Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / September 15, 2021

Now available: Robert Fromberg’s How to Walk with Steve

Join Us on September 26, 2021, at 1 pm for our How to Walk with Steve launch party. The event is free and will feature readings from Robert Fromberg, Adrienne Marie Barrios, Victoria Buitron, and Amy Burns. Register now @Eventbrite so you can receive information and a link to participate on the day.

My brother Steve will not walk beside me. Sometimes he walks in front of me, charting his own course and infrequently looking back to see if I am still in sight. More often, he walks behind me. That allows him the time to register and then, accompanied by twitches, foot shuffles, and finger taps, emulate every choice I make as to pace, direction, and whether to go right or left around obstructions. If we are in, say, an airport, this approach also allows Steve the time to make an occasional dive to grab a brochure from a display. (Steve’s collection of brochures is the stuff of legend.)

When we walk together, I represent the external expectations of the world—numerous, subtle, barely not random. For Steve, who has autism, such inscrutable expectations are ever-present oppression. He would surely feel more comfortable walking without me and the expectations I embody, but because I am there, he does his best to observe and follow.

Surrounded by this hurricane of external unknowability that passes for normalcy, Steve does not completely sublimate his internal proclivities. He must have his moments of freedom—to select one or three or five brochures, to take photographs of a yield sign with an unusual shape, to glimpse the new location to pay highway tolls, and to study the knobs of interior doors in a house he visits. To me, these impulses of Steve’s resemble those of a poet or painter, acts of freedom against, or carefully sheltered from, the world’s normalizing external forces.

The poet William Stafford called writing “One of the great, free human activities.” For Steve, it is more like whatever freedom exists in the eye of a hurricane. And perhaps the same is true for most writers.

In the first few years I taught creative writing at Northwestern University, my first assignment was, “Write something.” I wanted to make Stafford’s point, that writing is freedom. “Here,” I tried to say, “here is some freedom. Take it.” Simple, right? Some students thanked me (or sometimes thanked god) for this dicta-free approach to writing, and they hurried off to write whatever occurred to them. Others told me, either in person or in semester-end evaluations, or they told the dean, that they needed more direction, that they wanted to understand the path and be given some propulsion along it.

With Steve as my mentor, I’ve since looked at the freedom of writers with a little more nuance.

What Stafford called a writer’s “weak, wandering, diffident impulses” are constantly under assault from the external world. A corporate leader told me that being a high-performing employee is flat-out impossible if that person seeks any sort of balance between work and the other parts of his or her life. (Jeff Bezos told Amazon workers to view their careers and lives as a circle, an even more insidious notion.) And the construct of a person having only one job, one career, is so dated as to be quaint. At the same time, the breathtaking amount of time we devote to unpaid caregiving, already rising rapidly before the pandemic, is now a far more intense burden.

Then there is the sheer misery of the recent external environment. Trump. The anti-vax movement. The Texas abortion ban. Twitter wars. Write? I just want to huddle in a corner. Or run screaming through the street. Which probably gives me a glimpse of what Steve goes through each day in the eye of his particular hurricane, which has become far worse during COVID. He now calls me between four and 14 times each day to say he’s worried that everything will be canceled for the rest of his life.

At the same time, I see writers inviting external forces to meddle in their work. On social media, writers (sometimes through well-shot and edited videos with clever soundtracks) talk and gesticulate about how hard they are laboring to choose what their “MC” should do next in their “WIP” so that they can produce the number of pages per day designated by a computer program or a contest or a self-created schedule in order to send work to agents who will apply their own criteria for public palatability before, if the planets are in proper alignment, deigning to pass the work on to another set of gatekeepers displaying another set of criteria at the doors of Reputable Publishing Houses. None of this sounds like anyone is having fun. And it certainly doesn’t sound like freedom.

Whether this burden of external pressures is self-imposed or an outgrowth of societal wretchedness, it leaves writing a “great, free human activity” that, like Steve’s love of highway signs and doorknobs, is engaged in constant battle with a confusing, demanding, and dislocating external world.

