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Navigating the potholes of self-publishing

(Jen Havice’s interview with author Mary Farr originally appeared on Studio30+, a social media site for writers. Reposted by permission.)

For anyone considering diving into the world of book publishing, there are so many issues to think about. These days an author can choose to go in one of several directions: traditional, self-publish or some combination of the two. It can be a minefield of questions that need to get answered even before beginning the process.

This is why I sought out a colleague and friend who recently published a book using a hybrid model, combining some of the best aspects of traditional and self-publishing. Mary Farr, author of Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and The Power of Yes, kindly agreed to answer some questions about how she published her third book outside of the traditional model.

Q: You have published books before traditionally. Why did you decide to go the self-published route?

A: I have published three books, and each has been with a “traditional” publisher, meaning the publisher purchased my manuscript outright. In each case, the publisher managed the design, editing, production, printing, sales and distribution of the book. In each case, I received a modest advance and a small royalty going forward.

My reason for choosing the self-publishing route was twofold:

One, it’s very time consuming and not particularly rewarding to research and query publishers who might or might not be interested in a book. In the case of Never Say Neigh, I have worked as a writer and marketing professional for years and felt reasonably confident that the content of this book would resonate with several audiences. Hence, I was prepared to take the risk to invest in myself.

Two, writing is labor intensive, hard work, and few authors enjoy grand financial success. In the interest of fairness it seemed to me that every author deserves reasonable remuneration for his or her work. Self-publishing can offer better financial rewards than the traditional route, provided authors carefully research their publishing partner and ask plenty of questions before setting out to produce a book.

Q: You ended up publishing Never Say Neigh using more of a hybrid model. Can you explain what that means and why you decided to use that model?

A: Like so many of our country’s institutions, the publishing world is churning with change. I chose to work with what I call a hybrid publisher, meaning this publisher provided a variety of publishing packages and individual services that included both traditional and self-directed tasks.  By traditional, I’m referring to access to experienced book editors, designers, book sales and distribution systems, e-book conversion and distribution, and book reviewers. By self-directed, I’m referring to the expectation that I assumed a lot of responsibility for completing the production steps. We used online software to communicate throughout the entire process. This included a message center for ongoing questions and answers; an author coach to help with the process; questionnaires regarding audiences, book cover design, book interior design and layout, recommended retail price, and a book launch and marketing plan.

Q: After having published with the hybrid model, would you do it again?

A: A few questions remain about whether or not I would use this model of publishing again. It’s pretty clear the entire industry is testing new processes and standards. For example, the software program we used to communicate and complete production steps seemed like an excellent tool, though one that could use refining. Occasionally the task sequence felt a bit off, and in the end I was confused about who did the final proof reading. Having said that, I felt this group offered clear, straightforward advice and a broad range of important services. I’ll have a better answer to this question in six months.

Q: Do you have any advice for writers interested in self-publishing their first book?

A: On one hand, self-publishing throws the door open to virtually anybody who wants to write a book and is willing to invest a little (or a lot) of money. On the other hand, throwing the door wide open does not equate to success. There is no shortage of expensive and discouraging “pot holes” for an author to fall into. I am still learning, though can offer some well-tested advice:

Good editing is absolutely essential if an author wants to turn out a professional product. Spell check or a friend who majored in English cannot provide the level of editing a manuscript deserves.

A distribution plan is a must. Ask your publisher how they plan to help you distribute your book. Once friends and family have made their purchases, we need a well-oiled system of managing sales, distribution and book storage.

Interview publishers before signing a contract; ask detailed questions about their contracts; compare their contracts to other publisher’s; budget wisely, and don’t purchase more than you can comfortably afford; develop a comprehensive marketing plan, including a website, social media accounts, book reviews and other means of reaching your audiences.

Make it fun. Whether you intend to publish a memoir for your family reunion or hope to knock out a hot mystery novel, don’t forget the real joy of writing and sharing our ideas with others.

(Mary Farr’s book is available for sale on her author’s website and at Amazon.com. Mary and her writing companion, Noah can also be found at www.noahvailpublishing.com. Noah even tweets.)

