SB Writers Further Their Craft

Mary Rose Betten and Ernie Witham

Publishing your own book is quite a feat. Combining writing with another art form is something else all together. Two Santa Barbara writers have recently put out books that showcase their acumen with the written word as well as their mastery of other arts. With Finding Your Best Angle, writer and actress Mary Rose Betten uses poetry to shine a light on her life in theater, while Ernie Witham juggles comedy and prose in his humor writing.

Mary Rose Betten

Tonight, Thursday, March 11, at 7 p.m., Betten will speak at the Santa Barbara Screenwriters meeting at the downtown Borders. Her book is subtitled (give this to an actor), and in it Betten draws on memories from her acting career. All actors, aspiring or established, will recognize these themes. “The difference between seeking the part and being rejected for the part is so formidable, only a poem can dignify it,” Betten wrote in an email. Her poems are meditations on the often intense emotional experiences of the actor’s life. “Feelings in acting are projected,” she explained. “In poems, they are experienced.”

Yet Betten does not restrain her poetic voice to her profession. The book’s pieces touch on other elements of her personal history, revealing a career integrated with her life. “Had I not been a teenager forced to relinquish my child at birth,” she recounted, “I would never have become an actress.” The twin pursuits of acting and poetry provided the channels she needed for self-expression and self-determination. “I had no education, no skills,” she wrote. “Family, faith, and society said I had no choice. A poem is a choice.”

Ernie Witham

Meanwhile, Montecito Journal columnist Ernie Witham is engaged in what some consider the most difficult of all arts: generating laughs. His new book, A Year in the Life of a “Working” Writer, lets readers live for a year in “Ernie’s World,” both the title of his long-running humor column and his own state of mind, where everything is a potential source of jokes. Witham’s “location humor” finds laughs in the people, places, and things around us. “There are more than 40 different locations in my book, many that Santa Barbara readers will recognize,” he wrote in an email. “The setting does not have to be exotic. I believe there is humor everywhere.”

As his fans know, Witham’s brand of comedy has a strong experiential bent. “Whether I am foraging for inspiration in the kitchen pantry, having water fights in the pool with the grandkids, or making friends with ‘Mr. Avocado’ at the Carpinteria Avocado Festival, the key element is visualization.” He wrote. “I want [readers] to feel like it’s happening as they read it. When I go wine tasting, I want them to get a bit tipsy. When I go to Costco, I want them to reach for a shopping cart.”

What began as a standard column collection became a book of travel stories which then morphed into a manual on humor writing. As a veteran leader of Santa Barbara Writers Conference humor workshops, Witham is better-placed than most to address the much-argued-about issue of whether and how comedic skills can be taught. “Writing is a craft,” he wrote. “Humor writing is no exception. Most people have great, funny, personal stories they want to tell. I enjoy helping them get those funny stories out of their head and onto the page.” You can catch Witham at the CALM Celebrity Author’s Luncheon on March 27, or learn more about his work at erniesworld.com.

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