunlight Press. A graduate of the University of Dayton, Susan is currently working on a collection of essays and a middle grade novel.
Susan Pohlman is an author, writing coach/instructor, freelance writer and retreat leader from Scottsdale, Arizona. Her memoir Halfway to Each Other was the winner in the Relationships category and runner-up in the Memoir category of the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Inspy Awards. She has written six short films for the Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project, and her essays have been published in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, Homelife Magazine, Arizona Parenting, The Review Review, Goodhousekeeping.com, Italiannotebook.com and The Mid. A graduate of the University of Dayton, Susan is currently working on a second memoir and leading “transformational travel” retreats for writers willing to leave their comfort zone to inspire their muse and work on craft.
The 2018 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop has sold out in a record four hours and 42 minutes. To register for the waitlist, click here.
Craig Ferguson, comedian, actor, writer and, for 10 entertaining years, the madcap host of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, will kick off the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop next spring.
An author of two books, he won two Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show Host for “Celebrity Name Game,” and can be heard nightly on The Craig Ferguson Show on SiriusXM.
The biennial workshop, which hits a milestone with its 10th offering, is slated for April 5-7, 2018, with online registration opening at noon (EST) Tuesday, Dec. 5. A link will be posted at www.humorwriters.org at that time. The registration fee is $450 with a number of free scholarships available for University of Dayton students, beginning in January. Besides Ferguson, the workshop’s all-star keynoter line-up includes:
• Liza Donnelly, award-winning cartoonist with The New Yorker Magazine, resident cartoonist for CBS News and author/editor of 18 books.
• John Grogan, author of the international #1 bestseller Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, a memoir and numerous children’s books.
• Karen Walrond, bestselling author, photographer, coach and speaker who inspires others to find and celebrate their own uniqueness, through the power of storytelling.
• Monica Piper, Emmy Award-winning comedy writer and stand-up comic who has written for sitcoms Roseanne, Mad About You and Veronica’s Closet, and was the head writer of the #1 children’s animated series Rugrats.
Patricia Wynn Brown, dubbed “the Mistress of Mayhem,” returns as the workshop’s emcee. Anna Lefler, author, comedian and “lifelong fangirl and devotee of Erma Bombeck,” will recognize the two winners of the inaugural A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program. Winners of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, which opens Dec. 4, also will be honored.
Wendy Liebman, a semifinalist on season nine of America’s Got Talent and a frequent guest on late-night TV shows, returns to teach a stand-up comedy boot camp and emcee the Attendee Stand-up Comedy Night that closes the workshop.
The workshop will once again feature “Pitchapalooza” — described as the “American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler.” Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s wildly popular, entertaining event has drawn thousands of people into bookstores, writing conferences and book festivals all over the country — and captured attention from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and NPR. Writers get one minute to pitch a book idea before a panel. The judges pick a winner, who will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for the book idea.
The workshop also will include a special panel, “Ask the Agents,” and sessions on “Speed Dating for Writers,” where writers meet briefly with a variety of pros to learn writing and publishing tips. In addition, two publishing professionals will offer one-on-one consultations with writers considering options for publishing their books.
Among the nearly 30 experienced writers and publishing professionals, the workshop’s faculty includes three former keynoters — stand-up comedian and author Leighann Lord; actress and author Kathy Kinney, best known for her iconic role as “Mimi” in The Drew Carey Show; and Cindy Ratzlaff, author and a 29-year veteran of the book publishing industry. The rest of the slate includes:
• Lauren E. Abramo, vice president, subsidiary rights director and literary agent for Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.
• Tracy Beckerman, nationally syndicated humor columnist and the author of two books, Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir: How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs.
• Dr. Nancy Berk, clinical psychologist, author, online entertainment columnist for Parade magazine, adjunct professor and host of the celebrity podcast “Whine At 9.”
• David Braughler, founder and CEO of Braughler Books.
• Donna Cavanagh, author of five books and founder of HumorOutcasts.com and the partner publishing company, HumorOutcasts Press, which now includes the labels Shorehouse Books and Corner Office Books.
• Joni B. Cole, author of the newly released Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier and two other books. She serves on the faculty at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.
• Jane Friedman, writer, teacher and speaker with 20 years of experience in the publishing industry with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, a publishing industry newsletter for authors, and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest.
• T. Faye Griffin, award-winning humorist who’s put words into the mouths of Academy Award winners, comedians, politicians and everyday folk alike. From A&E to BET to PBS, she has amassed an impressive list of writing credits that includes the landmark comedy series In Living Color.
• Lauretta Hannon, bestselling author, Huffington Post blogger, speaker, performer, teacher and author of The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life.
• Katrina Kittle, author of five novels, creative writing teacher and manuscript consultant.
• Joel Madison, sitcom writer for more than a dozen TV shows, including Roseanne and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
• Peter Marino, playwright, novelist and emeritus English professor at SUNY Adirondack.
• Kate McKean, vice president at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, literary agent and an adjunct professor at New York University.
• Dinty W. Moore, author of 11 books, including The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir. A professor of nonfiction writing at Ohio University, he edits Brevity, an online journal of flash nonfiction.
• Jessica Murnane, women’s health advocate, podcast host and author of One Part Plant.
• Anne Parris, blogger, marketer and a partner in Midlife Boulevard, a lifestyle site for women, and the BAM Conference, a blogging conference for women in midlife.
• Zachary Petit, journalist, magazine editor, photo dabbler and “lover of all things writerly, design-ish and nerd-like.” He is the author of three books, including The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing: How to Write, Work and Thrive On Your Own Terms.
