2016 Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop: 13 things I loved plus a few me-loved-nots

Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop 2016 recap

I've long dreamed of attending the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop presented by the University of Dayton every two years. The revered place writers of various formats — books, blogs, screenplays and more — gather to glean insider tips and load up on laughter and love from folks in their field. Attendance is capped at 200 each year, and I've never made the cut at registration... nor, to be honest, had the money for travel and hotel if I had.

This year, though, I clicked the Register button in time to obtain a coveted Golden Ticket for the event that sold out in six hours, and I eeked out the funds to make attendance at my dream conference a reality.

Unlike many dreams that eventually come true yet pale in comparison to one's expectations, the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop did not disappoint. Here are 13 things I loved about the conference (plus a few stinkers I can't resist sharing):

Alan Zweibel. My first session of the conference was Is There a Secret to Writing Funny? by the award-winning humor writer who was instrumental in the launch and successes of Saturday Night Live and It's Garry Shandling's Show plus many other writing accomplishments. I'll long remember the wit and wisdom he generously shared about the craft, his inimitable warmth and melancholy when telling tales of his close relationships with Gilda Radnor and Garry Shandling. (Me-loved-not: My fangirl inhibition that prevented me from expressing my thanks and adoration as he and I stood within six inches of one another while awaiting our made-to-order breakfast omelettes Saturday morning.)

Adair Lara. The first grandparenting book I bought once I learned I'd soon be a grandma was Adair Lara's The Granny Diaries. One of my favorite writing books is her Naked, Drunk and Writing, on which she based her informative presentation. The tools she shared in her session confirmed I want to be just like her when I grow up — as a grandma and as a writer.  (Me-loved-not: Another fangirl moment. I didn't introduce myself to her nor did I ask her to sign the copy of The Granny Diaries I'd carried from Colorado for exactly that purpose... even though it should have been easy peasy since we're both writers for Grandparents.com.)

Shannon Olson. I now have a writer crush on this writer of essays and novels and more. Because of the top-notch tools she shared in her session on anecdotes. And her Irish accent reading the "Oh, fer f---'s sake, Da!" quote from her example essay. For not shunning me when I appeared stalker-like as we inadvertently crossed paths numerous times at the airport when departing. And because she's simply one helluva writer.

Katrina Kittle. The accomplished novelist beautifully, skillfully shared how to skip writing the parts people skip when reading. (Me-loved-not: The sweltering spot from which she shared said skills.)

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Known as The Book Doctors, this brilliant and accomplished husband/wife team answered my question about "author platform" in a way that encouraged me, in contrast to an earlier response from a speaker who dashed all my hopes of ever making it in the business. Plus, they made me laugh, hope, and gave me a step-by-step plan for progressing on the path to publication. *mwah!*

Staged reading of Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End. Barbara Chisholm's performance of the one-woman play based on the script from sister playwrights Allison and Margaret Engel blew me away, made me tear up, and shed light on the Erma I never knew. (Me-loved-not: The obnoxious talking throughout the entire presentation from a woman or two at a table behind me, which nearly ruined it for me and surely did for those sitting closer to them.)

Lunch keynote from Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff. The woman who played Mimi on The Drew Carey Show and her marketing guru BFF imparted memorable nuggets of inspiration such as "You don't have to be 21 to have your whole life ahead of you." And "Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Just walk through it." And the necessity of no-agenda friends. Lovely, creative, supportive women.

Saturday's Ask the Agents panel. Moderator Brian Klems called on me when I raised my hand. Agents Rachel Ekstrom Courage, Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank, and Rachelle Gardner thoughtfully and honestly answered my perpetually perplexing question about disclosing previous agent representation. 'Twas pretty much my most practical, personalized takeaway.

The desserts. I prefer salty treats, yet how could I not gobble down the silky smooth cheesecake or similarly seductive delights strategically placed by my plate at every lunch and dinner. (Me-loved-not: The bubbles and bulges in my butt and belly that accompanied me home due to the gobbling.)

Hugging Teri Rizvi. She's published my pieces on the EBWW website. She's the master planner of EBWW. She was at the top of my must-meet/must-hug list. Thank heavens my inner fangirl didn't stop me from approaching her.

Face-to-face time with old friends. Several years ago I became online friends with an amazing and supportive group of women writers. Some I had previously met in person, others I hadn't until this conference. All of them made EBWW the most fun, the most memorable conference I have ever attended. We shared goals and groans and hugs and laugh-out-loud moments. And a gut-busting Groundhog Day-like conversation regarding our plans for 9 a.m. (Love you guys!)

Making new friends. A novelist who fast staked a firm and forever spot in our tribe. Three (or was it four?) previously unknown folks from Colorado with whom I'll surely soon break bread in our own state. An accomplished writer/blogger/viral-meme-making mama who generously allowed me to piggyback on her ride to the airport at the end of the conference... as well as the author providing that ride. Plus many others I met while sharing a table, a chuckle, a session, an elevator. New friends I have a feeling I'll consider old friends by EBWW 2018.

Love and laughter. From the opening keynote from Roy Blount to the closing comedy sketches by brave-as-can-be writers-cum-stand-up-comics, the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop emanated a shared love for Erma Bombeck, the written word, the magic of laughter let loose in the face of the undeniably funny as well as its healing power in light of circumstances and situations that are anything but.

Consider my Erma wine glass raised in a congratulatory toast to all that was EBWW 2016 — and my calendar marked (in pen) for all that will be at EBWW 2018!


Note: Visit the EBWW faculty page to read all about the fabulous folks mentioned above.