Little old ladies in great big cars

She may be a stereotype, but like the elusive Bigfoot, she does exist … the Little Old Lady in the Great Big Car. I encountered her in the parking lot at McDonald’s last week and, true to stereotype, she used a parking space and a half to dock her boat.

Here’s how we met:

I had an unusual half hour to myself one morning and decided to indulge in a characteristic Lynn-lapse: coffee and calories at Mickey Dee’s. I enjoyed my morning paper, gobbled the McMuffin and sipped my coffee. When I was done, I tidied up my table then headed out the door with a nearly full cup of coffee.

I am not a fast drinker of coffee. Under the right circumstances,  a cup of coffee can last me for an hour or more. I don’t mind the gradual transition from hot to lukewarm to cold.  The cooling process is part of my coffee ritual.

So, leaving McDonald’s I had a steaming styrofoam cup as my to-go treat.

When I walked outside, I noticed  big blue boat of a car parked next to my modest tan sedan. I paused at the rear bumper of my car. Two reasons for the pause: 1) I could not go any farther and 2) I could not figure out what to do next.

As I get older, I find that it takes me longer to assimilate information and decide what to do next. I stared at the two cars: big blue boat … modest mid-size.  Eventually, my brain put the pieces together. The space between my car and the big blue boat was so small that I could not squeeze into the space and open the door on the driver’s side of my car.

“Okay, what are you going to do now?” my brain asked itself. During the ensuing pause, my brain gathered more information … the driver of the big blue boat was exiting her vehicle. Sadly, she reinforced my stereotype.

Out of the driver’s door of the big blue boat stepped a very small, very old lady. Her hair was dyed red and curled tight. She had applied rouge and lipstick with happy abandon. The expression on her face reminded me of Aunt Clara on Bewitched, befuddled and content.

I watched her totter into McDonald’s, oblivious to the dilemma she had created for me.

My brain returned to assessing the situation and seeking solutions. Gradually it dawned on me that I would have to enter my car through the passenger’s side  and crawl over the gear shift into the driver’s seat. This, I thought, should be easy.

I opened the passenger’s door, placed my coffee cup into the coffee holder and plopped into the passenger’s seat. From there, all I had to do was hoist my body over the center panel … gear shift, cup holders and various amenities provided by the savvy Saturn engineers.

I counted to three and hoisted … not quite past the center panel. Actually, I sat on my coffee cup. My verbal response to sitting on hot coffee was not socially acceptable.

From the hot, coffee-saturated center panel, I hoisted myself once again and landed in the driver’s seat. My coat was soaked; my pants were soaked; my center console was soaked; the passenger’s seat was soaked. Aunt Clara was enjoying her Egg McMuffin.

Perhaps that episode was payback for my believing that all little old ladies drive great big cars. Certainly there are many women, not unlike myself, who drive small and/or modest mid-size cars. We blend into traffic and into parking spaces. We travel unnoticed.

Maybe there is only one little old Aunt Clara in a big blue boat, stalking me and amusing herself by annoying me. I’m just not sure. I don’t think clearly after sitting in hot coffee.

—Lynn Albright

Lynn Albright is a South Dakota author. Her career has included writing for newspapers and education organizations. Now sort-of-retired, she is working to overcome her distrust of technology and start blogging. In addition to wrestling with technology, Lynn is a proud member of the Baby Boom generation and is working on her first novel.

When is a footlong not a foot long?

(This humorous essay by Nick Thomas originally appeared in the Mountain Democrat on Feb. 22. Reposted by permission of the author.)

When is a Footlong not a Foot Long?

The answer, apparently, is when it’s a Subway sandwich. It seems these tasty, elongated snacks haven’t been measuring up to vigilant customers’ expectations lately.

Armed with their trusty yardsticks, pernickety patrons around the country have resolutely sunk the Sub’s promotional promise of being one foot long (or exactly 12 inches for the dimensionally challenged). Many of the $5 Subway sandwiches have been “weighing in” at a stunted 11 inches.

Turning to social media, some disgruntled customers have been content to merely voice their outrage, while others hope to extract compensation through litigation. A class-action lawsuit against Subway seeks fast-food justice for the receding rolls.

For me, however, the revelation poses more evocative questions about the advertising claims of other fast food favorites.

