Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Presently the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, like Guam; the Northern Mariana Islands; and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a self-governing unincorporated organized territory of the U.S. and has been since 1952. The heritage of the people there is Boricua or Borincano (you know, if Italian instead of Spanish, they would be Calabrese or Sicilian) and the island itself is affectionately referred to by the locals as "La Isla del Encanto," meaning “The Island of Enchantment.” I’ve been there and it is beautiful. OK, so it was just a fast ladies room stop at the San Juan Airport enroute to St. Thomas. I got to see some of it from the prop plane that took us to the other islands. I won’t get into the betting and Olympic Cock Fights – no, I wasn’t there.
If H.R. 2499 passes, all eligible voters of Puerto Rico will be allowed to vote on one or two important issues regarding the island’s future association with the U.S. These plebiscites (i.e. ballot questions or referendums) are as follows:
1. “Should Puerto Rico maintain its present political status? Yes or No
2. If “No,” please select from among three options:
a. Independence (complete break with the U.S.).
b. Associated Sovereignty (The Island would no longer be subject to the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution).
c. Statehood (The Island would become the 51st U.S. State).
There has not been a lot of media attention paid to H.R. 2499, primarily because most of them believe that the people living in Puerto Rico do not want to become the 51st U.S. State, even though it would give them the right to 6 US congressmen, 2 senators, and 8 presidential electoral votes. Plus, Statehood has been voted down already three or four times. So, to them, its business as usual.
Will it be Día de la Independencia de Estados Unidos? (Independence Day)
I believe that this time is different, simply because the Bill has been pushed by Resident Commissioner Pedro R. Pierluisi Urrutia. I’m always the independent thinker and figure there will be only two outcomes: the people want out - they want their independence to become their own country, or they want full Statehood and citizenship status. I don’t know what Puerto Rico’s financial situation is these days, but 50 years is a long time to be taking guff from the slugs in Congress, without full status.
This is what happened the last two times the issue was addressed:
While we are on the subject of voting, did you know that there are still six countries on our planet that do not allow women to vote?
1. United Arab Emirates
4. Lebanon (partial restriction, based on education)
5. Saudi Arabia
6. Vatican City
I think its time for another "burn the burqa" demonstration, yes?
Bless me Father 'cause I have sinned:
Monday, April 19, 2010
Bird as E. B. Heron. Photo courtesy of Wanda Argersinger EBWW 2010
In case you were wondering why I have not posted anything new since last week, I was attending the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop (EBWW) at the University of Dayton. I will be posting photos later in the week.
If you read my column about four down from here, “Is Dayton the Boondocks of Ohio?” You already know that I called Enterprise Rent-A-Car to lease a car and I drove round-trip between Philadelphia and Dayton, OH. The drive out there in my new Chevrolet Impala was uneventful, thank God. On the way back, however, I transported a 3-foot tall plastic blue heron, a.k.a. “Bird,” in my trunk along with some luggage and a bag of goldfish crackers. You see, I usually get it, either coming or going.
Not to be flip or anything, but what’s up with the Bird?
That was the question throughout the workshop. Frankly, when you are attending an event with 350 other humor writers, how else could you find your Table? We needed a point of reference. Bird was our landmark and mascot. Humorist Wanda Argersinger brought him on the plane from Florida. She was detained as a possible terrorist in Pensacola. After Homeland Security took Bird apart and he passed inspection and then they gave Wanda a mammogram, both of them arrived safely in Ohio and took a taxi to the Dayton Marriott.
Check-in was interesting "One room or two?" the clerk asked Wanda.
Bird stood on our table for all events, including meals, at the University and Marriott Hotel. He left an extra tip for the Bellhop, who was instructed not to grab him by the neck or feet, as he was ticklish.
On Thursday, Bird was standing on the table at Parmizzano’s in the Hotel with me, Wanda, and Pam Goldstein, host of Boker Tov, on CJAM 91.5FM Windsor, Ontario. Erma Bombeck’s daughter, Betsy, walked in and politely avoided eye-contact with Bird and the three weirdoes sitting at the table. Pam noticed Betsy’s EBWW bag and almost grabbed her by the arm. Pam didn’t know who she was.
“Are you attending the Workshop?” Pam asked.
I distinctly heard “Oh shit” but didn’t know where that came from, Bird maybe.
“Yes” Betsy said.
“Please join us,” Pam said.
I almost choked on my pumpkin soup when I saw that it was Betsy Bombeck being impelled to our table. Yes, that was the soup of the day on April 15th. I don't know why I ordered it, but I was feeling like I should have a shopping cart standing on platform nine and three-quarters.
We all had a nice chat and found out that Erma’s mother also wrote a book and Betsy is now a building contractor in Phoenix, AZ. She never did warm up to Bird, though.
Mo Rocca, who was there filming the event for Charles Osgood’s CBS Sunday Morning couldn’t get an interview out of Bird; However, he did get about 40 minutes with humorist Tracy Beckerman. You will get to see Mo’s interview with Tracy; it is scheduled to be aired on Mother’s Day.
Our impressive keynote speakers included Loretta LaRoche, Gail Collins, Bill Scheft, Steve Doocy, and W. Bruce Cameron.
Somehow, during the course of our weekend, Bird got tanked and became "E. B. Heron." As you can see from the photo above, he is partial to Miller Lite.
On Sunday, I took a few minutes to pause over at Woodland Cemetery, where Erma Bombeck and the Wright Brothers are buried – all pioneers of their craft, to say a prayer of thanks.
I will write more about EBWW later, as I just noticed some goldfish cracker crumbs spilling out of my makeup kit.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Peri Minneopa (pronounced Minn-ee-OH-pah) is the main character in Gayle Carline’s debut novel, “Freezer Burn,” a murder mystery that was just released on August 1st. Peri cringes when people mispronounce her last name. She really only likes three things: clean houses, dirty martinis (an olive lover’s delight), and being a private investigator.