• Susan Pohlman, essayist, editor/writing coach, retreat leader and author of the memoir Halfway to Each Other.
• Julia Roberts, creativity coach and author of three books, including Sex, Lies & Creativity – Gender Differences in Creative Thinking.
• Saba Sulaiman, literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services.
• Mark Shatz, author of Comedy Writing Secrets who teaches humor writing and conducts research on the benefits of humor at Ohio University.
• Sharon Short, executive director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, who has written the coming-of-age novel My One Square Inch of Alaska; two mystery series; and a collection of humorous essays.
• Jessica Strawser, editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade. A novelist, she wrote Almost Missed You and the upcoming Not That I Could Tell.
•Marion Winik, professor in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore and the author of nine books, among them First Comes Love, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, Highs in the Low Fifties and The Lunch-Box Chronicles.
Since its launch in 2000, the workshop has attracted such household names as Phil Donahue, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Gail Collins, Garrison Keillor, Roy Blount Jr., Lisa Scottoline and Alan Zweibel, but the personal involvement of Erma Bombeck’s family makes the event at her alma mater memorable and sets it apart from the myriad other writers’ workshops offered across the country. If past workshops are any indication, the popular event will fill up quickly. The 2016 workshop, which drew 350 writers from around the nation, sold out in less than six hours.
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is co-sponsored by the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association, College of Arts and Sciences and Bookstore; National Society of Newspaper Columnists; Writer’s Digest; Books & Co.; Marriott at the University of Dayton; Washington-Centerville Public Library; McMeel Family Foundation; Markey’s Rental and Staging; A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program; and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment.
(Subject to change)
Speed Dating for Writers (advance registration required)
Moderated by Tracy Beckerman
Back by popular demand. Need encouragement or advice? Seasoned writers, marketers and agents will answer your questions and share writing and publishing tips. It’s based on a speed-dating model that allows writers to learn a variety of perspectives from the pros in a short amount of time.
Get Your Book Published! (one-on-one self-publishing consultations, advance registration required)
David Braughler and Donna Cavanagh
Struggling to decide between hybrid publishing and hands-on DIY publishing? Unsure of how to handle ISBN’s, copyrights and the Library of Congress? And what about getting your book into libraries and bookstores? From the mechanics of publishing to the realities of marketing and distribution, publishing experts David Braughler and Donna Cavanagh are available to meet individually with writers to discuss the questions you should be asking yourself before publishing your book.
10 Top Lessons Learned From 10 Years of Interviewing Bestselling Authors (one time only)
Jessica Strawser, editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest magazine, distills best-in-class writing and process advice from her Writer’s Digest conversations with the likes of David Sedaris, Alice Walker, David Baldacci, Lisa Scottoline, Lisa Gardner and others.
Panel: Drag Races, Detours and Destinations: Finding the Power in Your Creative Journey (one time only)
Moderator: Nancy Berk
Panelists: Kathy Kinney, Katrina Kittle, Leighann Lord and Jessica Murnane
Creative success rarely happens overnight. Ask any “overnight sensation” and she will remind you of the years of hard work that led up to those late night shows and paparazzi moments. So how do you know when you’re in the right place? Is it best to tiptoe or dive into the experience? When do you embrace or ignore the critics? And what about shifting gears? Is dreaming big ever a detriment? This panel will help you identify strengths and weaknesses, look at your obstacles in new ways and discover alternative shifts and strategies to give you power and options on your writing journey and beyond.
Their, There, They’re: A Guide To Improving Communication and Using Words Goodly (one time only)
Do you have a love/hate relationship with the English language? Are you annoyed by acronyms? Humbled by homonyms? Does punctuation make you panic? You’re not alone. First words, last words, magic words, bad words. Logophile (word lover) Leighann Lord takes attendees on a fun frolic through the land of word nerdery, exploring the power that language has to hurt and heal; entertain and inspire. And why sometimes, even for professional speakers and writers, our communication efforts can fail. But fear not! Attendees will take away a renewed appreciation for the English language and concrete tools on how to use it better. In this fun refresher, Leighann will show you:
• The importance of text, tone and body language
• Why subtext and context matter
• Why autocorrect is not your friend
• Why you should not ignore Microsoft Word’s “red” and “green” lines
• The three things you should do before you hit send
• The most important question to ask before you hit send
• five great resources literally at your fingertips
Pitchapalooza — American Idol for Books (one time only)
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry
Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their books. Writers get one minute to make their best pitch. A panel of judges will help these writers, and everyone in the audience, improve their pitches. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much more. Authors and audience come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether you’re pitching yourself, or simply listening to trained professionals critique other writers, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for everyone. From Los Angeles to New York City, and many stops along the way, Pitchapalooza has consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors. At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book. Numerous authors have received publishing deals due to Pitchapalooza. Bonus: Anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published will receive a free 20-minute consultation, a $100 value.
Secrets to Getting Published in Magazines That Editors Won’t Tell You (But I Will!) (offered twice)
In this candid, brutally honest and genuinely funny session, author and editor-in-chief Zachary Petit breaks down the many critical ins-and-outs of writing for magazines, including the ways in which magazine editors can be divas, how to get their attention, get published and begin a successful freelance career.
Ask the Agents (offered twice)
Moderator: Jessica Strawser or Sharon Short
Panelists: Lauren Abramo, Kate McKean and Saba Sulaiman
This Q&A with a panel of agents provides you with an opportunity to find out what agents look for in sample chapters, what makes them stop reading, what they can do for self-published authors, what they want to hear during a live pitch, and much more. You’ll get the chance to ask the agents about any topic, from platform and marketing to self-publishing and series writing. Whether you’re writing for children or adults, fiction or nonfiction, these agents can answer your questions.