When Steve walks, every shuffle of his foot to find the right position, every series of taps on a stair rail, every sudden veer to put a wide distance between him and a person walking toward him testifies to this battle. Yet, while Steve darts and swerves through these external forces, he always has his eyes open for something that belongs only to him. And when I steal a glimpse of those moments, here is what I see: the firmness with which he grasps each brochure he selects and the decisive suddenness with which he pulls it from its rack. For Steve, darting and dodging through an unknowable external world, the impulse of the artist is indomitable.


Now available from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

Joseph Fleetwood

JEFFREY HAMPTON
COVERING CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL MUSIC ARTISTS
TDR REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR /September 13, 2021

I struggle to find something unique to say about the music of J.S. Bach, an extremely difficult task for a composer who died in 1750—almost 300 years ago. It is clear, however, that his music has remained relevant to this day. Like many, the first time I remember hearing the music of Bach was with the wonderfully eclectic recordings of Glenn Gould. Since then, I have had the pleasure of hearing many recordings of Bach’s music, and I have enjoyed playing some of them myself. Edwin Fischer, a legendary figure from the piano’s golden age, would tell a pupil, “When in trouble, play Bach.” Many pianists would seem to agree with Fischer, as there is no shortage of exquisite recordings of Bach’s music.

Joseph Fleetwood, a pianist with a refined touch and relaxed manner, has found his career gaining momentum in recent years. He has been awarded the Narramore Fellowship from the University of Alabama, where he pursues his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Piano Performance. But his academic studies haven’t kept him from releasing this wonderful set of performances of Bach’s six partitas for keyboard. J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas shows Fleetwood in fine form as he works through these keyboard suites. It appears that many would share the same opinion as me—the album, released in 2020 by Sheva Collection, has now sold over 720,000 copies.

This collection groups the partitas by key. The first disc contains the three major key suites, and the second is dedicated to the minor key pieces. The playing is pristine, with a full, singing tone that Fleetwood coaxes from the Yamaha CFX concert grand featured on the recording. The tempo choices for all the partitas are deliberate and thoughtful. Attention is paid to the details—the differing voices and how they all blend on the piano. This is a refreshing change of pace from what feels like the increasingly hectic interpretations of others, as if the pianists are trying to win a race and see who can get to the finish line. While nothing is wrong with faster interpretations, many of which can be exhilarating, the measured choices and broader tempi allow the listener to keep up and enjoy the many delightful details in this complex music. When taking a slower approach, there is always the risk of the pace dragging, leaving the listener bored and waiting for the whole affair to end. But that is not the case here, and Fleetwood’s temporal judgment maximizes the sense of cohesion in each partita, elevating them above a mere collection of dance movements.

The result is an enjoyable experience. While listening, I found my eyes closed and my senses soaring with all the twists and turns found in the working parts of these pieces. A standout moment in the Ouvertüre of Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828, felt the gentle singing of the highest voice bouncing gracefully, dancing along—a captivating performance. This set is full of such moments.

The music is made to sound easy throughout—Bach himself said that he had composed them for music lovers, and at his own expense, published them together as his Opus 1. For those new to listening to Baroque music, these pieces were not written for the piano. Like most Baroque music, the label keyboard can go for several instruments: in addition to the piano, the harpsichord, organ, and clavichord. These latter instruments are more likely what this music was meant for rather than the piano. One would not be able to tell this by Fleetwood’s performances, though, with each piece sounding natural on our more modern and robust concert grand.

J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas stands out from the pack with Joseph Fleetwood’s stellar playing, attention to detail, and gorgeous tone on showcase. If one has not listened to Bach’s keyboard works, this album is the perfect board for diving into the deep end. I invite anyone to sit back, relax with a drink of choice (whisky on the rocks for myself) and let the music of these suites wash over them.


Anthony Emerson
Covering FAMILY, PLACE, AND HEALTH
TDR Regular Contributor /September 1, 2021

Part Two: Mill Town

I love nature. 

