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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Project Divorcée, season one

Dear Ms. Testwuide,

Congratulations!  You have been selected as a contestant to appear on the inaugural season of Project Divorcée.

Modeling the show after the successful Project Runway series, Executive Producer Heidi Klum has decided to try her recently ringless hand, at a new reality show. Project Divorcée will pit newly divorced women at their lowest point against one another, in order to win a prize package by further losing their dignity.

We have reviewed your audition tape and processed your application. We feel you embody the perfect mixture of bitterness, apathy and vengeance. When combined with your delicate emotional state and raging sugar addiction, you make a perfect reality TV character.

We feel your too-tight-size-14-mom jeans, likelihood of developing Type II diabetes during production and constant collection agency calls for unpaid therapists’ bills will make you a fan favorite from the start.

Your file was missing some paperwork. We require all divorce lawyer’s bills be sent to our offices to authenticate your eligibility.  We recognize shipping is costly. We understand the pure poundage of your legal bills has reduced your transportation options to ground service only. We thank you for chartering a private train to transport these documents.

The winner of Project Divorcée will receive $25,000 for Vaginal Rejuvenation, a Lifestyle Lift , a set of Glamor Shots, a one-year supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream created exclusively for our show, Manic Xanax and the complete collection of Lifetime Movies for Women.

Please sign the enclosed documents agreeing to the following:

1. Continue your diet of saturated fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugars and any recipes by Paula Deen.

2. Purchase a clean bathrobe as it appears from your audition tape to be your signature wardrobe piece. A robe with shoulder pads, higher slit and no middle zipper may make you more palatable for male viewers.

Unlike Project Runway, contestants for Project Divorcée will be informed of their weekly challenges in advance to schedule therapy sessions as needed.

In the first challenge contestants will be required to delve into their closets for an evening dress that still fits. No bathrobes, please. “Fits” is defined as “zips to top and contestant can breathe.” Once dressed, contestants must attend a couples’ cocktail party solo from 8 p.m. to midnight. You will be judged on your ability to keep a smile on your face, engage in friendly banter and remark “I’m so happy for you,” at least 10 times during the evening. The winner of our first challenge will receive two Ambien and be allowed to spend the next 24 hours in bed.

We look forward to your arrival in Allentown, Penn., for the first season of Project Divorcée.

Sincerely,

Myles Seabrunner and Barton Winkler

Associate Producers, Project Divorcée

— Liesl Testwuide

Liesl Testwuide, author of Hairpin Turns Ahead, uses humor and humility to write about navigating life’s twists, turns and inevitable changes. A divorced mom of three, she has accepted that even though her white-picket-fence life blew up in her face, it was probably the best thing that ever happened. Follow Liesl on FacebookPinterest and Twitter. She auditioned and was selected to read her humorous essay,  ”I’ve Got Something in My Pocket,” at this year’s “Listen to Your Mother” event in Madison, Wisc.

Letter to my 20-year-old self

Dear 20-year-old Lois,

Please go take a cooking class. I know you won’t do it, but see that nice flat stomach you have in the picture? Years of always eating out will turn it into a muffin top (a much cuter name than it deserves, trust me) and result in your children asking what the food man is bringing for dinner every night when you live in Manhattan — a question that often makes people look at them funny. Yes, you have two amazing kids and you will spend 15 blissful years on the Upper East Side of New York but we’re not talking about that right now. Stay on point.

Take a good look at your hair, too, because years from now, you will have no idea what your original color was. Your constant futzing around with it means that you have to squeeze a couple of hours into your schedule every five or six weeks to avoid looking like you’ve given up on life.

Let’s talk about that master’s degree in public relations for a minute. Really? Is that necessary or is it just a good way to avoid a real job for another year and a half? You will hold three PR jobs before you acknowledge you have no interest in pitching stories. You will decide to become a writer because 1) it’s what you’ve wanted to do since you were 12 years old and won that writing contest in American Girl magazine and 2) you want to stay home with your dog. Yes, your dog.

The fact that you grew up with no pets other than a turtle and goldfish, and will end up madly loving, living with and catering to a Chow Chow for 11 years, and a Newfoundland for another 12 years, should offer a major lesson in being open to change and realizing you can’t control everything. (I hate to tell you, you still haven’t fully learned that lesson.)

