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Humor writing wins Tracy McArdle Brady a hotel room of her own

Tracy McArdle Brady writes on her couch with the help of her dogs, Onny and Ella.
Tracy McArdle Brady writes on her couch with the help of her dogs, Onny and Ella. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Tracy McArdle Brady has always been good at making people laugh. Her friends say she’s funny. Her blog followers say she’s funny. Fans of her first two novels say she’s funny.

Nonetheless, the Carlisle resident never expected the compliment to come from Pulitzer Prize winning humorist and writer Dave Barry.

And yet it did. Last November, Brady learned that she was one of two winners of a national humor writing contest, “A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program,” for which Barry along with novelist Adriana Trigiani chose the honorees.

The prize, Brady deadpans, is two weeks in Dayton, Ohio, which the 51-year-old concedes sounds a little like a Vaudeville punchline. But this time, Brady isn’t laughing.

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A little over a decade ago, Brady published two novels with Downtown Press, a division of Simon & Schuster. “It wasn’t the life-changing windfall I thought it would be,” she confessed. “I didn’t quit my day job,” which at the time was in the public relations department at the advertising agency Arnold Worldwide.

Immediately after the two novels came the births of her children, born just 16 months apart. Raising two little boys, “I needed the escape of humor writing to balance motherhood and working and owning a home,” she said. “I didn’t have the mindspace for another novel, but I wrote for parenting blogs and occasional essays for the Globe.”

Brady learned about the humorist-in-residence contest from the tweets of various humor writers she follows on Twitter. She spent much of last summer refining her application. Finding an essay to submit to the judges was easy, since last winter she started a humor blog called Festival of Need. “I asked all seven people who read my blog which post I should use,” she recalled.

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Being one of the two contest winners — the other is a writer from Oak Park, Ill., named Liz Kozak — means Brady will attend the four-day conference in April at the University of Dayton, Bombeck’s alma mater, where she will be bestowed with the official bathrobe that she is then expected to wear for the following two weeks as she stays in the Marriott at the University of Dayton and enjoys uninterrupted writing time.

Part of her contest application required her to say on what she was currently working. Although it has been over 12 years since the publication of Brady’s second book, she had recently begun a novel with the working title “Playgroup.”

“It’s about a group of bored, overeducated stay-at-home parents recruited by the CIA to be government assassins,” she described. “I’d been working on it in fits and starts, but with my full-time job and the kids, I didn’t have the brain width to focus on it. Once I described it in the contest application, I thought, ‘If I win this contest, I’ll have no choice but to write this novel.’ And now I find myself in the unenviable position of having to write the other 15 chapters.”

But even with the prospect of a third novel under her belt, Brady, who recently started a new job as vice president of corporate communications for Curaleaf, a cannabis company based in Wakefield, doesn’t plan to leave the corporate world.

“Advertising and PR have been not only fun and challenging career paths but constant fodder for a writer,” she said. “And so has home life. The more experiences you have from which you can borrow and steal, the better a writer you can be.”

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Maintaining her blog over the past year has been the best practice of all, Brady said. “It makes me pay attention. When something funny or ridiculous or exasperating happens, I log it in my mind to write about it later. In a family there’s always fodder: holidays, back-to-school time, summer vacation, family pets.”

Creative pressure aside, Brady admitted that she can hardly wait for her two-week stay in Dayton this spring. “I’m not really worried about writing the book; I’m just worried about what my house will look like when I come back,” she said. “If I come back.”


Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@gmail.com.