For instance, does this mean for the past three decades Ronald McDonald has been peddling a Quarter Pounder that doesn’t contain exactly 0.25 lbs of hamburger meat?

And should we now have doubts about the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise? Perhaps Colonel Sanders’ Original Recipe of 11 herbs and spices has been covertly trimmed to a meager 10 to reduce costs. In fact, I’ve long been suspicious of KFC advertising ever since I learned that founder Harland Sanders wasn’t even a real military colonel. (It was an honorary title given by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.)

Don’t think Hardees can escape unscathed from this shameless parade of consumer swindle, either. Their Memphis BBQ Six Dollar Thickburger actually costs (depending on the state taxes) around $6.30. That’s fraud Hardees, pure fraud.

Better lawyer-up if you plan to visit an In-N-Out Burger, and have a hankering for their Double-Double cheeseburgers.  Because here, two times two does not equal four meat patties. One “double” refers to the meat, while the other “double” refers to the cheese slices. That’s just plain wrong.

And what recourse does the consumer have if it turns out that the Dirty Rice side dish sold by the Bojangles’ chain is actually clean?

Along these lines, here’s a shocking revelation about the Denny’s breakfast menu: their Senior Omelette doesn’t contain any real seniors at all, just bacon!

Will the culinary cops ever investigate these apparent breaches of fast food marketing?

While we’re at it, let’s send the irony police to raid Dunkin’ Donuts for having a nutrition section on their web site.

And perhaps SWAT teams should probe a potential hazard at Burger King – specifically, the Whopper Jr. Sandwich Meal. Theoretically, the opposing terms “Whopper” and “Jr” could function dangerously like matter combining with antimatter, generating primal culinary forces that could cancel each other out violently, and detonate during digestion.

But returning to the mischief afoot at Subway.

The company has now publically addressed the Footlong fraud and expressed regret for “any instance where we did not fully deliver on our promise to our customers.”

Despite their contrite tone, Subway’s corporate penitence hasn’t quelled the wrath of customers accusing the company of selling them short.

In fact, when my last sandwich turned out to be a runt, I first considered tossing my Sub into the street in front of the store and publically protesting by smashing it with a two-by-four (which, by the way, are actually1½ by 3½ by inches – watch out Lowes, the lumber lawyers may be heading your way).

Fortunately, a cooler head prevailed. I resolved the shriveled sandwich issue without destroying a perfectly good lunch while still expressing my displeasure to Subway. Anticipating my $5 Footlong would only be 11 inches, I simply handed the salesperson $4, and headed for the door.

— Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas’ features and columns have appeared in more than 270 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. Read more of his work on his blog, “Along These Lines: A Little Silly Seriousness, in a Seriously Silly World.”

Paris in the spring

The 2013 Paris Book Festival has issued a call for entries to its annual event honoring the best of international publishing.

The 2013 Paris Book Festival will consider non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography, children’s books, compilations/anthologies, young adult, how-to, e-books, cookbooks, audio/spoken word, wild card (anything goes), photography/art, poetry, unpublished, spiritual and romance works. There is no date of publication deadline and entries can be in French or English.

Grand prize is $1,500 cash and a flight to Paris for a gala awards ceremony in late May.

Submitted works will be judged by a panel of industry experts using the following criteria:

1) General excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story.

2) The potential of the work to reach a wider audience.

FESTIVAL RULES: Paris Book Festival submissions cannot be returned. Each entry must contain the official entry form, including your e-mail address and contact telephone number. All shipping and handling costs must be borne by entrants.

NOTIFICATION AND DEADLINES: Each entry will be confirmed via e-mail and the winning entries will be announced on the competition’s web site. Because of the anticipated high volume of entries, the organizers can only respond to e-mail inquiries.

DEADLINE: Submissions in each category must be received by the close of business on April 25, 2013. Winners in each category will be notified by e-mail and on the web site. Please note that judges read and consider submissions on an ongoing basis, comparing early entries with later submissions at our meetings.

Entry forms are available online at parisbookfestival.com or may be faxed/e-mailed to you. Please send an e-mail for fax requests. Applications must be accompanied by a non-refundable entry fee of $50 in the form of a check, money order or PayPal online payment in U.S. dollars for each submission. Multiple submissions are permitted, but each entry must be accompanied by a separate form and entry fee.

