Monthly Archives: October 2015

Listen to “Wisconsin Tough” on Public Radio

WPR logo

“WISCONSIN TOUGH” by Pam Ferderbar

Hear it here:


Begins airing Friday, November 6th:


“Wisconsin Life” celebrates what makes Wisconsin unique through the diverse stories of its people. Our award-winning producers travel the state in search of stories that sometimes are humorous and surprising, and other times are emotional and thought provoking. All of the stories are personal, engaging and rich with the personality of the state we call home.

“Wisconsin Life” airs on both Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.

Wisconsin Public Radio

“Wisconsin Life” airs on WPR on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and on Central Time at 4:15 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Wisconsin Public Television

“Wisconsin Life” airs on WPT on Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.  Visit WPT for the full schedule for the “Wisconsin Life” television series.

Share this:

Scary Things

Creepy Dusty small

The phrase ‘water seeping under the foundation.’ Thank you, Marjy Brzeskiewicz, for terrifying me with that one.

Children with big eyes. Not babies—they all have giant eyes and pretty much look like a cross between monkeys and a weepy senorita in a velvet painting. Spooky is any kid over the age of three who has “eyes the size of saucers.” They track with you no matter where you are in the room, and I feel that at any given moment one of them will scuttle across the floor and begin gnawing on my leg. Or toss me over a balcony if one is handy. I prefer sleepy-eyed youngsters who look prone to failing math.

The sound of something heavy being dragged across a floor.

Just before I moved from Los Angeles back to Wisconsin, and all my belongings had been packed into boxes and stacked in the living room, I was awakened at 3AM by the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor. My four dogs would bark their fool heads off at a squirrel six blocks away, but on this night—zip. The mutts were silent.

I slept with my bedroom door locked, and only a tiny dog with me, so all I could imagine was someone—some thing had murdered my three big dogs and was dragging their carcasses back to hell for its dinner. My heart was beating its way out of my chest. I took a deep breath and listened at the door, hoping I had been dreaming. Nope. Something heavy was indeed being dragged across the floor.

I clutched Zimmerman the Chihuahua in one arm, grabbed a Louisville Slugger I kept under the bed, and dialed 911 with my nose. I whispered to the operator that someone had broken in and was absconding with all my personal belongings, which had been conveniently packed for easy burgling.

She asked if I could see anyone. Really? Like, I should go out there and look? Nuh uh. I have seen waaaay too many horror movies to fall for that nonsense.

“Send the police and they can look,” I said quietly so as to not antagonize the Manson family in my living room.

“They are on their way and they are rolling silent,” she informed me. “Stay on the phone with me and I’ll tell you when they’ve arrived, and then you will go outside.”

“What? Through the house?”

“Do you have another way to get out?” she asked.

Dammit. “No.”

Outside my bedroom door, scrape, scrape, thud, and then more dragging. “Will they be here anytime soon?” I asked desperately.

“They have just arrived. They are waiting for you. Go outside. Now. GO!”

I was in a t-shirt and underpants, clutching a one-eared Chihuahua and a Louisville Slugger when I threw open the bedroom door and started swinging that baseball bat like Britney Spears on a head-shaving rampage.

I bolted outside and into the waiting arms of a bunch of really good-looking young cops, wishing I had shaved my legs.

“Did you see anything?” one of the policemen asked.

I didn’t want to tell him my eyes had been closed the entire time I hurtled through the house, screaming like a banshee, flailing the bat. “In the living room,” I fibbed. Something was in there moving my stuff around.

About 20 officers went into the house, guns drawn. A few minutes later, “Clear!” “Clear!” “Clear!” A couple cops came outside, holstering their weapons. “House is empty, ‘cept for some dogs asleep in the den,” one policeman reported.

One of the officers shone his flashlight on the roof of the house, and asked, “Do you have raccoons?”

“What? As pets? No.”

He spoke into a communicator device on his shoulder. “We’ve got a little raccoon on the roof.”

I saw it. The thing was the size of a Buick. Apparently the giant freak-of-nature had been dragging branches into the eaves, just outside my bedroom, creating the auditory illusion of something being dragged across the floor.

“Hey, I wonder if his name is Bandit?” one of the cops joked. Sooooo funny. Another comedian with a badge asked if I needed someone to check under the bed before they left. Oh, my ribs.

Earlier tonight, during the storm, the electricity went out. As I sat in the dark I thought about the woman and child who had come to the door earlier in the day, asking whether the “old man” still lived at the place. Assured I’d been divorced for some time, the woman told me, “Old man Gein spent a lot of time in that basement. Said the earth was real soft down there, due to water seeping under the foundation.”

