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You can write!
It says so right on your coffee cup

Have any writers on your holiday list?

The University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is offering a “You Can Write!” coffee mug and an Erma T-shirt exclusively through the University of Dayton Bookstore.

All proceeds benefit the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop endowment fund. The popular workshop draws more than 350 writers from around the nation to campus every other spring.

The late humorist Erma Bombeck, who graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949, gave the world many witty, memorable lines. Some of her most inspirational words are featured on the back of a new T-shirt: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”

The coffee cup features three words of encouragement from a University of Dayton English professor that Bombeck said changed her life: You Can Write!

The shirt sells for $16.99. The mug, which will be available for shipping Dec. 19, is $9.99.

Over the years, the workshop has attracted as speakers such household names as Dave Barry, Phil Donahue, Art Buchwald, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Garrison Keillor and Gail Collins, 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.

The next workshop is slated for April 10-12, 2014.

There’s nothing to fear in fear itself

Most people think I’m normal. I’m not. Usually, I’m in overdrive on the nervous wreck meter, such as when I recently held a book signing at a bookshop.

I’m reliving the panic in my dreams. This has resulted in a severe sleep disorder … for my husband.

“Bob,” I screamed, as I pounded on his head last night while he was asleep. “I’m having a nightmare.” Our startled dog jumped on the bed and tore the quilt to death.

The cats joined the terror party by leaping onto Bob’s face and yowling at higher notes than Mariah Carey could reach if she smashed her thumb with a sledge hammer. “Sweetheart,” I whispered. “Are you awake?”

“Saralee, I’m begging you. Please don’t tell me another nightmare.”

“I was at my signing when a woman came over dressed like a zombie. She hissed, ‘You’re a rotten writer. Everybody hates your book. And you put on 30 pounds.’ Bob! It wasn’t a costume. It was my mother!”

“Oh no!” He covered his ears.

Most of us have anxiety. Maybe it’s a dread of dentist appointments, airplanes, spiders or social situations. Oh, there are a billion examples. Although I was a psychotherapist for 22 years, I’ve learned more about anxiety from my own shtick.

Struggling to cover up nervousness actually makes it worse. How do we tame it? By not trying to hide it or stop it. Saying, “I’m so nervous that my hands are shaking,” or, “My neck is beet red,” or commenting on whatever our outward signs of anxiety are, will take away its power.

If there are people who think less of me for being scared, that’s their shortcoming.

My sister-in-law was at my signing. She lives far away from me and never reads my columns, so she won’t see this. When she does her superior know-it-all thing, I respond like the mature wise woman I’m known to be: I make faces behind her back.

Two seconds before entering the bookstore, she said, “Are you nervous?”

“Yes.”

The sabotage began. “What’s wrong with you? You shouldn’t be nervous.”

“Well, I’m excited too.”

“You should be.”

I stomped my feet. “I just said I am!”

Bob gave me a knowing look that meant, “You’re never going to win. Give it up.” Naturally he was right.

While signing books, my hands trembled. While connecting with readers whose words touched my heart deeply, my head shook. While thanking so many wonderful souls for coming to meet me, well, I stuttered through tears.

Did it matter that I was nervous? Of course not.

Three things mattered:

1. The fact that I had a wondrous time in spite of being scared.

2. The beautiful words I heard from readers along with the overwhelming love I received.

3. And that my sister-in-law saw every single bit of it.

— Saralee Perel

Saralee Perel is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist and the author of Cracked Nuts & Sentimental Journeys: Stories From a Life Out of Balance. She welcomes e-mails at sperel@saraleeperel.com.

Ahoy, matey!
Pirate parenting can ease stress of moving

(Nancy LaFever’s humorous interview with Tim Bete, author of Guide to Pirate Parenting and former director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, originally appeared on mymove.comPhotography courtesy of iStockphoto/Thinkstock and PirateParenting.com. Reposted by permission.)

Moving your household is challenging, and such a big change is especially tough on kids. Leaving their friends and starting over in the new home will be an adjustment. So how do you get your kids in the spirit of the move and motivate them to pack up their rooms while also keeping your cool? It’s somewhat unorthodox and may be unfamiliar to you, but one option is incorporating the techniques of Pirate Parenting.

Tim Bete is the author of Guide to Pirate Parenting (you can download the free electronic version or purchase the paperback here.) In his book, Tim and pirate contributor Cap’n Billy MacDougall outline the benefits of raising your kids to be pirates. More than a cool fad, pirating can be an exciting way of life and kids readily take to it. Any lifestyle that eliminates regular bathing and encourages the use of colorful language is an instant hit.

