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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Best way to avoid writer’s block? Write.

Want to be published? Here are some opportunities right before your keyboard.

Join the “100 Hours of Humo(u)r” online festival, what’s billed as the “most ambitious and ridiculous web event ever.” Author and teacher Dave Fox calls it flash humor. From March 1-5, he will upload new humor-related content to every hour for a hundred hours.

“Some hours, I’ll be blogging ‘live,’ testing my high-speed writing skills with quick comedy blasts. Other hours will feature humor writing mini-lessons to help you become a funnier person,” he says.

30 Days to Sanity

Do you have a heartwarming, insightful and powerfully moving story about how to stay sane in our chaotic 24/7 world? If you have a great story and would like to be included in 30 Days to Sanity, please send your stories to 30 Days to Sanity, Box 31453, Santa Fe, N.M.  87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to The maximum word count is 1,200 words. For each story selected, a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Stories must be received no later than May 1.

Finding Your Voice

How about escaping to a cozy inn in a quaint town along Lake Michigan for three days? Humorist Wade Rouse, author of five books, promises to teach you how to unleash your true writer’s voice at a May 16-19 workshop in Douglas, Mich. Rouse describes the experience as an “intensive literary renewal” that covers “everything from how to get your book published to life-changing writing exercises.” Click here for details.

Paris in the Spring

Or maybe Paris is your cup of tea. The 2013 Paris Book Festival has issued a call for entries for its annual event honoring the best of international publishing.

The 2013 Paris Book Festival will consider non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography, children’s books, compilations/anthologies, young adult, how-to, e-books, cookbooks, audio/spoken word, wild card (anything goes), photography/art, poetry, unpublished, spiritual and romance works. There is no date of publication deadline and entries can be in French or English.

Grand prize is $1,500 cash and a flight to Paris for a gala awards ceremony in late May. Deadline is April 25.

Plenty of Soup, Lots of Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul offers writers three opportunities.

The popular book series is celebrating its upcoming 20th anniversary with a special edition filled with stories about how Chicken Soup for the Soul has made a difference in people’s lives. The editors will pair old stories with new ones. Simply indicate which story helped or changed you, then write about it. Deadline for story and poem submission is March 17.

Have you experienced a connection with a loved one who died? The editors are looking for submissions for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven. Deadline is March 31.

If your story is chosen for either of these upcoming books, your piece and bio will be printed in the book. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.

If you have a brief true story (up to 500 words) that shows how your faith in God has shaped your journey as a wife, please share it along with an applicable Bible verse and a two-to-three-sentence prayer. You will receive $100 for each published devotion ($100 due to the shorter word count than the regular books). The deadline for submissions is March 15.

Submit material for these three books here.

The bunion kicker

I don’t want to be my mother, or, more exactly, I don’t want to be her feet. She is a dual-footed bunion bearer, wearing sandals or gym shoes for as long as I can remember in order to accommodate these growths.

Like some kind of teenager determined to revolt against parental say-so, I found an affinity for shoes, especially those with pointed toes, closed sides, straps, buckles and general full foot coverage. I wear sandals in summer, provided they are built for beauty and not comfort and stoop to gym shoes for exercise only. Once home, my fingers fly through the laces, shedding those clod-hopping, bunion friendly monstrosities as soon as I can.

Shoes are important to me and, as such, I’ve always been a proponent of high heels. However, I’m on the short side and consider a two-inch heel as much a necessity as undergarments or mascara. I don’t leave home without elevation. In fact, I don’t leave the bedroom, as those two inches make a difference as to whether or not I can reach to the back of middle kitchen shelf. When I was young, I wore my roller skates in the house, just for the sense of domination it provided me, at least over the countertop. Shoes were my way of fighting back in a world meant for those of average height or greater.

Then, I developed a bunion, right there at the base of my big toe on my right foot. And it hurt. I put a corn cushion on it and slipped, barefoot, into a brown suede Anne Klein pump. It still hurt. I wore the shoes anyway. Surely this was a temporary swelling and, given enough cushioned protection, would flatten itself out in no time at all. Never mind that the thing is made of bone, hard, unbending, unrelenting bone. Its likely cause is ill-fitting shoes. To be exact, shoes that force the toes to slam up against each other and cause pressure to be exerted toward the front of the foot. In other words, a sweet little shoe like my pointy-toed, two-inch Joan and David is painted as nearly demonic.

