Failing Forward

How comedy writer Amy Lyle turned
bumps in the road into stepping stones

written by AMY MEADOWS | photography by ANDREA FERENCHIK

IT WAS AN AMAZING NIGHT FOR AMY LYLE. Nearly 350 people had converged on the Polo Golf & Country Club in Cumming on May 15 to celebrate the launch of her highly entertaining and totally relatable memoir, “The Amy Binegar-Kimmes-Lyle Book of Failures.” She had worked with friend and strategic marketing expert Kristin Ingmire, owner of Hi Impact Consulting, to plan the event. In attendance to lend support was an impressive group of local women. She acquired a host of prizes to give away to enthusiastic guests, who each brought a health or beauty item to be donated to The Place of Forsyth, a local charity. Lyle had even encouraged attendees to download the Amazon app to their phones ahead of time so they could purchase her book in real time during the event. There was a bona fide 
buzz in the air. It was everything Lyle had imagined and so much more — except for one small glitch.

“I had a launch party for my book, and I sold no books,” Lyle recalled with a laugh. “It was kind of fitting considering what the book is about.”

An issue with either the venue’s network or the app itself caused the digital mishap. But Lyle took the “failure” in stride, brushing it off with her signature self-deprecating wit and a well-honed sense of perspective. It didn’t hurt that the next day, nearly 500 orders poured in to Amazon for the book. 
The 46-year-old mother of four teenagers had only started writing it seven months prior, thanks to a rather unusual series of serendipitous events.

From Corporate America to Comedy Writer

Amy Lyle never planned to be a writer. She grew up in the very small Appalachian town of Marietta, Ohio, and moved to the Atlanta area right after college, due, in part, to a “big boyfriend breakup” while studying at Ohio State University. For years, she worked in sales and management in the staffing industry and eventually as a corporate sales trainer for one of the largest staffing companies in the world. She married and had a daughter. Then everything changed. She divorced after eight years of marriage and found herself as a single mother. And when she felt the most challenged by life, she turned to her upbringing for inspiration.

“The town I grew up in is like a lot of small towns. It’s on the river, and many of the factory jobs have gone away. There’s a struggling middle class. We didn’t even have a mall; you had to drive to another state. It’s a town of survival,” Lyle explained. “And it changes you when you grow up in that kind of environment. You can think woe is me, or you can look for the funny in things.”

Lyle has always taken the latter route, searching for the humor or lessons in the situations she has faced. “I have this motto: ‘I’m not a failure. I’m just having a little bit of trouble right now,’” she said. “You have to choose what to do with your pain, with your failures. You have to survive.”

Eventually, Lyle met a father-of-three, Peter, who became her second husband. “I’ve been married for 20 years. Not to the same people, but 20 years nonetheless,” she joked. The couple blended their families and set out to raise their four children together. Lyle decided to leave Corporate America and become a stay-at-home mom — something she considered to be a huge privilege. The opportunity also freed up time for her to volunteer with a local ministry and that’s when things got really interesting.

About five years ago, at the urging of her kids, she tried out for an acting part in the ministry’s children’s program. “It was very American Idol-ish. It was very, ‘We’re still auditioning. We’ll call you.’ But I got the part,” Lyle said. Almost every week since, she has shown up on stage for a comedic opening to a children’s play, wearing everything from a grape suit to a Moses costume. Soon thereafter, she asked who wrote the plays for the ministry and was told that she could submit a writing sample. For the last three years, she has been a contract playwright for the organization, writing mini-comedic plays for the church.

That experience encouraged Lyle to consider more involved writing opportunities, including reworking a screenplay with a friend for a local writer. When her friend could no longer work on the project, Lyle decided to go it alone and work on her own screenplay under the mentorship of content editor Rodney Henson. When she completed the screenplay — a physical comedy that she describes as “Bridesmaids meets Bad Moms” — Henson gave her the green light. “‘You’re ready,’ he said,” Lyle explained. “And he told me to call an entertainment lawyer.”

The Call that Changed It All

With a finished screenplay and big dreams (including having someone like Judd Apatow, Ben Falcone or Elizabeth Banks direct her film), Lyle called the entertainment lawyer recommended by Henson. It didn’t go well.

“He said, ‘You’re nobody. You don’t know anybody. You don’t have any money. I won’t represent you.’ And I said, ‘Well, that makes me sad,’” she offered. “He said, ‘Just call me back tomorrow.’ And he hung up on me. The whole thing was very L.A.”

Lyle did, in fact, call back the next day. The lawyer told her that she wouldn’t be able to just sell a film. She needed press coverage for her movie or to have someone of clout read the screenplay and give it a ranking, which involves reviewing the plot, character development and more. With no idea about how to approach the process, Lyle turned to Henson, who connected her with Kat O’Brien, a comedienne with The Second City; O’Brien read the screenplay and ranked it for Lyle. With the ranking in place, Lyle called the entertainment lawyer one more time.