Being in and around the wilderness makes me feel a razor-sharp closeness to my truest self, and to my spiritual antecedents like Percival Baxter, the visionary and namesake of Baxter State Park—a promise kept by Baxter when he vowed to keep Katahdin the mountain of the people of Maine. There were also lesser-known figures who roamed the valleys driving logs, felling trees, trapping fur, and making a way in the wild. Some of those obscure men who helped etch a society out of the forest and eked out a life for themselves and their families in the brutal north country were related to me by blood. Percival Baxter, I know, had an intense and enduring love for nature; he fought and paid to preserve Katahdin and the surrounding forests, and when it came time to write the parameters that would regulate the park in perpetuity, he couldn’t help but wax poetic when he decreed that the land “shall remain forever wild.” What I don’t know is how the men who worked the woods—and shared my family name—felt about the wilderness that took them from their families, reamed them of their blood and sweat, and not infrequently ended their lives. Was it awe or agony they felt when they took to the woods?

Moving through groves of hemlock, spruce, and pine, beneath the green spires of the near wilderness feels— especially in the quiet cold of winter—like a journey to my self; the whole self, that contains the unbroken chain of wildness that lives in me and was borne of some ancient ancestor embarking on an overland odyssey to the fertile wilds of whatever continent he inhabited, searching for a food source and the raw materials necessary to build a life. And maybe it was he who passed along the love for mossy river rocks, the smell of fire spilling across the scarlet leaves of autumn, and high, open spaces that I inherited. 

The relatives of my past who are not abstractions or the manifestation of my romanticized relationship to the snow-covered earth were mill workers and mountain men. They were men of pride and little wealth, and so they went into the woods out of an abiding drive to provide for their families. My great-grandfather—a man who lived until I was in my mid-twenties—started work at age twelve. His hands were thick and strong, and he had knuckles like boulders. At only twelve years old he shoveled coal at the trainyard to support his mother. At sixteen he started work at the mill but left after two years to join the Navy and fight in WWII.  During that time the mill continued to run with the wives and daughters of the enlisted men making paper from trees that were in part provided by the prisoner of war lumber camps that contained German soldiers captured in North Africa. My great-grandfather, Atlee, never graduated from high school, but was a lifelong employee of the Great Northern Paper Company, and a union leader. His family lived comfortably in the quiet mill town that sits on the banks of the Penobscot; some of us still live there, though the mill remains whole only in the memory of those that saw it at its greatest. While Atlee’s biological father was a construction baron and alleged prohibition-era bootlegger with a taste for pinky rings and fur coats, the man who adopted him and raised him was a simple man whose life was filled with work and little else. He was among the mill’s first employees. Lloyd would tend his trap lines after an eight-hour shift in the paper room, in the middle of the night, walking the entire distance with my great-grandfather by his side, and then the entire way back, with the two of them sharing the load of fox and beaver pelts, their footfalls penetrating the early morning silence as they found their way home in the dawnlight. 

If my meanderings among the boreal forests of the Katahdin region don’t put me in closer touch with the countrymen who shared my DNA then I think it is because of the nature of work. Recreation feels like a modern luxury, one that my grandfathers wouldn’t understand. Hiking, camping, kayaking, photographing birds perched atop snags, and sitting on the dirt shaded by clouds and canopy contemplating life would have seemed a peculiar waste of time.  Thoreau, who was built of relatively feeble constitution, was scared out of his wits by the ruggedness of Katahdin, and said of the barrel-chested men who dwelt at its base “the mission of men there seems to be, like so many busy demons, to drive the forest all out of the country, from every solitary beaver swamp and mountain-side, as soon as possible.” They did what they had to. And although I have no family who relies on my labor to eat or be sheltered, and I have a combined two hours of experience with axe swinging, I feel a primal urge to build with my hands something that would make the great men of my past proud. And I will. But right now I am focused on telling their stories and the stories of the town they founded and grew so that I can help in the resuscitation of its spirit and vitality.


The mill is gone.

In the final days of July, my grandmother and I drove on logging roads and snowmobile trails and trespassed on private land in search of the best spot to view the back of the former mill site. It was hot and dry and a soft grey haze from the wildfires in western Canada hung in the air and fed dim rays of light into the river valley. More than once we were stymied by impassable windthrown trees; moose tracks crisscrossed the roads and I expected to see one around every turn, but we never did. From the closest disused logging road, my grandmother—a humble, brawny, broad-shouldered woman who walks slow and with a slight hitch in her gait—hiked alongside me down to the spot on the river directly across from the old mill, following the sound of the river spilling over the dam. We wanted to get to the backside because it reveals the truth about what remains of the mill. To the cars driving down main street the mill could seem only shuttered, not destroyed. There is a Potemkin structure that faces the town and makes the former mill seem whole, but it is an illusion. Though the skyline looks the same, the town’s pride has been gutted from the back. I once looked at the chimney stacks leaking foamy steam across a canvas of sky as monuments to my ancestral roots. Standing on the banks of Penobscot’s West Branch, staring into the ruins behind the facade, absorbing the carnage with my grandmother—a native daughter—it felt like we had uncovered a hidden desecration of a once holy place. And maneuvering the logging roads on the way back I noticed numerous patches of new growth lining the road in perfect rows. The paper company planted seeds after cutting; they took the old growth that was provided by the land and they at least replenished the soil and had an eye toward the future. I wish they had done the same for the town and its people.


The community is broken.

The feeling of being witness to something’s end sits heavy over the town like a cloud of smoke. This town is filled with ghosts. When my grandmother was a young girl, the town was a charming place where success and stability were attainable for everyone. Today the town is ailing from a lingering opioid epidemic and the detritus of late-stage capitalism has clogged our main street. Most of the young people with the means to flee have, and what is left is an aging population too old to work… and the rest of us. It can feel at times like the town of the past was a dream, that what we are are vaguely similar strangers chained by circumstance to the same carcass; we tread upon the same dirt and our personal vicissitudes read like slant rhymes in the bygone manifesto of the American dream, but most notions of being in this together were left to die when the mill bailed, and the recent political climate was the final, lethal dose. Rather than weep for the great loss at the heart of it all, I take to the woods and summon the essence of my forebears by walking through spaces they once occupied, through fields and forests they influenced with their physical might. I want to connect to my past, in part, because I want to be brought closer to the people who are now my neighbors. 

I think about the winters of my childhood when the snowdrifts touched the eaves, and I would pluck six-foot icicles off the porch and bat them at trees to watch them shatter like frigid glass. There always seemed to be an exchanging of Tupperware and casserole dishes between my mom and our family and friends. The house smelled of slow-cooked meats and we ate sticky, starchy meals throughout the day. On weekends we would drive the snow sleds to the various clubs and wilderness camps–—the East Branch Sno-Rovers and The White House Landing. There was always hot cocoa, beans, and slow-cooked game of moose, venison, and bear. The adults would huddle around each other drinking booze and eating hot food and talking with their snowsuits still on. I remember the smell of gasoline and cigarettes and the sound of revving engines behind human chatter. This was the thing to do, to quell the anxious pangs of cabin fever, and to feed and be fed by your neighbor. 

There is a comradeship that comes with sharing the experience of winter in the rural north woods. The wicked cold is more easily endured as a community. Handled together, the indignities of poverty are diminished and transformed into the foundations and fodder of communion. As northerners, Mainers, and the remaining progeny of this former boom-town, we have the stuff we need to return our region to glory; it is coded into our being from generations of men and women who survived the savage privations of the lean times and built a magic city that sat on the shores of the Penobscot River and the vanguard of industry. It is our duty to access the tools they gave us—wildness, humility, a high tolerance for suffering, and whatever sorcery gives us the ability to feed a family of five with a single can of tuna—and to use them to build a new way of life here. We have to search for the remnants of our past that we can build upon and also preserve the things we cannot afford to lose.