The little boy pulled off his cap and looked up at me with black eyes the size of grapefruit. “Just let us in,” he said. “This won’t take long.”

I muttered something about a bedspread I was baking and slammed the door in their faces.

Now I’m sitting in the dark, alone but for a rat terrier who is afraid of leaves, and I just heard something being dragged across the attic floor above me. I reached for the phone, then thought better of it. The fire department had been to the house earlier in the month for an electrical fire smell that was really a rubber band in the toaster, and the police had been summoned just this week to thwart a home invasion that turned out to be wild turkeys pecking themselves stupid at the glass sliders on the back of the house. No one will come if I call.

I stuffed my Beats into my ears, cranked up the tunes, opened a bottle of Pinot Noir, and am now locked in the bathroom with the battery fading slowly on my laptop.


fAN huffpo icon copy

Share this:

Public Speaking: The Horror!

Oct 23 blog pic

According to a Chapman University survey on American fears, our top phobias are public speaking, heights, and bugs. (Fear of clowns rolled in fourth on the Chapman list, but is #1 on my personal scared-sh*tless-o-meter.)

Most people panic the instant they realize they must, at some later date, speak in public. Personally, I don’t freak out until I step out of the car at the venue and walk the green mile to the podium. Since my novel was released in June I have been on a “book tour”—a loosely organized schedule of speaking engagements designed to give me just the right amount of time between events to forget any validating feelings of adequacy and success that I may have had after a good talk, and focus instead on all that could go wrong at the next one.

The pithy tips I’ve been given, like “imagine the audience in their underwear, “drink plenty of fluids,” “wear a favorite article of clothing,” and my personal favorite, “snap a rubber band across your wrist to distract yourself from anxiety” have been more problematic than useful.

The first time your former brother-in-law walks in and you spit a mouthful of hydrating Evian across your notes while your rubber band zings a lady in the first row across the eyeball, you realize that people are staring at you, and not because they admire your lucky blouse.

If our #1 fear is public speaking, then, ipso facto, nearly everyone must be afraid to do so. So when you stand on the dais and stare blankly into the audience like a cow at dusk, people are thinking, “Holy crap, I could never do that.” Boom. You are a hero. No one needs to know that you begged your boss to send someone else, faked your own death, or downed an entire bottle of Imodium and still have the runs.

Here are a few tips that have helped me overcome my anxiety, and actually enjoy the public speaking experience:

Know your topic.

Memorize three key points about your subject that you could spout in your sleep. No matter what happens, or what someone might ask if there’s a Q&A involved, you can always expand on your three main points even if you have forgotten everything else.

I once heard a CNN newsman ask George W. Bush about similarities between the war in Iraq and Vietnam, to which Dubya replied, “I’m so glad you asked that. I thought you were going to ask me about the Medicare drug benefit program we just signed into law. The Medicare drug benefit program I just signed into law is the greatest expansion of…” Bush went on to speak for five minutes about that without ever addressing the reporter’s question.

Genius. Use it.


Get organized.

Write and rewrite your notes until they are perfectly organized on index cards or papers that are numbered and impossible to mix up.

Create a check list: glasses if you need them, two sets of notes – in two places on your person in case your purse or satchel is snatched, or you encounter a clown and drop everything into the sewer, Imodium (for obvious reasons), Chapstick or Vaseline so your lips don’t stick to your teeth, business cards, and any props or visual aids you use in your presentation.

Be 100% clear on the location of your event and how to get there. Mapquest or GPS the route days prior to the event, then print the directions in case an electromagnetic disturbance on Mars wipes out our satellites, rendering GPS useless. Figure out how long it will take to get there, at that time of day or night, and allow an extra 30 minutes in the event of traffic, lack of parking, or another trip to the restroom.

Gas up the car earlier in the day. You don’t want to risk being late or smelling like gasoline at your event.


Practice makes perfect.

Stand and rehearse aloud. Over and over. This will usually create the need to modify your notes. If there are words you trip on, highlight the words or write them out phonetically.

Rewrite your notes in “breaths” or paragraphs of “dialog” that mimic your speaking style. If you take a breath after two sentences, or after you’ve made a particularly strong point, place spaces in your notes accordingly.

Highlight or “bold” words you want to emphasize. Seriously, do it over and over, aloud, rewriting the notes until you can deliver what’s on the page effortlessly and with the emphasis you want.


Embrace silence.

