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Argh, matey!

Tim Bete, former director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, had participants in stitches at the 2012 workshop as he imparted wisdom through playful humor.

His amusing workshop presentation, “How I Converted 7,000 Hours of Work into $10 Hard Cash and Then Turned a Single Stupid Idea Into $37,000,” is now available on YouTube.

“Every time Tim opened his mouth, I not only laughed myself silly, but grabbed a nugget of knowledge as it showered across us all. The man is a gift,” one participant said.

Of measuring cups and life

When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be a ballerina or a princess. Deep down, though, I knew what I really wanted to be.

I wanted to be a mom.

I was one of those kids who read everything I could get my hands on. At some point I must have finished all of my Nancy Drew books, and I started reading my mom’s Erma Bombeck books. I remember one of Erma’s stories. She wrote about two kinds of moms in the world: the kind who washes a measuring cup out with soap after she’d only used it to measure water, and the kind who doesn’t.

This was my takeaway: Erma was funny, and I wanted to be the kind of mom who washes the measuring cup out with soap.

As hard as I tried, I probably only had fleeting moments of being that kind of mom. Even if I managed to wash my measuring cup out with soap, I was the kind of mom who had a job. I was the mom who got divorced. I was a single mom. I was the mom who didn’t have to wash her measuring cups because it was easier to just go out to eat.

Then I got married to the Pastor and I was the kind of mom with a step in front of it, raising preacher’s kids alongside my own.

While Erma never had to worry about being a pastor’s wife or a step-mom, we had one thing in common — living with people who gave us plenty of writing material. I didn’t just want to be a mom anymore; I wanted to be a writer.

A couple of years ago I went through the worst kind of writer’s block a humor writer could have.

I was sad.

I know why I got stuck. I had spent two years trying to get pregnant, having a baby that died, trying some more, failing and letting go. Nothing had worked out the way I thought it would; nothing was funny. I had all the time in the world to wash measuring cups out with soap, but no baby.

I had this need with my writing to make everything funny. There wasn’t anything funny about miscarriage or infertility. Was there? Granted, I was 40. I was living with three teenagers. I was not that many years away from having an empty nest. Wanting another baby? I must have had some kind of mental condition. There had to be something funny about all of it.

About the only thing I could come up with was that my body and baby did not get along because my baby didn’t like Mexican food and we just couldn’t come to an agreement. Or the baby was just as ungrateful as our other kids (I carried that baby all over Europe and then he just took off after the vacation).

I had the hardest time writing, but I kept reading. Once again I found myself out of books and at Goodwill searching for more. That’s when I stumbled across a collection of just about every single one of Erma’s books.

I read Erma’s A Marriage Made in Heaven…or Too Tired for an Affair. I realized Erma didn’t just write about the funny stuff. Erma wrote about everything, good and bad. This book? It was exactly what I needed.

I learned something about Erma I never knew. Erma had struggled with infertility. Erma had been 40 and pregnant, too. I started the chapter about Erma’s pregnancy at age 40 with renewed hope. Erma was a huge success! Maybe this was a good omen. Here I was struggling to write and struggling to get pregnant. Maybe Erma had all the answers.

Turns out, Erma and I had something else in common. Erma’s baby died, too.

Erma wrote about it.

Erma wrote about not wanting to deal with the inevitable. Wanting to wait just a little bit longer. Not wanting to let go. Maybe it would turn out ok. About having to give a child back.

And you know what? It wasn’t funny.

But it was ok.

My whole life I had admired Erma for her successes. But now I also admired Erma for her failures.

Sure, there was the successful Erma Bombeck. But there was another Erma I could and should relate to. The Erma who had her share of failures.

Erma had survived, and she went on to write about it. I knew I could, too, whether it was funny or not. The material is still out there, whether you can see it or not. Whether you can process it or not. But you never will if you don’t write it. You have to write. You have to make your way through it, and at some point you will be on the other side and things will be funny again.

Eventually I was ok. Eventually I picked up keyboard again. Eventually I got unstuck.

And I no longer care if the measuring cups get washed out with soap. I have more important things to do, and to write about.

Thanks, Erma.

—Robyn Riley

Robyn Riley writes a humorous blog about being married to a pastor.

What’s funny about cancer?

I used to write a humor column for my high school newspaper. While my fellow newspaper staffers were off interviewing people and writing in-depth articles about teenage drinking or student council elections, I was writing about Slurpee flavors at the local 7-11. It was not Pulitzer-winning material, but I was hooked.

Twenty years later, I still like to write non-Pulitzer-winning, silly stuff, but these days, I post it on my cancer blog.

What’s silly about cancer? Well, nothing. I was diagnosed with it in 2005, and for a while it seemed that nothing would ever seem the least bit silly ever again. A few weeks after my diagnosis, while I was hanging around a computer lounge at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., anxiously waiting for a doctor’s appointment, I got an e-mail from a college friend who has had two heart transplants. He told me that I needed to find humor wherever I possibly could; it would save me.

I knew he was right. I started up my blog: The Adventures of Cancer Girl. I try the best I can to tell my story. And I try to be funny.

I have a rare, incurable blood cancer called multiple myeloma. It was found during a routine blood test at my annual physical. I never had any symptoms. This disease mostly strikes people in their 70s. When I was diagnosed, I was 30 years old and had just given birth to my daughter. Apparently, my body doesn’t know I’m not a senior citizen. Attention, body: Just because I like show tunes and laugh out loud at reruns of The Golden Girls does not mean that I am old.

Uncool, yes. Old, no.

The myeloma has been fairly easy to deal with, as far as cancer goes. I take a daily pill, which has greatly reduced the level of cancer in my body. I’m not in remission, but my disease is stable. I’m lucky in that way.

Even though I’m dealing with “cancer lite,” it can still be a little overwhelming to try to cope with the concept of an incurable, life-threatening illness. When I write on my blog, I feel better.

Although I document all of the ups and downs of my doctor visits and drugs and blood tests, most of my entries have nothing to do with cancer. I write about life as a mom raising a 7-year-old daughter. I recount the time my husband went out in public in his Star Trek uniform. I post far too many photos of Jon Bon Jovi without a shirt on, and I reveal that I’m still a fan of the New Kids on the Block.

You can’t make fun of me, I always remind everyone. I have cancer.

And while the blog helps me cope, I also hope it helps other myeloma patients who find me through the Internet. I want to show that cancer doesn’t always change who you are; cancer doesn’t automatically mean you are sick and dying, and it doesn’t somehow make you amazingly heroic and brave, either. You can have cancer and still live a somewhat normal, boring mom life filled with carpooling and laundry and cupcakes and trips to the zoo and a million games of Hi-Ho Cherry-O. And it can still be fun.

So I have cancer, but I’m still here: living, hoping, writing and even laughing, just a little bit.

—Karen Crowley

Karen Crowley, of Kansas City, is a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom to the World’s Cutest Kid. Her blog is a chronicle of her adventures in mommyhood, cancer survival and everything in between.

So you want to be an author?
That’s funny!

Once upon a time, all it took to write a book and make it a success was a good story and a lot of luck. Today, most manuscripts end up in the slush pile, unless the author is a criminal or a celebrity. The only exception — if the plot contains vampires. Let’s face it, books are changing and so are readers.

Since my book Mishegas of Motherhood. Raising Children To Leave The Nest…As Long As They Come Home For Dinner came out last year, it seems that I’ve spent as much time learning how to monetize my blog as I have writing chapters for the next volume.

By the way, since when did “hashtag” become a word?

For moms out there who believe that they have a book in them, here’s some general advice on how to turn your passion for words into a profitable business:

• Develop a comprehensive marketing plan on the back of your grocery shopping list.

• Position yourself as an expert in the field, such as “Specialist in disguising leftover chicken to look like something new for dinner.”

• Establish your brand, you know, “Coupon Mommy.”

• Identify your platform, and I’m not talking high-heeled shoes.

• Expand your reach, and I’m not talking Pilates.

• Increase traffic to your web site/blog by promising free cookies for whoever “likes” you.

• Engage in regular conversation and build relationships with readers via social media, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest and YouTube so that you have no time to clean the house, run errands, feed the dog, make dinner, take out the trash or make love to your husband.

• Convert your print book into an ebook with multiple formats. In other words, hire your teenager to use his video game skills to explain modern technology to you.

• Create speaking events and workshops, and pretend that you don’t have stage fright.

• Guest post to promote your own blog, and basically be your own pimp.

• Produce podcasts, web shows, videos. Just make sure your hair looks brushed and there are no poppy seeds stuck in your teeth when you’re in front of the camera.

• Learn the pros and cons of self-publishing, then get a REAL job to pay for it!

• Exercise everyday, and eat chocolate. Self explanatory.

• Obtain an alternative source of income or win the lottery.

• Don’t give up. It will make you appear weak in front of your kids.

For moms especially, it’s important to try to set a good example for your kids by teaching them that hard work pays off, even if it’s not monetary (at first). Sure, rejection letters can hurt, but constructive criticism from experts isn’t nearly as painful as the constant ridicule you get from your own children who complain, “This dinner sucks!”

Look at rejection as positive reinforcement to keep moving forward. It’s better than being ignored. Consider this:

Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before J.K. Rowling went from poverty to one of the richest people in the world, selling more than 400 million copies.

Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl was rejected 16 times and has now sold more than 30 million copies and has inspired numerous novels and films.

• Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times and was actually thrown away before his wife uncrumbled it from the trash and convinced him to try again.

• Kathyrn Stockett, author of The Help, survived a whopping 60 rejections and has now spent more than 100 weeks on the NYT bestseller list.

Good luck!

— Ellie S. Grossman

Ellie S. Grossman is the author of Mishegas of Motherhood. Raising Children To Leave The Nest…As Long As They Come Home For Dinner, which is a combination of domestic satire and Jewish wisdom that applies to all modern families.

Step into those platform shoes

Once upon a time writers polished their manuscripts until they shone, pulled on their best fancy clothes and rang the doorbell of the publishing world, hoping to be accepted into the crowds of book-happy partygoers inside. These days, the butler answers the door, looks behind you and asks, “Where are all your guests?”

If you want in on the publishing party, it’s strictly BYOM: Bring Your Own Mob. Agents and editors want to know how many will drink your particular Kool-Aid and buy the book, so the more published clips, blog hits and social media followers, the better.

Blogs

The Internet is filled with blogs, so you can’t just create a site and wait for someone to show up. You have to put up notices and offer free refreshments, which means get the word out about your blog and keep the content fresh. Your ultimate goal is at least 1,000 visits a day. Don’t let tumbleweeds roll past. Get things started by joining a blogchain where you and other like-minded folks commit to visiting, commenting and promoting each other’s blogs. Also offer to guest post on popular sites and blogs in exchange for a bio and a link to your own site. List your link everywhere, from your email signature line to your kid’s birthday party invitations. Okay, maybe that’s a bit much, but you get the idea.

Social media

There are several social media sites available, but the numbers you need to cultivate are on Facebook and Twitter. Agents and editors pay attention if you have 10,000 fans of your Facebook page or 10,000 followers on Twitter. Interact with folks and participate in chats or one-on-one conversations. You’ll get to know a lot of wonderful people who will then spread the word on how awesome YOU are.  Out of the rest, the other two I rely on are BuzzFeed and StumbleUpon. Between BuzzFeed and a fortunate retweet by a large business, one post of mine garnered 20,000 views. StumbleUpon, a review/recommendation site, has also sent thousands of eyes my way.

Group websites and print

If you’re submitting to the major humor markets, don’t overlook smaller venues like group websites and anthologies. I was invited to join the humor site An Army of Ermas two years ago, and it’s been one of the best time investments ever; everyone of us has experienced a moment when thousands of people laughed, snorted or sympathized with our words. Usually these types of sites require you to apply, but once you begin to build your platform, expect a few invitations as well. You can apply to the writer’s room of a major site like Cracked, but you’re more likely to get in with a smaller or new site.  Also submit to anthologies; many appreciate humorous submissions even if the main theme isn’t funny. Anthologies are a great way to network with editors and other writers, and they often lead to other opportunities that showcase your diversity as a writer. That’s important because once you strap on those platform shoes, you can show off all your dance moves when you hit the party.

— Beth Bartlett

Beth Bartlett is a freelance writer and humorist who landed an agent last year and is still gathering folks before she barnstorms the ballroom. You can visit her at www.plaidearthworm.com or An Army of Ermas.

Put on something else

This humorous essay by Cindy Argiento, along with one titled “Honesty Will Kill a Relationship,” are published in the most recent Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life.)

“You gonna wear that?” is the question I have asked my husband many times over the span of our marriage. After 22 years of marriage I find it amazing that the man thinks a pair of clean underwear and a new tie meet the business casual dress code requirements.

Once again the other night getting ready for an evening out I looked at him and asked, “Are you gonna wear that jacket?” “I was planning on it. Why? What’s wrong with my jacket? You told me you like this jacket.” “Yes, I told you I like the jacket, back in 1980 when I met you. Now it’s old, worn, faded and small on you; besides I thought we got rid of it. Where did you find it?” “I found it on the floor of my closet. I forgot it was there until today when I decided to clean out my closet rather than listen to your constant nagging one more minute.” “I only nagged you to pick up your underwear since you ran out and the pile on the floor was obstructing the television. It was a choice of doing laundry or running to the store to buy new underwear.” Oh, that reminds me, next time you go to the store pick me up some underwear.”

“You gonna wear those sneakers?” “I was planning on it; they’re my dressy sneakers. Why? What’s wrong with my sneakers?” “Well, since tonight is formal, you should wear shoes. I don’t remember those sneakers. Where did you get them?” “I got them under the jacket in the closet.” “Oh.” “Do you think I should give the jacket to our son?” “No, he won’t want it.” “Why won’t he want it?” “Well, for one thing, he has taste. We could bury it tomorrow along with the sneakers. Now go put on a pair of dress shoes.” “I wear dress shoes to work.” “Yes, dear, I know, but you work from home now, remember?” “Yeah, so now there are boxes of untouched shoes in my closet.” “The only shoes you wear now are slippers, and you have yet to scrape off the dead spider that you crushed and is still dangling from the bottom of the right one.” “I’ll change.”

“You gonna wear that tie?” “I was planning on it. It has some green in it which matches my shirt. Why? What’s wrong with my tie?” “It has green in it because it’s a Christmas tie decorated with Christmas trees.” “Well, you gave me it to wear.” “Yes, at Christmas time, not the middle of July. Put it back and pick out a different tie. Hey, where are you going with the tie?” “I’m planning to go to the bathroom to hang myself with it before you look at the red socks I’m wearing that you gave me for Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh, one last suggestion, while you’re in there you should change the undershirt I gave you for Halloween. The pumpkins show through your shirt. Hey, there’s no need to slam the door; I’m only trying to help. What’s going on in there? Is that the window I hear? If you’re sneaking out again, I’ll meet you in front with the car. I’ll get your coat. Do you want the one missing a button or the one with the broken zipper? Oh we really need to go shopping.”

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento, author of Deal With Life’s Stresses With a Little Humor, writes a blog, “Cindy’s World.”

Southern writers and Krispy Kremes

Nancy LaFever explores Southern writers and Krispy Kremes in an interview with writer pal, Amy Mullis, author, humor writer and food enthusiast. Amy lives in South Carolina “in a suburb of Sugar Tit, which is possibly the best thing that could happen to a humorist.” This piece appeared on LaFever’s blog, Single People’s Grocery Lists, on June 1, 2012.

SPGL: Welcome, Amy!

AM: “First I’d like to say that I love your blog. I regularly stop by to read it, but I don’t always comment because the lists make me hungry and I wander off for a snack. Also, I’ve noticed that your lists often contain wine. Handy tip:  I save money by substituting comparable but thriftier items, such as juice from the grapes I forgot to throw out last month.  Always remember that good things can come from refrigerator harvests.”

SPGL: Thanks for the plug, A! You’re a talented and successful writer. Here’s a question about your “process.” Do you live to write or do you live to eat? (Since this is a food-focused blog, I have to ask the hard questions.)

AM: “I believe that eating and writing can co-exist peacefully. I haven’t seen an essay yet that isn’t made better by a smudge of chocolate and a sprinkling of crushed pecans. And raspberry filling. And whipped cream. And…could you excuse me a second? I have to go check on something in the snack aisle.”

SPGL: I know from previous chats that you’re quite a fan of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. As a writer, do those misspellings bother you? Is glazed your favorite?

AM: “Krispy Kreme originated in my backyard. Not my actual backyard because they’d be covered in red mud, but in the “other” Carolina just over the border.  So I thought Krispy Kreme was the correct spelling until I conducted in-depth research on Google five minutes ago. But people who spell doughnuts without the “ugh”?  I have ughly thoughts about them. (See what I did there? I call that humor. My kids call that an excuse to roll their eyes like Atlantic City dice.)  Also, I’ve had a flirtation with glazed for years, but my blood runneth raspberry cream. Or kreme. Either one makes my arteries go pitter pat.”

SPGL: You live in South Carolina. We Northerners believe that y’all (is that correct?) live on chicken fried steak and grits. Have you ever made a sandwich replacing bread with chicken fried steak?

AM: “You can’t replace bread with chicken fried steak because done correctly there is gravy on top and that would send the whole meal into the “gooshy stuff we eat over the sink” category.  (Interesting fact: There is also chicken fried chicken, which is not the same as fried chicken although it’s fried. And chicken. Go figure.) However, if you’ll check with Paula Deen (referenced below and who always, I mean ALWAYS, looks like a zombie in her photographs and who is probably planning a meal around chicken fried brainz), you can make a sandwich using a sliced doughnut for bread. Add bacon and it’s nature’s perfect food. Y’all.”

SPGL: According to Southern cook Paula Deen, TV star and High Priestess of fat content, recipes should always stick to a 75 percent fat to 25 percent sugar ratio. Would you weigh in on that?

AM: “Never say ‘weigh’ to a Southerner.”

SPGL thanks Amy for taking the time to stop by, especially since she had to put down a donut to focus. Catch more of her on her blog, Mind Over Mullis and on An Army of Ermas, where she’s a regular contributor.

— Nancy LaFever

Nancy LaFever pens a blog, “Single People’s Grocery Lists.” Why? Because she “discovered the crap we buy is actually pretty funny when you look at your list.”

Long live Erma’s humor

This piece first appeared on the Senior Wire News Service. Reposted by permission.

“My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.” — Erma Bombeck

In April, I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2012 at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. It is a bi-annual event that I have registered for since 2004 because I love humor writing. There are always more than 350 people in attendance and seats sell out quickly, so I have learned to sign up on the first day of registration and make hotel reservations early in December.

I first read Erma Bombeck in the late 1960s. She hooked me with At Wit’s End; Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own; Aunt Erma’s Cope Book; If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? and many other hilarious books. I have been an avid fan ever since.

This year, Erma’s family dedicated a Hoopsi Blue Spruce in her memory outside St. Mary’s Hall at the University of Dayton to commemorate the 16th anniversary of her death on April 22, 1996. “They planted trees and crabgrass came up,” the inscription read on the stone in front of the small evergreen. It ended with these words,  “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, 1976 – Erma Bombeck ’49.”  Erma’s husband, Bill Bombeck, spoke at the dedication ceremony. and WDTN-TV covered the story. Later, I managed to get a photo with him.

I noticed a new trend evolving at the workshop — many seniors had registered to start new careers in writing. I networked with as many people as possible at the workshop sessions, lunch and dinner during the three-day event. I met retired business owners, government workers, IT professionals, law enforcement officials and school teachers. Their stories were similar to mine: “I read Erma Bombeck while raising my kids,” or “I always admired her writing.” Some said, “I’d like to learn how to make money at this, so I can supplement my Social Security income.” They were not all humor writers;  some were there to learn how to interject humor into more serious topics and presentations. I met folks who wrote health columns, blogs, Christian books, children’s books, greeting cards, and newbies just learning the craft of writing.

Among the sponsors, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) boasted that it has the oldest columnist in America as a member, Harriette B. Leidich of North Bennington, Vt., who turned 100 on April 19opening day of the workshop. Harriette is still writing columns for the daily Bennington Banner.

The concurrent educational sessions at the workshop were excellent, covering everything from basic humor writing to social networking and blogging. I was able to order a CD with the soundtrack from all of them because I had to miss a few sessions that conflicted with my schedule.

Keynote speakers during meals included feminist humor maven Gina Barreca; Ilene Beckerman, who started her writing career at age 60; Pulitzer Prize-winner Connie Schultz; television writer and book author, Adriana Trigiani; and Thurber Prize-winner and original “Saturday Night Live” writer Alan Zweibel.

Gina Barreca brought the house down when she entertained us with standup comedy for over an hour after dinner on Saturday. After that, about 27 of the attendees, including yours truly, were given five minutes each to perform standup comedy for folks energetic enough to stay awake until midnight.

Mascot EB Heron, a blue heron adopted by a small group of “Ermies” at the 2010 Workshop, was in attendance again this year. His fan club sported yellow T-shirts and tiaras. His handmade tuxedos (he owns two) got more attention at the event than Kate Middleton would wearing maternity clothes. He was named “EB” after E.B. White following a  “Name the Bird” contest at the 2010 workshop.  Seven ladies contributed to a Kindle biography about him titled EB and the Ladies of the Bird Table Take Flight.

This was a wonderful experience. I learned about the benefits of social networking, made many new friends and plan to attend the 2014 workshop. Actually, I can’t wait to see EB’s new tuxedo.

— Rose A. Valenta

Rose A. Valenta writes Rosie’s Renegade Humor Blog. Last spring, she published Sitting on Cold Porcelain, a book of satirical essays.

Reflections of Erma