The inimitable Gail Collins.
I'll admit it right here and right now: I had no idea what I was doing at the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. I actually received the call last summer from Matt Dewald, director of the conference, while I was attending the BlogHer conference. He'd left a message, and before returning his call, I called Marcus, slightly panicked.
"Dude, this guy from the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop just left me a message about going to the conference next year."
"Yeah, I think it is. But truthfully? I can't tell if he's calling to invite me to just attend, or to actually speak."
"You doughnut," Marcus laughed, "there is no way they are calling you almost a year in advance to ask you to attend. They're asking you to speak, woman! Call the man back!"
Marcus was right, of course: I called Matt back and he graciously invited me to talk about using social media to enhance your brand as a writer. After thanking him and accepting his offer (with such exuberance that for a moment I suspected he might be having second thoughts), I couldn't help myself:
"So, Matt, can I ask how you found me?"
A quick pause, then an admission:
"Honestly? My wife Teresa reads your blog."
Well, Teresa, I owe you one: this was sincerely one of the most enjoyable conferences I have ever attended. The registration and logistics ran smoothly, and everyone I encountered was so amazingly warm and open and generous with their spirits and advice. Another thing: unlike most blogging conferences I've attended (or been given the honour of speaking), which are so often about networking and marketing and the immediacy of publishing, this workshop was about the art of writing (specifically humour and human interesting writing), and delved deeply into the beauty of a well-crafted piece. The information offered was particularly eye-opening.
But most impressive were the keynote speakers: sweet mother of Gumby, they were insanely good. On the opening night, Loretta LaRoche was so funny and had the audience so rollicking with laughter in their seats that when she closed her speech by having everyone stand up, hold hands, sway and sing along to Dean Martin's That's Amore, it felt totally normal (and if that's not testimony to the power of humour, people, I do not know what is). The following day, the lunchtime speaker was Gail Collins, former editor of the New York Times opinion page, who spent the first 5 minutes of her talk giving a riveting and entertaining account of 300 years of the history of American women (as you do), followed by a description of how the revolutionary writer Erma Bombeck helped lead the charge for feminism through her humour writing. As it happens, Erma Bombeck was one of the people whose work personally inspired Collins to become a writer. Collins was so engaging -- really captivating and funny -- I'm not afraid to say without the slightest trace of exaggeration that she is my new and absolute example of the writer I aspire one day to be. And the keynote speaker on Saturday night, the very funny Bill Scheft (a lead writer for Late Show with David Letterman), was hysterical; however, what made me fall completely in love with him was the way he was truly overcome with gratitude and appreciation when the crowd leapt from their seats at the end of his talk to give him a standing ovation. He was thoroughly adorable.
As you can tell, I can't say enough good things about this conference. If you're a writer or a blogger or even someone who some day hopes to become a writer or a blogger, I strongly urge you to put this biennial conference on your "must attend" list. I may not have known what I was doing there when I arrived on Thursday last week, but by God, by the time I got on the plane to return home on Saturday morning, I was already scheming about how I could go back in 2012.