Authors tell you what inspired their work

Wade Rouse, Author of "Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler"

It all started with Erma Bombeck. As a young kid growing up in the Ozarks, most other boys my age were hunting, fishing, or playing baseball. They lined their rooms with posters of George Brett and Joe Montana, or, if they were a bit older, Farrah Fawcett.

But I was obsessed with Erma.

Which says a lot about my lot in life.

Erma was the first writer who connected with me in a profound way. Her column appeared in our little country newspaper, and I would race to read it, laughing at her writing, sometimes coming near tears, sometimes scratching my head because I wasn't quite old enough to understand what she meant.

But I did know that Erma was writing about real life. She wrote about her family, doing laundry, burning dinner, mowing the lawn, raising children. On the surface, Erma wrote about the mundane-ness of life, but she was truly writing about the things we all experience.

As a memoirist today, I now write about the unique experiences of my life, but my overriding goal is to write about the universal themes in life that are common to each of us: Unconditional love, self-esteem, self-acceptance, family, work. I believe the very best memoirs force readers to hold a collective mirror up to their faces and take a good, long, hard look at their lives. My writing is today, thanks to Erma, the quintessential Lifetime movie: Laughter through the tears, which is how we all get through life.

I realize -- as a "serious" author -- readers expect me to say Hemingway, or Steinbeck, or Plath when I talk about influential authors, but Erma Bombeck was, in many ways, America's first great memoirist.

She is, in many respects, why I write memoirs today. Some days, I wish I could write thrillers, or romance novels, but I'm not wired to do that. Writing about life is how I make sense of the world.

My first book, America's Boy, chronicles my life growing up in the Ozarks with my loving but eccentric family. The overriding theme: Unconditional love of family can pull us through anything. "America's Boy" was a Booksense pick, and a Borders Best Book of 2006 (Literary Memoir).

My recently released second memoir, Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler, is a chronicle of my tenure working as PR Director at one of the nation's oldest, most prestigious prep schools, where I quickly learn my real job is that of "mommy handler," i.e., catering to the demands of a clique of wealthy matrons I call the "Mean Mommies." This group of too-tan, too-thin, too-blonde pink Lilly Pulitzer-clad moms asks me to carry out an assortment of demeaning demands, from dressing in a red onesie as Cupid so I can hand out Valentines to their kids to revamping reunions invitations so the pattern matches the lining of their new Louis Vuitton handbags.

While on its surface, "Confessions" is a catty, funny peek into prep schools, and my life in carpool hell, it is, on a much deeper level, an analysis of self-esteem, popularity, fitting in, parenting in today's hectic world, and our society's fascination with those who seemingly have "more": More money, more power, more beauty. To date, the book has received stellar reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly and Booklist, and its themes are resonating deeply with women and mothers across America.

I learned from Erma that it's OK to write about your own life from your own perspective as long as you keep in mind that we all share universal bonds.

In fact, I still keep one of Erma's phrases directly in front of me while I write. She penned it as she toiled to become a better, more known writer, as well as a better person:

"There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, 'Yes, I've got dreams, of course I've got dreams.' Then they put the box away and bring it out once in awhile to look in it, and yep, they're still there."

Here's to dreams. And here's to Erma.

To read the first chapter of "Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler," as well as to learn more about Wade and his writing, please visit Wade's website:

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Comments from our users:

Saturday April 5th 2008, 11:27 AM
Comment by: clare S.
I enjoyed reading this and look forward to reading the entire book by this author. Erma Bombeck was one of my strongest inspirations too. I have a wonderful handwritten letter from her in response to a letter I had written her about how one of her columns. Wade Rouse had good taste right from the start. I can't wait to read more about him and from him!
Saturday April 5th 2008, 12:24 PM
Comment by: Annette F.
Wade, you've captured so well what Erma contributed to our lives. Her ability to see life so clearly is what made her unique.

Thanks for the reminder that as writers we are called to create what we must ... even if it isn't the thriller we'd like.
Sunday April 6th 2008, 4:39 PM
Comment by: Eugene A.
erma...ahh, the one who is like us, foibled and perservering...gene
Sunday April 6th 2008, 9:41 PM
Comment by: Beryl S. (Schroeder, MN)
You've brought a huge smile to my face. Thanks for writing this delightful backstory and bringing your work to my attention.
Friday April 11th 2008, 10:27 AM
Comment by: patricia H.
I'm buying the book today!

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