A surprising breakdown in midlife led Elaine to come to terms with the past and create a new future for herself. She became a prolific humor blogger, author, and speaker, and even went on to launch her own publishing company.
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up on a potato farm outside the village of Wendell, Idaho (population 1,000). I was expected to work on farm chores, and I had a newspaper route at age 11. My father was a farming entrepreneur and he owned an interstate trucking company. My mother assisted with bookwork for the businesses.
I have two brothers. I didn’t have any sisters, so spent my free time in my room writing short stories and poems. My first national publication came when I was 12: The poem was titled “Endless River,” and it was published in the National High School Anthology of Poetry even though I was still in Junior High.
My childhood at home wasn’t happy and I compensated by being the class clown in school. I’d like to apologize to my former teachers for my obnoxious behavior, but I learned it was great fun to create a laughing audience. I was eager to go away to college and graduated from the University of Idaho with Phi Beta Kappa scholastic honors and a degree in journalism.
I became Idaho’s first female television news reporter and talk show hostess at KMVT-TV in Twin Falls, Idaho. Subsequent jobs included a bank officer, a magazine editor, and a manager at a Fortune 500 corporation.
I have two grown children and five grandchildren. After divorcing during midlife, I’m happily married to a great guy named Ken. I call him Studley. We live in Eagle, Idaho.
When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
During my fifties, I experienced a personal crisis that prompted a dramatic shift in my life. I was divorced and it seemed as if all the world was populated by happy, loving couples. Also, my older brother had filed a lawsuit against me. I won after a painful court battle, and my brother had to pay all my legal expenses. But the ordeal took a heavy toll on my energy and fractured our family. On New Year’s Eve in 2007, I tried to make everything perfect by taking my grown children and their spouses on a short trip to Napa Valley for wine tasting and to celebrate the New Year. When everyone was kissing and reveling in the holiday atmosphere, I experienced an unanticipated breakdown so severe that it shocked everyone around me.
I stumbled back to my hotel room and commenced to sob like a wounded beast. I had never done that before, and I couldn’t control myself. First my daughter Emily came in and tried to help, and then my son Adam. I was angry at myself for ruining their party but I couldn’t stop crying. It was as if all the tears I had buried over the decades finally burst through my jolly disguise and dumped out of my eyes. The worst part was that I alarmed the two people I loved more than anything: my children.
For someone used to causing laughter, this painful lesson taught me that the class clown is often hiding some sad secrets. After returning home, I researched information on repressed memories and concentrated on how to focus on the future. I also learned it wasn’t my responsibility to make everyone happy all the time.
What is your next act?
I am a humor blogger, author, publisher, and speaker, with a focus on women in midlife.
After my New Year’s Eve breakdown, I started writing humor for midlife women. My first book, Menopause Sucks: What to Do When Hot Flashes and Hormones Make You and Everyone Else Miserable, was released soon after, co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Joanne Kimes. My blog featured excerpts from the book and included other sassy advice for middle-aged women.
I created a writer’s retreat in 2008 called “Write by the River” at my cabin in central Idaho. I featured guest speakers, including Pulitzer Prize Winner Anthony Doerr, Whiting Award Winner Alan Heathcock, and New York Times bestselling authors AK Turner and Jennifer Basye Sanders.
In 2010, I established a small publishing company called Mill Park Publishing to publish my subsequent books and other books written by women. I decided to give a portion of the proceeds from book sales to local charities. I published a dozen books. Mill Park Publishing also created a live comedy show called “Life Sucks, Laugh Hard,” featuring bestselling humor writers Jen Mann, Laurie Notaro, and Robin O’Bryant.
My book Midlife Cabernet: Life, Love & Laughter After Fifty was released in 2014. It won a Silver Medal for Humor from the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and Publishers Weekly reviewed it as “laugh-out-loud funny.” The book reached #1 in humor on Amazon.
My blogs were attracting a loyal audience, and I was published on additional websites including The Huffington Post, HumorOutcasts, BlogHer, Better after 50, Midlife Boulevard, Project Eve, and Annie Jennings Wire. One blog post became one of the 10 most-read posts in the history of The Huffington Post. Another essay was selected as a Voices of the Year winner from BlogHer. With my regular humorous articles for and about midlife women, I became an internationally recognized blogger.
Public speaking opportunities came for national events, including the prestigious Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, the BAM Bloggers at Midlife Conference, and the Type-A Parent Conference. I’ve also been a speaker at college commencement ceremonies, local writing workshops, and live comedy shows. I’ve met many wonderful new friends through the midlife blogging communities, and we all support and encourage each other.
How did you get started blogging and publishing?
My daughter was instrumental in introducing me to my new passion. She came with the loving advice: “It’s time to get off your butt, Mom, and write a blog.” I didn’t have a clue how to set up a blog, so she showed me how to obtain my domain name, create a website, and insert a blog. I was excited because with my journalism background, a blog is similar to writing a feature article for a newspaper or magazine. I was hooked. I prepared by reading online resources, reading other blogs, joining blogging groups on social media, and attending blogging conferences. Eventually, I was asked to speak at those conferences.