For contest details and frequently asked questions, visit the festival’s website. more information, send an email to ParisBookFestival@sbcglobal.net or call 323-665-8080.

Lost and found

(This essay appears in Not Your Mother’s Book…On Dogs. Reposted by permission of the author.)

Murphy’s Law — as it applies to dogs — decrees that mischievious things will only happen when Alpha Mom is on the phone, in the shower or otherwise occupied. A corollary to this is, the lower the probability of an event actually happening, the higher the price tag for the owner.

At first glance, the latest canine caper appeared more competitive than costly—you might even say a dog-eat-dog game of chess: two large canines circling the family chess board while two smaller dogs in the peanut gallery egged them on. The Collie appeared as if she were about to nose a chess piece to a more strategic location on the pink-and-white onyx board, while the yellow Lab marked time by thumping his tail obsessively as he deliberated his rebuttal. Meanwhile, the two Schnauzers sent cryptic messages to each other with their eyebrows while the Maine Coon, our sole cat, reported for her job as eyewitness.

When your animal family consists of four dogs and one cat, silence is usually a scarce commodity. When it lingers too long, worry becomes the operative word. So after several hours of unsolicited quiet, I peeked, suspiciously, out of my home office. Right away, I sensed something amiss. No bloody paw prints or broken lamps, but sure enough, one of the dogs had pushed past a three-foot-high, heavy cardboard barrier I had erected to block them from the living room. My longtime fail-safe security measure had let me down.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. Our chess board remained on the coffee table, but chess pieces littered the carpet as if a band of robbers had ransacked the room. When I finally mustered the courage to assess the damage, I saw the usual suspects gazing back at me with their all-too-familiar goofy grins. As if in a police lineup, they endeavored to deflect blame onto the other guy. Heads pivoting, legs shuffling back and forth, they struggled to look noncommittal. But I knew from past experience that appearances could be deceiving. The ho-hum attitude was a blatant attempt at denial. They knew the living room was off limits — hadn’t I read the riot act to them several times already?

What with their records of past crimes, I was sorely tempted to throw the book at them — dispense with a trial of their peers, invoke the three-times-you’re-out law and sentence them to life in the slammer. A daily diet of kibble and water — no biscuits or cookies for those rascals — sounded about right. But first, I would I prolong their agony a bit and investigate the crime scene. Like any other television CSI professional, I ascertained that except for the chess set (obviously torn asunder by a tsunami), the only visible damage was the ton of multicolored dog hairs pasted onto the furniture.

An hour later, I was still searching. Except for discovering some old newspapers squashed beneath the sofa cushions and a few Tootsie Roll wrappers, I was slowly getting nowhere in my investigation. Plus, my activities were beginning to resemble housework — something I did reluctantly, if at all.

It was then I had an epiphany — of sorts. The problem was not what the accused felons had left behind, but rather what they had absconded with. I knew enough about the game of chess to deduce that the white rook was missing and unaccounted for. In what I hoped was my best law enforcement and politically correct voice, I asked, “OK, which one of you critters was nutty enough to ingest a chess piece?”

“Chauncey,” the Lab, was the most likely candidate. His 9-month-old rap sheet already stretched several leash-lengths long, warning of an inherited tendency to devour everything in sight. At current count, he had chewed several ballpoint pens, gnawed through two lawn sprinkler heads and wolfed down a pair of raw chicken breasts. And that was just in one week. The word “mischievious” did not do him justice.

So needless to say I wound up in my vet’s waiting room at 5 p.m. on that Friday night, awaiting the results of X-rays. While leafing through an old copy of Cat Fancy, I was imagining the worst: emergency surgery to the tune of several thousand dollars. Meanwhile, the dog was throwing himself a pity party. With his hindquarters tucked under my chair and his paws propped under his head, he looked as if some bully of a Great Dane had come along and swiped his best bone. A closer observation revealed my Lab puppy was really a study in contrasts. Although his eyes said, “Help, I’m a prisoner of my own stupidity,” his mouth seemed frozen in an impish smile, as if boasting of rare accomplishments.