Peri just sold her housecleaning service to get her P.I. license, when on one of her last jobs, she finds a severed hand still wearing an expensive ring in, of all places, the client’s freezer.
I won’t divulge anymore of the plot, except to say that there are really two of them and Peri takes on the dangerous challenges of both.
Gayle Carline lives in Placentia, CA, and writes a humor column for the Placentia News Times. She used to be a software engineer, which is probably how she developed a liking for dirty martinis. She raises quarter horses and used to be a contributor to California Riding Magazine. She likes to describe herself as an author, columnist, and maven-in-training.
You can buy her new book at Amazon.com.
Since Gayle and I share some mutual writer friends, I contacted her after her last book signing tour to ask for this interview. She graciously accepted:
Rosie: Gayle, what made you change your career path from software engineer to writer?
Gayle: A number of things in my life converged: I had a 12-year old son who was drifting away from me, a 7-year old mare who was due to foal, and a 26-year career that left me exhausted every evening and angry every morning. I loved to write and wanted the time to give it a whirl.
Rosie: How did you land the job as a columnist at the Placentia News Times?
Gayle: First of all, I've loved humor essays ever since I discovered James Thurber. I was actively seeking a way to do that, so I looked in my local paper, saw they didn't have a humor columnist, and sent them a query. It was the world's worst query, but they were losing their "psychologist's column" and needed a filler. Lucky me!
Rosie: What is your favorite among the columns that you wrote for the Placentia News Times?
Gayle: I like each one for different reasons, but my all-time favorite is the first one I wrote for Mother's Day. It was about a fantasy amusement park for women, Raging Hormones.
Rosie: How did you come up with the idea for your debut mystery novel “Freezer Burn”?
Gayle: It came in two pieces. At my first Southern California Writer's Conference in Palm Springs, I wrote a little flash fiction piece about a missing ice cube tray and won the topic contest. Shortly after that, my friend and I began to joke about our heroine, Peri Menopause, Private Eye. She solves every case by crying, eating chocolate and bitch-slapping people until someone confesses. I combined the two and thought, what else could they find in a freezer? Oh, yeah, a severed hand…
Rosie: Is the main character of your book, Peri Minneopa, a composite of people you know?
Gayle: I like to think of her as a cross between Jessica Fletcher and Murphy Brown. She's impatient, curious, and snarky - like me - but she's snarky out loud. I'm snarky in my head.
Rosie: Who is the most interesting person that you have met on your book signing tours?
Gayle: Well, I've met John Lescroart, and Monte Schulz, but the most interesting person was a 12-year old boy up in Quincy, named James. He's an author, too, and we spent a wonderful time talking about the writing process. I tried to explain who Dean Martin was to him and he said, "So, Dean Martin is the prehistoric Elvis". Thanks, Kid, I didn't feel old enough.
Rosie: Will you be doing a sequel?
Gayle: It's in the works right now, if I can ever stop promoting the first one!
Rosie: Tell us something about your quarter horses, Frostie and Snoopy.
Gayle: Frostie is my Wild Red Mare. I've had her since she was 3, which is the equivalent of having a 900-lb teenager. She's fast and spooky. I think she sees dead people. But when I bought her, I began writing. Helping her foal was the most exciting thing I've ever done. Her son, Snoopy, is a big, goofy boy. He's a dream to ride, but on the ground, it's like an ADHD kid.
Rosie: How many blogs do you write and what are the URLs?
Gayle: Well, Snoopy has his own blog, called "That's My Snoopy" (http://thatsmysnoopy.blogspot.com), which is chronicling his recovery from a broken sesamoid (a bone in the ankle region). I used to have two blogs, one specifically for Freezer Burn, and one to talk about the writing process. I've let the Freezer Burn one lapse, as the other blog evolved into that fun, quirky, Getting To Know Gayle blog. It's http://gaylecarline.blogspot.com and is titled, "On the Edge of the Chair of Literature". Some days I talk about writing, some days I talk about Peri and the book, and some days I talk about buying a new shredder. Come for a visit!
In her spare time, Gayle likes to get together with friends and plan some gruesome murder and mayhem for a next novel, while laughing over a bottle of wine.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
There is a serious side to author, Tracy Beckerman, but she rarely pays attention. She figures it’s her built-in marketer, publicist, and agent. A nuisance at best, but also a necessity when it comes to selling her terrific book, “Rebel Without a Minivan.”
It’s the career person in her that is left over from her days managing the Advertising & Promotion department at WCBS-TV New York, and creating award-winning TV and radio scripts for such clients as Lifetime Television, WCBS-TV, CBS and NBC.
Then she went and got married and had kids. In Tracy's own words "For some people, it’s a seamless transition. 'Okay kids, pile in the minivan; after soccer practice, we’re going out for a Happy Meal!' Wahoo!
For me, it was more like going through a car wash without a car.
And it wasn’t just the suburb thing. It was the whole, 'married-mother-of-two-and-a-dog who moved to the suburbs' thing. I wondered: How did I get here? Where did all this cellulite come from? Who are these two children, and why do they keep calling me Mommy?
These are the questions that kept me awake at night (that, and the aforementioned two children yelling for drinks of water). I figured the only way I could get any sleep was to put a water cooler in the hallway and start writing a column for the local paper.”
The book describes her transitional life and you will absolutely love the stories!
You know the class we all took on TA that describes how to interact with people on different levels: Parent, Adult, and Child? Tracy has one more transaction "Survival." It’s the part of every woman's character that says "It’s either me or the potty-chair generation, and I'm rather sick of throwing Cheerios in the john for target practice, watching Blues Clues, and playing ‘Fish.”
Tracy’s book is targeted towards stay-at-home moms, who need to relate to someone else with similar life experiences.
She says that “Not surprisingly, this neglected demographic includes a substantial niche of women who have left the work force to stay home with their children. According to a recent Census Bureau survey, about 10.6 million mothers have chosen to stay home with their children… up 13 percent in less than a decade!”
