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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Feudalee and Bertram

My husband and I love making stuff up. We aren’t quite normal. We repeat this nonsense so often that it becomes a part of our story. Soon, we are not even sure if it is not true.

Take this morning, a perfectly agreeable Saturday morning.  We slept in, a lovely bonus sleep time with no alarm clock. The cat slept between us, and it was just chilly enough to enjoy a crumpled blanket over my face.

From next door, the house my husband calls “The Old Thompson Place,” we heard much noise, and I got out of bed to investigate.  Someone was moving in.

How disrespectful at this hour, the early side of 10 a.m.?  Who moves into a house at such an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning?

There was a colossal U-Haul parked in the driveway next to one of those shipping containers MSNBC pundit Ed Schulz points at in his “Lean Forward” commercial.  Strangers wandered in and out of the house.

My first thought was so unselfish.

“Where will we park our cars next week when our driveway gets resurfaced?”

My heart filled with love and a welcoming grace towards our new neighbors.

My husband — also filled with the spirit of the Welcome Wagon — and I discussed potential rules and regulations for our new neighbors, who dared to wake us up.

How will we share these rules with them?  Perhaps a cake with a note cooked inside, wrapped in foil?  Maybe I’ll wear a tin-foil hat when I deliver the list.

1. No irritating yappy dogs.  Or if they have a dog, it must be mute and able to use a cat box.

2. No children. If they have children, they must be perennially 11 years old and fluent in Suzuki violin, preferably Brahms.  Absolutely no drums or large horns.

3. The new neighbors must provide lawn care on our schedule. The neighbors must never mow more often than every 10 days, and only between 4 and 5 p.m. on Mondays when we are not home.  The prior resident used an extremely large tractor with headlights and mowed night or day, summer, winter or fall.  He once mowed on Christmas Eve.

After we established the rules, my husband suggested that I take over “a nice hot oven meal.”  We both laughed uproariously at that one.  He’s quite the joker!

It was still early, only 11 a.m. now, so we went out for breakfast. Still grumpy from the early awakening, I was a little hostile that morning. As we left home I was yelling at my husband over some real or imagined slight. Trying to make me laugh, he started talking in a strange accent as if he imitated our new neighbors.

“Why, looka there.  She’s yailin at him,” my husband said, pretending he was our new neighbor.

I have no idea why he felt our new neighbors talked like extras from “Deliverance” or just walked out of Harper Lee’s home church in Alabama, but that’s what he said and how he said it.

I decided to play along. Our new neighbors needed names, names we gave them. If we were going to befriend them with a hot oven meal and our foil wrapped note of rules, they needed names.

“Feudalee,” I said, for the wife.  “She was named after her great-grandfather, Confederate General Feudal Lee Brown.”

“Bertram for the man,” my husband said.

We laughed about that as he backed the car out of the garage. Recovering from our laughter, we realized one bitter truth.  We had new neighbors, and they might expect us to speak to them

— Amy McVay Abbott

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana journalist whose column “The Raven Lunatic” runs in a dozen newspapers and magazines. This piece is excerpted from her new book, A Piece of Her Mind. She learned about writing essays from her late mother’s collection of Erma books.

My insomniac atheist bisexual
vampire son

So then…he takes a bite of a fresh-baked cookie and says with a sigh, “I’m probably so tired today because I’m an insomniac.”

He’s 11.

I stop scooping dough onto the cookie sheet and look at him with furrowed brow.

“You’re an insomniac? When did that happen?” I ask.

He plops on the kitchen chair and says in a world-weary voice, “Oh, I’ve been an insomniac for years.”

Again, he’s 11.

“Really, Tucker? Because I check on you kids every night before I go to bed — and whenever I go into your room — you’re dead asleep. Even at midnight or 1 or 2 in the morning.”

“Oh, I’m awake when you check on me,” he assures me.

“You’re eyes are closed and you’re snoring.

“So? I can snore when I’m awake. Listen — shjrooor shjrooor.”

“Tucker,” I say. “You are not an insomniac! You sleep fine. What makes you think you are?”

“Well, I was talking to this kid in band class and he was telling me that he has insomnia because he can’t sleep at night and I realized that I have that, too.”