What’s The Real Deal? Uncovering The Best Publishing Options for Your Book (one time only)
Moderator: Nancy Berk
Panelists: David Braughler, Donna Cavanagh, Cindy Ratzlaff
It’s ready and waiting — all your amazing book needs is a great publisher. But in the ever-changing writing world with many publishing and promotional options, do you know how to identify your best match? This panel will cover the pros and cons of traditional and independent publishing, the fascinating overlaps and gaps, and strategies, tips and tricks to maximize your publishing success.
Landing a Book Deal: Creative Ways to Grow Your Brand (one time only)
Erma Bombeck quipped, “I have always felt cookbooks were fiction, and the most beautiful words in the English language were ‘room service.’” Jessica Murname landed a cookbook deal because food helped her heal — and she had a story to tell. She’ll share how she went from “landing page to finding a publisher.” Her workshop will cover the importance of a “hook” and a sharable concept when pitching, proposing and writing a book; positioning yourself as an expert (even if you’re still technically a beginner; meeting your audience where they are; and growing your brand before and after getting the deal.
Write a Query Letter That Gets Manuscript and Proposal Requests (one time only)
If you’ve written your query like a pro, then you should be getting requests from agents and publishers for more material about 50 percent of the time. Learn the essential elements of any query, across all genres, and how to avoid the common mistakes that plague and sabotage your best efforts. By the end of the session, you’ll know how to seduce an agent or editor by showing off the best aspects of your work (rather than explaining it to death) — plus you’ll learn to uncover potential flaws in your work that run more than query deep.
How to Get Published Successfully (one time only)
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry
It is the greatest time in history to be a writer. The barriers have been torn down, and now anyone can get published. But to get published successfully is a whole other matter. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry take you through the entire publishing process. This step-by-step, soup-to-nuts workshop will remove the smoke and mirrors from the murky world of publishing and give writers a compass and map to a successfully published book. Topics include:
• Choosing the right idea
• Creating a blockbuster title
• Crafting an attention-getting pitch
• Putting together a proposal/manuscript
• Finding the right agent/publisher
• Self-publishing effectively with e-books, print-on-demand or traditional printing
• Developing sales, marketing and publicity savvy
• Producing a video book trailer and helping it go viral
• Building a following through social media
CRAFT OF WRITING
Memoir Boot Camp (offered twice)
In this hands-on workshop writers will explore a step-by-step process of turning a memory into a crafted essay. A series of prompts will break this mysterious transformation into bite-sized tasks, from choosing what to write about to developing characters, setting and dialogue, to thinking about theme, structure and organization. Participants will give each other feedback along the way and all walk out with the first draft of a short essay. Marion will also share some insights about the ethics of writing about your family and friends, and about the uses of both research and imagination in memoir.
Wit, Wisdom and a Good Naked Workshop (offered twice)
Don’t worry, there’ll be no shedding of clothes, but this lively, interactive session will expose the creative process in all its glory. Come prepared to write in response to guided prompts, and share aloud your efforts for inspiration and appreciation. Takeaways: insights into how to confront the dreaded blank page, and how to nurture a more productive, positive creative process. Bring something to write on, and leave any self-doubts at the door.
Write Without the Fight (offered twice)
Write Without the Fight takes participants through five steps to see and master their resistance within the creative process. (See it, Name it, Claim It, Tame It, Live it.) Take-aways include:
• Knowing exactly what you do — without being aware — that causes your resistance
• The one mind-tool that is right for you to get over the hump and just write
• How to choose your best collaborators and work with the right people
Geared for beginning writers, though appropriate for all who struggle with writer’s block.
How to Uncover Your Own Voice and Get It Down on Paper (one time only)
Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff
Using a series of improvisational writing techniques and a simple kitchen timer, this hands-on workshop will help you get past your self-criticism, reveal your unique voice and help you incorporate that voice into your writing. You’ll learn how to use your voice to paint a clear picture for readers, helping them experience who you are, where you are, who you are to the others in your scene and what makes this day so important in the story. Come prepared to write without self-editing and to give your imagination a good workout.
Developing the Writer’s Eye (offered twice)
To be a great writer, you need to do three things: write a lot, read a lot and pay attention. This class is all about that paying attention part. Paying attention takes practice and training because our culture doesn’t value it. (Our culture values filling up every second of spare time and attention with devices and being “productive.”) Whether you’re an experienced writer who needs your ideas energized or a beginner who wants to develop better habits and skills, this class will focus your observation skills as well as your ability to capture those observations in writing. A series of exercises will stoke your creativity, fan your senses and wake up your figurative language. This will be an inspiring, energizing class developing your artistic mindfulness and curiosity.
The F Word: Feminist Comic Writers Who Inspire Us (offered twice)
How does outstanding feminist humor lead to better writing? In this workshop, you will focus on three iconic humorists — Nora Ephron, Fran Lebowitz and Tina Fey — and one writer’s writer novelist, Anne Lamott. Attendees will experiment with a writing exercise devised by Lamott, which is remarkable effective at unleashing creativity.
Developing Voice and Style (offered twice)
An agent once told Susan Pohlman that the one thing she looks for in a submission is a solid sense of voice. Craft can be taught, editors can be hired, but voice is the real deal. A command of voice and style proclaims to the reader that you can be trusted to lead them on a worthwhile journey to a place of truth. This interactive workshop will clarify the definition of voice and equip you with specific tools to develop your own distinct writing style. Come ready to write and have some fun!