Ronald McGuire
Covering The Business of Being a Writer
TDR Regular Contributor /August 30, 2021

You’ve done the work, you’ve written and re-written your story or manuscript multiple times, and you’re ready to submit your work to a publisher or agent. But how do you know your work is ready?

It can be difficult for a writer to turn a critical eye to their work. It’s easy to overlook flaws or mistakes when you’re the one who created them. I’m talking about things like word choice, grammar, plot holes, and dialogue. Do you have textual crutches you fall back on when you write, easy phrases you don’t realize you’re using? Are there phrases or words you repeat throughout your manuscript which, while they seem fine to you, might drive your readers crazy?

There are limited strategies for sussing out these sorts of problems, and like most things in a creative endeavor, they can be highly subjective. Honest critical feedback is critical to improving a story or manuscript and to improving writing skills overall. Unfortunately, while honest feedback is your best friend, your best friend probably won’t give you any.

So how, as writers, do we critique and edit our work or find someone else to do it? I’ve adopted three strategies for addressing this problem. 

Read Your Work One More Time with These Things in Mind

First, my go-to process was created by Samantha “Sam” R. Glas on her exceptional blog “Writing Like a Boss.” Sam has condensed a masterclass into a single post with “10 Warning Signs of Amateurish Writing & How to Fix Them.” 

Number 7, “Unnecessary Word Choice,” includes a list (from Writers Write) of filler words you can cut from your manuscript, words you and your readers will never miss. This may seem elementary, but the first time I used #7 to review a draft of a new novel, I found I’d used the word “just” over 400 times. It’s excessive, even for a sci-fi epic clocking in at 110k words.

Four hundred edits because of one word. There were more I had to remediate, like “now” and “sort of.” It took a while, but it was worth it. I learned from it, and I now perform this “checklist” review for all of my work. It’s objective, simple, and effective. 

It has enabled me to approach my work differently, and I’m finding fewer issues over time as I learn to check my bad habits while writing. But this won’t help with things like plot holes, ineffective dialogue, or other problems related to your story or writing style.  For that, you need a human, which could be a costly endeavor but doesn’t have to be. 

Time to Get a Fresh Perspective

When you need a fresh perspective on your work, try a manuscript swap. The best thing I ever did with my first sci-fi novel was sharing it with a fellow writer. We exchanged manuscripts, then sent each other feedback. He called out critical problems I’d overlooked, and I was able to fix them with a series of edits, the removal of a chapter, and a change in sequence for a few other chapters. 

Seek out fellow writers and give this a try. You may disagree with the feedback you receive, but at least you’re getting feedback, and all it costs is time.

Speaking of cost, this need for critical feedback has created business opportunities within the publishing industry, some of which are legitimate, some of which are not. 

I’m not going to try to list all of the illegitimate businesses in the industry. Winning Writers has put together an excellent resource for this purpose, and I urge you to review it before spending money on anything writing-related. Writing communities on social media can be a good resource, but always consider the source. 

One particular piece of advice for novelists: Be wary of vanity presses masquerading as publishers. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, but some businesses exist for the sole purpose of fleecing writers. Be sure to check out “The Best Self-Publishing Services and the Worst: Rated” created by The Alliance of Independent Authors. Combined with the information from Winning Writers, this can save you money, time, and a lot of grief.

What About Reading Fees?

If you’re not there yet, consider paying reading fees instead. What are reading fees, and why should I pay them? Great question, and it’s the third method I use to improve my writing. 

The exception here is novels. Never pay a reading fee, editing fee, or any other service fee associated with publishing your book to someone claiming to be a publisher or agent. Please save your money and spend it on a legitimate editorial services provider whose purpose is to help improve your book before you submit it to a publisher or agent. (NOTE: Some publishers offer editorial services, but they make it clear that these services are not part of the submission/acceptance process.)