The most powerful people on earth rely on silence rather than words to make their most dramatic points. Whether you are speaking about widgets or financial planning, begin with a rhetorical question such as “what is a widget?” Then pause dramatically for a few seconds while you glance from person to person.

Watch the body language. People will sit up straighter. You will almost be able to see the cogs turn in their brains. The silence will have given you power. Anything you say thereafter will seem more important. It’s a cool little trick. It also buys you a little time for a couple of deep breaths, which will lower your blood pressure and give you the further appearance of not being nervous.

If you have lost your place, or your mind has suddenly gone blank, again, pretend it was part of your plan. Stop fully. Take a sip of water. Regroup mentally. People will think you’re “saying something” with the silence. Let ‘em!


Close big.

Everyone likes a compliment. When it’s all said and done, take one last deep breath and tell the audience that you were a little nervous about your presentation, but this audience, these wonderful, receptive folks made you feel completely comfortable. Give them a little applause, and they’ll applaud you doubly, because 99% of them are thinking, “I could never do that.”

If you are in the Milwaukee area, visit me at the Wauwatosa Public Library on Wednesday, October 28th at 7PM. See if I practice what I preach. Click for details.


One thing I’m not terribly nervous about is writing, and this week Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale received the best review ever from Windy City Reviews! Click below for the review.


Follow Pam at:


Share this:

Windy City Raves About Feng Shui + Charlotte Nightingale



Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale. Pam Ferderbar. Three Towers Press (an imprint of HenschelHAUS Publishing), Milwaukee, WI, June 21, 2015, Hardcover and Kindle, 240 pages.

Reviewed by Starza Thompson.

It’s very rare to find a book that is so imaginative that visualizing the characters and places in the book becomes effortless for the reader. In Pam Ferderbar’s Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale, the story comes alive. Ferderbar’s novel is imaginative, hilarious, and sweet—a great quick read for anyone who can relate to feeling unlucky, who likes romantic comedies, or who just needs a good laugh.

Charlotte Nightingale isn’t just down on her luck, she is plain unlucky. Her apartment is falling apart; her boyfriend is a liquor-drinking, money-stealing, unemployed womanizer; her car is a piece of junk; and her job at a less-than-reputable car dealership comes with massive abuse from customers and coworkers alike. What’s worse, her sister Charlene seems to have everything Charlotte does not: good looks, a gorgeous doctor for a fiancé, her parents’ devotion and respect, and more. Weirder still, Charlotte’s Chinese-food delivery guy, Kwan, keeps showing up at her apartment uninvited. Little does she know, Kwan is a Feng Shui master. As he quietly unclutters her house, her life seems to change for the better.

Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale is Ferderbar’s first novel. The story began as a novella and movie rights to the story sparked a bidding war between movie production companies. She sold the movie rights to New Line Cinema, but in a typical Charlotte-like moment, the executives on her project were fired and her movie was tabled indefinitely. Ferderbar’s book takes the typical romantic comedy/chicklit genre and adds quite a few unexpected twists, making this story both laugh-out-loud funny and heartwarming at the same time.

One of the first of many pleasant surprises in this novel was the use of multiple points-of-view. In many books of this genre, the audience is often confined to the perspective of the female character or her love interest as the story draws the two characters together until their lives intertwine. In Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale, we follow three different protagonists: Charlotte, her boyfriend, Frank AKA Joey, and her Chinese delivery person, Kwan. While the male characters are connected to Charlotte, their stories don’t depend on her love or affection. Each character has his own unique purpose in the book outside of helping the female character find love, which is very refreshing.

Further, while there are some elements of love in the story, it isn’t the sole focus of the book. The protagonists display a depth of character beyond who they love and whether or not they end up with their love interests. The characters are quirky and interesting, which makes it easier to fall in love with each of them.

I found only a couple of faults with this novel. First, the secondary characters seem like caricatures of the people they represent. Charlotte’s parents hate Charlotte as much as they love her sister Charlene. Charlotte’s sister is an extremely vapid and selfish Barbie-like girl. Kwan’s father is a disciplinarian who doesn’t like his employees to slack off, and the list goes on. If Ferderbar had spent as much time developing her secondary characters as she did her primary characters, the book would have elevated from a funny rom-com to a quirky and heartwarming masterpiece. Second, I wish the book was longer! At times, it moved too fast. Each chapter could have been a little longer to allow the audience to learn more about Charlotte and the people in her life. At only ~64,000 words, there is some room to add and flesh out the story even more.