See, that’s her serious side again.
She also writes a hilarious column called Lost in Suburbia. It is syndicated monthly to 390 newspapers in the Gatehouse Media chain, which reaches an audience of nearly 2.5 million readers in 23 states.
You can purchase the book on her website or at Amazon.com.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I first met Wanda Argersinger at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in Dayton OH, and we had lunch with a group of other humor writers. We didn’t get a chance to spend more than just a few minutes talking, as the place was chaotic, but she did tell me about a book she was writing about people with chronic illnesses; so, we networked and exchanged business cards. Wanda is a writer, humorist, motivational speaker, and founder of L-Bow (Little Bit of Wanda http://l-bowonline) - she also has lupus. I wanted to follow-up and find out what exciting things she has been doing.
Wanda has been on a number of Florida radio talk shows with several call-in shows, and guests on many television programs.
On the exciting news front, clinical trial announcements for Benlysta, a treatment for lupus, can be found at:
Glaxo Smith Kline and Humane Genone Sciences are working on these trials together. The lupus research institute (LRI) has also been instrumental:
As Executive Director for The Lupus Support Network, Wanda is an advocate for all lupus patients, working diligently as a member of the Statewide Coalition for the State of Florida Department of Health Arthritis Prevention and Education Program. She facilitates support groups in the Florida Panhandle and Southern Alabama and trains new facilitators to educate and counsel patients, plans and researches topics to be discussed at meetings.
As a published author, Wanda wrote the book currently being used in The Lupus Support Network SLESH (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Self Help) classes, written and published a number of pamphlets on various aspects of lupus currently being used for informational purposes at The Lupus Support Network, and My Personal Health Journal, a book sold for a patient’s use in recording and maintaining vital health information. This book is sold nationwide and all profits go to The Lupus Support Network.
Most recently, Wanda has written Y-Mee’s A-B-C Book of Emotions and created a doll that accompanies the book, which can be purchased from http://l-bowonline.com, or www.Lulu.com. She has also been featured in MD News Magazine, Lupus Now Magazine, Ladies in Business, the Pensacola News Journal, and the Tallahassee Democrat.
Wanda is constantly working and actively involved in the Lupus Research Institutes National Coalition (advocating for lupus patients, research funding, and legislative change), as an Associate Member of the American Academy of Rheumatology, a Member of The American Chronic Pain Association, and a Member of the National Fibromyalgia Association, a Member of the National Society of Newspaper columnists, and a member of the National Association of Professional Women.
Wanda has been published in The Legend, a monthly column entitled “The Write Site,” (spotlighting websites that are of interest to writers), Poetic Voices, June 1999, Emerald Coast Review, a short story and poem, and the Gulf Breeze News, as a guest columnist.
When I decided to interview Wanda, I contacted her publicist, Camryn M. Oliver Lemmon, APR, CPRC, of Oliver Consulting Group. Wanda later got back to me and graciously accepted this interview.
Her publicist describes her as “an amazing woman, with Lupus SLE herself, Wanda is the Energizer Bunny come to life, with no need of any batteries! She will keep on giving until she falls over from the weight of her purse while wearing a great hot pink lipstick!”
Another thing Wanda and I have in common besides humor writing is learning Egyptian Arabic. It was not too long ago that I worked with a girl from Alexandria, who was teaching me the basics of her language. I had my mind set on going to Cairo on a vacation. It turns out that since our last meeting, Wanda has learned it too. What a nice coincidence! Now we will have something else interesting to talk about at the 2010 Workshop.
My interview with Wanda:
Rosie: Wanda, what made you change your career path from network engineer to humor writer?
Wanda: I’ve known since the second grade I was destined to be a humor writer. At that time I wrote a story with my spelling words about mice that lived in the walls and had parties where they got drunk. Counseling was suggested, but I just wrote instead. I had to leave my job as an engineer in 2002 after nearly losing my life to lupus. I was always doing strange and stupid things. When I would share the stories of my mishaps with people they laughed. I decided it was better to have them laugh with me than at me. So I started writing about all of the adventures of a mother, patient, employee, sister, daughter and wife. No subject was safe. Neither were any of my friends.
Rosie: What is your personal objective for writing your blog http://www.wandaargersinger.com?
Wanda: I want to show everyone that life is not all bad. So many things are funny. With all the bad news on the television, radio and in the papers and magazines, I want people to see life through different eyes and maybe laugh a bit.
Rosie: How did you land the job as Executive Director for The Lupus Support Network?
Wanda: I have been connected with the organization since I was diagnosed with lupus in 1992. In 2001, I was asked to be the treasurer. That year the organization lost its Executive Director and one member staff. When I left my job in 2002, I resigned from the Board of Directors and applied for the Executive Director Position and got the job. It’s my passion to educate and help all lupus patients; to give them accurate information and let them know they are not alone.
Rosie: Did you write your books and develop your humor blog after becoming Executive Director?
Wanda: I wrote one novel before becoming Executive Director. I had been writing humorous stories for years and had been sharing them with anyone who was interested, or anyone I could coerce into reading them. When the internet advanced enough I created the blog, it just happened to be after I became Executive Director.
Rosie: What are your job responsibilities as director?
Wanda: Anything and everything. I am charged with overseeing the support groups, the literature we have for patients, the website, the news letter, and all of other publications; whether written in-house or purchased from another organization. I qualify patients for financial assistance. I secure agreements with medical facilities and physicians to work with us in treating our patients. I am in charge of fundraising projects. I am in charge of the financial information and work with the Treasurer and Board of Directors on our investments. I search for grants, and write the proposals in applying for the grants. I do public speaking to educate others about lupus. I facilitate support groups, deciding when and where there is a need. But I have the most wonderful assistant in the world, who helps me with all of this. She keeps me organized, on track and where I am supposed to be each day. If I’ve forgotten anything, I’m in charge of that too.
Rosie: What was the most satisfying thing that happened to you as a facilitator for patient meetings?