Create Vivid, Believable People, Places and Scenes in Fiction or Nonfiction (one time only)
Through a mix of examples and writing exercises, writers will learn how to create compelling descriptions without stopping action, slowing pace or overwhelming readers. Techniques include bringing the senses to life, using simile and metaphor, creating context, mastering dialogue tags, describing action and knowing the difference between scene and narrative — or show and tell — and when to use which style most effectively.
The Comfortable Chair: Bringing Humor to the Personal Essay (offered twice)
Dinty W. Moore
Humor on the page is a delicate flower, and there is nothing quite so awkward as watching it wilt. This interactive workshop will explore the basics of using humor effectively in the personal essay, and in nonfiction writing generally, including the user of juxtaposition, irony, understatement and exaggeration. You will examine a few sterling examples and then pull out your pens and notebooks to try it for yourselves. We will laugh, too, along the way. For those bothered by delayed gratification, here’s a preview: The best humor sneaks up on you.
Maximize Your Funny: Strategies for Busting the Humor Block (offered twice)
Funny writing demands funny thinking. Yet, humor block happens frequently, and it ain’t fun or funny. Fortunately, a number of brainstorming strategies and creativity techniques can help bust humor block. This “minds-on” workshop will identify the obstacles that prevent writers from being funny and explore ways to overcome humor block. By completing an integrated series of thinking and writing exercises, participants will learn how to maximize their funny.
Inspired: The Art of Writing with Humor and Heart (offered twice)
T. Faye Griffin
This lighthearted and highly interactive workshop is an entertaining primer on the rapidly growing genre of inspirational humor writing. Audio and visual materials will be employed to engage participants in fun and thought-provoking writing exercises, readings and gentle critiques.
It’s Okay to Laugh: How to Use Humor in the Dark Places (offered twice)
This interactive workshop examines how to use humor when dealing with painful material. Wildly interactive, participants will do exercises such as six-word memoirs and then share them with the class. The session aims to open writers up to parts of their story they thought were better left unmentioned. There will be much cackling in this session and probably a few tears as well.
Stand-Up Comedy Boot Camp (one time only)
Learn the basics of stand-up comedy and hone the four-minute set you’ll perform Saturday night at the workshop. Nationally known stand-up comic Wendy Liebman will share writing techniques to make your stories funnier — and ways to deliver them to get a laugh. The workshop is open to stand-up performers and anyone who wants to learn the techniques for writing and performing stand-up comedy. Come prepared to laugh and scribble down your own hilarious ideas. A dozen comedians will be selected in advance to perform at stand-up night. Wendy will choose an additional three from the hilarious writers she meets in the workshop.
MARKETING AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Sit-Down Comedy: Tweet Like a Standup and Kill it on Social Media (offered twice)
Joel Madison wants to help you be funnier online. Are your tweets tired? Does your Facebook fall flat? In this hands-on session, you’ll learn the tricks of the joke-writing trade from a pro. Under Joel’s guidance, you’ll refine your comedic online voice by “punching-up” your own tweets and posts. Then you’ll create new posts from scratch. You’ll walk out with skills that will take your social media presence to the next level. Remember: you may not hear the spit-takes out in Internet-land, but that doesn’t mean they’re not happening.
It’s a Brand New Brand YOU World: Why Authors MUST Treat Themselves and Their Books as Brands — Even Before Publication (one time only)
You are the brand and every book you write is a brand extension. Developing a personal author brand will save you time, money and frustration as you move from the writing phase to the marketing phase of your book — and help you attract a large following of passionate readers who are truly interested in your books. Cindy Ratzlaff will share the exact tips, tools and strategies she has used to help best-selling authors create their own personal brands, promote their books through a set of massive, branded social platforms and drive sales — all without compromising their privacy or engaging in hardcore selling. You’ll come away from this workshop with a step-by-step guide to developing your own personal author brand and a checklist of action items you can take immediately to build your own brand and position your social influence for rapid growth.
How to Build an Effective Author Website (one time only)
If you want to find success as a writer — whether through traditional publishing or self-publishing — you need a website. It’s critical for effective marketing (online and offline), as well as long-term career growth. Whether your website is one day old or 10 years old, you want to make sure the resources that you’ve put into your site will pay off with more readers and lead to more sales and opportunities for your career. Learn best practices for design and content, the most important visual areas to focus on, plus search-based strategies to help bring readers to your door. No need to be a techie or understand jargon — this session speaks to all skill levels.
So, What’s Your Website Done for you Lately? (one time only)
Tracy Beckerman and Anne Parris
Is your website really doing all that it can to attract an audience? If you’re putting all your effort into your content, but not enough into your web tools, you may just be shouting into the void. In this tip- and trick-laden session, Tracy Beckerman and Anne Parris will select the websites of three session attendees (submitted in advance) and do live website reviews while telling you how to make your website work harder for you.
How to Grow Your Facebook Fan Page (one time only)
Tracy Beckerman and Anne Parris
Many people wonder why they may have 1,000 Facebook fan page followers but only a tenth of their fans actually see their posts. Facebook can be an incredibly powerful tool for promoting your blog and getting more eyeballs on your work, but you have to know how to be Facebook savvy and use its tools to engage more people with the right content at the right time. In this session you’ll learn why you should:
• share video that’s already on Facebook, rather than from YouTube or another platform
• create and use memes
• use the Native Scheduler function to schedule your posts
• share 20 percent of your own material and 80 percent of other people’s stuff
• and lots more tips for increasing the number following your fan page, and the number Facebook chooses to share your posts with
Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson for 10 years, author, comedian. He won two Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show Host for “Celebrity Name Game,” and can be heard nightly on The Craig Ferguson Show on SiriusXM. Read more about Craig.
