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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Stars! They’re just like us!

Abby HeugelAnyone who has “accidentally” flipped through an US Weekly magazine (as I did while waiting to get my hair did the other day) knows there is more important information on the back of a shampoo bottle than there is in that publication.

One of the most ridiculous things is the “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” segment. For the uninitiated, this is where they feature photos of celebrities doing things like breathing, eating, drinking out of straws and carrying adopted children named after obscure fruits found in Ethiopian villages.

The captions of these paparazzi photos verify/explain the celebrity is breathing, eating, etc., since it would otherwise be unclear that this person is, in fact, a human doing shockingly mundane human things — just like us!

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, these are a few of the captions from that issue:

• They Indulge in Fast Food!

• They Strap on Shoes!

• They Eat Off Others’ Plates!

• They Use the ATM!

• They Write Names in the Sand!

• They Balance Cans!

I don’t know about you, but I would never have guessed that Jennifer Lawrence uses the ATM — just like me! Of course her balance is astronomically higher than mine, but still! She’s so normal!

To be fair, a lot of magazines make the assumption that we all live a charmed life. Food Network Magazine had a spotlight feature on a new cast member and her kitchen in the Hamptons.

She said, “People hear ‘the Hamptons’ and they think glitz and glamour, but it is really just farmland.” The article then goes on to suggest we pick up some of Katie’s finds for our own kitchen. Those include:

• French Bistro stools $674

• Rivera strop shade for a window $209

• Natural-edged bowl hand-carved from a single log $564

I would, but I just won $2 on a scratch-off lottery ticket and am busy trying to decide if I want to take it in one lump sum or a dime for the next 20 years.

Anyway, I might actually take interest in these features if they included things I could relate to a little bit more.

Stars! They’re Just Like Us! They:

Light incense, forget they lit incense and then freak out when they smell smoke five minutes later!

Say, “There’s fungus among us!” while picking out mushrooms at the store!

Excel in “Procrastibaking” — baking instead of doing a bunch of more important things instead!

Get up 10 minutes early in the morning so they have that extra time to stare mindlessly at the wall as they shower!

Can go from “nothing sounds good” to “why isn’t there more of this to shove in my face?” in mere seconds!

Get terrified when putting back a shirt without folding it and then making eye contact with the store worker!

Beat the crap out of a black bean with their spatula when they thought it was a spider!

Spend more time picking out broccoli at the store than picking out the clothes that they wear!

Will practically break their arms before making two trips into the house with the groceries!

True, it might not be as glamorous as sharing that they “Pull Their Hair Back On the Go!” but you can’t tell me they’ve never stood up and had a chickpea fall out of their bra.

Now that’s a headline that I’d like to see.

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer and editor of trade publications for employment, but a neurotic humor writer the rest of the time for enjoyment. She runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

How to buy a bathing suit without crying

Linda WolffBathing suit shopping isn’t for the faint of heart. It involves nudity, bad lighting and the awareness of your every flaw. But I’ve found a few tricks to making bathing suit shopping less painful.

Go to your nearest department store, I usually prefer Bloomingdale’s, a day (or two, at most) before you need the bathing suit. It is imperative that you’re slightly desperate and short on time. This helps with decision making.

Head straight to the restroom. You must pee. Any bloat can and will work against you. Then make your way to the cute dress and T-shirt section of the store. Choose a few T-shirts and some pretty flowy dresses that you know will fit. Maybe even a beaded number. Anything sparkly. The key is to divert attention to the task at hand.

Then, and only then, approach the bathing suit section. Pick out a few cover-ups or caftans. They’re a safe bet. As you head towards the bathing suits, move quickly and grab larger sizes than you think you’ll need. Asking the sales lady for a smaller size later will only boost your confidence. The reverse will bring nothing but tears.

Go to the dressing room and try everything on, except the bathing suits. Leave them for last. You will need some successes before you strip down to your skivvies in front of a three-way mirror under fluorescent lighting.

