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An Unforgettable Weekend

By Sandra Fortier

Fond of reading Erma Bombeck’s columns in the paper while growing up, I was overjoyed to attend a virtual Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Unable to drive and unfamiliar with any direct flights or bus routes to the University of Dayton, the virtual option was the most feasible option for me.

Imagine meeting other aspiring writers in the chat bar, learning about their prospects and promoting my book See? Living Blind in a Sighted World. A dear friend made all this possible!

Where were these writers from? What brought them here? Before the presentation, I introduced myself to many other attendees.

Having attended a virtual Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop three years ago, this friend, Lori Mansell-Solinski, advised me, “Sandy, that would be a wonderful experience for you in meeting professional and other aspiring authors. I hope you can attend someday.” This year, this dream became reality.

Pitchapalooza, modeled after “Dancing with the Stars,” allowed only one minute for prospective authors to pitch their books. Talk about thinking on one’s feet! I burst into tears when Gusty Henao’s pitch for her book A Hundred Thank You’s won the contest. It is a poignant memoir about a woman at her wit’s end during the COVID pandemic as she copes with divorce, a burst water heater and a host of other problems.

I couldn’t stop crying during the conversation between the author and the hosts as she sobbed in amazement. “Did this just happen? Oh, I had a hole in the ceiling for four months.The water heater was upstairs, and reconstruction did nothing for my insomnia. (Today), I was out walking when I bumped into my 16-year-old son and practiced my pitch!”

“Well, you earned it! You stood up,” confirmed the host, David Henry Sterry.

I became more acquainted with Dion Flynn, an improvisor, comedian and actor known for playing Barack Obama on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Cathy Guisewite, known for her comic strip “Cathy.” She authored a funny memoir, Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault: Essays from the Grown-Up Years, and Scenes from Isolation, a humorous gift book of “Cathy” cartoons described as “a treasured scrapbook of what we survived” during the pandemic. I chuckled when her presentation included some of these cartoons.

I also doubled over in belly laughs when Dion recounted stories about his childhood in a trailer park, especially asking kids to fork up money to buy Doritos for them. “I ended up getting heaver,” he admitted. His mother loved books and during his childhood read him adult books about the Holocaust and classics such as The Grapes of Wrath.

Though Cathy already had had a successful career at a Detroit-area advertising agency, I learned that, after her mother’s encouragement, she has achieved greater success as a cartoonist by poking fun at her frustrations with weight and dating. The resilience of Cathy and Dion amazed me.

One of Cathy’s tidbits of wisdom, “Writing lies between the head and heart,” which she illustrated by holding up a practical low-heeled shoe and a fancy high-heeled one, especially impacted me emotionally. Devoid of these aspects, we’d be like T.S. Elliot’s Hollow Men.

Of all the keynote speakers, Katrina Kittle’s talk struck the most chords with me, particularly when she emphasized, “You don’t owe anyone an apology.” Since I’ve written See? people often ask me when I’ll write another book. Sometimes I feel pressured by their frequent queries. I want writing to be delightful, not drudgery. If I feel pressured into writing, thinking becomes difficult. Someday, I may publish an anthology of poetry or short stories portraying my impressions of life, but the stories and poems are a work in progress.

Though Katrina has written The Kindness of Strangers, The Blessings of the Animals and Reasons to be Happy, she presented helpful tips on dealing with writer’s or publisher’s drought. These included taking a self-inventory and taking setbacks in stride, being committed as a writer, being aware of our own life stories and changing what we tell others about ourselves.

“My professional accomplishment was that I didn’t give up,” she told us. That message rings true through her writing, battling breast cancer and caring for her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s.

I needed that pep talk.

— Sandra Fortier

Sandra Fortier, of Alpena, Michigan, was born legally blind. She’s the author of See? Living Blind in a Sighted World.

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