How did your first book, Menopause Sucks, come about?
I attended a writer’s conference in McCall, Idaho, and met my future agent Andrea Hurst. I had written a humorous book for women and Andrea Hurst submitted the book proposal to Adams Media. The publishing company was looking for a middle-aged humor writer to collaborate on a menopause book with Joanne Kimes. Kimes already established her brand with a book titled Pregnancy Sucks, but she hadn’t yet entered menopause. It was the perfect fit.
Why did you decide to start your own publishing company and how did you make that happen?
Publishing through the traditional route is difficult, complicated, and requires a lot of time. I wanted to establish my own publishing company to produce my books and have control over the process. I researched how to set up the company and found professionals who could help me with website design, book and cover design, and layout for both print and e-Book publications. I learned how to list books on various platforms, including Amazon.com, and I learned how to maintain a constant and recognizable image on social media.
What challenges have you encountered?
Learning new technology became the most difficult issue for me. I’m totally right brained, and it’s not easy to acquire new techniques. Remember, I grew up with manual typewriters before the Internet, cell phones, and social media. But bloggers usually write alone, so it’s up to them to learn what to do. It took me awhile, but I finally mastered the skills necessary to add links, photographs, and videos into my blog posts and establish accounts on social media. Any child could do that in five minutes, but it took me a long time to learn.
Another challenge was that I wasn’t prepared for the Internet trolls who take delight in writing nasty reviews. After some particularly bad comments on some of my Huffington Post essays, I considered curtailing my submissions to public websites. I also encountered some negative feedback on social media, and I’m trying to reduce time spent on various platforms.
Many authors who self-publish their own work are less respected than those who go through the traditional path of acquiring an agent and a national publishing house. I was proud that my publishing company, Mill Park Publishing, won 14 awards in three years. As for blogging, there is criticism for bloggers who “work for free” on various websites, including The Huffington Post. I consider my posts to be writing exercises that keep my brain active. Also, the publication of my popular and viral essays on The Huffington Post always results in a significant increase in sales of my books.
Also, for several years I was responsible for arranging my mother’s assisted living situations and facilitating her frequent stays in rehabilitation hospitals. She passed away in 2014, and I wish I could have done more for her. In addition, I seriously injured my leg and required surgery and a lengthy recuperation. The positive side of these two calamities was that they inspired me to write some of my best blog posts.
How supportive were your family and friends?
My adult children were amazing. They encouraged me, even though my humorous essays often poked fun at our family. Most of my friends were supportive, but I did experience some friends who questioned why I was launching this new activity when I could just retire. I found many wonderful new friends across the nation through the blogging activities.
When I thought about giving up, I remembered how miserable I was without something creative to do. The visions and encouragement of my friends and family compelled me to keep writing and speaking. Through this process, I learned to accept help from others because I really wasn’t Wonder Woman after all. My new husband eagerly offered to fix meals so I could work on my manuscript. My talented author friend volunteered to edit my latest chapters. And others helped with website development and social media contacts.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned that I wasn’t too old to learn new techniques. I learned that I could ask for help and others would respond positively. I learned that people want to feel good about themselves and to laugh more, so my humor was appreciated by many people I will never meet.
Would I have done anything differently? Yes. I was vulnerable many times and lost money through bad investments because I trusted men who were scoundrels. Now I’m more cautious about being offered a deal that’s too good to be true. I need to keep better business records for tax purposes and monitor the charitable deductions.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife and pursuing a writing career?
So for women seeking advice, I say do it! There is no reward without risk. What if I had continued to wallow in self-pity back in 2008? I wouldn’t have my blog, my books, or my charming new husband. And I wouldn’t have experienced the joy of having my adult children and their spouses stand with me at my book signing events.
For women who want to write as part of their next act, I suggest researching online for the books, blogs, and websites that interest them. I read bestselling books from other humor writers, including
Jill Conner Browne, author of The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love,
Laurie Notaro, author of The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life,
Leighann Lord, author of Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady,
Resources I recommend:
Midlife Boulevard, an online website for midlife women
Better after 50, an online magazine for midlife women
Female stand-up comedienne to follow, Leighann Lord
Farmers Insurance, company that provides my umbrella policy to cover my writer’s retreats
Create Space, company that distributes self-published books and e-Books
What’s next for you?
All this happened after that emotional collapse on New Year’s Eve, 2008. My next book, Midlife Happy Hour will be released in October by Brown Books Publishing. This book describes stories about why and how middle-aged women should remain relevant and why it’s time to claim our reward after surviving careers, kids, and chaos.
Contact Elaine Ambrose at Elaine@elaineambrose.com
Check my website for details about books, blogs, and events.