“Wait until you see this,” I heard the vet say in an amazed tone from the back of his office. In my haste to confront the consequences of Chauncey’s latest crime, I nearly tripped over my prisoner. An 11″ x 14″ image of the canine digestive tract illuminated the room. Toward the bottom of the X-ray, in what I took to be Chauncey’s stomach, I could discern the unmistakable outline of a miniature castle. Sure enough, there was the missing rook. Without medical intervention, I knew my 60-pound pup could not eliminate the imported hand-carved chess piece.

“What do we do now?” I asked weakly.

Looking at my ghostly pale face, the vet could tell I was in no shape to deal with a four-figure surgical procedure, followed by a lengthy recuperation with a young active patient. “I think we can get him to barf it up,” he said, with a devilish smile.

Fifteen minutes later, I, too, was chuckling. Thanks to the wonders of fast-working emetics, the accused had taken responsibility for his crime and confessed. He probably did not feel any better for it, but I certainly did. At $125, divesting the cat — no — dog burglar of his take was a real bargain. Besides, law and order had prevailed.

Standing behind the reception room counter waving the bill, the veterinary technician resembled a trial judge about to rap her gavel. Smiling, she handed over the recently recovered chess piece, which I hurriedly jammed into my pocket. I mumbled, “Case closed.”

As my faithful friend and I exited through the double doors, I thought once again of Murphy’s Law and other everyday axioms, such as the fallacious, “lightning-doesn’t-strike-twice” one. That’s when I knew tomorrow I’d be making a pink-and-white chess set deposit at Goodwill. Call it crime prevention.

— Janice Arenofsky

Janice Arenofsky is a freelance writer from Scottsdale, Ariz. Her humor pieces have been published in national venues such as Verbatim, Cats and Kittens, HumorOutcasts.com and Purrr.

A Tina Fey moment

(Reposted by permission of the author, Nancy Berk. This piece first appeared on HumorOutcasts.com on Feb. 12.)

The countdown to college admission is filled with anxiety. As a parent, I’ve been through it with both of my children and lived to tell about it. In fact, I documented the experience, humor and strategy in a book. College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get Into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind is a parent survival guide for the college-bound journey. It’s always easier to talk about college admission once the experience is behind you. Little did I know that, after the book’s publication, I’d be wrapped up in another exciting admission decision.

In early 2012, I was contacted to sign a release for my book to appear in Admission, a feature film starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. After confirming this wasn’t a hoax by mean-spirited strangers or family pranksters, my shock turned to excitement. College Bound and Gagged might be in a movie. True, it wasn’t like I had been offered a cameo, but in many ways it was better. Authors become attached to their work, so when people recognize our books it’s like complimenting our children. Besides, my book cover would fare much better in HD than I would.

I’ve often compared the college-bound process to childbirth. Both include plenty of labor, anxiety and know-it-alls telling you what to do. My new admission (the movie) situation wasn’t as stressful, but there have been tense moments. First, the countdown to acceptance (or, in this case, the verdict regarding book inclusion) was longer than a pregnancy. Your mind can cover a lot of positive and negative ground in 11 months.

What if the book is accepted? What if it ends up on the cutting room floor?

Maybe the book cover will have a close-up! What if the production assistant spills coffee on it right before the scene?

Maybe Tina Fey and Paul Rudd will say something funny about it. What if Tina Fey and Paul Rudd make fun of it? (I now would be happy with either of these options.)

When I’m done with the optimism/pessimism imagery, I spend my spare time compulsively checking IMDb for delivery updates. After all, it is the film industry’s sonogram.

Admission opens in theaters nationwide March 22, but thankfully, last week I was given an early admission opportunity when Focus Features included me on its preview screening list. My excitement was tempered only by the pressure of this event. I thought Admission would require more concentration than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy if I was to spot a fleeting image of College Bound and Gagged. I imagined all of the possibilities as I contemplated the higher ed version of Where’s Waldo?

What if I’m laughing so hard, I miss a glimpse of the book?

What if I snooze like I did during Lincoln?

What if I drop my popcorn and miss the big moment?

What if I need a bathroom break?