Liza Donnelly, award-winning cartoonist with The New Yorker Magazine, resident cartoonist for CBS News and author/editor of 18 books. Her drawings and writing can also be seen in The New York Times, Medium, Forbes, Politico and other major publications. Read more about Liza.
John Grogan, author of the international #1 bestseller Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, a memoir and numerous children’s books. Read more about John.
Karen Walrond, bestselling author, photographer, coach and speaker who inspires others to find and celebrate their own uniqueness, through the power of storytelling. Read more about Karen.
Monica Piper, Emmy Award-winning comedy writer and stand-up comic who has written for sitcoms Roseanne, Mad About You and Veronica’s Closet, and was the head writer of the #1 children’s animated series Rugrats. She starred in her own Showtime special, “No, Monica, Just You” and was nominated by the American Comedy Awards as one of the top five female comedians in the country. Read more about Monica.
Patricia Wynn Brown, performer, producer and author of Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession. She has performed her humor-memoir Hair Theater shows nationally. Funny and gracious, she returns for her fourth stint as emcee. Read more about Pat.
Wendy Liebman, stand-up comic who’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, Ferguson and Hollywood Squares. She was a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent. She returns to host the Attendee Stand-Up Comedy Night. Read more about Wendy.
Anna Lefler, author, comedian and lifelong fangirl and devotee of Erma Bombeck, will recognize the two winners of the inaugural A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program. Read more about Anna.
Lauren E. Abramo, vice president, subsidiary rights director and literary agent for Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. Read more about Lauren.
Tracy Beckerman, nationally syndicated humor columnist and the author of two books, including Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir: How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs. Read more about Tracy.
Dr. Nancy Berk, clinical psychologist, author, online entertainment columnist for Parade magazine, adjunct professor and host of the celebrity podcast “Whine At 9.” Read more about Nancy.
David Braughler, founder and CEO of Braughler Books. Read more about David.
Donna Cavanagh, founder of HumorOutcasts.com and the partner publishing company, HumorOutcasts Press, which now includes the labels Shorehouse Books and Corner Office Books. Author of five books, she penned How to Write and Share Humor: Techniques to Tickle Funny Bones and Win Fans. Read more about Donna.
Joni B. Cole, author of the newly released Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier and two other books. She serves on the faculty at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and teaches writing in the Writer’s Center in Vermont. Read more about Joni.
Arielle Eckstut, agent-at-large with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in New York and the author of nine books, including The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Read more about Arielle.
Jane Friedman, writer, teacher and speaker with 20 years of experience in the publishing industry with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest. Read more about Jane.
T. Faye Griffin, award-winning humorist who has put words into the mouths of Academy Award winners, comedians, politicians and everyday folk alike. From A&E to BET to PBS, she has amassed an impressive list of writing credits that include the landmark comedy series In Living Color. Read more about T. Faye.
Lauretta Hannon, bestselling author, Huffington Post blogger, speaker, performer, teacher and author of The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life. Read more about Lauretta.
Kathy Kinney, perhaps best known for her iconic role as “Mimi” on the The Drew Carey Show, has appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies. She is the co-author, along with her friend Cindy Ratzlaff, of three books, Queen of Your Own Life: The Grown-up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve; Queenisms: 101 Jolts of Inspiration and Queen of Your Own Life: If Not Now, When? Read more about Kathy.
Katrina Kittle, author of five novels, creative writing teacher and manuscript consultant. Read more about Katrina.
Leighann Lord, stand-up comedian, commentator, blogger and author of five e-books, including Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget, Volumes 1 & 2 and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady. Read more about Leighann.
Joel Madison, sitcom writer for more than a dozen TV shows, including Roseanne and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Read more about Joel.
Peter Marino, playwright, novelist and emeritus English professor at SUNY Adirondack. Read more about Peter.
Kate McKean, vice president at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, literary agent and an adjunct professor at New York University. Read more about Kate.
Dinty W. Moore, author of 11 books, including The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir. A professor of nonfiction writing at Ohio University, he edits Brevity, an online journal of flash nonfiction. Read more about Dinty.
Jessica Murnane, women’s health advocate, podcast host and author of One Part Plant. Read more about Jessica.
Anne Parris, blogger, marketer and owner of Midlife Boulevard, a lifestyle site for women. Read more about Anne.
Zachary Petit, journalist, magazine editor, photo dabbler and “lover of all things writerly, design-ish and nerd-like.” He is the author of three books, including The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing: How to Write, Work and Thrive On Your Own Terms. Read more about Zachary.
Susan Pohlman, essayist, editor/writing coach, retreat leader and author of the memoir Halfway to Each Other. Read more about Susan.
Cindy Ratzlaff, author, speaker and president of Brand New Brand You, Inc., a brand marketing and communications consulting firm. She is a 29-year veteran of the book publishing industry, having held executive positions at both Simon & Schuster and Rodale Inc. Read more about Cindy.
Julia Roberts, creativity coach and author of three books, including Sex, Lies & Creativity – Gender Differences in Creative Thinking. Read more about Julia.
Saba Sulaiman, literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services. Read more about Saba.
Mark Shatz, author of Comedy Writing Secrets who teaches humor writing and conducts research on the benefits of humor at Ohio University. Read more about Mark.
Sharon Short, executive director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, who has written the coming-of-age novel My One Square Inch of Alaska; two mystery series; and a collection of humorous essays. Read more about Sharon.
David Henry Sterry, co-founder of The Book Doctors and author of 16 books on a wide variety of subjects, from memoir to middle grade fiction. Co-wrote The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Read more about David.
Jessica Strawser, editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade. A novelist, she wrote Almost Missed You and the upcoming Not That I Could Tell. Read more about Jessica.
Marion Winik, professor in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore and the author of nine books, among them First Comes Love, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, Highs in the Low Fifties and The Lunch-Box Chronicles. Read more about Marion.
Four kids, three houses, eight cars and three colleges ago, I was a waitress at Denny’s. Many a Grand Slam breakfasts and chicken fried steak paid for community college. Whenever a posse of older women came, the wait staff would immediately hide in the kitchen, no one wanting that table.
Chimes of “not me, not me, not me” rang out like seagulls finding fries at the beach, and with good reason.
What pains in the as**! Dressing on the side, skim milk for coffee, lo-cal syrup, hold the mayo, extra mayo, no salt, eggs hard, fork is dirty, no ice please, decaf tea, substitutions galore, then separate checks and crappy tips.
I’m still traumatized some 35 years later.
So why then do I flock to a writing conference in Dayton, Ohio, a mecca of sorts of middle-aged (being generous here) women (and nine men) to pay homage and learn by sheer osmosis the writing and wit of Erma Bombeck.
Here gather 350 women (and nine men), the VAST majority between the ages of 45-105 (except for the room crashed at 2 a.m, where four politically savvy, very smart, very drunk young women discussed writing, friendship, politics, parenting and marriage — an anomaly of demographics to be sure, but one I welcomed and not just because of the late-night pizza and free booze).
The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop is every two years, and frankly, it’s not enough. Last time, I spent the vast majority of the conference between workshops, alone in a bathroom stall, pity party of one. I was in a dark place and looking for some light. And laughter. (You can read about that here.)
This year, I was on stage doing stand-up. Four minutes of hell that I will remember forever. From the bathroom stall to center stage, and it’s all thanks to the writers who flock to Dayton.
They, these 350 women (and nine men) who are all in some version of the same boat, want you to succeed. There is room for us all. I flee self-help, inspirational live-your-own-life spiritual bliss bullsh**. I despise it, and yet, that is exactly what I find here.
Like a spoon full of sugar, or a shot of tequila, I go for the workshops, the how-to craft, the social media tips, the networking and face-to-face opportunity that doesn’t happen on Facebook, or at larger conferences with bigger egos.
And yet, through the workshops, I find inspiration. Peace. Excitement. Energy. Encouragement. Talent. It all happens here.
• Is what you write a window or a mirror? If a mirror, it only applies to you and has limited audience. If a window, it offers a wider, universal story others can participate with.
• There’s a fine line where your story ends and someone else’s begins.
• Get it on the page. Even if it is crap.
• Anytime you sit down to write your story, you have something unique to bring to the page.
• Be real. Share moments of emotional generosity.
• About Gilda Radner, Bunny, Bunny: “I wanted our words to touch each other again.”
• The jokes will come, but writing the truth must come first.
• There’s no secret to writing comedy. The secret is writing. The jokes will come.
• Do the work.
• The best writing touches the soul.
• You won’t suck. I won’t let that happen. Breathe.
• Control what you can: the jokes, the writing. Delivery. Your health and stamina. Ignore what you can’t control.
• Act as if it’s a great audience. Every single time.
• Surround yourself with positive people.
• You never know who you’re gonna meet who will give you a leg up.
• You don’t have to be 21 to have your whole life ahead of you. But it helps.
• Find a friend who doesn’t have an agenda.
• Suck up to others. Really. Do it.
• Get your foot in the door by finding your niche.
• Stand up is for alternative thinkers.
• If you have something to say, get out and say it.
• If you don’t ask, you don’t get. No one is sitting around thinking about you.
• If the word ‘no’ frightened you, you wouldn’t be sitting here.
• Opportunity comes through friendships.
• Pursuing your passion is the gift you give other people.
•Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
• You’re funny. Really funny. (To me. To my face, in the lobby)
• Your personal brand is a story you write about you.
• Leave digital breadcrumbs everywhere.
• Fan base believes they know us. Interact and build the relationship. Don’t let a share or comment go unnoticed.
• Readers read. Writers read. Colleagues are part of your tribe. Be a steward of that tribe. Share.
• Engage wherever fans want to play. Go there.
• Narrator is a hero if things don’t happen to them.
• Epiphany is the pay-off: when it stops being about you and starts being about the reader.
• You can’t go back and un-have an epiphany.
• Don’t be safe. If you’re being safe, you’re probably talking about other people.
It was like this for two days and two nights. I stole a little extra time from Leighann Lord because I mooched a ride to the airport with her, completely blurring the lines between “talent” and “attendee.” Because that’s how this workshop rolls.
Eat dinner with a bunch of strangers, and learn about publications, editors, tips and leads. And second chances, career fails, good bras, in sickness and in health, menopause, tequila, online dating, great moisturizer, trolls, dark clouds and bright skies.
This workshop has something for everyone, regardless where you fall on the bell curve of writing. From polished, published professionals marketing a script, screenplay, or manuscript to a hospice nurse who always wanted to write, to an investment banker who thinks she might be funny — we all attend the same classes, taking what we need for this time in our life, and walk out lighter, braver and bolder.