Overall, Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale is a fantastic read. With surprise twists, imaginative characters, and crack-up funny scenes, this novel has something for every reader. If you are looking for a story that is a little different, and characters that will make you laugh as you fall in love with them, then this is the book for you. I highly recommend Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale.

Share this:

The Cure for Writer’s Block


Pen and dear mom

Writer’s block.

The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

I have a deadline. The words will not come. The muse has left the building. What’s the first thing I do to deal with the situation? I google writer’s block, of course.


(Ina Garten’s succulent chicken potpie.)

Whilst researching writer’s block I stumbled upon this delicacy, and immediately went to the grocery store for the ingredients, which I brought home, unpacked, organized according to the recipe, or formula as my pops calls it, and just scant hours later, voila! I still had writer’s block, but now I also regretted having consumed approximately 3,500 calories in one sitting. (That includes the KitKats I purchased with the potpie ingredients, which I allow myself as a “tool” when I suffer from writer’s block.

Next, I fell asleep on the keyboard. More accurately, I was in a cholesterol coma. When I awoke my deadline was even nearer, and pure panic set in. I returned to google where I learned from other writers that the way to beat writer’s block is to:

  1. get out and do something
  2. avoid distractions

I don’t know about you, but when my task is to sit at the computer and write, getting out and doing something seems like a distraction. I “got out” and made a damn chicken pot pie and where did that get me? (A few words on chicken potpie, but I mean, other than that, zilch.)


Here are a few lo-cal, legit tips for overcoming writer’s block:

1. Write the ending first.

Work backwards from there. Sounds ridiculously simple. It works.

 2. Pretend you’re writing it in a letter to someone you know.

John Steinbeck once told George Plimpton, who was suffering from writer’s block, “Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.”

Dayum if that doesn’t work, right mom?

3. Freewriting.

Set an alarm for 10 minutes and write continuously without regard for spelling, punctuation, grammar or topic. This exercise usually produces raw, unusable material, but it ameliorates the “arthritis” in your brain and fingers, and helps overcome the apathy and self-criticism that sabotage our writing efforts. Freewriting is great for uncovering ideas and giving inspiration a little kick in the pants.

4. Write as if you’re John Kennedy (or an amazing speech-giver of your choosing).

For many years I was the family eulogist, a particularly difficult task in the case of my beloved grandpa Ferderbar. I couldn’t get a single thought down because my emotions had flooded the engine with a million memories at once. I had to get it done—the pressure was unbearable. I closed my eyes and for some reason John Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech popped into my head.

I heard the peculiar cadence of Kennedy’s delivery as clearly as if he were standing beside me. What if J.F.K. were writing grandpa’s eulogy, I thought. And the words tumbled out and through my fingers like magic. I read aloud as I typed, trying to replicate Jack’s inflection. This little “trick” allowed me to write without being swept to sea on waves of grief, and it helped me define the key points I wanted to highlight in my grandfather’s life.

5. Lower your standards.

American poet William Stafford wrote, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean we should write garbage. I think he might have been referring to act of just getting something down v. staring at a blank screen until your eyes cross—a lot like dieting. If you intend to lose 20lbs by Saturday you will fail, much as if your goal is to write the world’s best blog. I think we can all agree where that sort of pressure gets a person.

In closing, a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, Charles Bukowski:

“Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

Mic drop.


You can now read Pam at:


Share this:

Blessed Are The Risk Takers

Animal graves copy

What could go wrong? —the four words most responsible for inertia, stagnation, and old age in people who are not chronologically old. Sure, I don’t look at a perfectly slanted roofline overlooking a swimming pool and automatically calculate my trajectory into the deep end like I used to (for one thing I don’t see as well, and “broken bones” is not a good color on me), but I have found that risk is what defines a life well-lived.

Some folks are wired to take bigger risks than others, like those guys who fly around the Alps in squirrel suits or have extramarital affairs with fitness instructors. But that doesn’t mean you’re not living on the edge when you mix plaid with paisley. Or try to save a marsupial.

My dear friend Sheryl is an animal lover. In fact, there’s very little Sheryl wouldn’t do for an animal. A lot of people will tell you they are animal lovers. Compared to Sheryl they are amateurs.

One day as Sheryl was driving on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles (the busiest expressway in America) she spotted what she thought to be a frightened opossum in the center lane. There are seven lanes, so we are talking lane 4, with three lanes of speeding traffic to either side.

Being a cautious driver, Sheryl immediately put on her car’s warning flashers as she slowed to a crawl. She opened the driver’s door and scooped up the little fella, causing 789,453 other vehicles to react in pinball pandemonium.