This time, he told her that she needed to have a fan following. “He said, ‘You have to write a book,’” she noted. “I asked him what I should write about, and he said, ‘Write what you know!’” Then he hung up on her again.

Lyle had to figure out how to pull a book together in short order. “I’ve had a lot of failures, so I thought that’s what I should write about,” Lyle said. Fortunately, she actually had a place to start. When she turned 40, she started a humor blog. In all, she had between 40 and 50 blog entries about the missteps, blunders and gaffes she had encountered throughout her life. There were stories about her worst birthday ever (her 16th); the time she had an anxiety attack after signing her divorce papers and ended up watching “Big Momma’s House 2” with her best friend, Sharon, after the EMTs left; when she had a major wardrobe malfunction at the gym; and when her blended family ended up with a one-eyed guinea pig named Kia Doughnut. There were many others.

“I had taken the blog down, but it was a nice base of stories. They weren’t in chronological order, but they were related,” she continued. “I ended up with a 50,000-word manuscript.”

After hiring a copy editor, who cut the manuscript to 41,000 words, she explored the option of self-publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace platform.

“There was this sense of urgency,” she observed. She worked with photographer Andrea Ferenchik, a friend and previous neighbor, to design the book cover, for which Lyle had very specific ideas.

“We had lunch, and Amy told me about all of the crazy stuff she wanted to do,” Ferenchik related. “She wanted to have her skirt tucked up into her dress and have toilet paper hanging off the back of her outfit. They were just these ridiculous scenarios — the more ridiculous the better. So we went into the studio and brainstormed. She put on costumes, and we had loads of fun. We laughed a lot. But when I said we should do a nice headshot of her with food in her teeth, she said, ‘I like my teeth. That’s where I draw the line.’”

“I have enjoyed this book so much,” Lyle remarked. “I’m so glad that entertainment lawyer suggested it because miracles have come out of writing it.”

From “Failing” to “Flourishing”

Lyle recently sent a copy of her book to the lawyer who helped start it all. She attached a gift tag that said, “You told me to write a book. Now let’s sell the film to Judd Apatow.”

“I love the fact that Amy knows exactly what she wants and is taking precise steps to get there,” Ferenchik said. “The book really shows her sense of fun. But even though it’s funny and self-deprecating, there are heartfelt moments. She may have failed at times, but she’s learned from it. And other people can learn from it too. They can read what she wrote and say, ‘I can relate.’ ”

“The cool thing about Amy is that she’s this great, normal person. She’s quirky funny, and when you meet her for the first time, you just want to hang out with her and be her girlfriend. She puts this great energy out there,” Ingmire said. “She’s also talented, and she has put a lot of blood, sweat and energy into what she’s doing. The success will come. She deserves that. And I think she’s on her way.”

While Lyle awaits her call from Hollywood, she is enjoying her new career as an author. The feedback she has received so far has been both humbling and empowering. She has received e-mails from people from all walks of life, explaining how stories in her book have impacted them and how they’ve laughed. “It’s so touching that someone would take time out to tell you how much they love your work,” she remarked. “It’s not Tolstoy or Dickens. It’s a funny, entertaining book. That’s what I know. I love the classics, but there is a place in the world for a good, funny book.”

Bringing laughter to people is one of Lyle’s greatest pleasures and why she also does standup comedy, which she fell into 10 years ago when her sister sent a VHS tape of her to “The Search for the Funniest Moms in America.” While she didn’t make it onto the nationally televised show, her set at a Roswell comedy club made her fall in love with the experience. “I tell my husband it was the best five minutes of my life,” she said. “He always asks, ‘What about our wedding?’ And I [reiterate], ‘It was the best five minutes of my life.’”

Today, she often performs “clean, suburbia comedy” at Atlanta’s beloved comedy spot, The Punchline. “It’s about kids and dogs and the dishwasher not being unloaded,” she added. “It’s very relatable to moms.” And that is Lyle’s goal: to be honest and relatable through her work. By sharing her own trials and tribulations, she hopes to speak to people and give them the inspiration to keep going. And she hopes they’ll do it with a smile.

“Everybody has failure. Nobody escapes it. It’s what you choose to do with it that matters,” she advised. “You have 
to get up. You have to pick yourself up 
and move on. You have to fail forward 
and keep learning.”

 

 

 Where in the World is Amy Lyle’s Book
Since releasing “The Amy Binegar-Kimmes-Lyle Book of Failures,” Amy Lyle has received e-mails and social media posts from people everywhere. Many fans have included photos of where they are enjoying the book and the destinations have been impressive. 
From Lake Como in Northern Italy to the Great Wall of China, Amy Lyle’s book is traveling the world! So where will you take it?

Go to amylyle.me for contact information and let her know where you’re reading her memoir. Include a photo and let’s see where the book ends up next.