Wanda: I’ve taught what we call a S.L.E.S.H Course. (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Self Help). When you see the patients begin to understand their disease and know that they are not alone, it touches your heart. You know that you have made a difference in a patient’s life. Nothing else feels so good. I’ve had patients in tears, hug my neck just to say thank you for being here. How can you not be touched by someone’s tears?
Rosie: Is a cure for lupus being discussed by the medical profession?
Wanda: A cure is a long way off. The cause is not yet understood and there has been no new medication approved for use for the treatment of lupus in over 50 years. There is hope though. A new drug, Benlysta, has successfully passed some of the clinical trials with proven success. The final clinical trial results were announced on November 2nd. The drug could hit the market in 2011.
Rosie: Is there a website that you recommend to patients for information about treatment for the disease?
Wanda: There are many. www.lupus.org is the main site with the most accurate information.
Rosie: How many books have you written so far?
Wanda: I’ve written 4 books. One is a novel, ready for publication. One is a medical journal that I wrote to help chronically ill patients keep up with all the medical information they have to track. I donated all rights to this book to The Lupus Support Network. I have Y-Mees ABC Book of Emotions that was released earlier this year. I also have a book of my blogs, and true short stories called Shhhhh I’m Trying to Eavesdrop that will be coming out early next year.
Rosie: How did you come up with the idea for the Y-Mee Doll?
Wanda: I was sitting at a support group waiting for the attendees to arrive. I am always thinking and writing and doodling. I began to think of all the patients who ask “Why Me?” a statement that always ends with a question mark. I was doodling with a question mark, turning it up and down, trying to find a head and a way to add arms to it. The poem just came to me. Together the doll was born in a crude fashion. I took the idea to my daughter-in-law who made a sample for me. We worked on the doll until I was happy with it, and Y-Mee was born.
Rosie: Have you received an especially touching testimonial that shows how your products have helped someone?
Wanda: Two actually. I was chosen as an “Angel In Our Midst” by the local TV station after the doll was released. It was quite an honor to be included with all the other Angels. The other testimonial came from another lupus patient who lives in Boise, Idaho. She wrote - “Wanda Argersinger’s Y-Mee’s A B C Book of Emotions is a wonderfully written book that comes from the heart. As a Lupus sufferer herself, she has been able to use the humor and the alphabet to describe different emotions that not only lightens the spirit, but will put a smile on your face and laughter in your heart even through difficult pain and distress. I recommend this book for anyone who is battling a chronic disease or depression, or who needs a laugh to just break the stress of everyday life. Wanda has helped so many people through her commitment to support those in need, and if you read her book, she has just helped one more. I extend a grateful hand to Wanda for all of her efforts and for expressing herself through humor to do good for everyone who needs a lift in life. God created a miracle, and her name is Wanda Argersinger."
Rosie: Who is the most interesting person that you have met on your book signing tours, or as a motivational speaker?
Wanda: I had the opportunity to meet the first Surgeon General of the State of Florida - Ana M. Viamonte Ros, M.D., M.P.H - last year when I was speaking at a woman’s conference in Florida. I was also asked to speak at the International Lupus Conference a few years ago in New York City I met Mary McDonough in New York. She played Erin in the television show The Waltons and is now an advocate for lupus, as she is a lupus patient. I met so many people from all over the world, too many to name.
Rosie: Have you given motivational speeches for organizations not related to Lupus?
Wanda: Yes. I was asked to be the final speaker in 2008 at Camp MASH in Mobile, AL. They asked me because of my humorous approach to a chronic illness. I’ve also spoken at a number of women’s conferences.
Rosie: How would someone contact you to schedule a speaking engagement?
Wanda: Via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and through my website are the best ways.
Rosie: Are you writing another book?
Wanda: I am currently working on a book tentatively titled How The Chest Was Won - Breasts, Bras and Mammary Mishaps. I seem to have some bizarre bad bra/breast karma going on. I might as well profit from it. I am also working on one with stories of humorous things that have happened to lupus patients. I don’t have the title for it yet, but one story is titled, “I Can’t Eat, I Can’t Have Sex, And He Just Ate The Last Piece of Chocolate.”
Rosie: Tell us something about your personal hobbies?
Wanda: I love potted plants and have a green house that allows them to propagate by themselves each winter when they are put in there for protection. I don’t see what goes on in there and not sure I want to know. But each spring we bring out more than we put in. I love bonsai trees, have all the tools required to tend to them but seem to kill all that come to reside under my care. I love swimming, at night, in the pool, can I say in the nude? I consume books, especially humor books. I gave up my addictions or hobbies of collecting Hall Teapots, and unused exercise equipment for lack of funds to support those hobbies. I currently have about 50 teapots, but always need one more.
Rosie: How many blogs/columns do you write and what are the URLs?
Wanda: I currently write three. My personal humor blog can be found at www.wandaargersinger.com/blog. I write one for The Lupus Support Network, found at www.thelupussupportnetwork.org/blog. The third one is written weekly for Everyday Health and can be found at www.everydayhealth.com/blogs/defined-by-lupus.
Shukran (Thank you), Wanda!
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Recently, I was delighted to be granted an interview by humor writer, Wade Rouse, who has been selected to be on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop at the University of Dayton on April 15-17, 2010.
Wade is the critically acclaimed author of three memoirs, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler, and America’s Boy. He is a journalist and essayist whose articles have appeared in numerous regional and national publications. He contributed to the humorous essay collection about working in the retail industry, The Customer Is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles. This book was featured prominently on NPR and in The Wall Street Journal and includes pieces from other noted authors.
The Washington Post describes Wade as “An original writer and impressive new voice.”
Wade is a graduate of Drury University and has a master’s from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
I am looking forward to attending his class at the University of Dayton, where I hope to learn more about finding my writer's inner voice.