Once in the suit, give yourself a 15-second look-over (no more!) and decide. If at first glance it’s not that bad, buy it and never look back.

And that’s what I did today.  I opted for the sassy sailor one-piece.

— Linda Wolff

Linda Wolff writes the blog Carpool Goddess where she shares her adventures from carpool to empty nest. She no longer drives carpool, but that’s our little secret. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Shine, Scary Mommy, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous and others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Honoring Erma winners,
Talking books with Lisa Scottoline

Mary McCartyDayton Daily News columnist Mary McCarty will emcee the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition ceremony, which will be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 9, at the Centerville Public Library, 111 W. Spring Valley Rd., in Centerville, Ohio.

This free event celebrates the winners of the biennial Erma Bombeck Writing Competition sponsored by the Washington-Centerville Public Library and the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

In 2014, 853 writers from 48 states and 13 countries entered previously unpublished essays in humor and human interest categories — roughly 382,500 words.

Nancy Cartwright — the voice of Bart Simpson — and a slate of accomplished writers from around the country and Canada are judging the entries, with winners to be named in mid-March. The four winners receive $500 and a free registration to the sold-out workshop.

In another event that’s free and open to the public, New York Times’ bestselling author Lisa Scottoline will introduce her latest novel, Keep Quiet, at Books & Co. at The Greene, 4453 Walnut St., in Dayton, Ohio, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 10.scottoline_Lisa_300x400_11262013

A prolific writer, Scottoline has written 22 novels and pens a weekly Philadelphia Inquirer column with her writer-daughter Francesca Serritella. Called “Chick Wit,” the column is a witty and fun take on life from a woman’s perspective.

Scottoline and Serritella will offer one of the keynote addresses at the April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Calling all writers

Greyden Press logoThe Greyden Press 2014 Book Competition is now open.

The deadline for manuscripts is midnight, June 2. Children’s works will be accepted until July 1, and all winners will be announced Oct. 1. Greyden Press will publish the books of the grand prize winners for free. For details, follow this link.

David Braughler, publishing adviser with Greyden Press, and author Robin O’Bryant will give an overview of the self-publishing process at the April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in their session, “Self Publishing is the New Black.”

This is not an April Fool’s joke. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists has extended its contest deadline to April 1.

“The extension is a direct result of so many of you emailing me with messages that essentially said, “Please, sire, I beseech you — give me more time to peruse my 2013 columns so that I may guarantee that only my very best work is submitted for thine most glorious contest,” NSNC President Eric Heyl wrote in a tongue-in-cheek note in the organization’s March newsletter.

The annual column competition by our EBWW partner welcomes bloggers, new writers and established columnists. For details, click here.

The early-bird deadline for the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition is May 5. Entries are being accepted in a variety of categories — from memoir and magazine feature article to short story and poetry. For more information, click here.

7 tips to achieve an exhausted and haggard look

Kathy RadiganAre you getting bored with all the articles telling you to look and feel your best, you need at least eight hours of sleep a day?

If you’re like me, you feel you look better with dark circles and puffy bags under your eyes teamed with a sallow complexion.

Have you caught your husband lustily eyeing the groggy woman ahead of you at the checkout line, confirming your suspicion that he feels haggard is the new sexy?

Have no fear. I’m here to give you some tried-and-true tips for capitalizing on your lack of sleep. Follow my advice, and you, too, can achieve that harried look and attitude of a mom on the edge. Healthy and well-rested is so yesterday.

1) Have children. One child can do it, but if you’re really going for the too-exhausted-to-stand-upright look, have three.

2) The kids should feel free to sneak in your bed at all hours of the night. If you’re not woken up with at least one of your kids’ feet on your face or a little arm wedged under your ribs, you’re not doing it right.

3) Keep your office in your bedroom. Your computer should call to you in the middle of the night, with emails that need to be answered and a blog that needs updating while everyone is tucked safely in bed. This will ensure that you will be completely shot by breakfast. You may even get a headache. Doesn’t everyone know that nothing is sexier than a tired, haggard, cranky woman with a headache? You’ll be the envy of every mother at the PTA meeting, school drop-off lane or toddler gym class.

4) Teach your children that you’re at their beck-and-call at all hours of the night. If you have gone a week without one of your children asking you to make scrambled eggs and bacon or asking if they could build a rocket ship in the basement at 3 a.m., you’re really at risk at looking well rested.

5) If you should decide to ever lock your door in order to have a little private time with your mate, or just sleep uninterrupted for more than two hours, make sure you have the type of kids who are willing to camp out by the door for at least two hours. If they are clever enough to sing 10 versions of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” or say things like, “But mom, you are my best friend” and “Let me in. I can’t hack sleeping on my own tonight,” you’re golden.

6) Drink coffee. All. Day. Long. Here’s a special tip: Go to Starbucks and get a grande with three shots of espresso. It’s highly recommended if you need to clean out your closets and fridge at 3 a.m.

7) Send your kids to school or daycare. This will ensure that they will get sick and you will be woken up by a little one with a fever or projectile vomiting. This is really essential. Seeing your child sick and in pain will add more than a little stress to your exhaustion. You’ll feel so helpless and sad for your child that you are sure to have an extra layer of sluggishness.

Follow one or two of these tips, and you’re sure to look a little bleary eyed. To achieve the maximum effect of weary-and-shattered beauty, you must follow all of these steps. This task isn’t for the faint of heart.

After practicing these tips for 15 years, my look is so haggard and exhausted that any day I expect Vogue to schedule me for a cover shot.

I hope they use Patrick Demarchelier.

— Kathy Radigan

Kathy Radigan is a writer, blogger, social media addict, mom to three, wife to one and owner of a possessed appliance. She posts a weekly essay each Sunday on her blog,  My dishwasher’s possessed!, and has had her writing featured on BlogHer and Cribster. She’s also a contributing author in Sunshine After the Storm: a survival guide for the grieving mother and The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female FriendshipYou can follow her onFacebookTwitter and Google +

Three and I’m out

Kathleene S. Baker(This essay first appeared in Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Woman in October 2012. Reposted by permission of the author.)

“Darn, Robert Redford isn’t quite as cute as he used to be! I just hate that.” And I was adamant. It had been years since I’d seen Mr. Redford and didn’t expect to such a drastic change in his appearance.

My husband, Jerry, and I were watching him being interviewed on television. A true sense of melancholy came over me when I realized he was no longer a young and handsome hunk. I much preferred to remember Redford’s striking face in movies such as The Way We Were and The Sundance Kid.

The interview continued, but I only heard a few words here and there. My thoughts had turned to aging. If age could take a toll on the likes of Robert Redford, none of us was immune. Just how many people — men or women — are blessed with such terrific looks to begin with. If it could happen to him, we were all doomed — should we live long enough.

When the program ended, Jerry spoke up. “Well, you know none of us is as cute as we once were.” He was so nonchalant that I was caught completely off guard. I sat on the foot of the bed in a daze and thought how much I despised those words.

Then it was time for my all-but-rehearsed and-often spouted spiel of how I don’t feel any older; it’s all a state of mind. We bantered back and forth, all in good fun, for several minutes. Just as I began to stand up, dear hubby made a very disturbing announcement. “Kathy, do you realize this year you will be twice the age you were when we met?”

I felt like someone had hit me right over the head with a cast-iron frying pan! I fell backwards onto the bed, covered my face with my hands and recall uttering a few sounds of agony at Jerry’s uncalled-for remark. There are some things that shouldn’t be said to a woman and/or wife! What was he thinking anyway?

I began doing some quick math in my head. Not liking the first results, I ran through the numbers again — the results were the same and they sucked!

“Oh darn — you’re right, Jerry! However, that’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to me in our entire married life,” I shrieked, and I shrieked loudly! “I can’t believe it. Don’t you know when to keep your mouth shut? There are certain things best kept to yourself, and I suggest you remember that in the future! What is wrong with you anyway?”

He didn’t say a word, but looked at me strangely. Perhaps he thought I was losing my marbles? Or, perhaps he was afraid to say one more word!

Still, I kept wondering; where did the years go so quickly? It didn’t seem possible! I went to bed that night still obsessing over our conversation and Jerry’s dim-witted remark. I tossed and turned! I flipped and flopped! Secretly, I hoped all my writhing about was keeping dear hubby awake as well. It was hours before I drifted off to sleep. Being twice the age of anything is a horrid thought, unless you’re lucky enough to still be under the age of say, 15. What might be next? Would Jerry someday tell me I’m three times older than when we met? That could prove to be dangerous and I hoped he knew it.

I finally decided to look at the bright side of things before this revelation made me crazy. After several days, it finally struck me! Indeed, a bright side did exist. According to statistics, Jerry will probably never be able to say such a thing. Since he’s six years older than I am, he will more than likely already be six feet under! If by chance he isn’t, well, all I can say is he’d best never utter that dreaded three word. Should he do so, I’ll be moving out.

Yes, it’s as simple as that — three and I’m out! I’ll pound on that call button as fast as my old, stiff fingers will allow. When the entire convalescent staff storms our room in panic, I’ll demand they wheel me into the home’s administration office. And then I’ll demand a private room in a different wing — next door to Robert Redford.

— Kathleene S. Baker

Kathy Baker grew up in the small town of Augusta, Kansas, and all these years later, she insists you can take the kid out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the kid. She and her husband, Jerry, reside in Plano, Texas, which is part of the Dallas metroplex. As empty nesters, they share their lives and home with three canine fur kids: Hank, Samantha and Abby. She has edited many online newsletters and several books and been published in numerous newsletters, on websites, in newspapers, magazines and various anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul and Not Your Mother’s Book. Kathy is co-editor of Not Your Mother’s Book…On Dogs and is currently working on Not Your Mother’s Book…On Pets.

Facebook friends — the one clique
we didn’t have in high school

Leigh-Mary HoffmannThe only thing that leveled the playing field among everyone who went to my high school was that we all wore the same uniform.

Like most schools, there were the typical cliques — the popular kids, the jocks, the brains, the nerds, the loners and “other.” I think I fell into the “other” category.

I truly enjoyed high school.  I had a wonderful group of very close friends, and my days playing softball were some of the best of my life. I like to think I was friendly. I was neither popular nor unpopular, and I went through my four years happily, without regrets.  Well, at least I didn’t think I had any regrets…until now.

How about that girl in high school? You know, the one all the guys wanted to date, and all the girls wanted to be friends with? What was she really like?

Remember that guy in high school? You know, the one you never made eye contact with because you were afraid he wouldn’t return your glance?

What about that other girl whom you were “hi and bye in the hallway” friends with but you never really got to know?

Or that boy whom you would have liked to have been friends with even though you were from different circles?

We all missed the potential of so many friendships in high school for one reason or another. I know we are all grateful for the lifelong friends that we did make in high school, but do you ever wonder if a simple “hello” in Spanish class could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

Well, guess what? We have all sent and received “friend requests” from classmates whom we may or may not have ever spoken with in high school. Whether it was a drunken request or a hope to see how someone turned out, we have all done it! When I look through my “friends list” now, I have former classmates from every corner of the lunchroom.  And these days, there is much more in common than a burgundy blazer or wool, plaid, below-the-knee shirt.

We have all had our share of ups and downs. Triumphs and setbacks. Good and bad. Love and loss. Happy and heartache. Fortunes and failures. Sickness and survivors. There are no cliques. We are all just going through this journey of life together.

Now, through the world of social media, we are able to offer congratulations, condolences, a happy birthday wish, a “hello, how have you been” or even a simple status “Like.” Are we going to get best friend necklaces, ask each other to be Godparents of our children or even send actual Christmas cards? Probably not. But if we see each other at a local bar, I am sure we will raise our glasses for a “good to see you again” cheers. If we are at a Mommy and Me group, maybe we will set up a play date for our children. Or if we ask advice from our former locker buddy on how she started her blog, she may share her secrets and advice. Thanks, Danielle.

Bottom line: we are all more alike than we could have ever imagined back in high school. And that is perfectly fine. We didn’t all NEED to be friends back then. But now, I am happy to see you are doing well, wish you a “Happy Birthday” and offer you condolences in times of need.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and we are all one, big happy clique.

— Leigh-Mary Hoffmann

Leigh-Mary Hoffmann is a mom, public relations specialist and humor blogger from Long Island, N.Y., juggling a family, a job and a busy, crazy life. She tells it like it is — the good, the bad and the ugly — and tries to keep a smile on her face and laughter in her life. Her life story “reads like a cross between the lyrics of a ‘feel-good’ country song and the script from an ‘I feel so bad for her’ Lifetime Movie of the Week.”  She invites you to visit her blog or stop by her Facebook page for all the gory (but not in a gross way, more like “funny”) details.

How I earned my wrinkles

Anne BardsleyI have been blessed by the Wrinkle Fairy.

She perches on my right shoulder. I caught her waving her sparkly wrinkle wand at me last week. She was laughing as she anointed me. I frowned at her and tried to swat her off my shoulder. It’s not easy to avoid the Wrinkle Fairy when you are married to the Master Wrinkle Maker, my husband, Scott.

I started to take notice that the wrinkle fairy is more active when he is in the room. I follow him around closing cabinet doors, drawers, putting things back in the fridge and searching for his ever-lost keys. He also swears he told me important facts that I never remember hearing come from his mouth.

For instance, he says he told me, “Don’t use the American Express card. The balance is getting too high.” That afternoon I went out and I charged $214 on American Express. I have no recollection of his conversation about not using that card. I think he is messing with my mind. This makes me wrinkle up as I try to back trace in my menopausal mind. I can barely remember him, let alone an imaginary conversation. The Wrinkle Fairy notices my expressions, and she does a little twirl as she BAM! shakes her wand at me.

When you have five kids, there is always something and someone to worry about. I got extra blessings from the fairy back then. When they were teenagers I‘d wait in the cold and dark at 2 a.m. just waiting for them to try to sneak in. I’d be praying, “Dear God, please let them drive up now and be safe….so I can kill them personally!” BAM! …wrinkle fairy is not happy about being awake on a cold, dark night either. She zaps me twice! BAM! BAM!

When my estrogen level plummeted, the wrinkle fairy worked overtime. She almost fell off my shoulder from daily fits of laughter. She got dizzy spinning and bopping me with that wand of hers. I remember thinking I needed to shake her off, but then I’d get busy and forget. This forgetfulness is causing my crow’s feet to turn into eagles’s claw. My brow is so wrinkled, I feel like that cute little puggle dog, but I’m not little enough for it to be so cute.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store without my list. There was only one item, and I could remember that easily. I went up and down every single aisle trying to remember why I made this crucial trp. I could not remember to save my life. When I got home, I splashed water on my face and when I looked in the mirror, I remembered. I went to the store for WRINKLE CREAM!! My fairy friend is now doing the Macarena on my shoulder.

I made the mistake of telling Scott about this. At 2 a.m. last night he got up to go to the bathroom. I heard him yelling, “Get out of here! Get! Get! Don’t even think about it!!” I thought we must have had a water bug or a mosquito. He came back to bed, and I asked him what was in there. He said, “It was one of your wrinkles trying to attach itself to my leg. Don’t worry. I caught it and flushed it. You’re safe tonight.” For the love!!!

My fairy rolled over and covered her ears. It must be exhausting being my fairy. She needs her rest. Who knew laughing can cause so many wrinkles?

My wrinkle fairy and I have made peace. I’ve decided to embrace her blessings.

By the way, she told me her name is Wanda. I call her Wanda with the sparkly wand. We are now best friends. I’m taking her to lunch today. She is my new best

BFF forever!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of the soon-to-be-published ANZ World…How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

Reflections of Erma