For everything else, a reading fee, for those who don’t know, is precisely what it says, a fee charged in exchange for reading your work. Let’s say you’ve written a short story, and you’ve made all the revisions you think it needs. You find a literary journal you like, and you click the “Submit” button. You’re redirected to a submission management platform, like Submittable, and prompted to set up an account and possibly provide a credit card to cover submission fees. 

This is totally legit, nothing wrong here. Literary journals and book publishers use several platforms to manage submissions and contest entries. Submittable is a popular one, and most of the submission opportunities (not all) require a fee or request a donation.

This is where you want to proceed with caution. The questions I always ask are:

  • What will I get in return for this fee?
  • Is this the right publisher for my work? 
  • How many times has this publisher rejected my work previously?

I’ve submitted numerous stories this way, but I’ve also submitted work via publisher websites and email at no cost. In the end, if you’re not comfortable with a submission process, the easy response is don’t do it. I’m fine to pay reading fees, especially when the fee comes with an expedited response, say 24 hours, or it’s an entry fee for a writing competition, or, and this is the best, the fee includes an editorial critique of my submission. For me, this is a low-cost, high-impact way to hone my skills.

If you can afford reading fees, look for publishers who offer detailed feedback when you submit your work. It’s a fast way to get a measure of your writing from a neutral party. Some of these fees are as low as $5, and some range to $25 or higher. If a fee seems high, check out the masthead of the journal. You might find the fee is worth it to get insights from an experienced and talented editor. 

But take note, paying for feedback should never guarantee acceptance, and paying for an expedited response might speed up rejection. Always manage your expectations. Also, make sure your work is a good fit for the publisher by reading what they’ve already published. Otherwise, you may be wasting their time and your money. 

In some cases, a rejection letter will come with a note encouraging a writer to submit again in the future. In one case, an editor rejected my story because she didn’t connect with it but asked me to submit something else if I had anything ready. I did, and the second story was accepted. It’s all part of the process. 

However, if you’ve been rejected multiple times by the same publisher, you should consider moving on, at least for a time. You’re not connecting with the reader, and your money is better spent elsewhere. This isn’t terrible. I was rejected three times by one literary magazine, and each rejection came with feedback. I used their feedback to improve the stories, and the revised versions were accepted for publication elsewhere. 

To Sum It Up

I use three methods to gain a more critical view of my writing. First, I take a “checklist” approach to find and fix flaws. It creates objective space between me and my writing. Second, a manuscript swap. It’s a quid pro quo that works. Finally, consider feedback in exchange for reading fees. This is another win-win. I receive actionable feedback, and the editor/publisher can keep the lights on and get a cup of coffee. 

Above all, remember, no matter what anyone says about your work (good or bad), take a deep breath, accept it as part of the learning process, then forge on. 

Footnote for scriptwriters: Coverfly.com has a ton of scriptwriting competitions, most of which provide exceptional “coverage” (feedback) for an additional fee. These are expensive, so make sure your work is ready. They also host prose competitions for published and unpublished novels. 

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / August 23, 2021

George Floyd left a lasting impact on Avon Park, Florida, where he went to South Florida Community College for two years. His coaches all loved him, and his classmates admired him.

“He was a very fun, outgoing person,” said former classmate Gerald Snell to Fox13. “I really remember him when he would come to church with Coach Walker. Walker would bring the team in from time to time to attend services at the Avon Park Church of Christ.”

According to Scott Dressel, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, the local police department made several changes in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. First, they modified their use of force policy. Deputies are now required to intervene if they see another deputy using excessive force.

They also increased the number of hours needed in de-escalation training, which includes training in active listening and how emotions dictate behavior.

“We have a community-oriented policing unit that spends a lot of time interacting with minority communities to try to increase non-serious encounters with law enforcement,” Dressel added. “They spend a lot of time on foot and bike patrol in what we call our Partner Communities, meeting people and having discussions.”

The community also came together in mourning. When Floyd’s former coach George Walker and his wife returned to Avon Park, which is 31.29% Black, they reminisced about Floyd’s time there.

