Mike Farley writes a weekly humor column that captured first place in the 2012 National Society of Newspaper Columnists competition in the online, blog and multimedia category (under 100,000 monthly visitors). The Massachusetts writer claims it was a case of mistaken identity. He insists he writes “for people with nothing else to read.” The judges differ: “Mike Farley’s writing captures the amusement and wonder in the everyday moments of family life. His columns about braiding his daughter’s hair and three-way conversations between husband and wife make you smile and chuckle out loud. He teases the reader into wanting more.”
Just in time for Mother’s Day, Denise Malloy has released a book, A Real Mother: stumbling through motherhood. A columnist for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, she quips her bio reads like a bad joke: “After working as a lifeguard, a Peace Corps volunteer, a middle school teacher, a switchboard operator and finally, an attorney (but don’t hold that against her), she is uniquely qualified to do absolutely nothing. That is why she writes.”
I recently praised the witty writing on my friend’s blog and told her that she should consider submitting for print.
“Yeah, but I could never publish the things about my kids that you do about yours.”
Such candor validates her true friend status. And often as a writer, I wonder how many real friends I have left.
On the days I muster shedding my uniform drawstrings for appropriate lunch attire, I sit across from radiant women who bubble bathe and work out and wonder if they would invite me back if they knew …
… that as they lightly laugh, their words crank through a mind that twists their tragedies into plot points, conjugates their conundrums into dialogue that may or may not end up on the cutting room floor.
As writers, our worlds — our people — are our material. Do they know?
Weren’t they there in our workshops when proven scribes assured us to “write what you know?” Aren’t they privy to the fact that to invite us into their lives, they subsequently invite themselves onto our pages?
And if they know, why do they stay? To be exorcists to the alternating narcissism and self-doubt that taunt us upon deadline? To serve as tranquilizers for our relentless angst? Perhaps we are their projects.
As competent adults, it is my friends’ prerogative to remain in my world. But there are four little people with whom I cohabit, and as my progeny, are powerless– having been born into their role of my built-in and best material.
Their every charming antic is recorded on a notecard — their dialogue so fresh, their conflict so natural. And ever so perceptive, they watch me view their best performances, and knowing they can do nothing to prevent it, murmur, “Oh great, she’s going to write about us.”
Autumn McAlpin is the author of Real World 101: A Survival Guide to Life After High School and a columnist for the Orange County Register in southern California.
Jerry Zezima is the very model of a modern, middle-aged man — except that he’s now won four awards for humorous writing from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He laughs at the absurdities of life in his humor column for his hometown paper, The Stamford Advocate. His column is syndicated by McClatchy-Tribune and has run in newspapers across the country and around the world. A collection of his columns appears in his book, Leave It to Boomer: A Look at Life, Love and Parenthood by the Very Model of the Modern Middle-Age Man.
Novelist Katrina Kittle took a leap. After three very successful novels with some very grown-up themes, she turned her eye to writing her first novel for the young adult market. So what makes writing a novel for young adults different?
The best piece of advice I got on writing for young adults came from the amazing editor Sharyn November at Viking. She’s the one who encouraged me to write for a younger audience in the first place, writing me a letter out of the blue after she read The Kindness of Strangers.
She very kindly told me she loved the boys’ voices, thought I wrote young people well and asked whether I’d ever considered writing a young adult novel. At the time I hadn’t, and I didn’t really understand the difference between writing for adults and for younger people.
Based on her encouragement, though, I set out to do it. Her great advice came when she read a first draft of Reasons to Be Happy.
“I want you to forget your audience,” she told me.
I thought that was nuts, but she explained, “I see you picturing this room full of middle school girls. Forget them. I want you to write a Katrina Kittle novel like you always do. The only difference is that all the protagonists happen to be teenagers. Don’t change anything else.”
That made such sense to me. Young adult literature covers every conceivable topic these days. There is nothing considered taboo. If you water down, sanitize or try to shelter readers from the reality of your topic, they will smell it a mile away. Teen readers are the same as … well, teens in general. There’s nothing they hate more than something they know is inauthentic.
Katrina Kittle, a member of the 2012 Bombeck Workshop faculty, has been blogging her own daily reasons to be happy since July 1. Today’s reason? Bowling shoes. This editor’s pick? You’ll just have to click here.
A question that often underlies discussions of humor written by women is the question of feminism. It’s not exactly the politics of eyebrow plucking but more like the politics of making jokes about it.
“Anna Lefler’s ‘Chicktionary’ is a wry celebration of modern femininity. Or an attempt to set feminism back a decade,” reporter Heidi Stevens writes. “It depends on your definition of feminism. Or maybe it depends on your definition of chick. Or is it your definition of funny?”
Erma herself was a lively and enthusiastic participant in these debates and the target of critics who didn’t appreciate the domestic brand of humor she was writing. “I had a member of the women’s liberation movement write to me and say, ‘Lady, you are the problem,’” she once said.
Others came to her defense. Patricia Leigh Brown said, “She made it okay to live in a ranch house with the requisite station wagon and golden retriever, because she could lovingly satirize the cliché.”
Erma could defend herself pretty well, too, of course. After hearing Betty Friedan speak, she said, “These women threw a war for themselves and didn’t invite any of us. That was very wrong of them.”
Those three quotes are all part of a summary of Erma’s life and career on the “New York Times Best Seller List” site, which goes on to describe Erma’s work on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment and her “firmly feminist” household: “Erma was the main breadwinner. Bill Bombeck eventually retired from his job as a school administrator in order to manage his wife’s career; at her peak she made from $500,000 to $1 million a year.”
In the case of the Tribune story about Lefler’s book (which, all kidding aside, is hilarious), maybe the feminism question is just a quick, easy angle for a busy reporter, but the trope comes up so often it’s hard to dismiss so easily. Is the book a “threat to feminism,” as the reporter asks at one point? That’s a term CHICKtionary doesn’t define.