The workshop also included a performance of the one-woman show, At Wit’s End starring Broadway and movie star Barbara Chisholm, and I sat near the back so I could sneak out if it sucked.
IT DID NOT. I was spellbound. Erma resonated because the tiny moments of the mundane had a far-reaching audience. Still. Her observations of parenting and housework had huge implications for the Equal Rights Amendment then. And now. Because there’s still work to do.
As Nancy Berk said during the all-woman in comedy panel: “Ageism is real, but here’s the thing: we are the lump in the demographic bubble. We are the majority. We sell out venues because they don’t see us on television.”
Thanks to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and the 350 women (and nine men), I for one will not forget the power of the pen, and our responsibility to use it wisely. With poise and humor, I can do both. Be funny and serious. Humor and activism. Doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and I hope the writers who experienced what I experience are tasked with continuing important conversations that may, in fact, inspire others to do the same to make the world a better place. One essay at a time.
— Kate Mayer
Kate Mayer is a potty-mouthed, somewhat irreverent storyteller, humorist and activist sharing life as she lives it in Newtown, Connecticut. She writes with humor, wit and a great amount of levity about parenting, teenage angst, aging parents, midlife, social issues and, sigh, gun- violence prevention. Her essays have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, BluntMoms, Scary Mommy, BlogHer, The Mid, The Good Men Project, Midlife Boulevard, much in thanks to EBWW. She is a very proud Listen To Your Mother NYC 2012 alum. She blogs at http://www.kathrynmayer.com and is occasionally funny on Instagram and Twitter as @klmcopy. If you play well with others, find her on Facebook.
Virginia author Kimberly “Kimba” Dalferes says you can quote her on this: “Finding your tribe is life-affirming and feeds your soul.”
Dalferes describes the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in this way: “What happens when 350 people, predominantly women, truck in from all across the U.S. to spend three full days laughing (and a little crying), eating (mostly desserts) and baring their souls to each other? Magic. In a place called Dayton. That’s not a punchline.”
Humorist Wanda Argersinger blogs, “I have never attended any other conference where the attitude of the attendees actually infiltrates the air. You walk and breathe support, love, hope, admiration, curiosity and absolute acceptance of who you are. ‘These are my people,’ could be heard over and over again. ‘This is where I was meant to be.’”
From storyteller Kathryn Mayer, who “found her funny” at the 2014 EBWW and returned a renewed writer: “I find inspiration. Peace. Excitement. Energy. Encouragement. Talent. It all happens here.”
In all, nearly 60 writers tapped out literally thousands of words to capture three laugh-filled days of learning and networking at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. These include essays from Lori Mansell, a long-retired school teacher who discovered it’s never too late to write, a couple of University of Dayton students, journalists, authors, magazine writers and bloggers.
A special highlight: Keynoters Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff are producing five video features of stories from their sprint writing workshop that encouraged writers to find their voices.
Here are links to newspaper and online stories, blogs and podcasts:
Amy Abbott: Afterglow
Amy Abbott: Erma Bombeck’s Forever Legacy
Wanda M. Argersinger: A Legacy Like No Other
Anne Bardsley: Erma Summer Camp
Jennifer Belden: How Erma Helped Me Reclaim My Focus and Boot Dolores
Nancy Berk: Showbiz Analysis: Legendary Author Roy Blount Jr. Talks Creativity, Satire and Pie on Parade.com. Listen to podcast here.
Nancy Berk: Showbiz Analysis: The Drew Carey Show‘s Mimi Elevates Kathy Kinney to Queen of Her Own Life on Parade.com. Listen to podcast here.
Betsy Bitner: Together in a Spirit of Humor, Times Union in Albany, N.Y.
Valentine Brkich: Let the Sessions Begin!
Valentine Brkich: Welcome to No Man’s Land
Patricia Wynn Brown: Ride ‘em, cowgirl
Helen Chibnik: Secret Passion (illustrated and recorded by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff)
Michelle Poston Combs: Like a Greased Watermelon
Michelle Poston Combs: Standing Up at Erma Bombeck 2016
Kimberly “Kimba” Dalferes: Can I Quote You on That?
Julie Danis: The Olga Stores: The Best Seamstress of Section A of the Block Association of EastWest Warsaw (illustrated and recorded by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff)
Lexie Digby: Erma’s Essence
Lori B. Duff: Men, Women, and the Equality of Functional Pockets
Amy Eddings: She Who Laughs, Lives More Fully
Christy Heitger-Ewing: Muted Joy: Learning to Live, Love and Laugh Again, Huffington Post
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp: MomWriter, Cincinnati Family Magazine
Sharon Tjaden-Glass: Walking Through the Fear
Rachel Grise: Erma Bombeck and the Marriott of Despair
Stacey Gustafson: Got My Funny Back at Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2016
Stacey Gustafson: Quotable Quotes, featuring Alan Zweibel, Cathryn Michon, Joel Madison, Wendy Liebman, Leighann Lord, Kathy Kinney, Judy Carter and Jenny Lawson
Katie Hamlin: Ermafied
Lori Herlihy: Emulating Erma
Mary Hirsch: Life Without a Name Tag
Hillary Ibarra: Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop
Natalie Kirland: Erma Bombeck Spirit Still Alive Through Writers’ Workshop
Myron Kukla: Strange But True Tale
Kate Mahar: A Little Something About My Day Job
Lori Mansell: Queen for a Day
Lisa Marlin: Yes, Mr. Dickens, It Was the Best
Kathryn Mayer: Bathroom Stall to Center Stage: A Writer Finds Her Groove
Mary McCarty: Lesson from Bombeck Workshop: It’s Never Too Late, Dayton Daily News
Kelly McKenzie: If Only I Had the Chance to Meet Erma
Julie Osborne: From Virgin to Queen
Gianetta Palmer: An Ode to the EBWW…2016 Version
Lisa R. Petty: Hermit at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop
Susan Pohlman: When Erma Calls
Yvonne Ransel: My Happy Place
Teri Rizvi: Brigadoon for Writers
Julia Roberts: Great Advice From the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop
Julia Roberts: The Erma Gap
Anne Saker: Erma Bombeck Lives on in Admiring Writers, Cincinnati Enquirer
Sheri Saretsky: Mother…Wife…Boss…But Writer?
