Chatter filled the room as we squeezed through the crowd between clusters of reuniting friends. We didn’t know a soul, so we retreated to our room until the opening dinner in the hotel’s huge ballroom. There we sat at a table tucked in the back and, by the end of the night, made two new friends. We were a mother-daughter pair of newbies. Actually, we were known as virgins, officially “Erma Virgins” to be clear and precise as all writers should be — a tip gleaned in the days to follow at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio. My mom was a lifelong Erma fan with a dream to be a writer, so I knew this conference would be a perfect Christmas gift. In the end it was so much more.
Day one started with a decision to “divide and conquer,” to soak up more knowledge from concurrent sessions jam-packed with knowledge. As I furiously jotted notes and snapped iPhone shots of PowerPoint presentations, I was convinced of several things: 1. My website wasn't as good as I thought. 2. Any type of writing class in my first 50 years of life would have been enormously helpful. 3. The experts and fellow writers were community, not competition. By the end of the first day, we had conquered nothing except finding bathrooms and snack tables.
By day two we gave up on conquering and focused on companionship. Together we attended the first workshop on branding using social media tools. I peered over at Mom’s notes knowing she had no idea what Facebook Live was on “The Facebook,” as she called it. I was clueless too. I did, however, receive one of the most important pieces of advice from presenter Cindy Ratzlaff when I asked about my brand and audience. After sharing a few sentences of my background and writing topics, this stranger responded assuredly without pause, “Write to people just like you — an empty nester, Christian mom.” That one sentence provided instant clarity.
Feeling empowered and now connected with other attendees, Mom and I found our way to lunch as the program began with the coronation of the conference king and queen. As Master of Ceremonies Patricia Wynn Brown spoke of a mother-daughter team she had met the previous day, the story grew familiar. Emotions overcame me with her words, “Will our new queen, Lori Mansell, please come forward with her daughter Julie.” On the stage, Kathy Kinney (aka “Mimi” from The Drew Carey Show) placed a jeweled plastic crown on Mom’s head, and the newly crowned queen was offered a moment at the microphone, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and you’ve all inspired me,” she began. “I’m going to write a book. It’s never too late. This is a new beginning.”
With that, the Erma Virgin had become the admired Erma Queen, inspiring over 350 attendees from all over the country. Throughout the afternoon fellow writers greeted her with bows and hand kisses. Selfies with the royal family became commonplace. The queen perfected her regal wave. And just before we departed back to our Indianapolis castle, it could be nothing less than a divine hallway encounter that we would run into the Bombeck family. I know if Erma were still alive that she and Mom would have been great friends. At least friends on The Facebook.