One of the biggest changes: You will move to San Diego — don’t roll your eyes — and so will Mom and Dad, and so will Sheila and her family. Sure, you swore you’d never leave New York, who leaves New York, who would ever want to live in California, blah blah blah, but it turns out to be one of the best decisions you ever made.

And your complete disinterest in politics? Well, your Facebook friends (forget it, I can’t even begin to explain what Facebook is, but just know that everyone you’ve ever met in your life will be back in touch with you because of it, not to mention a couple of thousand other people) will laugh about that. Three decades from now, a group of ultra-conservative politicians will wage a war against women’s reproductive rights, and you will become a loud, active voice fighting back. And you will win.

The area of your life in which you really win is love and family. You inexplicably knew you would marry Michael the minute you laid eyes on him last year, and you will be as in love with each other 33 years from now as you are today. Your son and daughter, adorable and fun as little kids, will grow into smart, compassionate, generous adults who are your proudest accomplishment — and people you genuinely love spending time with.

Really, the most important advice I can give you is to just say “thank you.”

So, no regrets. Don’t worry about your cooking, your hair, the degree you’re not using. They all brought you to where they are now. And that’s a pretty great place.

Love,

54-year-old Lois

P.S. I’m not sure if this is considered inside trading but if you really want to make a fortune, invest in Tampax because, 43 years after it first started, YOU WILL STILL HAVE YOUR FREAKING PERIOD!

— Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and The Huffington Post. She won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013. After being selected as an Ultimate Viewer by Oprah, she accompanied her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime.

Honest and edgy, with heart and humor

Thank God for girlfriends and shared visits to powder rooms.

That’s always been the concept behind the website InThePowderRoom.com where they’ve been entertaining women with their humor and bold, brave honesty since 2009.

Now they’re taking it to the next level with an anthology of original short stories from some of the wittiest women writers they know — stories they would only tell their closest friends, most likely from within the haven of a ladies’ room.

You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth and Other Things You’ll Only Hear from Your Friends In The Powder Room is edited by Leslie Marinelli, editor-in-chief of In The Powder Room, as well as the creative force behind the riotous blog The Bearded Iris: A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All. She was named a BlogHer Humor Voice of the Year in 2013 and 2012, and a Babble Top 100 Mom Blogger in 2011.

Besides Marinelli, the book features pieces by six other Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop alumnae (Dawn Weber, Wendi Aarons, Shari Simpson, Alexandra Rosas, Julie Stamper and Su “The Suniverse” ) as well as a recent Humor Writer of the Month, Abby Heugel.

“We are excited to have such a connection with the EBWW community,” said Kim Bongiorno, social media manager for In The Powder Room. ”The book  was the #1 Amazon.com Hot New Release and held steady in the top 10 Best Sellers List in Humor Essays upon publication.”

The anthology includes 39 (mostly) true tales by women, for women, about being women — bodily changes, relationships, careers, motherhood, aging, illness, and more — written with the humor and grit that proudly sets In The Powder Room apart. But be forewarned: these ladies are holding nothing back. They’re revealing their deep dark secrets — because it’s through our most vulnerable and honest moments that we forge the strongest connections and discover we aren’t so alone after all.

They are your friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters. Regardless of what life has dished up for you, chances are, this collection of women has been there and can relate. They’ll help you laugh it off, or hold your hand until you’re ready to laugh again. And they promise: they’ll always tell you when you have lipstick on your teeth.

“It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud when reading, but this book had me cackling,” said Robin O’Bryant, author of Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves.

You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle as well as other formats. Click here for all the ways to order the book.

For a full list of authors and their bios, click here. Most are photographed with — what else? — lipstick on their teeth.

My life drawer

We all have one. Mine is in the kitchen. Yours might be in your bedroom or maybe even in the bathroom. You know what I’m talking about. The junk drawer! That space which you promise to keep organized. You’re always going to be able to open and close it. And at any given moment in time, you’ll be able to rattle off an inventory of its contents.

All good intentions, of course. But not everything in life turns out as we had planned. Because somewhere along the way, with no consideration for your feelings, this drawer becomes a living, breathing organism pulling objects from all over the house inside its cocoon.

A menu from Joe’s Pizza Palace. It finds its way into the junk drawer alongside its siblings, those other take-out menus from various restaurants in the neighborhood.

A coupon for tampons. Into the drawer it goes.

A birthday card from the office. It’s sucked into the drawer.