Sharon Short: Authors to Offer Free Events Tied to Writers’ Workshop, interview with Roy Blount Jr. and Gina Barreca, Dayton Daily News
Pam Sievers: When the Only Thing Left to Do is Write
Suzette Standring: Women: Stop Apologizing As a Preface to Comments, Huffington Post
Molly Stevens: Who Was Erma Bombeck and Why Does She Still Matter?, (Maine) Bangor Daily News
Becky Sydeski: 13 Things to Remember for the Erma Bombeck 2018 Conference
Janine Talbot: EBWW — A Cast of Characters
Janine Talbot: Can Great Minds Who Think Alike Survive Collaboration?
Annette Januzzi Wick: Erma Made Me Miss My Mom
Leah Vidal: Finding Human Interest in the Funny
Jan Wilberg: Three Days with a Name Tag
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Worshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as executive director of strategic communications.
Registering on a whim years ago, I slipped away from family obligations to enjoy my first Erma workshop. It is no exaggeration to say I laughed ‘til I cried. But what I remember most is wondering if … IF I could be the kind of writer people would actually want to read.
My first piece of Erma swag, a deeply yellowed and slightly crunchy mousepad, now hangs on my office wall as a reminder of when the writing seed planted. Over the years, Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” nestled next to Erma’s mousepad. A plaque “Well behaved women rarely make history” joined the wall party. A flying pig landed nearby proclaiming anything is possible. And, a knight in shining armor, sword in motion, stands tall to slay my inner critic. But, while my walls sag with the paraphernalia of encouragement, my writing never works itself loose from the hard drive.
Last fall, while cleaning the tumbling debris of a decade-old clutter pile, I uncover a tiny watercolor quote long forgotten. “Don’t wait for your ship to come in if you haven’t sent one out.” Karma speaks — it’s time to sail.
A self-diagnosed introvert, I can competently address a room of 500 people, but in a social gathering, walls are my friends, observation my forte. Sometimes in uncomfortable situations, I experience a quirky mix of verbal diarrhea and tongue tie. After a cocktail party-ish gathering, my thoughts swim furiously, rerunning dialogue over and over, revising spent script, longing for another chance meeting to perfect tone and vocabulary.
In my world, EBWW is a 56-hour cocktail party. For 2016, I make a commitment to myself. Instead of rerunning the cocktail chitchat through my mind, I decide to set sail, focus on the presentations, and share my ideas without apology. I leave EBWW the first two nights overwhelmed by encouraging feedback from attendees who listen without judgment, and faculty who embolden with abandon.
Then, in the waning hours of the conference I share my projects with a few newly met attendees whose judgmental criticism slaps me breathless. “Oh, that’s wrong, that’s not a good idea.” “That’s not what people need. Don’t do that.” “You’re way off… that’s not right … you don’t really know –”
And that’s the precise moment the workshops coalesce into my own writing revelation.
A month ago, I would have sponged up those judgments and let them swim like sharks in my head until they devoured all the positive feedback I’d collected.
But not this time. I listened politely. Then with Cindy Ratzlaff‘s voice still flowing through my thoughts said, “You’re not my audience. I’m a photo-taking, travel-loving, almost grandma, recovering helicopter mom, who works every day to silence the call of judgment. I experienced an epiphany moment (thanks Adair Lara), when creating such a vivid scene for discovery (thanks, Susan Pohlman), that I live a message rooted in my childhood backstory (thanks, Judy Carter). I’m determined to spread my message. Don’t tell me that I’m wrong. I merely see the world through a different lens. It’s taken me 55 years to understand that I am Queen of my own life, and the rest of my life starts today (thanks, Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff). I’m going to use every single bit of talent God gave me in this life (thanks, Erma). And, frankly, if you don’t back away now, I’m enlisting the help of my new Italian cousin, Gina Barecca, to help me show you what kind of impact a loud, smart woman can make.”
Of course, I’m still working on the introvert stuff, so I didn’t actually say anything aloud, but as soon as my naysayers paused, I excused myself and slipped away. The next time I see them, I’m going to tell them that I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the sweater they’re wearing (thanks Alan Zweibel).
Drifting off to sleep Saturday night, the only rerun in my mind is the lovely lullaby Leighann Lord so beautifully and humorously crafted.
– Becky Berens Koop
Becky Berens Koop is a freelance writer, recovering helicopter parent and the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Local Human Interest winner for her essay Revealing Ink. Having shed her technical skin for creative pursuits, Becky believes she is finding her voice (thanks, Sharon Short) and starting to polish her craft (thanks, Katrina Kittle). She shares her ongoing recovery from helicopter parenting at CopterDetox.com and struggles daily to view the world through nonjudgmental eyes. Follow her on Facebook and learn more at BeckyBKoop.com.