He lives near the coast of Lake Michigan with his partner, Gary, and their beloved mutts: "Marge, a 12-year-old Husky-Ridgeback-Scooby-Doo’ish sort of dame; and Mable, a 2-year-old Labradoodle-beagle inbred who looks like an insane bat."
Following is my interview with Wade:
Rosie: What did you do for a living before becoming a writer?
Wade: I was a super model and scientist. Just kidding! I can’t even put a TV tray together, and the closest I came to modeling was being a Winnie-the-Pooh children’s clothing model at Sears. I worked as a writer and reporter after receiving my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School Of Journalism, freelancing for various Chicago publications (like the Chicago Reader), before working as a business reporter. It was then I sold out, as we said in J-school, and went to the “dark side,” where I went into educational PR, working for nearly the next two decades as public relations director for some of the nation’s most prestigious private colleges, universities and prep schools.
Rosie: What made you change career paths?
Wade: Ummm, the above. I always wanted to be a writer, specifically a memoirist just like Erma Bombeck, who was and still is my idol. I journaled as a kid, about my life in rural America, but I felt I shouldn’t or couldn’t write, due to fear (fear that I would fail, not make enough money), so I went into a field that I thought would make me happy. And it didn’t. In fact, it was my final job – as PR director at an elite prep school, a job I chronicle in my second memoir Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler, where I realize my real duties were to cater to a wealthy Lilly Pulitzer-clad clique of “Mean Mommies” and keep them out of the school’s hair – that made me start writing again. It was the only thing – just like as a kid – that helped me make sense of the world. And I realized when I was writing that I was truly, achingly happy.
Rosie: What part of your book, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, did you enjoy writing most?
Wade: It meant a lot for me to revisit the memories of my grandmother, who was an early Walden and Thoreau devotee (which serve as the inspiration of the memoir). I spent my childhood summers at a log cabin in the Ozarks that my grandma and grandpa had built on a beautiful bluff overlooking Sugar Creek. On many Summer Sundays, I would join my grandma on a barn-red glider that sat beside the cabin on the bluff, and she would read to me from her two favorite books: The Bible and Walden. My grandma, one of God’s true foot soldiers, used to tell me in our Creek Coffee Chats that she felt that the Bible was more for her after-life but that Walden was for her here-life. Now, in the Ozarks, that was a courageous thing to say out loud … considering, as she used to tell me, such an admission would earn her the cuckoo whistle at the IGA. Now, my grandma was a very wise woman, but, as a woman born in the early 1900s, she was never in a position to follow her dream of being a fashion designer. Rather, she was worked as a seamstress out of her church’s basement. Which is why my grandma, I believe, always told me – both as a child and as an adult – “to pursue my passion and to not” – as Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “fall into a particular route,” meaning once we became adults and got our tires firmly entrenched in the mud, they usually refused to ever go off track. It took me a while, but I learned she was 100 percent right. We need to be driven by passion in this world, by a love of what we’re doing.
That said, I also loved writing about my urban take on rural America, and my transition to a simpler life without cable and consumerism and Starbucks, and, well, all the things I need to survive.
Rosie: How did you develop the idea for your book, Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler?
Wade: Worst job ever!
I mean it was hard not to write about my job at the prep school. In fact, I started writing the memoir as all these insane things were being done to me by all these crazy, wealthy matrons (being asked to dress as Cupid for Valentines, or Ronald Reagan on Halloween, crashing a Botox party where I’m pushed into a chair for a “little-pick-me-up”). Again, it was the only way I could take a step back and get some perspective. That’s when I thought, “What am I doing with my life? Am I happy? What would I do if I could not fail? What would my grandma think?”
I also wanted to write a deeper book about the pressures that kids face in today’s society, especially on privileged children to succeed. There is so much pressure on these kids to be perfect; their parents start planning for the right college when the kids are three, starting with the perfect pre-school, that will lead to the perfect prep school. I witnessed firsthand that kids don’t have time to be kids any more, they don’t have a chance to fail. And that’s such a shame. That’s what being a kid should be all about. I went to a rural high school, and when I first started working at the prep school, I thought these kids had it all, that I had been cheated: And then I realized I’d had control of my future, that my parents let me experiment with my life, do what I wanted. I wasn’t forced into being a doctor, or lawyer, or engineer; I saw lots of unhappy kids. And I saw even more unhappy adults. It’s the juxtaposition of the humor and horror that I always like to write about in my memoirs, the laughter through the tears, and, in this instance, finding myself in one of the oddest places possible.
Rosie: What were some of the funniest moments that you spent with your grandmother that inspired your book, America's Boy?
Wade: My childhood was surreal. I mean, I grew up a little gay boy in rural America (the Ozarks) who had a fondness for ascots and dreamed of being a writer: Hello! I always said me growing up there must be akin to working as an overweight Vegas showgirl: There’s really nowhere to hide. But, thankfully, I had an unconventional family who loved me unconditionally. I grew up with all of my grandparents within spitting distance of me. And I spent weekends and summers with my grandparents at a log cabin. We had no TV, or indoor shower, a radio that was as big as a Buick, so we only had games, the creek, and each other. Their stories were our entertainment. But that’s how and when I got to know my grandparents as people – real people – and not just as grandparents. And, looking back – despite how difficult it was for me at times – I realized how blessed I was, how loved I was.
My entire family was and is funny; wickedly funny. You have to be funny in our family to survive. The funniest person I ever knew was my late great aunt Blanche, this sort of bigger-than-life Bret Somers/stand-up comic personality who ran from the Ozarks to California and would return dripping in gold lame and jewelry and make-up, and she used to emcee mock Miss America pageants for our family, dressing people up in seashells bikinis, and pineapple tiaras. The two of us used to try and make each other laugh in this cave that sat beside our log cabin, telling jokes (many dirty, even though I was young), and she used to tell me, “You’re special. Don’t ever forget that. The world here is black and white, and you see everything in vibrant colors.” She made me see the world beyond my world.
America’s Boy is still my baby, my firstborn, and I still cherish it deeply.