Common pirate activities Tim suggests include turning the minivan into a pirate schooner, packing gunpowder for ye cannons and, of course, plundering. My Move asked Tim how he would use pirate parenting techniques when moving and settling into the new home and neighborhood.

My Move: If a parent has no previous pirate parenting experience, how would you suggest they get up to speed for the move? Is there an accelerated program?

Tim: “The accelerated program doubles the rations of grog each hour until you forget that you decided to move. What happens after you’ve consumed that much grog is anyone’s guess. Drinking while packing is fun, but it often makes it difficult to find things when you reach your destination. Make sure to mark boxes and don’t give into the temptation to get a tattoo of a shark or hula dancer.”

My Move: Let’s say you’ve used the Pirate Parenting Method since your kids were small, but have been a little lax lately. They’ve developed some undesirable landlubber habits. How might you get them back to prime pirate shape for the upcoming move?

Tim: “A night in the brig works wonders, but most parents don’t have a brig. But you do have packing boxes and tape. Quickly fashion a temporary brig out of the boxes and tape. While your kids are doing their time, feed them only hardtack and water. If you’re out of hardtack, feel free to substitute Pop Tarts.”

My Move: One of your pirates hasn’t even started to pack up his room. How do you discipline the little “powder monkey?” Is walking the plank still a viable parenting option?

Tim: “You’ve probably already packed the plank, so walking it won’t be an option. Swabbing the deck is an appropriate punishment. If you don’t have a deck, have your powder monkey scrub the driveway using a toothbrush.”

My Move: Is it ever acceptable for your kids to call the moving men “scurvy dogs?”

Tim: “That’s an awfully kind term for a pirate to use. But if your kids like the moving men, it’s fine.”

My Move: Your Pirate Parenting mentor Cap’n Billy advises a full immersion pirate program for kids including pirate attire with accessories like the standard eye patch. Keeping true to the pirate code, but wanting your kids to fit into the new neighborhood, what would you suggest?

Tim: “First, before you move, make sure to visit your neighbors and retrieve any items they’ve borrowed from you. It’s best to wait until they’re not home. While you’re there, “borrow” any items you think would be useful in your new home. Empty their liquor cabinet, too. The best way to greet your new neighbors is with cannon fire.”

Adapting to Pirate Life

If you decide to embrace Bete’s pirate parenting techniques, you’ll be using a new language. Remember, “Matey” replaces “Mom” or “Dad,” but isn’t disrespectful. Your child may now refer to the top bunk as the “crow’s nest.” Use this lingo to get him to pack his Xbox by calling it “ye treasure chest of gold doubloons.” Just be prepared to put your foot down when he asks to get a parrot after you move.

— Nancy LaFever

Nancy LaFever is a contributor to mymove.com and pens the blog, Single People’s Grocery Lists. As a freelance writer, she has published more than 150 magazine articles and hundreds of blog posts on topics including fine crafts, business, women’s issues, travel, humor and popular culture.

Facebook faceoff?

It’s 11 a.m. — do you know where your morning has gone?

Mine, I realize with pangs of shock and embarrassment, has been frizzled away on Planet Facebook. This virtual neighborhood where you and your  50 or 500 or 1,000 or so “friends” let it all hang out: political declarations, pithy aphorisms, gut-wrenching messages about imploding marriages, cute things your little kids have said, and, increasingly, photos.

These days, Facebook is clogged with photos that “friends” expect you to view, comment on, “like,” and even “share.” This is especially true if the albums are of animals, particularly animals in cute pajamas or wearing jaunty berets. Don’t believe me? There is a plush toy (that’s the politically correct term for “stuffed animal”) named Boo the Pomeranian who is listed as a “public figure” on Facebook. His page has more than 350,000 “likes,” which may explain why Boo snagged an appearance on “Good Morning, America.” Mere humans like me who use Facebook as a marketing tool stand almost no chance of building our brand when competing with the “likes” of Boo the Pomeranian. (Note to God: If you bring me back for another incarnation as a writer, can you please let me return as a cute plush toy?)

Everyone knows that Facebook is a dangerous force field, hungrily vacuuming up otherwise productive time, yet the force is powerful, and explains why I am late on two assignments, have three days’ laundry piled up, the fridge is empty, and several bills are perilously close to accruing late fees.

This morning, for example, I felt compelled to view six new photo albums, including one of a cousin’s newly adopted puppy named Gus. This cousin was sure to ask me if I had seen Gus in his photogenic glory, so I posted the requisite “Aw, how cute!” comment to be safe. And how could I not comment on photos of my friend’s new son, posted just hours after his birth? What kind of ogre is too busy to type in “Congratulations!?” After that, I was this close to logging out when my favorite cookbook author posted the best recipe for raisin challah ever, along with photos showing easy braiding techniques.

I swore to myself that after “liking” the challah, I would really, no-kidding-this-time-really get to work. But the unfolding drama, surprises and needs of my “friends” kept me riveted to the screen. There was Charlie, riding an elephant in Thailand! Then I saw that a colleague was getting a divorce, and was collecting “likes” about her posts about her rotten soon-to-be ex-husband. I learned that a neighbor had scared off a would-be burglar, and another friend was mounting a campaign to shame the overpriced hotel in Hawaii where she was staying due to its slovenly housekeeping. In the perverse form of social support that is essential to Facebook, I “liked” the photos she uploaded of a grimy bathtub, cobwebby closet and stained carpet. After all, what are Facebook friends for?

An invitation to share my organ donor status — nobody’s business, not even on Facebook — jolted me into the reality that I really had real-life obligations. So why don’t I just stop the kvetching and dump Facebook? Because love it or hate it (and often, loving it and hating it at the same time), the ruthless reality is that writers and others trying to build their businesses need this maddening social utility, whose rules and features are changed every 15 minutes by the 20-somethings wearing jeans and hoodies who rule its kingdom.

Besides, I am guilty — if guilt is the right word — of wanting people to “like” and comment on my columns as soon as they are published. What? Only eight “likes” for this story in the first half-hour? Have I lost my mojo? I consider sending an email blast to trusted friends, encouraging them to stop their own productive work and “like,” share, comment on, or “tag” me in the post as a show of support. But I hold back, knowing it’s slightly obnoxious to do so. Displaying admirable self-restraint, I do not summon the troops until the next day, still dissatisfied with the number of “shares” and “likes” my work has received.

In this virtual community, one hand that’s glued to the keyboard washes the other, so I feel obligated to share the outrage over the grimy conditions of my friend’s overpriced hotel, help another friend win her iPad, commiserate with the lovelorn and gush over everyone’s new photos are, even if they are of a puppy named Gus.

Later in the afternoon, caving in to the temptation of seeing who may have “liked” my latest article, I log back on to Facebook. The first thing on my timeline is a picture that poses the question, “Are you on a journey to purpose this afternoon…?” I consider the question, “like” the post but do not comment, and log off for the day.

—Judy Gruen

Judy Gruen is the author of four books, including the newly released diet memoir Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. This essay originally appeared in slightly different format on Aish.com.

Brad Pitt selling perfume?
Truly, end is at hand

(Reposted by permission of author Gina Barreca. This humorous essay first ran in the Hartford Courant on Nov. 29.)

Forget the Mayan calendar: Brad Pitt’s commercial for Chanel No. 5 is a sign of the impending apocalypse. Have you seen it? Pitt looks like Gen. George Custer right before his last stand.

Reportedly paid around $7 million to gaze into the camera and intone “every journey ends,” “plans disappear” and “wherever I go, there you are,” Pitt says the kind of things my father used to yell at us kids when we were annoying him on a long car ride.

My dad, of course, didn’t sound like Hamlet saying these things and Pitt does, so that’s part of the difference.

The other difference was that my dad, who would have been driving a ’67 Buick Skylark with a faulty muffler, had take-home pay of about 78 bucks a week. So when Pitt says “My luck, my fate,” he makes it sound very different from the way my father would have said it.

Pitt speaks so bewitchingly, however, you sort of don’t realize that what he’s saying the rest of the time is nuts. “The world turns and we turn with it,” Pitt declares. Well, Brad, until the end of the world was placed on this year’s calendar, we really didn’t have much of a choice, did we?

What’s the catch-line for Pitt’s Chanel campaign? “Inevitable.”

Yeah, right. Brad Pitt is a lot of things to a lot of women, but one thing he is not is “inevitable.”

Bunions, menopause and an increased need for periodontal care are inevitable; Brad Pitt is not.

Pitt’s shilling for Chanel as its first-ever male celebrity, therefore, shows that the apocalypse is heading our way. But the fact that he earned a fee in the high seven-figures without even needing to part his hair is only one indication that the world is drawing to a close even faster than a Kathie Lee Gifford Broadway show.