Receipts, photos, nail polish, screwdrivers, shoelaces, Lego bricks, scissors, hair clips.

It’s like the quote on the Statue of Liberty: Give me your broken earring, give me your poor old glasses. Your masses of papers yearning for space, bring them to this drawer. Everything is welcome. And nothing ever leaves.

So, the other night I decided to get a handle on my junk drawer. I dumped everything out onto the living room floor, figuring this would be a task that I’d complete while watching TV.

Sitcoms came and went. The news. Late-night talk shows. And there I was still sorting through all that stuff, reliving my life over the past few years.

I’d forgotten to RSVP for a summer BBQ. I hadn’t planned on going to the party. But I now chastised myself for not responding.

Next, I came upon some negatives that needed developing. Negatives! How old were these? I hadn’t used that old 35mm camera for almost five years. Holding them to the light, I noticed that I didn’t have that wrinkle under my eye, the one that appeared the day my husband was rushed to the ER when his blood pressure was double the 100 degree heat wave we were having.

And there was a pretty wooden fan given to me in my pre-hot flash days. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t ever need this thing. Wrong. In fact, I used it while I sifted through the pile sitting in front of me.

A tape measure. We had planned on buying a new couch last year, but then the toilets overflowed and, well, a plumber was more important. We did end up with new ‘seats,’ but not the ones I had planned on.

Of course, I tossed out a few things. Pieces of paper with writing so small and faded that not even my reading glasses helped make sense of the words. Cereal coupons from the last century. Floppy discs for a computer that had long since been recycled.

But most of the items were things I wanted to keep. After all, that’s why they were there in the first place. So, I put them back in, neat and orderly.

In addition to the fact that the drawer now closed, this process had opened my eyes to some things that needed to be done.

I found a blank piece of paper and made a list. Call up old friends and see how life is treating them. Develop old photos and put in an album. See my gynecologist. Buy a new couch.

I would start on this list, well, tomorrow. Now I had to decide where to put this very important piece of paper so as not to lose it.

Hmmm…

Well, I’m sure you know where this is going. What better place than this very drawer?

Because when you get right down to it, none of this stuff is junk. From now on I’m going to call it ‘My Life Drawer.’

And I’m going to keep it well organized.

— Janie Emaus

Janie Emaus writes a humor blog for The Powder Room and blogs at The Boomer Rants.  She also blogs frequently on the Huffington Post, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous and Midlifebloggers. She was a 2013 BlogHer Voices of the Year honoree for humor. She has published several books and is working on a collection of humorous essays. One essay appears in the newly published book, You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

A writer’s oasis

Authors Matthew Goodman and Sherri Wood Emmons will lead a fall weekend writers’ retreat Nov. 1-3 at the peaceful Grailville Retreat Center in Loveland, Ohio.  It’s sponsored by Antioch Writers’ Workshop.

This retreat is designed for writers who have works of fiction (short stories or novels) or essay(s)/creative nonfiction either complete or in progress and who wish to focus on revising/completing this work and identifying next steps on their writing paths.

The cost is $450 and includes two nights of lodging and food. For information on how to apply, click here.  Deadline is Oct. 1.

The story submission deadline for Not Your Mother’s Book…On Dating is Oct. 1. ” Send us your dating experiences in the fast lane, the slow lane, or even the stuck-on-the-shoulder lane,” the editors say. “We’re looking for sassy, edgy, outlandish stories (keep your “nice,” sweet stories for you dinner guests)!” For details on compensation and how to submit a story, click here.

Chicken Soup for the Soul is working with the Alzheimer’s Association to publish a book of stories about caregiving, coping and compassion. The deadline is Oct. 15. Proceeds from this book will support the work of the Alzheimer’s Association. Selected contributors will waive their $200 fee, but will still receive 10 free books. To submit a story or for more information, click here.

Monkey Pickles, a social media company, is looking for 15-20 guest writers who are looking for exposure for their work. For more information, click here.

5 ways to blog for laughs

Okay, so it’s obvious you’re funny.  But let’s face it: transferring your bubbly personality to a blog post is tricky.

Erma wasn’t funny because she burnt toast  — everyone burns toast.  She’s funny because of the truths, surprises and irony she carried throughout the story.  Her writing is timeless.

Readers today are so . . . challenged?  Sluggish?  Too distracted by Duck Dynasty?

