I had the great honor of going to the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop from April 19-21 at the University of Dayton.
I learned some great things. About tweeting and DMing, rights, and writing, comedy and sadness, and Marianist Catholics.And “Our Love is here to Stay,” is stuck in my head forever.
The Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop is a biannual (every 2 years) conference that occurs at the University of Dayton. U of D Catholic school run by an order of clergy and lay people called Marianists. Matt Ewald, a professor in the communications department who is the head of the workshop, told me Marianists are like Jesuits, but not as flashy. The Communications Department puts together a weekend of communal meals, keynotes, and workshops, all of which address the different challenges of humorous and human-interest writing. There were sessions on the craft of humor, finding your voice, building your platform, selling your work, and even self-publishing. I collected over 100 business cards, mostly from women who blog, and got signed up to the Blog her twitter feed. As of this writing, I’ve now tweeted 158 times, and have 125 followers, including a real live comedy writer from SNL who’s coming to Palo Alto June 24 to flog the book he wrote with Dave Barry.
Erma’s whole family attends, her husband and their 3 children. Some grandchildren attend, and I think they brought some cousins, too. It’s a celebration and a reunion for them, and makes up a bit for the fact that Erma died quite young—she had kidney disease and died in her late 60’s. I spoke to Erma’s husband, Bill, after one of the sessions—he was right there in the back of the classroom, listening—and thanked him for creating the conference. His contribution, he told me, was insisting on holding the conference every other year, “to give the women writers enough time to recover and integrate what they’ve learned.” Yearly conferences, he said “just wouldn’t be enough time for the lessons to sink in and have a life, too.”
The Bombeck family is as nice as can be. They loved that their mother wrote about them; at least they seem to love it now. Before every meal, they took turns reading their favorite column. I didn’t know Erma’s father had died when she was very young—“The Daddy Doll Under the Bed’ was the first column that got read aloud, before the opening dinner, and I was welling up. But that was nothing. After dinner, Alan Zweibel read some of his work to us. I was primed for tears, with all that estrogen around, but when he told us about ‘a tree called Steve,’ I was bawling.
I bonded with a few women over that, via Tweeting, of all things.
Two young moms who were staying at my hotel showed me how to actually USE my Twitter account, and I showed them that we had passed by perfectly lovely diner 3 doors down from our hotel because this diner was not on Yelp.
Maybe 5% of the attendees were men. Some had been at the conference more than once. One was a TV host. The people at this conference believed the social media and concept of platform with a religious fervor. Most of the women were active or wannabe bloggers, and they had been to other social media conferences. There was unanimous agreement that this was the warmest and most supportive atmosphere of any gathering of writers and bloggers they had been to before.
*The workshop is limited to 350 attendees, and will sell a ticket to anyone who is or wants to be a humor writer. I didn’t have to submit an essay or be vetted at all. I heard about the conference on “She Writes,” which is one of many Web portals that compete for the eyeballs and keystrokes of aspiring writers, and by the time I heard about the workshop, all the tickets were all sold. Hoping against hope, and not really expecting much since my father in law was very sick, I joined the Facebook group, and sent an email to someone I had never seen (where IS Ohio, anyway?) And put myself on the waiting list in case there were cancellations.
When my iPhone beeped, telling me someone wanted to her ticket, I was far away from home, in Queens, New York, sitting on a bus going back from parent’s graves in Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island. The bus was too noisy to talk, but it had Wi-Fi so I checked my email–I had just had a good cry in the cemetery and needed a break–and there was the notice, that I could buy someone’s ticket. I started giggling.
This illustrates something that the keynoters kept saying: “Laughter and tears are always very close to one another.”
And at the conference, we did plenty of both. Alan Zweibel was hilarious, as was Adriana Trigiani, Connie Shultz, and Ilene Beckerman, the lady who became an author at the age of 70 when she hand drew and wrote a book called “love, loss, and what I wore,” made copies at Kinko’s to give to her children and friends, and then had a publisher call her out of the blue with a contract offer a year later.
Here are my most important take-aways:
1. Carry a notebook (done)
2. If you Tweet something, it’s copyrighted, so Tweet every clever line you think of.
3. Give your loved ones veto power and first reading if you are going to write something about them. Remind them if they veto too much, their part of your next book is going to be the shortest.
4. Have ‘the goods’ ready. Have a finished piece ready to go when you write a query letter.
5. Don’t hit ‘send’ or post too soon. Craft everything in Word first.
6. Read everything out loud, to someone. Dogs are very good for this. I’ll have to make do with my cat, Cleo.
There were some great roundups of the conference written by mom bloggers who were faster to the keyboard than I am, and you can find them on the Erma Bombeck Workshop site you should go and see!