Keepin’em laughin’ at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2014
by Hen&ink’s Barbara Younger
I grew up reading Erma Bombeck in the Baltimore Sun and my mom’s copies of Good Housekeeping and Family Circle. Dubbed “The Socrates of the Ironing Board,” Erma delighted many and shocked some with her witty, spot-on accounts of life as a suburban housewife. When Erzsi suggested in a query letter to an editor that my menopause blog was “in the vein of Erma Bombeck,” the conference called my name.
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, with a focus on humor and human-interest writing, takes place every other year in Dayton, Ohio. In the day, workshops are held on the campus of Erma’s alma mater, the University of Dayton. Festivities continue in the evening at the nearby Marriott Hotel.
The spirit of Erma infuses the conference with a fine blend of spunk, grindstone, and warmth. Clips of Erma interviews are shown before each meal, and the conference schedule/journal features Erma quotes. Speakers are dynamic and generous in their advice. Some words with happy asterisks from my notes:
Lisa Scottoline: “You have to do something that makes you cringe to make them laugh” and “If it feels safe, it’s been done before.”
Nancy Berk: “Shyness will get you nowhere.”
Dan Zevin: “Keep a funny word file” and “Humor is taking the mundane and bringing your sensibility to it.”
Anna Lefler: “Take yourself out of your own head and edit your work as someone else. Ask: ‘What would so and so do?’ This is not to lose your voice, but it’s helpful to edit with a different slant.”
Judy Carter: “There’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy. Write as close as you can to that line.”
Gina Barreca: “The most personal is the most universal” and “Tell the secret about yourself.”
Arielle Eckstut: “A pitch is like a poem, where every word counts.”
Erzsi has told me (more than once) that I’m holding back in my writing. The Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop shouts, “Don’t hold back!” It’s the friendliest conference crowd I’ve met, attendees can participate in a Pitchapalooza as well as a stand-up comedy show, and the conference Facebook page welcomes ongoing discussion.
The meals are fabulous! I ate my favorite food, cake with butter cream frosting, at lunch and dinner, and on Friday night, in the spirit of not holding back, I devoured two pieces of the best carrot cake ever. Then I raised my wine glass to Erzsi, and to Erma, who knew plenty about not holding back in writing and in life: “Seize the moment,” Erma wrote. “Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
About Barbara Younger
Barbara’s blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause Roller Coaster, has received several top ten menopause blogger awards. The author of twenty-one books for children and adults, Barbara is celebrating the dessert theme with a novel-in-progress, Eva Heaven and the Summer Pie Blog. She writes from her house in Hillsborough, North Carolina. She is represented by Erzsi Deak at Hen&ink Literary Studio.