Anymore, readers don’t have the attention span to read every detail of your 26-hour laundry disaster. In blog writing, use a word max to help you revise and revise until you don’t just have a story, you have a tightly crafted joke in story form.

To capture and keep their attention, try these five tricks:

1. Keep your posts under 300 words.

2. Use short choppy sentences.

3. Use short paragraphs (one sentence is sometimes plenty).

4. Think of your post as a joke. Every element of your post should be working toward that punch line at the end.  If you don’t have a punch line, rewrite until you do.

5. In crafting the punch line for your post, always go back to your intro and find a way to bring it all together.

Thanks to the interwebs, we can all channel our inner Erma.  And although there will only ever be one Erma, there is also only one you.  So use that hilarious voice of yours to bring more laughter into the world, one short blog post at a time!

— Polly Scott

Inspired by the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Polly Scott wrote and published a book, Forget About Grammar: How to Write a Better Blog Post. She teaches an online writing course and writes a humor blog, Coming to Grips.

Hairballs and Hamlet

“To sleep, perchance to dream — Ay, there’s the rub.”

Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)

This is what Shakespeare said through the pensive Dane in one of The Bard’s most famous plays. I’m guessing Shakespeare may have had a cat. The “rub” he’s talking about is the very witching time of night when the cat wakes up and rubs his forehead against your face, just because he can.

With a cat, there’s little sleeping and lots of rubbing.

Our cat, Fala (named for Franklin Roosevelt’s dog), is 16 and is suffering the slings and arrows of aging. He is cranky, bossy and whiny.

Among his ailments are some digestive issues, including hairballs.  We awaken unhappily from precious REM sleep and by then the nocturnal nausea is mostly over, except for a few laboring hacks. We sleep again, and the wretched retching is forgotten until morning when the bare foot encounters the warm, furry remnants on the cold, oak floor. Something, indeed, is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Fala pretends to have no knowledge of his fe-line-onious nighttime ailments.

We use an over-the-counter remedy, a sticky malt-flavored (so says the label) gel in a tube. Here are the directions: “To help eliminate hairballs, feed adult cats and rabbits a one-inch ribbon daily until symptoms disappear. Give between meals either by placing on your finger or on the front paw where it can be licked off.”

The label also notes “Satisfaction guaranteed.” (My question is “whose satisfaction? Mine? The cat? The rabbit? How did rabbits get involved in this?)

Anyone who has ever lived with a cat (note I did not say “owned” a cat) knows that cats won’t do anything you want them to do. Fala easily surmised if I approached him in a certain way, I was going to put sticky brown goo all over his paw. Though this be madness, there is method in it.

He obviously did not read the directions or the marketing commentary because he ran in the other direction.

I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.

I’m trying to outsmart him with what is good for him. I squeeze an inch-long ribbon from the tube and put it on my right hand, and casually sit near Fala on the couch. I rest my hand near him. I unobtrusively move it closer and closer until under his nose. Fala smells the fragrant malt flavor and licks it off.

Fala thought it was his idea, so it worked several times.

Last night while attempting to seduce Fala into my little melodrama, the phone rang, and it was for me.

Do I “ungoo” and waste a batch?

Or do I sit at my desk and talk on the phone with this glob of gunk smeared all over my hand?

When I find myself in one of my self-imposed “I Love Lucy” situations, I must say, “Look at yourself, woman. You are a grown-up, and you are trying to entice a dumb animal to take his medication. Just grab him and shove it down his throat.”

Alas, anyone who has been owned by a cat knows this is easier said than done.

— Amy McVay Abbott

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer who deeply apologizes to scholars of William Shakespeare.  She likes to hear from readers at amy@amyabbottwrites.com.  She is the author of two books, A Piece of Her Mind and The Luxury of Daydreams, both available in print and ebooks on Amazon.

Date night. This isn’t how I remember it

Recently, I was reading an article called “10 Ways to Bring Back the Romance in Your Marriage.” I immediately showed it to Kenny and asked him, smiling, “What do you think? Should we try some of these?” He instantly got that panicked looked he reserves for conversations of this nature, undoubtedly imagining the 101 things he doesn‘t want to do to put the spice back in a marriage he thinks is fine just the way it is.