OK, I see.

Several months later…

So then…we’re saying Grace before dinner but Tucker doesn’t join in. I ask him, “What’s up?”

He says, “Oh, I don’t say Grace anymore because I’m an atheist.”

He calmly eats his corn. I seethe.

want to say, “Really Tucker? You’re an atheist? Even though you had a Baptism and Reconciliation and First Holy Communion AND you go to Catholic school? We may not attend Mass on Sundays – and we may not be super religious — but this is a God-loving, Commandments-abiding, Bible-believing family for Christ’s sake, you insufferable little heathen!

But I realize that may not be the best speech to bring him back to the Lord.

So I casually ask when this new development occurred.

“There’s this girl in class who told us that she’s atheist and I realized I am too.”

OK, I see.

“So you think we’re all just here randomly? There’s no God or higher power?” I ask.

“Oh, I believe in God. I just don’t believe in religion,” he says.

“So maybe you’re agnostic?”

He scoops up the rest of his corn with his fork and thumb. “Yeah, OK.”

OK, at least I’ve upgraded him from atheist to agnostic for now. I’ll tackle religion next.

About a year later…

So then…he comes in the kitchen, puts his script on the table, sits down, and says, “I’m pretty sure that I’m bisexual.”


I keep cleaning the counters and ask, “Really? What makes you think that?”

“Well, you know the play this summer at acting class is Cabaret, right? Well, some of the characters are bisexual — and some of the teenagers in the cast were saying at lunch that they’re bisexual. And I realized that I am too.”

OK, I see.

I sit down with him. “Tucker, you know I’ll love you and accept you, no matter what — so if you’re bisexual, then you’re bisexual. But let’s talk about this for a minute. First of all, you haven’t had any sexual experiences yet, so let’s not be so quick to label yourself bisexual, mono-sexual, tri-sexual or multi-sexual, ok? Secondly, do you have romantic feelings for any boys?”

“Oh yeah, lots of boys.”

“Really, like who?” I ask.

“I can’t think of anyone right now,” he says in that same tone of voice he uses to say that he could hit a homerun if he wanted to, but he just doesn’t  feel like it right now.

So I say, “Well, you’ve been pretty open about everyone you’ve ever had a crush on since kindergarten all the way until now — and it’s always been girls.”

So we have a long talk about peer pressure, fitting in with the crowd, making rash pronouncements about identity, etc. It’s a great talk, but I don’t push. I know that this new alleged identity trait will eventually go the same way as his other announcements.

BUT MEANWHILE, I’m thinking to myself, Good Lord, do I have THE most easily influenced child in the world?

At the future frat party, when someone says, “Hey, who wants to down four Tequila shots, then ride this skateboard off the roof into that pool of hot coeds?” – will my son be the kid who thinks, “That sounds like a splendid idea!”?

Yes. Yes, he will.

I can’t believe he is so impressionable.

What’s next?

“I just watched a great episode of Psych — by the way, I’m psychic.”

“This German Chocolate cake is delicious! Those Germans really know how to bake. I’m joining the Nazi Party!”

“I saw that Twilight movie. Great news, Mom, I am IMMORTAL. Also — can we have blood for dinner?”

Let’s hope not — but with my kid…I wouldn’t be surprised!

– Darcy Perdu

Darcy Perdu shares her bodacious blunders, hilarious humiliations and amusing adventures — and asks you to do the same on her blog. Her real-life stories of running a business, wrangling two kids, traveling hither and yon, and navigating relationships will remind you of your own funny experiences — so come share them and read others.  You’ll laugh; you’ll gasp; you’ll chuckle — you might even snort!

Doctor, can you give me a lift?

When I was in my late 40s, I decided to get my breasts lifted. I didn’t want them bigger. Just higher. Back up where the good Lord put them before gravity and age began to coax them closer to my naval than my clavicles.

There’s just something about looking in the mirror every morning to two sad beagle ears attached to your upper torso that screams “National Geographic, the Pictorial Edition.” Not to mention that most of my friends had implants or lifts 10 years earlier, so even women older than me had younger-looking bodies because they were, well, perky, and I looked more like a ’60s love child that hadn’t worn a bra since puberty.

