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The Gift of Time (and a Bathrobe)

By Teri Rizvi

Kristen Mulrooney spent seven years “writing in 10-minute increments” around caring for three young children. What could she do with some alone time?

In the last two weeks she wrote 75,000 words — the first draft of a humorous novel — in a hotel room in Dayton, Ohio.

As one of three 2022 grand prize winners of A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program, Mulrooney was “robed” in a luxurious bathrobe at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and given a “Do Not Disturb” sign for a two-week stay at the University of Dayton Marriott.

“On the first night of the workshop emcee Leighann Lord introduced the Humorists-in-Residence and ran down a list of our perks — the travel, the accommodations, the room service, the robe — and the last item on the list was the gift of time,” recalled Mulrooney, a humorist and satirist from the Boston area.

“And when she said that, I almost started to cry up there in front of everyone because when have I ever had time? Even before I became a mother, I didn't have time. We all have jobs and responsibilities and it's really, really hard to find a creative mindset in between sorting the recycling and cleaning the toilet. So I am deeply grateful for all of it, from the robe to the omelette bar, but especially for the gift of time — which for the first time in my life allowed me the luxury of sitting down to write the novel I always suspected I could write.” 

Jillian Van Hefty and Mary Oves, the other two winners of this unusual writer’s residency, also savored the solitude.

Nearly every day (“except one day on account of being too stuffed from my morning omlette”), Van Hefty walked a mile between the hotel and Woodland Cemetery to spend some quiet moments by Bombeck’s grave. During her residency the mother of two from Bella Vista, Arkansas, made progress on a compilation of humorous letters to the late humorist from a spunky housewife bemused by life’s absurdities. Her book’s working title: Dear Erma: Do Emotional Support Llamas Need Tuxedos?

The residency “exceeded my wildest expectations,” she said. “Looking at the pictures of me in my robe, I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so big in my entire life.”

Mary Oves, a college English professor in Galloway, New Jersey, and the mother of three grown sons, went on a creative spree, discovering “who I am as a writer, for perhaps the first time in my life.”

With “the time and space” afforded by the residency, Oves finished a 7,000-word essay for The Sun, a literary magazine; wrote 10 chapters for a proposed book of memoir essays, culminating with the residency; tweaked and submitted four stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul books; created skits for a proposed humorous Netflix series about a widow trying to navigate her life after the death of her husband; and updated a book proposal about the humorous side of widowhood.

“I'm going to continue to try and find an agent or a publisher who believes that a book of funny widow essays has commercial appeal, and I believe strongly that the skits I have would have tremendous appeal as a Netflix series. I see Kate McKinnon playing me,” she said with a laugh. 

All three agreed that the stretch of time away from home was the perfect length.

“I’ve been in this hotel so long I’ve started to feel like I live here,” said Mulrooney, managing editor for The Belladonna, a comedy and satire site. “I keep greeting the other guests when they check in and asking if they want me to make them a sandwich.” 

(Photo l to r: Tracy Brady, 2020 humorist-in-residence with 2022 winners Mary Oves, Kristen Mulrooney and Jillian Van Hefty. Photo by Julie Walling Noeth.)

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