I’ll admit I do own a couple pair of flats, but they don’t go out in public much. Though they’ve never given me cause to do so, I address them like naughty children, grounding them in their shoe cubbies most of the time. I’ve come to realize I treat my shoes with a perverted prejudice; higher heels simply demand, and get, more respect from me. Research will back me up on this. Studies have shown tall people earn more money, have greater status and command more deference than their shorter counterparts.

Now here’s the bunion kicker — there is no cure. No amount of padding or even surgery will assure a pain-free walk in the park unless “proper shoes” are worn. I have my own definition of “proper” and it does not include anything resembling a man’s oxford, flip flops, bedroom slippers or a shoe used in conjunction with any type of athletics.

Some of the problem is due to age. When we are young, the balls of the foot have a considerable amount of fatty tissue to protect them. Add more than a few decades and those fatty deposits dissipate or even slide towards the toes. The result? Less protection than ever against the ravages of a beautiful pair of high heels.

I’ve noticed more shoe manufacturers are producing comfortable, yet stylish, footwear. Perhaps as the Baby Boomers continue to deny aging, someone will create a line of shoes that look like a pair of Jimmy Choo platform stilettos, but accommodate bunions like a Dansko sandal. Why, before you know it, women without bunions will be wishing they had them, clamoring for shoes that meet the criteria of fashion forward while retaining the comfort level of fashion backward.

In the meantime, I’ll be easing my bunion, covered with multiple corn cushions, into shoes designed to keep podiatrists in business. I realize that, at times, I may be forced to forego the cushioned defense because the design of the shoe may not be such as to completely hide my little turgidity. In that case, I guess I’ll just have to practice unprotected shodding.

At least, that is, until I develop a bunion on my left foot.

—   Heidi Griminger Blanke

Heidi Griminger Blanke writes regularly for several local magazines in western Wisconsin and has penned a yet-to-be-published collection of humorous essays about aging. She has published several academic articles, written many newsletter articles for nonprofit organizations and presented at a writer’s conference. She is currently trying her hand at fiction.

Blowing your own horn

Humor has the power to change us intrinsically. We all know it. We feel the difference a good belly laugh makes or how injecting humor can break the tension in the room. Laughter and mirth (simply feeling the humor) change the chemicals in our brain and in our bodies. There are science and research studies to back it up, yet I don’t need stats. I simply want to experience it. How about you? Want to use humor to feel better every day?

To build a humor kit, go to the dollar store. Invest in a bag of party horns, a can of Play Doh and some sticky notes. Grab whatever else tickles you.

Keep a horn at work, at home and in the car. When a driver cuts you off or your computer drives you crazy, toot your horn! You are letting off steam in a healthier way and the folks around will think you’re silly, breaking the stress that grips them, too.

When you want to get your kids’ attention, blow your horn. It’s much better than yelling. There’s another side, too. You can literally blow your own horn to celebrate. Your new recipe came out great — party horn blow! You landed a new client — party horn blow! You love your new haircut — party horn blow! This “breathing exercise” does wonders for your mental health.

Use the PlayDoh as a stress ball. Squeeze and pass it back and forth between hands. There is left-brain right-connection happening, yet it simply feels good. Take two minutes to make a tiny sculpture and leave it somewhere for someone else to find. That sprinkle of humor creates a ripple effect throughout the home or workplace.

Sticky notes are the greatest invention ever. Post a reminder next to your alarm clock: “I will laugh today.” You have just increased your odds of a more enjoyable day. Write silly notes and stick them in unconventional places. Inside the fridge, cupboard or microwave. On mirrors at home and at work. On a desk lamp, computer screen, briefcase. A funny phrase or sentence, a quote, an inside joke, or anything of healthy humor can make someone else’s day. You’ve upped your happy quotient leaving stealth stickies.

There are myriad ways to inject humor into every day. Of course, read funny stuff. You don’t have to bust a gut. Smiling on the inside has the same effect. Keep a toilet tank reader in the loo and one at bedside. Read a few pages every night. You’ll sleep better, wake up feeling more rested, and face the day with a better attitude. Again, science proves it.

Why not prove it for yourself? Give it a whirl and you’ll see how simple it is to laugh and smile more every day. Your health will improve, and so will your mood. That is something to smile about.

—Kelly Epperson Simmons

Kelly Epperson Simmons, author/speaker/book coach and two-time judge of the Erma Bombeck national humor essay writing contest, is honored to be invited to speak at Gilda’s LaughFest in Grand Rapids, Mich., on March 14. She will speak to the emotional and health benefits of humor and happiness at this 10-day festival that honors the late Gilda Radner and her charity, Gilda’s Club. To learn about LaughFest, click here.

First grade love regurgitated

In 1967, starting “big school” meant entering the first grade.  It was an exciting time for a 6-year-old as entering the first grade represented experiencing many of life’s firsts:  first book satchel, first pair of saddle oxfords, first fat pencils and lined tablets, reading with Dick & Jane, first lunch boxes (mine was “Twiggy”) and, most especially, experiencing first-time puppy love.

I attended Leslie Steele Elementary school in Decatur and I have vivid memories of visiting the school for the very first time.  My mother escorted me down the large hallway that, regardless of how recently the floors had been waxed, had the distinct effervescent scent of new crayons, cupcakes and old vomit.  Upon entering my classroom, my first grade teacher introduced herself. She was at least six months from retiring and her name was Mrs. Gross.  Girl Scouts’ (Thin Mints) honor – her name was “Mrs. Gross.” (Cross my heart…)

I sat in the very first desk of the very middle row of Mrs. Gross’ first grade class.  Right behind me sat the cutest boy in the entire, whole first grade. His name was David, and I had the most gushing crush on him.

I was beyond smitten.

He had a golden tan all year long and the Biggest. Brownest. Eyes. He was rather shy and didn’t talk very much, but that was okay — his cuteness spoke volumes and I could talk plenty for the both of us!

It was a Monday and I was still giddy from an all-day Saturday shopping spree with my grandmother at downtown Atlanta’s Rich’s department store.  No amount of Bridge Mix and hot cashews from the candy counter or even lunch on the bridge could top my excitement over wearing a brand-new navy wool jumper ensemble to school that day.

The morning work had passed quickly; it was time for lunch followed by a quick run outside for recess. David had not seemed himself all day despite my best efforts to be my entertaining version of precious and chatty in my fabulous new outfit. After returning to the classroom, Mrs. Gross began the afternoon lesson on the chalkboard.

And that’s when IT happened.

I suddenly felt a warm and somewhat heavy sensation on the back of my head, down my neck and across my shoulders. Then, the aroma hit me.

My cherished first grade love — David — had thrown up his lunch allover. the back of me.

The highly coveted position of front and center was now the focal point of David’s long withheld and unexpressed love in the form of dripping chunks of Monday’s cafeteria special.  Needless to say, “Chatty” was ready to leave the building.

Mrs. Gross sent us both to the office  — David to the first aid clinic…  and me?  I was sent to an outlying room of isolation UHway from everyone within gag-reflex distance.  Meanwhile, a phone call had been made and my (former Marine) father was on his way to collect me and my condition.

Upon his arrival, his assessment, and the onset of the Eau de’ vomit fragrance wafting over him, I was immediately demoted to the rank of my father’s bird dogs and sentenced to ride home in the back of his truck, thus avoiding all retching possibilities.

Apparently, vomit stamina is not a priority of Semper Fi.

That would be the first and last time I would ever wear that outfit to school.  Gushing crushes of love?  Who’s to say how many times a person must suffer from love regurgitated before it’s the real thing?

—Harriette Keen Jacobs

Atlanta-born and Georgia-grown, Harriette Keen Jacobs writes everyday slices of life from rural Georgia on farmhood, familyhood, lifehood. Whatever is on her mind (and where it wanders), she’s sure to share it.  Join her for “South of the Gnat Line.”

Why I can’t buckle my belt

Inside me lives a skinny gal trying to get out. Usually I shut her up with a bowl of spaghetti or a chunk chocolate. Sometimes I don’t eat it but have to stuff my ears instead because she sure makes a lot of noise!

Let’s face it: I have never, ever met a bowl of pasta I did not like. And I am very friendly to many other foods. It is my nature to be accommodating. But I must declare that the weeks starting at Thanksgiving and ending on Valentine’s Day plus other celebrations and special occasions sporadically, are doing me in.


5 parties 

4 restaurants 

3 brunches  

2 open houses 


yummy wedding

Please, no more food or toasts or “taste this as I made it especially for you!” 
In the past my philosophy has always been that life is fragile so eat dessert first. I just never thought I would live this long.

I mentioned previously that I thought I heard applause as I was jogging only to learn that it turned out to be my thighs hitting together? Well, now it is more like an auditorium of screaming rock aficionados giving a standing ovation to my jiggles and hanging participles.

Please, do not invite me to one more celebration. I cannot eat another thing till…till…dinner time. 

On the other hand, I just read recently in The New York Times that being overweight is not bad. The paper claims that the Body Mass Index (BMI) may not be an accurate measure of health. WHEW!

Oh, well. I am truly not worried. I do not want to brag and certainly, you should not compare yourself to me, but I can still fit into my earrings from high school, so there!

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall is the author of her second satirical survival book, Dancin, Schmancin with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! She’s a columnist, certified clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. This piece, reposted by permission, appears on her blog.

Crime and punishment

Thing1 is being punished. He’s being really punished for the first time in recent memory.

For most of the last 12 years we’ve been pretty lucky. For most of that time, he’s been good-natured and willing to follow the rules we set down. Infractions occur, of course, but for the most part, they’ve been small enough that an empty, humorous threat to send him to military school puts a stop to restaurant antics or begging. When we do lay down the law, Thing1 usually plays the part of the gentle giant tolerating a well-meaning but misdirected mother and goes along. He seems to understand that — even when he thinks we’re totally nuts — we’re on his side.

That all changed today, as the fallout from a less-than-stellar report card caused the first serious fissure in his faith in our good intentions.

All kids have an Achilles heel as individual as their personalities, and Thing1’s is his love of all things computer. He has begun cracking open code on favorite games and spending hours Skyping with friends, gabbing about hardware and how to improve their favorite video game and which is the best OS for their purposes. It is a hobby and avocation that could be come a vocation. Now, however, it is bordering on addiction. So, 15 minutes after the Big Guy and I read the report card, we had an intervention and pulled the plug.

Our normally tolerant 12-year-old reacted like any addict who was being cut off would.

He denied. Then he rationalized — the report card, that is. Then he protested. And finally, grudgingly, he accepted the reality that his computer time would be restricted to school work.

Grudging acceptance has now taken the form of the silent treatment. He still obeys the easy rules without defiance. Gone, however, is the good-natured demeanor. Smiles are quickly extinguished when we make eye contact — even if we caused the smile. From his room, we can occasionally hear muted muttering that tells us we hit that heel with perfect aim.

At first, we did pat ourselves on the back for being such clever parents. We felt guilty for about 10 seconds after we shut down his favorite hobby, but, contrary to his belief, we’re not enjoying our victory. I know he needs the consequences, but I hate seeing him unhappy. I know there are things we can control in our own house, and there things we can’t. This is one of the things we’re supposed to control. And while it hasn’t lead to happiness, it is giving me a bit of serenity in a way that I would never have thought possible when I was a teenager.

As the bearer of numerous crappy report cards, I was also the recipient of many groundings (pointless and redundant for Thing1 who lives in the middle of the woods) and privilege losses. I remember the profound sense of betrayal when I lost a favorite social outlet. Now, walking this mile in my parents’ moccasins, I’m finding yet another new understanding of their perspectives. There’s no forgiveness, of course — there’s nothing to forgive when someone’s looking out for your future. Instead, this is one of those moments when my mom and dad are getting an unexplained warm feeling in the back of their necks as their daughter writes that they were right about many things — even when it wasn’t fun to be right.

—Rachel Barlow

Blogger Rachel Barlow describes herself as “a midlife crisis waiting to happen, closet nomad and middle-aged work-at-home-mother of two.” Her life is “wrapped up in peanut butter sandwiches, fat (sometimes losing it), bills and blogging (her) way to sanity.”