Yes, I knew enough about the film industry to realize that scenes change and stuff happens, especially in post-production where editors trim out the nonsense to make magic. And at the risk of sounding all Oscar-y, I really was happy that College Bound and Gagged made it onto someone’s radar whether it made it on the big screen or not. And of course, I took solace in the fact that you’re not out of the game until you scour the DVD outtakes.

Spoiler Alert: You’ll have to wait until March to see Admission, but my exciting news is that College Bound and Gagged got accepted!!! You can watch the trailer here, but you’ll have to wait for the release to see the book’s close-up (If only I could get that close to Paul Rudd and Tina Fey).

P.S. You’ll love the movie. Only Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (and an amazing cast and crew) could make parents want to sit through college admission all over again.

— Nancy Berk, Ph.D.

Nancy Berk is a clinical psychologist, author of College Bound and Gagged and a blogger for The Huffington Post, USA Today College, MORE magazine and TravelingMom.com. A columnist, podcast host (“Whine at 9,” “College Mom Minute”) and speaker, Nancy has used her comedic touch on stage in places like TEDx and 30 Rock. She served on the 2012 EBWW faculty.

I heart Erma

Next week is Erma Bombeck’s birthday. She would be 86 if she were alive today. When I tell folks I write a column, they ask what kind. I say, kinda like Erma Bombeck’s.

This Valentine’s Day I will attempt to pay tribute to the woman whose typewriter ribbon I am not worthy to change, who inadvertently taught me how to write, laugh, parent and appreciate what was most important in life.

If you want a glimpse into the life of an ordinary American housewife in the ’60s and ’70s, crack open one of her many books. She covered it all: the mystery of the lost sock, leftovers, teenagers and growing old. The ’60s were hard times — families were in crisis, and we felt the generation gap. This woman stood in that gap and managed to appreciate the next generation with all their quirks and hang-ups. Our mothers and grandmothers read and related to Erma Bombeck. They appreciated that some woman out there was writing about their own experiences.

Erma was prolific. At its height, her column, “At Wit’s End,” was running three times a week in 900 newspapers around the country. Her column ran from 1965-1996, the year of her premature death. She wrote 15 books, many of them best sellers. She appeared on “Good Morning America” and other television shows.

Her humor is legendary, but many of her columns were poignant. In Motherhood — The Second Oldest Profession, one chapter is titled “Everybody Else’s Mother.” She wrote about that age when your kids compare you to “everybody else’s mother.” Someone is always doing something different (which your kid prefers). But in the end she wrote:

“Everybody else’s mother is very real and for a few years she’s a formidable opponent to mothers everywhere. Then one day she disappears. In her place is 90 pounds (give or take) of rebellion and independence, engaging in verbal combat, saying for themselves what Everybody Else’s Mother used to say for them.”

Unfortunately, I was that kid. I used “everybody else’s parent” all the time. I hope my mom got some comfort from Erma’s words. My kids, not so much. I am a veteran now of “verbal combat.”

Perhaps Erma’s most popular piece flying around the Internet is “If I Had My Life to Live Over.”  She did not write it when she was dying of cancer, but rather in 1979. I have come to appreciate this last part of the column:

“But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute…look at it and really see it… live it…and never give it back. Stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t worry about who doesn’t like you, who has more, or who’s doing what. Instead, let’s cherish the relationships we have with those who DO love us.”

I know I read her columns before I had kids, but it was after I became a mother that I really enjoyed her work. With so many kids literally climbing the walls when I was home, when times were very difficult and I did not think I was going to make it, this small paragraph from the end of her book, At Wit’s End, carried me through. When asked why she wrote this book, she cited many reasons, but credits author Faith Baldwin:

“To be honest, however, I will have to admit that I wrote the book for the original model — the one who was overkidsed, underpatienced, with four years of college and chapped hands all year around. I knew if I didn’t follow Faith’s advice and laugh a little at myself, then I would surely cry.”

These few lines helped me. When I wanted to cry over my circumstances, I picked up her books and laughed. Actually, I laughed and cried at the same time. You see, so many of us who are raising kids or caring for others feel totally overlooked and invisible. Erma, while just talking about her own experiences, shined a light on all of us who take care of others — whether we are moms, dads, caregivers, teachers, etc. She appreciated what she did, and it spilled over to all of us.

