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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Ernie Witham Part II


Scroll down for Part I

Do you find the world funny, and just record it? Or do everyday things become funny as you write about them? (Or maybe somewhere in between)
I almost always start off a speaking engagement by saying “Humor is everywhere!” I think I have always found funny, odd things in life. As a recent example… I love to shop for humor. If I can’t think of anything, I will often go to a store and poke around, watch people, see what’s on sale. So, I was at Costco, a big box store that sells just about anything you can imagine, and I noticed that they now sell caskets! Seriously. And they have them near the exit. I guess so people will see them and go “Whoops, forgot the coffins. Kids, go get some more of those large shopping carts.” But what made it even funnier was the brochure. As I was reading the features, like “quality mattress and adjustable pillow” I spotted the sentence that said: “Comes with a limited warrantee!” This begs all kinds of questions like how will you know if it fails? And if you do dig it up and decide to return it, what do you do with gramps?

So, I guess can’t help myself. Matter of fact, it’s getting harder and harder to take anything too seriously. Sometimes the more serious something is the more humor I see in it. My wife will ask me now if I want to do something like go to the orchid show and I will say: “No, I’ve already written about that. What else you got?”

But all writing, including humor writing, is a craft. Having a funny premise is one thing. Turning it into a 700-word piece with a beginning, middle and end is another. Oftentimes, as was the case with my last column on Memorial Day, the piece gets funnier as I write it. And I rewrite as long as I can. If I think a particular line could be funnier, I will rework it until I come up with something. Some of my pieces have been published half-a-dozen times in different publications and anthologies and if I think of a better line I will change it in the latest edition.

Your family members are often the people you write about, what have been the pros and cons of that?
I have a great big fun and funny family. Most of the time they don’t mind if I write about them. Once in a while at a family gathering someone will say: You’re not going to write about this are you? And I will stop typing on my laptop and say: “What? No. Of course not.” Sometimes the opposite will happen. They say: “I suppose you’re going to write about this.” And I can see that they want to be in this particular story. I almost always write self-deprecating humor, so they usually don’t look too foolish.

But my wife is the greatest. She is in almost all of my pieces. She is the voice of reason. I am the screw-up (lots of truth in that statement). In my book I had to use her name because I couldn’t keep referring to “my wife” for 256 pages. But in my column, she’s always just “the wife.” So sometimes we will attend a writer’s event and I will introduce her and someone will say: “You’re the wife?” Then they will want to know if it’s really like I what write about and – it is! We have great adventures together, like the time we rented a car in England and took turns – in sheer terror – driving on the wrong side of the road on these narrow country lanes. We were also laughing when weren’t holding our breath, so that was one of those pieces that practically wrote itself. Another thing that has happened though, is that I use my wife to relay information in my travel humor pieces. I will find a great fact or series of facts about a place and have my wife bring them into the piece via dialog. This gives me an opportunity to make a funny comment in response. But people don’t know that I’m doing this so they just assume my wife knows all this stuff! Pretty funny, actually.

One technique I like to use with my grandkids is role reversal. I make them the voice of reason. They always outsmart me (again, a lot of truth in that statement). At one time, I was podcasting my humor pieces and my wife would read her parts and my grandkids would read theirs. Kids are naturals and have very little fear.

What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m fighting off writing a memoir, a new novel and a screenplay. When I was younger I would just jump in and write. But now with several unpublished novels and unproduced screenplays, I’m hesitant about starting a new project. Probably because I know then next one I have to do right – research, outline, multiple rewrites, all that stuff. I do hope to retire from my “regular job” in a few years. Then I think I won’t be able to talk myself out of it any more and I’ll have to start a big project. Until, then I keep pumping out “Ernie’s World” twice a month.

Final Words of Wisdom
Writing is magic. I can’t believe that I have written hundreds of humor pieces and published two books. But the one thing I learned early on is that if one wants to be a writer, one must write! Seems basic, but it’s true. I have met a lot of people over the years with a great idea, or a unique premise, or who can tell a great story. But they are not writers until they sit down and put in the work. It’s a love/hate relationship, especially when that little curser is blinking at you saying: “You can’t think of anything. You can’t think of anything.” But finishing something – a poem, a humor piece, a short story, whatever, and holding it in your hand or reading it on the page or screen is one of the most rewarding things I can think of. The world needs stories, especially humor, and I encourage everyone to give it a shot. I also highly recommend attending a writer’s conference. These are your people, our people. The energy is really high, a camaraderie is formed and inspiration is everywhere.

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