The vacation fund

My mother has always advocated hiding away little piles of money for a rainy day or possibly a Disney vacation. Her vessel of choice is a small, white bucket that she places loose change in. After retiring, she began making and selling gourmet cupcakes to friends and family. The money earned from cupcake sales was placed in the bucket to wait for that rainy day, when it was needed.

I, too, have a bucket, but its contents have dwindled down to a partially filled tube of lip gloss and some quarters thrown in from doing laundry. My bucket quickly became a community bucket where everyone reached for lunch money, soda money, cigarette money for my husband and more. I realized that location is everything and that I might need to secure a different bucket and place it in an undisclosed location.

Around Thanksgiving, my mother asked me to count her bucket money (a favorite hobby of hers) and as I passed $3,000 and still had stacks of twenties to go, I realized that people must really like cupcakes. She suggested we pool our bucket money together and take a cruise. This was a grand plan, except for the fact that lip gloss and quarters won’t actually secure passage on a real ship. It was time for a better plan. The solution — The Vacation Fund.

This cute ceramic container came with dreams of Hawaiian vacations and trips to exotic lands. It was written on the outside, clear as day, “Vacation Fund.” How could I go wrong? While the first container I used was clearly labeled “Folgers Dark Roast Coffee,” I can see how it was easily mistaken for everyone else’s funds. I hid my new vacation fund container at the top of my china cabinet and tossed fives and twenties in as the days passed. Unable to see the contents in the jar, I knew it must be turning into quite the little nest egg.

Cruise tickets were purchased with my mother’s cupcake money and “my” vacation fund would be used to pay for the extras. After comparing notes with other sea-faring families, I discovered what those extras might actually be. One family spent $600 on pictures, and another had an $800 bar bill. I can understand the bar expense if I had just learned that I owed $600 for pictures.

Excursions are extra, and my mother insists that my daughter swim with the sharks. I’ve explained to her how that particular activity is usually free and not actually a tourist favorite. It’s swimming with the “dolphins” that costs $200 a person. Travel to and from the port is an additional expense and will include two vehicles on a nine-hour drive with several stops at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant where we all become nostalgic and buy toys from our youth. My son will procure a kazoo that will eventually be tossed out the window as we pass a semi and he has driven me to madness with kazoo tunes. My daughter will have some dancing monkey or paddle ball that will fly back and forth from three rows back, hitting me in the head and breaking my sunglasses. The cost for one trip to Cracker Barrel can be expensive when it includes emergency optometric support. All must be covered by the vacation fund. “Extras” will also include several stops at gas stations that are more like mini-amusement parks than fueling stops. We can easily drop $100 on gas, beef jerky, unnaturally colored drink products and foot-long strands of red licorice that will be hanging from our mouths before we hit the highway.

Afraid to calculate the true cost of the extras, I decided to bring down the vacation fund jar and see just what size vacation it would be. Surely those twenties had added up over the months. In an almost ceremonial fashion, we gathered at the table, and I allowed my daughter to count the funds. She pulled out a one-dollar bill, and I was certain it must have just been placed there on top of the stack of twenties. Then came a five-dollar bill. With one giant smile, she retrieved the first of the twenties. Unfortunately, it was also the last of the twenties. My vacation fund had $26! My daughter cheered at our new-found wealth. My mother laughed. It looked like we would be swimming with the sharks!

I secretly thanked God for the savings account at the Credit Union that could not be touched by those seeking theater tickets, nicotine or “Two Ball Screw Ball” frozen treats from the ice cream man. In less than a week, I will gather my funds and head south to lounge poolside. I’ve instructed the children not to smile at anyone’s camera but mine. If the ship photographer comes along, they are to instantly make scary faces. This will save me some money and allow the children to swim with docile mammals while their mother sits on the shore sipping tropical goodness through a straw.

It’s a good plan, I think!

— Melissa Brodnax

Melissa Brodnax, a closet blogger, is a full-time working mother who is often overwhelmed, but wouldn’t miss a minute of it.  Her main goals in life include getting the kids to school on time, getting to work without stickers on her shirt, paying the bills before the shut-off notice arrives and avoiding hot gluing her hair to the counter again. “My children are my entire world,” she says.