Erma once wrote a column about Edith Bunker, the longsuffering wife of that loudmouth Archie from “All My Family.” Erma was sad that there were few Edith Bunkers in the world — few folks who listen, who look you in the eyes, who care about what you are saying instead of thinking of what to say next, someone who really hears. I don’t know if Erma was that much like Edith Bunker. I can’t see her taking too much of Archie’s crap, but I do think she listened and was attentive to what her readers wanted.

Thank you, Erma, for all you did. I agree with your sentiment to your kids in the dedication in Aunt Erma’s Cope Book, “If I blow it raising them…nothing else I do will matter very much.” I think most of us raising kids would agree.

— Donna Fentanes

Blogger Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Pacifica. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday life.

Self-maid man

This humorous column by Jerry Zezima originally appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Feb. 1, 2013. Reposted by permission. 

I could never see myself in a little French maid’s outfit, except on weekends while doing my household chores, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever wear one because: (a) I probably couldn’t find something like that in my size and (b) I don’t speak French.

But that didn’t stop me from becoming a maid recently when I joined a team from The Maids, a national house cleaning service, and helped clean my own house.

I wasn’t required to wear a little French maid’s outfit — a yellow Maids polo shirt and a pair of khakis composed the official attire — but I did have to work hard to get all the dirt and dust off floors and out of corners so the house would be, as it often isn’t after I am done with my chores, spotless.

I called The Maids because a husband’s work is never done and, in nearly 35 years of marriage, I have improved my vacuuming, scrubbing and dusting skills to the point where I wondered if I were good enough to be a professional.

“We’ll find out,” said Ken Quenstedt, who owns The Maids franchise that serves northwestern Suffolk County, N.Y., where I live.

Ken came over in a yellow Maids car with four team members: Maria, Mayra, Melanie and Ingris. They were soon joined by Jenny, the field supervisor.

My wife, Sue, who keeps a clean house despite my help, served as the domestic supervisor.

“Jerry didn’t know how to work the washing machine until a few years ago,” Sue told Ken. “But he’s a lot better at chores than he used to be.”

“I’m best at ironing,” I bragged, “because I’m a member of the press.”

“Vacuuming is my specialty,” said Ken, like me an empty nester whose wife appreciates his (not always superlative) efforts around the house.

I thought I was pretty good at it, too, but neither Ken nor I had anything on Maria, who had a space-age vacuum cleaner strapped to her back. It looked like a scuba tank, from which extended a hose with an attachment that Maria expertly maneuvered over the carpeting, along the ceiling and around corners.

“May I try it?” I asked Maria, who graciously helped me strap on the vacuum and showed me how to operate it without getting entangled in the cord, which I did anyway.

“You’re doing a good job,” she said.

I did an even better job of dusting after watching Ingris, the team leader, deftly use her dust cloth on the bureaus and nightstands in the master bedroom.

“I usually dust around things,” I confessed.

“You have to move them,” said Ingris, who was impressed when I followed instructions and did the job right.

“Could I be part of the team?” I asked.

“Yes!” she answered.

Jenny was impressed with my toilet-cleaning prowess after showing me how to correctly use a brush in the porcelain convenience.

“Very good,” she declared.

I was flush with excitement. It was my turn to be impressed after watching Melanie scrub down the tile in another bathroom until it was immaculate.

When I noticed that the team members were wearing shoe covers, Mayra explained, “We don’t want to bring dirt into the house.”

“My feet are so big,” I said, “I should wear garbage bags.”

Instead, the foursome used garbage bags for, yes, garbage, which they emptied out of wastebaskets.

After an hour and a half, they were finished.

“The house has never looked so clean!” Sue exclaimed.

I thanked the hardworking crew for a magnificent job and told Ken that they inspired me to be an even better house cleaner.

“Whenever you do chores,” he suggested, “you can wear the yellow shirt.”

“At least,” I said with a sigh of relief, “I won’t have to wear a little French maid’s outfit.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. The author of Leave it to Boomer, he has just finished his second book, The Empty Nest Chronicles, slated to be published later this year. He has won four humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month in March 2012.

Reflections of Erma