(That a musical written by Kathie Lee Gifford celebrating the life of a discredited evangelical preacher made it to Broadway could, in and of itself, be a heavy End Times indicator.)

Look, between the Mayan calendar’s prediction that life on earth will stop mid-afternoon on Dec. 21, Maya MacGuiness’ prediction that Americans will step off the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1 and My Little Pony’s declaration that “Princess Cadance can’t wait to marry prince Shining Armor,” after which “When you press her button, she’ll talk and her amazing wings will move and light up!” you know December 2012 is going to be a whole apocaly-lotta laughs.

Yes, My Little Pony’s magic unicorn horn has, by some, seemed to point increasingly to universal destruction.

I’m not cynical by nature, but the combination of these untoward events are enough to make even an unusually sanguine person such as me start watching “Doomsday Preppers” instead of watching QVC, HGTV or “Project Runway.”

After all, if it’s the end of the world, will I really care if my trousers are wondrously slimming, if my window treatments offer sufficient morning light or if tar as a fashion accouterment is the new bleached leather?

If the meteor hits, if dollars as we know them are entirely debased and we are all using socks instead of stocks for currency, and if Princess Cadance reigns over international politics once Shining Armor installs her as part of his “puppet” regime, will I care about whether my sister-in-law’s gravy is less lumpy than mine? Or whether her thighs are, for that matter?

No, I won’t. I’ll have new priorities, like trying to build shelter out of empty CD cases (I knew they’d come in handy), learning to forage for food (“forage” being a Brooklyn word for “steal”) and making fine wine from transmission fluid (it’s all about the horsepower).

Sure, if I’m going to survive the apocalypse, I’ll need to get used to some changes. Like Princess Cadance, I will be probably be all “shiny” as well as “glowy” given the pernicious effect of fallout. If the end of the world happens, I just hope I’m holding a martini made with Chanel No. 5 and just a hint of Valvoline.

But please, Lord: Before the world ends, if it must, can you make sure that comedian Gilbert Gottfried does a parody of Pitt’s commercial?

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca, one of the keynote speakers for the 2012 EBWW, is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books.

Ready, set, write!

It’s time to put your talent on the line.

Here are four avenues that popped up in our mailbox:

Unboxed Books seeks submissions of novels or short story collections from all writers — from the unknown to the well-known and everyone in between. The winner will receive $5,000, and his or her book will be published in both print and digital formats in fall 2013. The entry fee is $35, and the deadline has been extended to Dec. 9 for writers who say they heard about the competition from us.

Dahlynn and Ken McKowen, who spent a decade as co-authors and editors for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, are searching for submissions for 30 books in a new anthology called Not Your Mother’s Book.

“Not Your Mother’s Book is an anthology series for adults, featuring ‘edgy’ stories on a variety of subjects ranging from your deepest secrets and wildest night out to menopause and fishing,” according to the creators.

“The series will not focus on death/dying, cry-your-eyes-out sad selections, but only hip, fun, modern and very-much-today type stories specifically selected for maximum education and entertainment,” they say.

Stories must be between 500 and 2,500 words. Click here for story submission guidelines, copyright and royalty information.

The Truth About the Fact: International Journal of Literary Nonfiction, based at Loyola Marymount University, is accepting literary nonfiction essay, memoir or commentary (1,000-5,000 words); literary nonfiction narrative poetry; and black-and-white art and photography.

“We’re interested in publishing true stories well told. Artful narratives that offer some insight into the human condition…while keeping us enraptured during the process of the telling,” according to the journal’s website.

Submission deadline is Dec. 31. Submit via email to editor@thetruthaboutthefact.com. If you have questions, email Joseph Demes (jdemes@lion.lmu.edu) or Michael Datcher at michael.datcher@lmu.edu.

The 2013 Great Southeast Book Festival has issued a call for entries to its competition honoring the best books of the late winter/spring season.

The Great Southeast Book Festival will consider published and unpublished works in fiction, non-fiction, biography/autobiography, how-to, compilations/anthologies, photography/art, children’s, cookbooks, poetry, spiritual, young adult, business/technology, unpublished manuscripts, wild card (anything goes!), nature/animals and regional lit.

The grand prize is $1,500 and a flight to the awards ceremony in March 2013. For more information about the competition, click here. Submission deadline is Feb. 25, 2013.

Hi! I’m my mother! Nice to meet you!