Navigating the potholes of self-publishing

(Jen Havice’s interview with author Mary Farr originally appeared on Studio30+, a social media site for writers. Reposted by permission.)

For anyone considering diving into the world of book publishing, there are so many issues to think about. These days an author can choose to go in one of several directions: traditional, self-publish or some combination of the two. It can be a minefield of questions that need to get answered even before beginning the process.

This is why I sought out a colleague and friend who recently published a book using a hybrid model, combining some of the best aspects of traditional and self-publishing. Mary Farr, author of Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and The Power of Yes, kindly agreed to answer some questions about how she published her third book outside of the traditional model.

Q: You have published books before traditionally. Why did you decide to go the self-published route?

A: I have published three books, and each has been with a “traditional” publisher, meaning the publisher purchased my manuscript outright. In each case, the publisher managed the design, editing, production, printing, sales and distribution of the book. In each case, I received a modest advance and a small royalty going forward.

My reason for choosing the self-publishing route was twofold:

One, it’s very time consuming and not particularly rewarding to research and query publishers who might or might not be interested in a book. In the case of Never Say Neigh, I have worked as a writer and marketing professional for years and felt reasonably confident that the content of this book would resonate with several audiences. Hence, I was prepared to take the risk to invest in myself.

Two, writing is labor intensive, hard work, and few authors enjoy grand financial success. In the interest of fairness it seemed to me that every author deserves reasonable remuneration for his or her work. Self-publishing can offer better financial rewards than the traditional route, provided authors carefully research their publishing partner and ask plenty of questions before setting out to produce a book.

Q: You ended up publishing Never Say Neigh using more of a hybrid model. Can you explain what that means and why you decided to use that model?

A: Like so many of our country’s institutions, the publishing world is churning with change. I chose to work with what I call a hybrid publisher, meaning this publisher provided a variety of publishing packages and individual services that included both traditional and self-directed tasks.  By traditional, I’m referring to access to experienced book editors, designers, book sales and distribution systems, e-book conversion and distribution, and book reviewers. By self-directed, I’m referring to the expectation that I assumed a lot of responsibility for completing the production steps. We used online software to communicate throughout the entire process. This included a message center for ongoing questions and answers; an author coach to help with the process; questionnaires regarding audiences, book cover design, book interior design and layout, recommended retail price, and a book launch and marketing plan.

Q: After having published with the hybrid model, would you do it again?

A: A few questions remain about whether or not I would use this model of publishing again. It’s pretty clear the entire industry is testing new processes and standards. For example, the software program we used to communicate and complete production steps seemed like an excellent tool, though one that could use refining. Occasionally the task sequence felt a bit off, and in the end I was confused about who did the final proof reading. Having said that, I felt this group offered clear, straightforward advice and a broad range of important services. I’ll have a better answer to this question in six months.

Q: Do you have any advice for writers interested in self-publishing their first book?

A: On one hand, self-publishing throws the door open to virtually anybody who wants to write a book and is willing to invest a little (or a lot) of money. On the other hand, throwing the door wide open does not equate to success. There is no shortage of expensive and discouraging “pot holes” for an author to fall into. I am still learning, though can offer some well-tested advice:

Good editing is absolutely essential if an author wants to turn out a professional product. Spell check or a friend who majored in English cannot provide the level of editing a manuscript deserves.

A distribution plan is a must. Ask your publisher how they plan to help you distribute your book. Once friends and family have made their purchases, we need a well-oiled system of managing sales, distribution and book storage.

Interview publishers before signing a contract; ask detailed questions about their contracts; compare their contracts to other publisher’s; budget wisely, and don’t purchase more than you can comfortably afford; develop a comprehensive marketing plan, including a website, social media accounts, book reviews and other means of reaching your audiences.

Make it fun. Whether you intend to publish a memoir for your family reunion or hope to knock out a hot mystery novel, don’t forget the real joy of writing and sharing our ideas with others.

(Mary Farr’s book is available for sale on her author’s website and at Mary and her writing companion, Noah can also be found at Noah even tweets.)

Reflections of Erma