Jillian Van Hefty is a stay-at-home mom – which is a misnomer she claims, because she “pretty much lives at Costco” or chasing around her two young boys.

That irony and humor are reflected in her numerous published essays and recently led to the Waconia writer being selected as one of three grand prize winners in a humorist in residence contest, and a trip to the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop next March at the University of Dayton, Ohio.

Erma Bombeck was an American humorist who achieved great popularity for her syndicated newspaper humor column describing suburban home life from 1965 to 1996. She also published 15 books, most of which became bestsellers. The contest attracted almost 300 applications from 43 states coast to coast, Washington, D.C. and four countries — Australia, Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The three winning writers will be flown to the workshop March 24-26 at the University of Dayton, where they “will be robed in plush, custom-embroidered bathrobes as the winners of a writer’s residency that Forbes.com describes as perhaps the best in the country,” according to a news release. At the close of the workshop, they will remain at the Marriott at the University of Dayton for another two weeks to work on their funny projects. The package is worth approximately $5,000.

The perks for the winners are free room service, a housekeeping staff, an omelet bar. And, most importantly, the gift of time to write – to tackle a compilation of humorous letters from a spunky housewife bemused by life’s absurdities to the late Erma Bombeck. The book’s working title: Dear Erma: Do Emotional Support Llamas Need Tuxedos?

Van Hefty says she has been writing since she was a child. Several years ago, while writing a memoir about her mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease, she says she desperately needed an emotional break.

“I was quite depressed,” she said. “I put that manuscript on the back burner and tried a completely different genre –– humor. Laughing, as it turned out, was considerably more fun than crying and I had some success publishing essays and winning contests.”

Her essays are featured in several books, and now her winning essay is in the newly published book Sisters! Bonded by Love and Laughter, that highlights humorous and heartwarming stories about sisters — and soul sisters. The book is available for purchase at Barnes and Noble and Amazon, with proceeds benefiting the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment Fund.

Van Hefty says she has read everything by Erma Bombeck, and previously has been a contest finalist.

“No doubt, my inspiration is Erma, Erma, Erma,” Van Hefty said. “She was pure genius, which is why she is still so beloved decades after her death. And the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is the most supportive group!”

Other inspirations are David Sedaris, Dave Barry, Emily Flake, Miranda Hart, Mindy Kaling, Nora Ephron, Ricky Gervais, and high school English teacher Mrs. Brasch.

“She encouraged me to study journalism in college, but I wanted adventure and fancied myself as Julie McCoy from TV show The Love Boat. I had countless careers; I moved frequently (my mom never used pen in her address book for me!) and lived in the U.K. (I became a dual citizen). Finally at age 32 I achieved my bachelor’s degree.”

Van Hefty says those personal life experiences are building blocks for her writing.

“I write what I know,” she said. “I love taking common, everyday situations and finding the humor in them. My family are frequent subjects in my storytelling. My siblings are far funnier than I am, but I’m the one who actually writes things down.”

As a footnote, Van Hefty says she has lived in Waconia for six years with her husband, two sons, and “emotional support Keurig.”

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