So armed with photos of young starlets and their “up to there” breasts, I made an appointment with a well-recognized plastic surgeon to discuss my options. I entered his plush office, with its thick carpet and quietly cascading waterfall in the corner, where his impossibly perfect receptionist guided me back to the softly lit exam room (for which I would thank God in the next half hour), and she flashed me a bright smile as she instructed me to remove my shirt and bra, and wait for the doctor.

Twenty minutes later, Doc walks in (is it me, or do they all look 12 years old??), introduces himself and, obviously not into foreplay, reaches over and lifts one breast, checking for “bounce.” (Say hello to the point, you arrogant puppy. If they still BOUNCED, I wouldn’t be here), then lets it go, where it promptly slams back down onto my chest like a wrecking ball taking out a high rise. Then he sticks a piece of blue litmus-type paper underneath one, waits several seconds and pulls the paper out to check for skin-on-skin contact, which would show up as “light moisture.” The paper looked like a Bounty Quicker Picker Upper.

By now, my self esteem has fled the building (presumably looking for the closest bar, which was where I was headed as soon as I could find my bra). Then he stuck a large piece of white paper underneath both breasts and TRACED THEM. The final picture looked like two carrots lying on a table. I was so mortified by then, I hardly noticed the up-close-and-personal Polaroids that he took. One for each carrot. Oh. My. God.

When he finally finished his exam, I stammered out that I’d read about a procedure where they could go in from the armpit and pull the ligaments up, which was less invasive and left fewer scars. Without missing a beat, he replied, “That would work if you’d come in 10 years ago. You’re way past that now.” At which point he calmly left the room, with instructions to make an appointment on my way out.

Yeah, no. I scrambled into my clothes and headed home like an old plow horse to the barn. When I explained why I was so upset, Kenny asked, “Why do you even want to do this?? Why don’t you just wear one of those shove-em-up bras?” I explained that that only worked until I took the bra off, then everybody would know what they really looked like.

“Who the hell is EVERYBODY??” he choked out. “How many people are you thinking will be in the room whenever you take your bra off?” Well, after TODAY, I would say nobody. EVER.

I ultimately decided the lift was not for me. My boobs and I would grow old together, and when I die, Kenny knows to bury me in my best sports bra. $85 a pop and virtually guaranteed to hold the sisters in place long enough for friends to sigh, “And she was so young.”

— 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

Greg Schwem

Greg SchwemGreg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad. He writes a weekly nationally syndicated humor column for Tribune Media Services. Many of his columns appear in The Huffington Post.


A Field Guide to Geezers is based on decades of research by an amateur naturalist and geezer enthusiast. This first book of its kind offers detailed field notes and illustrations describing the unique behaviors and entertaining habits of 13 species. You, too, will discover that these charming hominids among us really are worthy of your time and attention. Learn viewing techniques as well as secret tips for meeting and live-trapping your own dream-geezer. Written with affection by Rae Ellen Lee, the author of the award-winning memoir, My Next Husband Will Be Normal: A St. John Adventure

Pigtails to chin hairs

Award-winning author Becky Povich has published a humorous, poignant memoir, From Pigtails to Chin Hairs: A Memoir & More. She’s written for anthologies, newspapers and magazines, but this is her first book.


New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline revolutionized crime fiction when she introduced her all-female law firm of Rosato & Associates, thrilling readers with her twisty, fast-paced plots and capturing their hearts with her cast of strong and relatable female characters. Now, everyone’s favorite team of unstoppable female lawyers is back with their most unusual case yet in her new book, Accused.

Uncommon writing duo

Mary I. Farr’s wildly funny and gently inspirational book, Never Say Neigh, has won honors from The Paris Book Festival, the Great Midwest Book Festival and the Animals, Animals, Animals Book Festival.  A retired hospital chaplain with plenty of wisdom under her belt and a lifelong passion for horses, Farr chose an unusual writing partner for her award-winning book — her American quarter horse, Noah Vail. He eschews violence, prejudice and polarized politics — all with a generous dose of levity and fun.

Reflections of Erma