Let’s start with #3, I suggested. It’s simple. Make a Date Night, like we did when we were, well…dating. You know, get dressed up, go out to a romantic restaurant, gaze into each other’s eyes like besotted fools, spend several hours reassuring each other of our mutual, eternal love, then go home and make passionate love all night long, finally curling up together like a human corkscrew, falling asleep in a state of Phase 1 bliss. Kenny looked over and surprised me with “Sure. Why not?”

Well, hot damn. Mama’s going on a date.

First task: Pick a night. Saturday? Nope, kids are coming for the weekend. Okay. The next one? Can’t do it. Working all weekend. Fine. The one after that? Uh-uh. That’s your annual golf trip. For heaven’s sake. The one after that?? It’ll work?? Great.

Next, pick a restaurant. “How about the Mexican restaurant?” “Not a chance,” Kenny replied, “The last time I ate there, it took me 3 days to digest the giant cheeseball stuck in my intestines.” (Yeah, no romance needed here.) “Okay, then. How about Thai food?” “Don’t know what that is,” he stated, “And if I don’t recognize it, I’m not eating it.” “Fine. We like that one downtown with the deck and the great view. How about that?” “Isn’t that the place that serves those complimentary crab thingies? I threw up all night, remember?” Could’ve done without that visual, but okay, crab cakes are out. “Let’s just settle for the historic hotel, with dinner out on the patio. Deal?” Done.

Now what to wear?

As I perused by closet, it become clear that my clothing choices had become less about “dancing til they shut this party down” and more about “can I wash this after my baby granddaughter pees on it?” I ransacked my wardrobe, trying on everything I thought might work, but it became rapidly clear that over the years, as my boobs got longer and my butt got wider, my necklines went up and my skirt lengths went down, until I was starting to resemble my great-Aunt Agnes from Idaho, only without the weird under-eye mole and hair snood.

“Where are you going?” Kenny asked, as I grabbed my purse and headed out the door. “Shopping,” I said, “I have nothing to wear for Date Night.” “I knew it,” I heard him mumble to himself, “We haven’t even left yet, and it’s already costing us a ton of money.”

A trip to my favorite boutique quickly unearthed a fabulous (albeit widely overpriced) black jumpsuit, with sexy, slightly-off-the-shoulder sleeves and elegant wide-leg pants. Trying to ignore the tiny voice in my head that said this was actually just a grown-up onesie, I plunked down our credit card with barely enough time for the salesclerk to ask, brightly, “So, what shoes will you be wearing?” Oh crap.

Mentally reviewing my current shoe wardrobe, I knew that I had nothing that would work. Over the years, stilettos had been summarily tossed out to make room for low platforms and sneakers, neither of which scream “Come get me, Big Guy.” Date Night required heels. The kind even he knows you can’t walk in for more than three steps. And let’s get real here. Those shoes weren’t actually made for walking. They’re for showing off in the bedroom.

The problem was that a) I hadn’t worn heels for years, and they require practice to prevent humiliating and decidedly unsexy faceplants or sprained ankles, and b) the sight of me strutting my middle-age stuff in nothing but high heels in the bedroom would undoubtedly send Hubs into gales of unrestrained laughter or screaming for an eye-wash station. I finally compromised with a pair of strappy silver sandals with a high wedge. Not exactly stilettos, but compared to my three-year-old Payless sneakers, he’ll love them.

Then finally, the big night arrived.

Sitting at the restaurant, looking over the wine list, Kenny looked up and said, “Have you seen these prices?? Who the hell pays $100 for a bottle of wine??” “I agree,” I said, “That’s not us. Check out the entree prices.” “You know,” he said, “For the price of this dinner, we could get the shelving for the pantry.” “That’s true,” I replied, “And the kids called today. They need to borrow some money.” “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked. “Yep,” I said, “Let’s ditch this place and go get chips and a pitcher of margaritas at our favorite taco stand.”

Four hours later, faces hurting from laughing and non-stop talking over too many margaritas and three bowls of guacamole, we stumbled out of the cab and into the house, heading down the hall to the bedroom.

“Tonight was so much fun,” I said, “But I’m really tired. Would you mind if we didn’t…” “Oh thank God,” he replied, “I’m exhausted. Can we schedule that for next weekend?”

It was a perfect evening. And I still have the shoes.

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in “Life Well Blogged, Parenting Gag Reels, Hilarious Writes and Wrongs,” sold through Amazon.com.

Reflections of Erma