Posted by permission of the author. This essay originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

While lamenting her daughter’s latest eye-roll over something or other, a friend said, “The problem is, I remember this. I remember having this attitude and talking back to my mom, and I remember what my mom used to say. I can’t quite reconcile that I’m now the mom saying the things I used to hate to hear as a child.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I not only use the same lines on my kids, I sound so much like my dad when I use them that the hair on my own neck stands straight up.”

This is how it happens. This is how we become our parents. We start with the best of intentions when we have kids — “Oh, we’ll be great parents! We’ll do things our own way! We’ll talk to our kids and discuss issues and establish behavioral guidelines that they will understand and follow! Our kids won’t hit the teenage years thinking we’re idiots!”

And it may even work for a few years. Our kids may dutifully follow our lead, may take our suggestions for the wisdom behind them, may even ask our advice on hair or clothes from time to time. But then, for some reason (although I myself blame double digits), POOF! It’s gone. The tender thread that held us together snaps like a fresh green bean. They become their own people. And their people no longer like our people very much.

My parents’ way of doing things, I’ve come to realize, is not unlike my red hair, which I spent the first half of my life hating and the second half trying to match exactly. As this boy and girl to whom I’ve given birth, for whom I spent a combined 36 hours in the kind of agony that horror movies only hope to convey, and with whom I assumed I would achieve the perfectly nuanced relationship that generations before me have failed to achieve — as they now look at me the way I looked at my parents when they tried to sing along to a current song, I finally get it.

And the “it” is this: It doesn’t matter that I was revered as an all-knowing, all-powerful goddess whose side they couldn’t bear to leave for the first few years of their lives. Because for these next several, if I’m lucky, I might get the occasional “hello.” And with that revelation came another: I’m reacting to the news not unlike the generations before me.

Oh, sure, there were clues over the years, vocal hints of the changes to come; the oft-hailed “Don’t make me come in there!” chief among them. The first time I uttered those words, I could actually hear my mother’s  “I told you so” all the way from Buffalo. Next came the ever-popular “Am I talking to myself here?” and before I knew it, I’d realized the value in those words and adopted them as my own.

I thought it would stop there, though. It didn’t.

Once I started, the floodgates opened. At every turn, a new phrase escaped my confused lips – “Because I said so” and “Those clothes aren’t going to fold themselves, you know,” and “Yes, well, life isn’t fair.” These were followed by the evocative “If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to give you something to cry about,” the circular reasoning of which drives children nuts — which I now realize is half the fun.

I started sensing a pattern, maybe seeing parenting with a little more clarity than I did in the old days, before, say, my children could speak. I began to see my own parents in a somewhat different light, also, with a dawning realization that they, too, might have once harbored the delusion that they would escape these years unscathed … until my brothers and I hit our teens, and doors started slamming and eyes started rolling and words started leaving their confused lips.

I suppose in the natural course of events, my children might one day find themselves saying the same things to their kids, and thinking back to their own teen years and what their parents used to say to them. Maybe it’s the circle of life.

“Besides, it’s how I did things, and I turned out all right!”

—Maggie Lamond Simone

Maggie Lamond Simone is a national award-winning columnist and author of From Beer to Maternity and POSTED! Parenting, Pets and Menopause, One Status Update at a Time.

An evening with a bunch of characters

Humor writer Molly D. Campbell, two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award winner, will launch her new book, Characters in Search of a Novel, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, in the General Motors Rotunda of the Dayton Art Institute.

The event, “Spend an Evening With Some Real Characters,” features Campbell and illustrator Randy Palmer. The evening will include a book signing, readings and a raffle for prizes — including Campbell and Palmer collaborating on an original character story and illustration that will be custom framed for the winner.

Currently a best seller in pop culture on Amazon.com, Characters in Search of a Novel is a collection of short-short stories about everyday people. What started as a Twitter stream of unique names and attributes (Loretta Squirrels beats her husband and makes moonshine) has turned into a book.

“Loretta Squirrels developed a kind of cult following on Twitter,” says Campbell. So when a few fellow writers suggested I write stories about each name, I decided to do it. I am currently working on a second anthology of short stories.”

The Charles Phoenix Retro Holiday Slide Show will follow the book launch at 8 p.m. Phoenix, who collects old Kodachrome slides of unusual families, delivers a hilarious riff on Christmas, families and Americana. Tickets for his performance in the NCR Renaissance Auditorium are $30.

The public is invited to both events.

Reflections of Erma