Rosie: What is the topic of the screenplay that you are writing?
Wade: I’m adapting At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream into a sitcom, and am completing the TV pilot now. And I’m working on a screenplay that I just love (I’m not really talking about it right now, because I’m insane, and don’t want to jinx it. Sometimes, when I babble about something I’m in the midst of writing, I think I might jinx it. Yes, I’m really an eight-year-old girl.)
Rosie: Do you plan to release your next memoir, about your family holidays, during this coming holiday season?
Wade: We just finalized the pub date for the next memoir: February 2011. Though the memoir is organized around the holidays, we (my publisher, Harmony/Random House, and I) all feel that the book is bigger than that: It’s really a memoir about family, family dysfunction, mothers and fathers, love and loss, and American obsession with the holidays. So, we’ll tie it into Valentine’s and the “over-it” holiday feeling people have, and, since the book starts with the New Year, we think it will resonate all year long.
Title-wise, we’re still brainstorming, but want to keep it funny and phrase-y like At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream. I like I’m Sorry, But You Can’t Exchange Your Family without A Gift Receipt; my editor likes The Gift That Keeps on Giving: A Memoir of Family Dysfunction, but I’ll let you know once it (and the cover) are finalized.
Rosie: What was the most interesting thing that happened to you at the Wisconsin Book Festival?
Wade: Probably the fact that Gary was able to find a kimono for Halloween. Madison had this amazing resale shop – huge! –that had everything, including about 200 kimonos. Gary was going as a geisha for Halloween, so he was in heaven to stumble into the store.
I really liked the energy of their Book Festival. It was a great environment for authors and readers, and I had a packed house, of all ages, and those who came were enthused not only about me and my work, but about writing, and living and learning. Madison seemed to embody all that is great about a college town: An enthusiasm for life and learning.
Oh, and we ate at this fabulous, old-school restaurant (The Old Fashioned) that served all things Wisconsin: We ate fried cheese curds, which were simultaneously fabulous and disgusting, and they served Old Fashions, which I hadn’t had since my grandpa made me one decades ago. It was to die! So, basically, I got drunk and ate fried cheese.
Rosie: How did you like the Fall Book & Author Luncheon that you addressed in November?
Wade: OMG! Loved it! Favorite event I’ve ever done! A thousand Southern women and me! It was like an episode of Designing Women.
The Post & Courier Book and Author Luncheon is the largest book event in the Southeast: Nearly 1,000 women (including 80 book clubs), all avid readers and book enthusiasts. I sat on a panel with four other women, including legends like Rita Mae Brown and Dorothea Benton Frank (a native daughter), Jill McCorkle (the best short story writer in America!) and bestselling mystery writer J.A. Jance. I spoke about the influence that my mom, my grandma and Erma Bombeck had on my life – to be able to laugh through tragedy and be true to yourself – and it really resonated. I ended up selling more books than any other author. Charleston is just gorgeous, too, and the event and its director (Robie Scott) treat authors like royalty. I hope they invite me back!
Rosie: What is the topic of your session at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in April 2010?
Wade: I will be talking about “The Three H's: Humor, Heartbreak and Honesty,” specifically, why those three are intimately intertwined, and how writers can and must overcome their fears about life and writing to unleash their true voice and funny wit. Only then can they be successful. I’ll also give writers tips on how to ground their humor in deep, meaningful storylines that makes their humor resonate and not simply serve as a punch-line. I’ll also talk about finding one’s real voice. As you know, voice is the only thing that separates authors, and fear is the only thing that prevents them from being honest. Can’t wait. I love to teach and inspire writers. And to talk about humor … I’m thrilled!
Rosie: Where you surprised to be asked to be on the faculty?
Wade: I actually feel like it was destiny. Craig Wilson, who is a longtime Bombeck faculty member, reviewed At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, in USA TODAY, and just loved it (he called the book and me a “wise, witty, wicked voice”), and we ended up becoming Facebook friends, and exchanging e-mails. I was telling him about the memoir I’m currently writing (Me, My Mom & Erma: How I Learned to Live with Passion and Laugh through Tragedy from Two Great Women), and he e-mailed me the contact info for the Bombeck Workshop and said I needed to write and tell them he had sent me. Matt Dewald responded immediately and invited me to participate. I’m thrilled. I truly feel like I’ve come full circle in life.
Rosie: Where you inspired by Erma Bombeck’s writing?
Wade: Completely. Totally. She is my idol. I used to hang pictures of her on my corkboard wall. I love to tell how this came to be via a personal story, so here she blows:
As a kid, and largely thanks to my grandma, I used to journal about everything going on around me in my tiny Ozarks town: Whether I was forced to go cowtippin’ with the country boys or watch my brother nail rabbit pelts to our giant oak tree, it seemed to be only the only way I could make sense of the world.
For a while when I was young, I called my mom, who was a nurse, “Digit,” because she became infamous in our little town for being the go-to gal whenever a local cut off a toe with a lawnmower, or whacked off a finger with a chainsaw.
My mother would answer our giant red, rotary phone, the kind presidents use in comedy skits when they are about to launch a nuclear bomb, and calmly say, “Do you have your big toe? Well, can you locate it? Good!”
And then she would rush out of the house, often barefoot, in a nightgown, with a little Igloo cooler filled with ice. She would retrieve the detached digit, and personally rush the injured idiot to the ER of the neighboring hospital where she worked.
While cleaning my room one morning, she, of course, stumbled upon these journal entries about her, and – one morning when I was inhaling a bowl of Quisp cereal for breakfast – simply shoved our little weekly newspaper in front of my nose and said:
“You need to read Erma!”
From that point on, I was devoted to Erma Bombeck’s column, “At Wit’s End,” in our small-town newspaper, and even clipped a few of my favorites to adorn my corkboard wall, need I say not something many boys in the Ozarks did.
Though I was very young, maybe 11 or 12 at the time, Erma connected deeply with me.
She was a humorist and human who made the mundane memorable.
She wrote about family and food, laundry and life.
She wrote about everyday stuff with which I could relate.
And for a chubby little boy in the middle of nowhere who had a fondness for ascots and dreams of being a writer, I found a role model in a middle-aged suburban mother who seemed to be dealing with just as many self-esteem issues as I was.
Actually, make that two middle-aged mothers.
From that day my mom led me to Erma, I wrote and journaled more earnestly about my life, yet I always tried to do it with a fairly outrageous sense of humor, just like Erma did. I found laughter softened the pain, made life seem so much more bearable, even through incredible tragedy.
And that would be a fortuitous lesson. The summer my older brother graduated from high school, he was killed. That was followed in subsequent years by the deaths of my mom’s father and sister, something I document in my first memoir, America’s Boy .
When my mother seemed no longer able to laugh, or joke, or to dream, I made it my sole goal to bring her back to life. I read to her from Erma Bombeck. I read to her from my journals. I held her hand as we floated in innertubes in the creek in front of my grandparents’ log cabin. We became more than mother-son, we became friends.
And, slowly, my mom began to laugh again … to come to life.
Flash forward to New Year’s Day 2005, where I vividly remember standing in front of my mailbox clutching a fistful of query letters to literary agents after I’d spent two years completing my first memoir, America’s Boy It was cold, and I was shivering, but not because of the temperature. I was nearly 40. As I mentioned, I hated my job. And my mom was tired, after having lost a son too early, of her only remaining child being unhappy, unfulfilled, not living his dream.
“Here’s to dreams coming true!” my mom had said.
She forced my hand into the mailbox, made me drop the letters, and then promptly slammed the slot on my fingers.
“Thanks, Digit!” I said to her. “I’m glad you’re here, so you can save my fingers.”
“This is meant to be,” she said, laughing.
Two weeks later, I had seven formal offers of representation from literary agents.
“People are going to read about you now, mom,” I told her soon after, since my first book was largely about her and my entire, insane but loving Ozarks family. “And some of it’s not pretty.”
“Good!” she roared. “Life isn’t pretty, sweetie. That’s why it’s called life. That’s why you better have a damn good sense of humor.”
My mother passed away of cancer this June, holding on long enough to see my current memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, featured on NBC’s The Today Show as a Summer Must-Read, and after reading my first-ever rave review in USA TODAY.
At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream is not only about trying to simplify my life in today’s consumer society – a lesson I honestly failed, considering I still equate Kenneth Cole to Gandhi for his contributions to the world – but it’s also about surviving raccoon attacks, lake-effect snow, and nosy neighbors with night-vision goggles. All of the insane stuff that just tends to happen to me – and to all of us – in life. But most of all, it’s a book about believing in myself, pursuing my passion, following my dreams, and asking myself – as I do in the book – What Would I Do If I Could Not Fail?
It’s a question we all, sadly, rarely ask ourselves.
“You didn’t fail!” my mom said proudly from her hospital bed. “You did it! And I’ll make sure tell Erma and your grandma you did it, although I think they already know!”
And, just as I was about to cry, a preacher with a ukulele walked into her room. My mom stared at him, and then at me, smiling, trying not to laugh.
Because it is moments like this that not only summed up our life but sum up all of our lives. It is why, really, I became a memoirist, a humorist, just like Erma Bombeck.
So, I simply turned to the preacher with the ukulele and said, “Do you know tiny bubbles?”
And, of course, he did.
My mom broke into hysterics, grabbed my hand, and said, “You keep the world laughing … even through the tears, deal?”
Though my mom, grandma, and Erma are all gone from my life much too soon, they remain with me: They continue to make me laugh, think, dream, and appreciate the fragility and foibles of people and life.
Because those are things that are most beautiful: The imperfections in each of us.
And that’s what I still try and remember every day, focus on in each and every memoir: I write about everyday life from a unique perspective – with a whopping dose of humor and cynicism – touching upon those themes that touch us all, be it unconditional love, loss, family, sex, relationships, jobs, self-esteem, neuroses, dreams. I believe that the very best books force us to hold a mirror up to our collective faces and take a good long hard look at what’s reflected back. And that image always looks so much better if we somehow manage to smile, even through all those damn tears.
Rosie: Will you ever write a serious novel?
Wade: I have to say that I feel like all of my memoirs – though hilarious and humorous at heart – are serious and take on highly personal and emotional issues. But, aaah, yes, that serious novel every writer wants to write.
Honestly? Tried it. Know it needs work. Lots of work. So, it’s sitting right now in a folder on my laptop titled, seriously, “This Sucks for Now.” I love the concept and know I will get back around to it, but I’m driven right now by writing memoirs, about life, about all those weird, wonderful things that unite us all, and can only happen in real life.
And, to be honest, I have two memoirs – after the one about my mom and Erma – that I have to write. They are calling me.
Rosie: How did you become an exercise addict?
Wade: I write in my first memoir, America’s Boy, about my older brother dying when he graduated high school and when I graduated junior high. It was just when I was beginning to understand who I was, really. I witnessed the incredible pain my parents experienced, and it was at that moment I decided I didn’t want to cause my parents another moment of pain or strife, I decided – out of pain and shame – to bury myself along with my brother, just to spare my family from any future trauma. And by doing that, I hid my pain by eating, by gaining weight, and, eventually peaked in the mid-200’s (though my family is very thin; my mom had a 19-inch waist when she married). It was only when I became honest with myself, about who I was, who I wanted to be, that I started to lose the weight. More importantly, I learned to exercise, to take of my body, to love myself. The mental and spiritual is intimately intertwined with the physical, one supports the other, and you have to get them all aligned. Then you will be happy, healthy.
Exercise is what keeps me balanced now. My life is centered around writing, the creative, the mental, and going out for a 10-mile run, or working out hard at the gym, brings everything back to center. I would be lost without exercise. When I get too in my head, exercise brings me back into the moment.
I love to run. I write a lot when I run; I start to get tired, and that’s when I’ve learned the ideas really start to flow. Usually, after a long run, I’ll have to get right back to my laptop to get all my ideas down. It’s just a great feeling.
Rosie: Do you live on Lake Michigan?
Wade: Yes, we live roughly a mile from Lake Michigan, which truly resembles the ocean in beauty and grandeur. It’s just gorgeous, and the beaches and dunesland are protected and undeveloped. It very much has the feel of Cape Cod. We literally live on the beach in the summer and fall.
Our home is a knotty pine cottage on almost four acres of woods, filled with sugar maples and pines. I write in At Least in the City about how we stumbled into this resort-y area of Michigan and this cottage quite by accident and just fell in love with it. It resonated with us so deeply, personally and creatively. And the cottage reminds me, in a way, of the log cabin my family used to have when I was a kid. It was a huge transition going from city boys to rural men, quitting our jobs and moving, and I learned that the simple life ain’t so simple. But I also learned that there’s never a wrong time to believe in your dream, take a deep breath and leap off a bridge without a parachute. I feel you have to get lost in the woods before you can really find yourself.
Rosie: I understand that you and Gary have two family pets, Marge and Mable. What breeds are they and what games or tricks have they mastered?
Wade: Yes, we have two beloved mutts, Marge (a 12-1/2-year-old, 85-pound, Husky-Ridgeback-Scooby-Doo’ish sort of dame) and Mable (a 2-year-old, 32-pound-but-supposed-to-weigh-about 26-pounds Labradoodle-beagle inbred who looks like an insane bat). Both are rescue dogs, and the loves of our lives.
Marge is the master of manipulation. She can open any door with her snout, including pocket doors. She also loves to unwrap gifts. If you have a birthday or Christmas, Marge better have a few presents of her own, or she’s coming after yours. I love to watch her gingerly unwrap the paper and then open the box with her mouth and paws. Mable really has no discernable skills, except unless you count eating and licking herself, which I do, since they are basically the same skills I have.
By the way, animal rescue (local humane shelters) are a big passion of ours. We have seen, living in the city and the country, the incredible cruelty with how many animals are treated, and we do our best to help animals and animal causes. In fact, I am currently in the midst of assembling and editing a collection of essays from well-known American humorists (writers, comics and actors) about their pets, specifically their dogs. The anthology is tentatively titled, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tails from Man's Best Friends and America's Favorite Humorists, and part of the book’s proceeds will benefit the national chapter of Humane Society (which is thrilled to be a part of this project, and is currently wooing some of their big-name celebrities to take part). I already have New York Times bestselling memoirists Jen Lancaster and Laurie Notaro signed on, along with the aforementioned and fabulous Craig Wilson, as well as New York Times bestselling novelist, and Cosmopolitan and The Today Show books editor John Searles. There are loads of more great people to announce soon.
At the end of the interview, Wade said “Thanks, Rose, for the wonderful interview. Here’s to laughter! “
Wade, I believe that there are three great women in heaven, including your grandma, who are extremely proud of you. Who wouldn't be proud of a writer who can label a concept “This Sucks for Now.”
Monday, April 5, 2010
Every other year, I go out to Ohio, to attend the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop at the University of Dayton. So, just this morning, I was online checking rates and times for United Airlines and Amtrak to Dayton, OH.
I don't know why I checked airfare; no one has been able to get me on a plane since I took AirSick Flight 19 to St. Thomas, several years ago, and the Northwest pilots probably got caught playing Mafia Wars on their laptops, overshooting the airport.
I prefer train travel, but Amtrak only goes to Cincinnati, where you can hail a taxi, hop a bus, or rent a car for the last 56-green-miles to Dayton.
Coach or room, the train arrives there at 1:30 am. I considered how dangerous it might be to find myself alone in a train station, at that hour. I did that once in NYC and was accosted by a street person, who wanted half of my potato skin. It was dripping with butter, sour cream, and bacon bits. Not willing to give up my bacon bits, I gave him a small bag of Nachos instead. I nixed the train ride idea. Plus, on the way back, the only train leaves Cincinnati at 3:29 am Sunday the 18th, or else you have to wait it out until the 21st; at which time the train leaves the station at 3:29 am. The trip takes about 16 hours.
The plane, Tattoo, goes all over the eastern seaboard, with layovers in Hoboken, DC, and Atlanta; taking 5 to 6 hours.
How in the hell did explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle manage in a dugout canoe?
Since Dayton is only 545 miles away, I drew a straight line on a road map from Philadelphia to Dayton, and decided to check out Enterprise Rent-a-Car to drive. I've driven there in my own car before, getting it tuned up, tires checked, oil, brake fluid, window washer, and a fill-up; only to arrive at the same time as my friend, Joy, was leaving the Dayton Marriott bar in her bunny slippers and I looked as disheveled as she did, except I was sober!
It all started on Route 70 between Columbus and Dayton... you guessed it, flat as the world my Italian ancestor was told he lived in, right?
My Italian heritage stunted my growth, but I managed to get to be 5 feet tall. Consequently, I have to practically do a tarantella on the lug wrench to loosen the tire.
I detest lug nuts!
Do you remember the scene in "A Christmas Story," when Ralph utters an expletive, while helping his father change a tire and ends up sucking on a bar of Lifebouy?
That was me on Route 70. If there were any good Samaritans around, they all accelerated to get away from the woman, who even looked like a deranged bunny out on the highway.
You have to know that the entire time, I'm changing the tire, visions of Hervé Villechaize yelling "Mr. Rourke, the plane! the plane!" kept dancing in my head, while I'm berating myself with coulda shoulda woulda.
Try a little self-love, I thought, that always works. So, I priced the Enterprise rental rate on a real classy Lincoln Towncar for a week. The cost is the same as airfare or room accommodations on Amtrak.
Oh yes! and a box of Godiva chocolates for the road. Whoo-Hoo!
Have audio books will travel.