For the Love of Erma

ermaMy mother was always a big Erma Bombeck fan. 

She had all of Erma’s books and would make sure to tune in anytime Erma appeared on TV.  I remember watching Erma one time with my mother and, after the segment, I turned to my mother and said, “She seems like a really nice lady.”  My mother agreed. 

The niceness that Erma exuded also permeated her columns.  You could tell from her essays that she was just a really good person and someone you would want to have as a friend.

It is this same air of niceness that seems to envelope the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.  In a sometimes brutally competitive world, I was somewhat surprised to find so many supportive, helpful, and encouraging colleagues at the conference.  In the beginning, as the new kid on the block, I was grateful for that support and encouragement. Now as the more seasoned columnist, I am just as grateful to return to the conference to give back to other writers who are just starting out.

What I realized in my time with the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, is that we writers who aspire to follow in the footsteps of Erma do not just seek to follow Erma creatively. We also want, I think, to keep the spirit of her “niceness” alive.

It was in that spirit, upon hearing that I’d won the Global Humor category in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition three days before it was publicly announced, that I asked to donate the majority of my winnings back to the Workshop.  The Workshop uses every dime that it brings in to create the unique, invaluable, and utterly life changing conference that so many humor writers, myself included, have had the good fortune to attend and grow from.  I was thrilled to have the unexpected opportunity to help them continue their mission.  Could I have used the money myself?  Of course. Who couldn’t?  I’ve got a kid in college and another one on the way.  But I felt it was something I wanted to do.

With friends at The Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop in 2012

With friends at The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2012

As the top winner, I was also the recipient of a free registration for the conference.  Since, as a speaker, I was already comped my conference registration, I told the conference and contest organizers that I would like to donate my free registration to someone who had not been able to get into the conference.  We all felt that it should go to the two women who were the honorable mentions in my category.

Now, I’m not mentioning this to get kudos or claps on the back.  I actually would have preferred not to mention it at all but I have heard whisperings that I should not have been allowed to enter the contest… did not deserve to win… because I am a “professional,” or a “speaker.”  The truth is, I followed the rules, like everyone else, crafted my essay the best I could, like everyone else, and paid my entry fee, like everyone else.  As for the facts that I already had a free registration or didn’t need the money, that is irrelevant. I like to think that everyone who entered the contest, and everyone who attends the conference would have done the same if circumstances allowed, without being asked… whether they were a professional writer or a novice…  a speaker or an attendee… a syndicated columnist or a five-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition loser (like me), because we all have a little bit of Erma in us, and if Erma had won, she would do the same thing.

I am honestly humbled to have won, and delighted to have the opportunity to share my good fortune with other writers.  I look forward to meeting all of you at the conference so we can support our mutual writing  dreams!




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57 responses to “For the Love of Erma

  1. Oh sweet friend, you do Erma so proud.
    For those that cannot find it in their less than humorous hearts to stand proudly by your side, may hairs sprout from their chins so we shall recognise them in their wolves’ clothing.
    Just saying. Love always.

  2. Love you too Nicole. And you have seen all my hairs, everywhere!! 😉

  3. To question your win is to question the integrity of the entire contest, which is a ridiculous thought. Yours is a well deserved win, and if anyone feels otherwise, then I suggest they up their game.

  4. Oh, Tracy, what a kind heart you have — you would make Erma (and your Mom) proud!
    Those “whisperings?” They make me think of something my young son said once to his three-years-younger toddler sister. She asked “What are strangers?” Before I could answer, he popped up with “Strangers are friends we haven’t met yet.” I’ve never heard a better definition.
    Those “whisperings” are just from strangers, who haven’t learned about friendship yet.

  5. Thank you Suzette. You were one of the people I learned from in my early days and still continue to respect, admire and grow from knowing you!

  6. Congratulations on winning the Erma Bombeck Award! It was a great piece which I thoroughly enjoyed. I entered as well, so naturally I had to see what was chosen over my submission and in all honesty, I am not disappointed. I’m glad it was you.

  7. amyfsherman

    Well, I certainly didn’t whisper, Tracy. And I never thought your piece was anything but worthy of a win. I did, however, think it would have been just as easy to bow out and allow other writers who are still struggling not have to compete with a seasoned faculty member. As I stated, I know you are talented and very hard working. I just feel the contest could be more sensitive to the entrants who did not feel they would be competing with such an established columnist.

    I know your friends and fans will totally disagree. I am actually a very nice person, but am entitled to my opinion, which I am also proud to blog about.

    Best wishes.

    • Brian O'Connor

      You are being petty, small-mined and churlish, Amy, so I wouldn’t be so proud. You are suggesting that Tracy entered a contest of all amateurs as some kind of ringer unfairly elbowing out people who aren’t in her class, which is nonsense. It’s not like Tracy is Michael Phelps out-swimming the Akron YMCA 3rd-Grade Guppies diving team. Tracy competed against plenty of other professional writers who didn’t win. This contest is a national one, and in any given year, lots of professional writers enter — yet the top prize often goes to an “amateur.” No writer worth reading wants to win a contest where she isn’t challenged to produce what is clearly the best piece of writing among all comers.Your post reeks of sour grapes.

      • amyfsherman

        You are welcome to your opinion, Brian. I do not expect to sway any loyal Tracy friends and fans. I just think there should be separation of faculty and attendee.

    • Amy, I know you are a nice person and you are definitely entitled to your opinion. It only concerns me when I get the sense that the purpose of sharing that opinion is meant to discredit a well intended organization, rally dissent, or shame someone into doing or not doing something they are entitled to do as much as the next person. As I said to someone else who seemed unhappy with my decision to enter, it is unfair to expect someone with more experience to abstain from contests. It doesn’t work that way in real life when people are applying for jobs. I lost out in the NSNC contest 2 years ago to Roger Ebert. He wrote an amazing column and deserved the win. I stand by your right to voice your opinion but I respectfully disagree with it.

      • amyfsherman

        Understood. A contest is a contest. I still feel there should be a separation. Obviously others do not share that opinion. You have done the honorable thing and you are a talented writer. I was not trying to rally. I do know others were feeling similarly and felt more comfortable posting than they did. I blogged my feelings at the risk of people slinging arrows. I mentioned that in my blog.
        You are an asset to the conference. End of story.

  8. Tracy, the more I get to know you, the more and more I like you. That was an incredibly generous gesture to pay it forward so that other aspiring writers can learn and grow. You’re a class act, my friend. And any grousing that you shouldn’t have won because you’re a professional sounds like sour grapes to me. Whether we pay our mortgages and send our children to college on our earnings as writers or write what only our families will read is ultimately immaterial. All of us who dare to write, face the blank page, the blank screen with the same amount of anxiety and/or dread that just because we’ve written something before that we considered passable doesn’t mean we’ll be able to pull off that hat trick again. And yet we step up to the blank page/blank screen and give it a try every day because we can do nothing else. Philip Roth was interviewed in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review section where he was asked about his now famous quote on quitting, “The struggle with writing is over.” Here’s what he said:

    “Everybody has a hard job. All real work is hard. My work happened to be undoable. Morning after morning for 50 years, I faced the next page defenseless and unprepared. Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it. Obstinacy not talent saved my life. It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me, and I had no compassion for myself.”

    Tracy, you won because on a given day, you fought the good fight against the blank page and won, producing something hilarious. That’s part of what makes you a professional. But you won because you’re funny. And you would be funny no matter what your vocation. The rest of us are just damn lucky you chose to write, so we can share in the laughter too. Well done! And well deserved!

  9. writerbonnie

    I’m a full-time professional writer too. My issue is not about me thinking this is amateur hour. This is about faculty sitting on both sides of the fence. I don’t think faculty should sit on one side, positioned as an educator and a leader at the event and then compete with the attendees. Which are you? Faculty or an attendee? I just don’t think it’s right. Your writing ability is not in question. I’m not pouting either. As faculty, I feel you should not have competed with the same attendees you aim to educate and support. It’s like being the adult who breaks the piñata at a kid’s party. Why trump them when you can support them? This isn’t petty. You are a great writer, you should know that without the title. Otherwise you wouldn’t be a faculty member. Rules don’t equal ethics. I addressed my concerns quietly, but since you opened it up in a public forum, I wanted to share my feelings. Don’t diminish or disregard them as petty. I wish you no ill will. Congratulations. You earned it.

    • I respect your opinion about this Bonnie and hear your concerns. However, it’s not that black and white. Not all faculty are significantly more seasoned or professional than the attendees who come to the conference or writers who enter the contest. I know many attendees in fact who are far more experienced than I am in many ways, especially in light of the fact that I am only there to speak on one particular element in the professional writing realm. Like many faculty members, I am also there to learn from other speakers. I suppose ultimately, it will be up to the contest organizers to decide this issue, but personally I did not see a problem with throwing my hat into the ring for a contest that was entered into by both professional and novice writers. Thank you though for weighing in on this.

      • writerbonnie

        Thanks for your reply. My objection has nothing to do with how experienced you are. My apologies for not making that abundantly clear. My objection is your affiliation with the event as a faculty member. That fact, regardless of your experience, should disqualify you. In my opinion, it’s unethical.

  10. Very classy, and a winner of an essay (clearly). Congratulations, Tracey!

  11. Congratulations! I entered the local category hoping to win a spot since I didn’t get in in time. But, no luck. (I am having trouble coming to terms with the fact that there are at least THREE people in Dayton, Ohio that are funnier than I am.) I shall try again next time. I thought your piece was hilarious, and the judges don’t know who wrote it, so it seems totally fair to me! You brought the funny!

  12. Congratulations and well deserved. It bothers me that folks seem to have such a difficult time celebrating with others. Cheers and have a wonderful time!

  13. Harvey Baron

    Well written Tra, But beneath the lines I get the feeling you are hurt, or pissed, or troubled by some crap that led you to write this. I’m sorry about that. You know how I feel about that: “!!!###***!!! Them!!!”

    Luv U , Xoxo Dad

    Sent from my iPad

    On Mar 18, 2014, at 4:44 PM, Lost in Suburbia wrote: lostinsuburbiablog posted: “My mother was always a big Erma Bombeck fan. She had all of Erma’s books and would make sure to tune in anytime Erma appeared on TV. I remember watching Erma one time with my mother and, after the segment, I turned to my mother and said, “She seems li”

  14. Hi Tracy, we haven’t met yet but I am looking forward to hearing you at the conference and learning from you. Congratulations on your win! Your essay was very funny and certainly you deserved the honor. Also I think it’s admirable that you decided to donate your winnings to support something you obviously feel passionately about and continue paying forward to others. I entered the contest but never thought I would win. For me, it was an exercise in putting my words into the hands of people who were going to judge them and that was scary enough without worrying about whether I would win or not.
    That being said, I think the concern being expressed is being felt by quite a few people and I appreciate your honesty and willingness to open up the communication and share your viewpoint. I would say that the primary concern, that writerbonnie expressed, is that you are on the faculty and therefore the door is opened to questioning whether you entering the contest was the best thing to do. If the spirit of the competition and the organization itself should have risked the sense of any impropriety is something they should examine and think about going forward. Perception, right or wrong, is reality.
    Ultimately, what I don’t want is for this to tarnish anyone (you, the contest, the organization) in any way and I think it is the best course of action for all that are participating and entered the contest is to embrace the winners with open arms and praise them for their bravery. I think that is what Erma would want.
    Congratulations again Tracy and thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for your incredibly thoughtful response. I think the one thing that everyone has failed to note is that while the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition shares part of it it’s name with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, it is not sponsored or affiliated with the workshop, but is run independently by the Washington Centerville Library. The fact that I am on the faculty at the Workshop should be and is inconsequential. There really is no impropriety on any level. Whether or not I, as a seasoned writer, should have entered is another issue, and one which I disagree with, however, I respect the fact that some people feel differently.

      • Tracy, I think that point is an important one and certainly should be emphasized for next years contest. Because they are not affiliated (the contest and the workshop), the connection is only by name. I think that may have been unclear to the contestants. Regardless, and I say this having spoken to many people who are going to the workshop, your essay was hilarious and no one can dispute that. Looking forward to meeting you and thank you again for being willing to talk about this openly and honestly.
        Also, your Dad is hilarious. Guess it’s in the genes?

      • writerbonnie

        Yes. They are separate, but they are not separated. The prize for one is attendance to the other and the winning entries are read at the conference and posted on the conference website and social media. The distinction between the two is not evident to everyone.
        Again, congrats. I’m not up for arguing any longer. You won fair and square. No doubts about that. It’s in the hands of the powers that be. I look forward to the conference.

      • amyfsherman

        Hear, hear! Party on. The conference is what it’s about.

  15. My dad is very protective! Look forward to meeting you too!

  16. susanintheboonies

    Congratulations on your win!

  17. janieemaus

    Nicely put. And a well deserved win!

  18. I’m happy that you won and very, VERY proud of you, Tracy! I can’t wait to meet you at the conference!!!!

  19. OY!! Lighten up, peeps. Tracy is not the only professional writer who entered the contest. She just happened to write the the best essay this year. Five tries, huh? I’ve got a few more until I’ll get competitive. Hugs to you and see you soon.

  20. My mom was also a huge Erma fan and I remember seeing her on TV. Now, I have a compilation book of Erma’s columns and I am really enjoying them in a completely different way now that I am parent too. Congrats on your award! Very well deserved!

  21. theanimatedwoman

    You are the picture of grace, my friend. Kind, generous and FUNNY. And I speak as someone who has been on the receiving end of all three.

    Congratulations and love!

  22. Good for you! The contest is open to ALL writer right? SO what’s the problem? I wanted to enter but missed the deadline. I hope to go to the conf. next year!

  23. When I entered the contest I didn’t even think twice about the possibility that I would be competing against people who were published writers – in my feeble brain it was just us closet-writing chickens! But I am honestly thankful I didn’t know, because I would’ve talked myself “write” out of entering, when really – my chances were as good as any. Heck, my blog post was published on the EBWW website the day registration started – that’s something to crow about!! I was very proud of my submission and feeling extremely powerful to be surrounding myself with this kind of talent in just a few weeks!

    • That is REALLY cool that you got on the EBWW site! You are going to love the people you meet at this conference. I went there in 2004 when I just had one column in my local paper and I learned so much from everyone (not just from the session) and some of my closest friends today are people I met at Erma. Look forward to meeting you!

  24. This post and ensuing thread was fascinating to read. As is annoyingly typical of me, I really see both sides. I think it would be incredibly difficult to draw the line between which types of writers are amateurs and which are professional. Technically, I’m a professional writer, too – certain places pay me to publish my writing. Does that mean as an attendee I shouldn’t have entered? I hope not.

    On the other hand, I understand the confusion, and perhaps that the appearance is unfair, but it is my understanding that the judges had only the ESSAYS to judge, and they didn’t know who AUTHORED the essay, so favoritism would not have come into play. Tracy’s essay won on merit, and I believe the judges when they say it was daunting to choose a “best” from the lot. As a five-time non-winning entrant, I believe she has certainly paid her dues. And to the credit of those raising questions, not ONE of them has intimated that Tracy is in any way, shape or form, undeserving of a win. The questions involve potential conflicts of interest, from what I’ve read above.

    Most “faculty” at conferences are much the way Tracy describes – contributors to one of the MANY available facets of learning – and there to learn new things themselves. They often pay their own hotel and travel costs. They don’t get paid, other than their registration being comped. I applaud Tracy for donating the majority of her prize to others who couldn’t pay for the conference themselves. Grace and kindness.

    The connection between the contest and the workshop (to the degree it exists) is confusing, and if anything, perhaps the writing contest (the library, perhaps, who runs it?) could do a better job spelling out ways in which they are connected, and ways in which they are independent from one another. Maybe also better outlined, or something worth discussing, anyhow, would be clearer guidelines disclosing the fact that faculty may or may not enter, and hope that would NOT discourage the newbies or amateurs from competing! It would not discourage me…I have a good deal of respect for the integrity of most anything associated with Erma Bombeck’s name.

    Perhaps a faculty member winning was valid prompt to discuss guidelines. Never discourage discourse, though. I’m afraid accusing those raising questions of having “sour grapes” or “needing to step up their game” really isn’t in the spirit of Erma (or Tracy’s) kindness. I think they’re legitimate questions to ask – if only to avoid confusion in the future.

    I for one, however, am more than satisfied by Tracy’s answers, actions, intentions, and her love of the Workshop. I know from experience she is INCREDIBLY generous with her fellow writers, supportive of their efforts, and an all around mensch to them no matter where they are in the arc of their careers. I question her intentions and integrity NOT AT ALL.

    Apologies for length. I really cannot wait to meet such a dynamic group of intellectual, creative, and FUNNNNYYYYYY people! xoxoxoxox -Aliza

    • writerbonnie

      Well put, Aliza. My questions are by no means a personal attack (I don’t even know Tracy) but a professional discussion in regards to the process. Than you.

    • Aliza, Thank you thank you thank you for bringing all the considerations out in such a complete and thoughtful way. Faculty and seasoned writers have been entering this contest for as long as it has been going on, because, as you mentioned, often times there is little that separates some of the faculty from some of the attendees, so why shouldn’t we enter? It just didn’t seem to be an issue until this year when a member of the faculty won. Maybe they don’t need to change the criteria for entering but just be much clearer about who is entering so there are no bad feelings about it when the winner is announced.

  25. amyfsherman

    Aliza, I thank you for adding to the discussion. I believe you eloquently pointed out the blurred lines and fairly pointed out it would be best to clarify the distinction between the contest and the EBWW. Apparently it is completely separate from the workshop because it is run by the library, but when the winners are awarded prizes in relation to the workshop, it can be confusing. And I can guarantee you a good many newcomers were not aware of the distinction.

    If the conference believes it is okay to include faculty and staff, that is certainly their perogative. Making that a clear part of the guidelines/rules will prevent any ill feelings, I’m sure.

    Thanks again for being a voice of reason. I totally understand how my speaking up can be construed as sour grapes, even though that is not the case for me personally; just as the prize going to a faculty member could be misconstrued, perceptions are what they are. I hold no grudges.

    By the time the conference rolls around, I really hope this discussion will have played out and not have a detrimental effect on the event. It truly is a place to celebrate writers from all walks of life,
    along with honoring Erma.

  26. I was told early on in my writing career, “If you don’t win…write better! Enough said. Love the photo of the early Ermies! Joanie

  27. You are talented, you are funny, you are supportive, you are kind, you are gracious. As long as I’ve known you I’ve seen you to be these things. I think you’ve done Emma proud in every way. I’m so happy for what I know was a hard-won award. xo