The trouble was, the possum was dead; stiff-as-a-board road kill. Sheryl was en route to my place for a dip in the pool as it was 117 degrees in the shade. Dear sweet Sheryl couldn’t, in conscience, just throw the decedent back onto the freeway, so she brought him to my house where my dogs attempted to rip her Lexus apart the instant she came down the driveway.

I suggested we place the critter in a solid steel trash compactor bag and seal it up, but Sheryl felt this was to desecrate God’s creation, and she insisted upon wrapping him in a towel and putting him in my garage until she was ready to leave, at which time she would take him to the Wildlife Way Station where, it was Sheryl’s feeling, they would give him a proper burial. (I will argue now, as I did then, that they don’t perform ritual animal burials at the Wildlife Way Station, but I can’t say for sure.)

Two hours later there were vultures circling overhead, and a stench like the end of the world emanating from my garage. I am ashamed to admit I threw Sheryl and her decomposing buddy out at that point, but I learned something about risk and reward that day.

I learned that no matter what thousands of other drivers think of you, regardless of whether your friend berates you because the garage needs to be fumigated, and aside from the fact that you may have died on the 405, some risks are so noble, and so loving, that they earn you a tiny little piece of immortality, and my undying love and admiration.

I like watching the Youtube videos of the dudes in the squirrel suits, but they have nothing on my friend Sheryl, who has also mixed plaid and paisley. She is badass.


What’s your badass risk and reward story? email me. And be sure to follow me at Huffington Post.

Share this:

4 Questions Writers Get Asked…A Lot

Zzz typewriter

1.  Are you sleeping?

Firstly, we are not sleeping. We are “working,” which means although our eyes are closed and we are possibly drooling, we are hard at work, mentally stringing together words in what will ultimately emerge as a perfectly crafted sandwich, I mean sentence. A sentence sandwich, if you will.

Secondly, although technically we are not dogs, if you come upon what appears to be a slumbering writer, by all means let her lie. We don’t respond well to being roused from our “work.”


2.  What are working on?

When is your baby is due? Oh, you’re not pregnant? My bad. Okay, seriously, if you want to go out on a limb and risk everything, sure, ask this question. But be prepared for the onslaught. It goes something like this;

“What am I working on?! I’d like to be writing my next book, which the publisher is breathing down my neck about, but since I am not JK Rowlings nor the chick who wrote that 50 Shades thing I must do 99.99% of my own promotion and marketing on a book that narrowly got published in the first place, to which I dedicate 18 hours a day blogging, guest blogging for other writers, trying to get other writers to guest blog for me, learning what a blog tour is, trying to organize a blog tour, rescheduling a blog tour because everyone is too busy trying to do their own blog tour to do my blog tour, emailing reviewers, sifting through reviewer rejections, begging people to write reviews on Amazon just to sell one book from which I make 10%, which earns me about $35.50 per year, broken down to less than a penny an hour, which I reinvest in the form of wine. How nice of you to ask. Where did you go?


3. Do writers always drink this much?

The answer to this is not as simple as it would seem. First, we must quantify “this much.” Do you refer to the amount in the writer’s glass at the time the question is asked, or the cumulative total of wine consumed in your presence on this particular occasion, or do you refer to the empty cabernet bottles rolling away from the recycling bin?

Secondly, we must qualify the term “drink.” Much like “sleeping,” which we covered above, “drinking,” or “to drink” have different meanings in the context of “the writer.” While you may think the writer is drinking, she is actually working, mentally stringing together words in what will ultimately emerge as a perfectly crafted sentence. Staggering, slurring, even falling down are attributed to the sheer volume of words, and their weight (especially the really big words), shifting from one side of the brain to the other, knocking the writer off balance—disturbing the equilibrium, if you will.


Hemingway working. Cuba, c. 1944


4. What made you decide to become a writer?

As a child, the writer discovers her ability to use words to entertain, to express doubts she has about her place in the world, and to write notes that say “help me I’m being held prisoner,” which she then ties to the dog and sends into the “grown up” dinner party to which she has been forbidden to attend, and must stay in her bedroom as it is past her bedtime.

At the age of puberty, the writer discovers the great poets, chief among them Bob Dylan, and she gets a taste of the rebellious, majestic, and meteoric power of words.

In college, she has a professor like Marty Jack Rosenblum, who doesn’t tell her she should be a writer. He tells her she is one.


Martin Jack Rosenblum, in memoriam 1946-2014

Photo courtesy Peck School of the Arts

Be sure to follow Pam at Huffington Post!

Share this: