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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

For the love of Erma

Berk, NancyFor Erma Bombeck fans, Parade.com is carrying a wealth of interviews about the legendary humorist, whose writing captured the foibles of family life in a way that made us laugh at ourselves.

In an exclusive interview, entertainment analyst Dr. Nancy Berk chats with the Bombeck family about their memories.

The children recall leading a normal life — and were even a bit oblivious to their mother’s growing fame as a writer. “Someone asked what she did and I said she was a syndicated communist,” her son Matt remembers.

The entire interview is available on Berk’s showbiz podcast, “Whine at 9.” Erma, typewriter

What are the chances that two rising stars would live on the same block in suburban Centerville, Ohio, before hitting it big?  Just days before returning to his roots to keynote the April 10 opening night of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, TV talk show icon Phil Donahue reminisces about living across the street from the Bombecks.

“The arc of our careers pretty much coincided, although she was probably ahead of me,” Donahue tells Berk for a “Showbiz Analysis” piece on Parade.com. “She quickly became a phenom. Everybody wanted her. She wound up on refrigerator doors all over the world, really.”

Listen to the Donahue interview on “Whine at 9.”

The thoughts of eight of this year’s faculty at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop are featured in another online Parade.com piece.

Author and television comedy writer Anna Lefler calls Bombeck “the godmother of domestic humor.” Veteran sitcom writer and producer Bruce Ferber notes that no writer “epitomizes suburban comedy” more than Bombeck.

The first editor of Ms. magazine Suzanne Braun Levine became an Erma fan in the 1970s when the columnist campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment. “She traveled all over the country and she did what Erma Bombeck can do that nobody else could do — which is that she diffused this controversial issue and softened people up,” Levine says in the Parade.com story.

Noting that the ERA was just 24 words, Levine recalls Bombeck’s memorable quip. “She delivered one of the great lines of all time (when she said) ‘no 24 words have ever been so misunderstood since ‘one size fits all.’”

To listen to all the faculty interviews, click here.

What inspired Berk, who’s on the workshop’s faculty, to shine a national focus on Erma’s legacy and the popular biennial workshop held by her alma mater? This year’s workshop sold out in 12 hours.

“The power of this conference suggested to me the need to archive something that’s incredibly special,” said Berk, who’s both a clinical psychologist and an author. “From her family’s support in carrying her legacy forward to the people who teach at the workshop to the writers who come to learn the craft of writing, this is an unusual and tremendous effort. And its success occurs on so many levels — personal, professional and societal. Writers are inspired, and even the most seasoned professionals leave with ideas on how to develop and better showcase their talent for the world to enjoy. This conference really is the gift that keeps on giving.”

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and executive director of strategic communications at the University of Dayton.

Laugh often and 19 more rules to live by

Gina Barreca(This piece originally appeared in The (Hartford) Courant on Jan. 9, 2014. Reposted by permission of Gina Barreca.)

I’ve made a list of 20 rules to live by.

1. Bring your sense of humor with you at all times. Bring your friends with a sense of humor. If their friends have a sense of humor, invite them, too. Remember this when going to hospitals, weight-loss centers and funerals, as well as when going to work, coming home, waking up and going to sleep.

2. If it’s worth crying over, it’s probably worth laughing at. Cultivate a sense of perspective that permits you to see the wider and longer view of the situation; this will help you realize that although your situation is upsetting, it might also one day become a terrific story.

3. Other people don’t care what you’re wearing.

4. Don’t be a sissy. This is especially important if you are a woman. Girls can be sissies, but behaving like a simpering, whining, fretful coward as an adult is unacceptable no matter what your gender happens to be. If you are anxious, scared and feeling powerless, you don’t need to change your behavior; you need to change your life.

5. Don’t lie. Cheat the devil and tell the truth.

6. There is one exception to the rule above: Never say a baby looks like a sausage wearing a hat. The parents will not forgive you. This is a situation in which telling the truth is not wholly necessary. If it’s not possible to tell the whole truth for fear of causing undue pain, just say the baby looks “happy.”

7. Never use the passive voice. Do not say, “It will get done.” Say, “I’ll do it” and then offer a solid, unwavering deadline. Always make your deadline.

8. The pinnacle is always slippery; no peak is safe. Only plateaus offers a place to rest. Are you ready to stay on a plateau or are you climbing? Decide and pack your bags accordingly.

9. As we age, love changes. As a youth, you fall for an unattainable ideal. When you’re more mature, you fall in love with a person: “Sure, he has only one eye in the middle of his forehead,” you’ll rationalize, “But he never forgets my birthday.”

10. Power is the ability to persuade stupid people to do intelligent things and intelligent people to do stupid things. This is why power is dangerous.

11. Sherlock Holmes said, “Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.” Listen to Mr. Holmes.

12. Everybody wants a short cut to love, prosperity and weight loss, although not necessarily in that order. Apart from being born into an adoring family, getting good genes and inheriting the mineral rights, however, there are no short cuts. The rest of us have to work at it.

13. Help the dramatically self-pitying to understand that they are not, by definition, sympathetic or interesting. Encourage them to address topics other than themselves.

14. Be kind, not nice. Kindness is both intentional and meaningful. Acts of kindness requires generosity, emotional and otherwise. Perfunctory and superficial niceness is, too often, mere window-dressing.

15. Only poor workers blame their tools. It’s not the fault of the computer, the school, the train, the government or poor cell phone reception. Take responsibility.

16. You know how sometimes you don’t think you’re asleep — you’re half listening to a conversation or the television — only to discover you were unconscious? One part of your head would swear it’s awake, but when you actually snap out of it, you realize you were wholly elsewhere? Sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes the only way you know you’re truly in love, in the entirely wrong profession, being a moron at parties or a great poet is when you snap out of it.

17. You can always stop what you’re doing.

18. You should either be doing something useful or you should be playing. You should not be thinking about playing while at work or thinking about work when you’re out having fun. Compartmentalizing your life is not inevitably a bad thing. It’s easy to waste pleasure by feeling guilty and waste potentially effective time by feeling resentful.

19. Be aware that a safety net, if pulled too tight, easily turns into a noose. Don’t trade independence for security without being aware of the consequences.

20. Someday you will die. Until then, you should do everything possible to enjoy life.

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She regularly writes columns for the Hartford Courant, The Huffington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Psychology Today. In 2012, she served as a keynoter at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and is returning to be part of the faculty in 2014. Learn more about Gina here.

Can you hear me now?

Rosie SorensonWhen God created Man and Woman, she might have been indulging in a wee bit of hard cider from ye olde apple tree.

“Boy, that’s a knee-slapper,” she must have said, laughing. “They’re just enough alike so they can be together, but those differences? Now, that took divine inspiration! I’d better endow them with comedy, though, or they might just kill each other.”

One day last week I stood in the hallway and called out to Steve, my sweetheart of 15 years, “Honey, did you remember to take the cat litter out of the car?” He was sitting at his desk five feet away, around a corner. No response. I repeated my question, only a teensy bit louder this time. Again, no reply. I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible I might have amped up to Dolby Surround Sound as I headed for his office.

“Geez,” he said, looking up from his computer, grinning, “You don’t have to yell.”

“Well,” I said, leaning on his file cabinet, “I was talking in a normal tone, but you didn’t answer, so I thought maybe you didn’t hear me.”

He looked up at me with that handsome face I fell in love with and said, “You only have two settings, Rosie: Mumble and Overkill.” Thank God for humor.

When I stopped laughing, I said, “Yeah, but here’s the problem, Steve. You only have two settings for listening: Dim and Dimmer.”

This morning as he was lying in bed, I tried to tell him that I wasn’t sure if I had to remain at the hospital while our neighbor Jennifer had her colonoscopy, or if I could come home and then go back to pick her up.

“You what?”

“Jennifer — I’m taking her for her colonoscopy.”

“You have to stay there?”

“No. I just said maybe they’d let me come home and…” I sighed and threw up my hands. Sometimes it’s best to put down the words so no one will get hurt.

Sensing my frustration, he said, “No, go on, I’m listening.”

“No,” I said, collapsing into myself like an aluminum camping cup. “I’m too exhausted.”

So then, Steve started channeling me, mimicking my voice in a singsongy way, “You don’t listen, you don’t listen, then when you do, I’m exhausted.” He let loose a maniacal cackle.

“That’s rude,” I said, my sides beginning to ache from laughter.

“I just thought of a name for you and me,” he said, convulsing. “Dim and Dimmer. You’re Dim, and I’m Dimmer!”

“You’re plain nuts, you know that?”

“Don’t make me laugh — I can’t listen!”

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

My last baby is about to lose a tooth —
Sigh. Smile.

Leigh-Mary Hoffmann“God doesn’t make mistakes.”  While I may have questioned this idea at one time or another, my youngest child Ryan is certainly proof of this sentiment.

I wouldn’t say the news of my third pregnancy was a total shocker.  I mean, I always knew that doing THAT activity, without THAT thing, could end up with THAT result. However, on that July afternoon, I took a test on a teeny weenie, teensy tiny hunch. Two lines. Boom!

This wasn’t my first rodeo. I was calm. I was happy. Third time is a charm, right?

Fast forward two months and the circumstances of our family changed. If you know me, you already know all the gory details. And if you don’t know me, those details aren’t important. Let’s just say, I moved back home with my parents, along with my 5-year old daughter, 3-year-old son and a baby in my belly.

This pregnancy was draining. Both physically and mentally.

And I grew. A lot. Both physically and emotionally.

And I cried. A lot. Both physically and on the inside.

As they say — it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Actually, it seemed like just the worst of times.

On March 13, 2008, I went to my OB/GYN for a check-up.  My feet were too swollen for shoes — I had to wear flip flops. My hands looked like someone inflated them with an air pump. Following my office visit, I did not pass go. I did not collect $200. I went directly to the hospital for a C-section that would take place later that evening. This baby was coming out. Emotionally and physically, my body was done.

It was all very surreal. My mother, godmother and one of my best friends stayed with me until it was time to go into the operating room. Then, it was just me, my mother and about four or five men and women dressed in scrubs. Following an epidural and lots of poking and probing, my son entered our lives. But he wasn’t crying like he should have been. I knew something wasn’t right but thankfully, after what seemed like forever, he started screaming once the nurses sucked all the goop (that’s a medical term, right?) out of his mouth, nose, etc. My third child — Ryan Michael — was here. Amen.

Ryan was in the NICU for several days due to some breathing issues. Honestly, it is all a bit of a blur, but I don’t think I was able to hold him until day three of my hospital stay. But when I finally waddled my way down to him in the NICU and was able to hold this sweet baby in my arms, I knew he was meant to be — meant to save and complete me. And he has. More than he will ever know. (Bonus: Ironically, Ryan looks just like me while my first two children look just like their father. I think someone “upstairs” was throwing me a bone with this one!)

Fast forward, again, to today. In less than a month, my little boy will turn 6 years old. Until now, I have been able to keep him my baby boy. We even still call him “the baby.” Yesterday, my “baby” told me he had his first loose tooth. I have been dreading this day. His little chicklet tooth is going to fall out soon, and an “adult” tooth with take its place. What’s more…this is the last time one of my children will lose a first tooth. It’s the last time I will be the mother of a baby.

Don’t get me wrong.  I look forward to every moment I will share with Ryan — with all of my children — as they grow into young adults. But along with all the tell-tale signs that I will never have another child (ummmm…I am 40. I have MS. I remarried and now have FIVE children — ages 6-14.  Need I go on?), Ryan losing his first tooth will be the end of the “having a baby in the house” road for me. Sigh. Tear.

From that “sort-of-a-surprise” positive pregnancy test result I got that July afternoon to figuring out how much the tooth fairy’s going rate is these days, it has been the best of times; it has been the worst of times. Actually, it has just been the best of times. Sigh. Smile.

—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.

He’s not cheating, it’s just some glitter

Alison HerzigIn the last year my little princess, who is all of 8 years old, has griped about the the clothing I have purchased for her. It started small — “this shirt is scratchy” or “these pants are not soft enough.”

Did you catch the part where I made the error? That I purchased … without her being with me.

I noticed the clothes not being worn, the same outfits making the rounds. The arguments every morning over “Not having anything to wear!” (Please say this in the most whiny manner possible). And then I realized, I had become my own mother. I remember my mother purchasing things for me as a kid that I hated but I was given no choice.

Enter the shopping trip this weekend. We hit Lands End — the epicenter of all things innocent. She selected one dress and one shirt — that was it. I sang the praises of various shirts, the sensibility of a pair of pants. Her brow furrowed, her gaze darted away from me. I realized I had to accept reality. My little girl was coming into her own and should wear things that reflect her personality and who she is, not who I want her to be.

I made some rules — I get final veto, nothing inappropriate, modesty first. And I let her go. Something I wish my own mother had done when I was a kid.

The realization hit home when we walked past my favorite store to shop for her, Gymboree. We stopped, I asked her if she wanted to go in. She looked at me — on a precipice. Not wanting to hurt my feelings but the reality was that she no longer identified herself with their cute and adorable outfits (sob). The look that flashed across her face gave me pause. I sighed…it was time to close the door on an era. We kept walking.

We entered the overcrowded, overrun, sensory-overloaded store Justice. The store I swore we would never enter. The store I was standing in watching my child’s eyes light up. Her hands touching the shirts, her head tilted to the side as she searched for just the right outfits. To me the store is like the “Saved by the Bell” costume designer had an affair with the 1980s and this was their love child. But to her it was heaven.

I vetoed a lot, but let a lot go. She now has more glitter, rhinestones, lace and macramé than Madonna did when she sang “Holiday” in 1983.

I washed her new wardrobe last night, along with some of the rest of the house’s clothing. When I opened the dryer, you would think a stripper lived at our house by the amount glitter that fell to the floor. I started removing her items, folding them and putting them in her basket. As I reached in to grab another I pulled out my son’s sweatshirt, covered in glitter. Then my husband’s shirt awash with sparkly little flecks. I shook their clothes out hoping to rid them of their infestation, but I couldn’t get all the sparkles off. I did, however, spread the herpes of the craft world all over the laundry room.

So if you see any of us out and notice glitter on our clothes, please realize The Hubs is not hitting the sex club, I am not moonlighting on the corner, and the 10-year-old has not all of a sudden decided to take on crafts. Nope…we just have a little girl who loves all things bling, or I should say a soon-to-be tween who loves all things sparkly.

— Alyson Herzig

Originally from New Jersey, Alyson now lives in the Midwest but has kept her sarcastic, cynical Jersey attitude. You can find her blogging about the perpetual shit storm of her life at TheShitastrophy.com. She also has more to offer the world than just humorous observations and can be found flexing her brain at LeftyPop.com where she is a weekly contributor. Alyson’s other works have been published at Mamapedia.com, WhatTheFlicka.com, InThePowderRoom.com, BonBonBreak.com. She is also working on a collection of humorous essays in hopes of proving to others they really could have it worse – they could be her.

The Vultures are waiting

Marcia Doyle   My daughter convinced me to watch The Rachel Zoe Project on the cable network, and as I’m staring at these 21-year-olds, anorexic-looking models, I’m thinking two thoughts: 1) Someone should tie these girls down and force-feed them doughnuts, and 2) Was I ever that young? Right now I feel more like something an anthropologist unearthed from King Tut’s tomb. My brain is still stuck in 1981 but my body has fast-forwarded into a new century populated by people with graying hair, pot bellies and elephant skin. Is this really the generation I was born into? What happened to disco balls, leather pants and Boy George? If someone had told me thirty years ago I’d be spending my weekends in the backyard using a pooper scooper, I would have laughed in their face. My husband feels the same way every time he gets behind the wheel of our prehistoric minivan that should have been shot years ago to be put out of its misery.

For the most part, I’m young at heart. But some days I feel like it’s time my kids wheel me into a nursing home and spoon-feed me soup. I’m already getting flyers in the mail pestering me to buy burial plots and to join AARP. Just the other day I was on the walking trail with my husband when I noticed a vulture following us overhead. He circled for a mile or two, just waiting to see which one of us was going to croak first. My husband raised his fist to the bird and shouted, “We’re not dead yet!!”

And what’s up with the age spots? I never had spots on my skin, then suddenly I woke up one morning looking like a leopard. I rushed over to the dermatologist, convinced that I had some weird skin disease. She just chuckled and said, “Welcome to middle age!” Now the spots are all over me—enough that if I get bored, I can play connect-a-dot on my skin. Some dots are larger, some smaller, some are lighter while others are darker. Some are the size of Africa. By the time I’m eighty, I’ll look like one giant, brown, age spot, because all of the dots will have connected. Then I’ll just look like I have a great tan without even trying.

My eyes have also gone to hell. My mother promised me when I was little that if I ate my carrots, I’d have good eyesight. She lied. I’m blind as a bat, and if I’m not careful, I may end up hanging upside-down in a tree with my new, furry, winged friends.

The lack of energy is what kills me. I used to be like the Energizer bunny until my batteries corroded. I’ve heard that fatigue is common with menopause, but come on, my sleep patterns could rival that of Sleeping Beauty. Except I don’t wake up to a kiss from a prince…just dog slobber and the sound of toilets flushing. Mega doses of caffeine are the only reason I’m still standing on two feet at the end of the day. I am a human percolator.

The thing that really makes me feel old is the contents of my nightstand drawer. When I was newly married, that drawer contained candles, gels, lingerie and all sorts of naughty items geared for fun. Opening the drawer now, the first thing I see is a tube of cracked heel foot cream. Next to it, another colorful tube of anti-fungal cream. What else? A bottle of magnesium, aspirin, lip balm, a calorie counter and the crumpled wrapper from a chocolate bar. There’s also a container of foot pads and ear plugs, a broken pair of reading glasses, nose spray and a mouth guard. Sounds like a shopping list for a convalescence home. I suppose I could throw in a few pairs of Spanx, support hose and some high-heeled orthopedic shoes to make it more interesting…to an 80-year-old.

Time to embrace the vulture years!

— Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humorous blog “Menopausal Mother,” where she muses on the good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem. She is a staff writer for In The Powder Room and HumorOutcasts.com and a contributing writer for What the Flicka. Her work recently captured first place in VoiceBoks Top Hilarious Parent Bloggers 2014, and her first book will be released in the spring through Blue Lobster Publishing. Marcia’s work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, Bloggy Moms, Messy Mom’s Radio, The Woven Press, the Life Well Blogged series and was voted Top 25 in the Circle Of Mom’s Contest 2013.

 

Instructions for my family
while I’m in Dayton

Gina ValleyMy pack watches a lot of detective shows and courtroom dramas, so I have to be a bit more specific when I leave the seven of them home while I’m out of town than simply telling them to “Be good” and “Don’t burn the house down.”

In hopes of covering every technicality and loophole, I leave a list of instructions:

Call me only if there’s an emergency. An emergency is when someone or something is on fire, or someone is bleeding profusely from the head. Pimples are not emergencies. The Xbox dying is not an emergency. Any person or beast having flatulence, no matter how revolting, is not an emergency.

No one may make any flame of any kind in any way at any point for any reason. If there is a power outage, birthday or zombie apocalypse,  just sit there in the dark until I get home.

Feed the dog only dog food. Yes, the dog likes ice cream, candy and pizza, but ice cream, candy and pizza do not like the dog, as evidenced by the projectile diarrhea he produced when I was out of town last month.

The dog having projectile diarrhea is not an emergency. Do not call me to tell me about it. Do not send me pictures. Do not send me a live action video. Again.

You must wear shoes to school every day, and they must be shoes that fit you, belong to you and were purchased by me for you. Do not tell your teacher that you have no shoes because “Mommy took them on her trip.” That only happened once.  And, they looked a lot like mine.

Your dad is not allowed to play basketball with you while I’m gone. The last time he played basketball with you he broke his ankle. The time before that he dislocated his hip. If your dad is on crutches when I get back, you’re all grounded. Including your dad.

The babysitter feeding you jar spaghetti sauce is not an emergency. Do not call me to complain about it.

Stay out of my room.  If you think you need to go in my room, stay out of my room. If you absolutely, positively must go in my room, stay out of my room.

Wanting to go in my room is not an emergency. Do not call to ask me if you may go in my room.

Lastly, if it involves the phrase, “Watch this, you guys!” don’t do it.  Don’t even think about doing it.

In other words, be good.

And, don’t burn the house down.

— Gina Valley

Gina Valley is a humorist who lives in Los Angeles. Her husband (The Professor) and her 7 kids (The Pack) provide her with more inspiration than she needs for her blog Gina Valley – The Glamorous Life Of The Modern Day Soccer Mom. Gina was a humor cast member in Listen to Your Mother in San Francisco in 2013. Her work appears on Voiceboks, Dads’ Round Table, and Inspiring Women Magazine. Laugh with Gina on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Paul Lander

Paul_LanderPaul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney‘s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake.

Reflections of Erma