When Floyd’s family visited in 2020, representatives from South Florida Community College, now South Florida State College, met with his son and memorialized Floyd with a basketball jersey. Floyd played the sport at SFSC.

Advocacy in Avon Park

More recently, Floyd’s son Javionne has chosen to carry on his father’s legacy in a new way.

“We don’t have problems with the police here, but we do have problems with poverty,” said Javionne. “So we’re trying to get a scholarship set up with South Florida. We’re trying to make it so we can grab kids and show them things they aren’t being taught.”

These things include building credit, buying cars, starting businesses, and anything else kids may not learn in schools. Javionne’s program would cater to middle and high schoolers in the area.

“I don’t try to focus on the negative side,” Javionne said. “If you can try to catch something before it happens, we can make things better.”

Recently, Javionne took a group of kids to pick lychee fruit off his tree and sell them to the public. The kids all got to keep the money they made. “I’m trying to show them how to make money without risking their life,” he said.

As Javionne put it, he isn’t reinventing the wheel. He has modeled his program after the RISK Club, an organization in Lakeland, Florida. Jeffery Williams, a teacher, and his team teach their kids about financial management, navigating college, and applying for jobs.

“I’m basically doing exactly what he does,” Javionne said of Williams. “He’s taking kids who have murder charges and reinventing them. When you’re a juvenile, and you get convicted or accused of something, they can still make it out if nobody gives up on them.”

Studies show that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to both commit crimes and be the victims of crime in the future, but that providing these children alternative paths can change their lives. This is what Javionne wants to do.

Remembering George Floyd

Before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Javionne says he was in a really good place. After, Javionne struggled to get back to that.

He finally went to Minneapolis on the anniversary of his father’s death in May, which he said was the first time he was really able to enjoy remembering his father. This was also when he realized that contributing to his community would be the best way to lift himself back up.

“I just want to help people,” he said. “That was what my dad was about, helping people. No amount of money or publicity would make me happy if I wasn’t helping people in my community.”

About his father, Javionne added, “That’s part of why his death was such a tragedy. They killed a man who didn’t want to hurt anybody, who would give you the shirt off his back. He was really well known on his own.

“He had a lot of impact in the third ward, in Avon Park and, as you can see, in Minneapolis. In the places we have family, they call him Big Floyd. He’s a big guy, but he’s a gentle giant. You’re gonna notice him and love him, and he’s gonna show you love. That’s what I’m all about.”

For George Floyd, family was everything. Javionne says he used to have a saying, ‘One roof, one family.’ This meant that no matter what happened and no matter how many people were literally in one house, he loved and supported them all.

The rest of his family lives by this mantra. The George Floyd Memorial Foundation is working out in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, instilling programs like Javionne’s. “We don’t want people to think we forgot about the world after the world gave to us,” he said.


Read Nicole’s Books:

Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / August 22, 2021

Now available for pre-order: Robert Fromberg’s How to Walk with Steve

Forty-three years after seeing it for the first time, I still think almost every day about a drawing of a highway sign done by my brother Steve.

The sign indicates a junction to Interstate 474, a bypass around our hometown of Peoria, Illinois. After five years of on-and-off construction, monitored breathlessly by Steve, the highway opened on August 30, 1978, a few weeks after Steve’s 15th birthday, and nine months after our father died.

Shortly after the highway opened, Steve, who has autism and at the time was only moderately verbal, made an unsanctioned solo pilgrimage to the centerpiece of the bypass, the Shade-Lohmann Bridge, which was 45 minutes from our house by bicycle. We found out because a neighbor happened to see him pedaling away as cars whizzed by. At that time, my mom, always deeply uncomfortable around people other than my dad, was still reeling from Dad’s death and not supervising Steve very closely. She died one year and ten months later.

In the drawing, Steve’s lines and letters are shaky, like those of a child younger than he was. Every item in the drawing is in the correct relative proportion. Each part of the sign is given attention, from the prominent “474” to the nearly invisible diagonal metal strips attaching the sign to its post.

The drawing has no shading, no sense of perspective. The only nod to anything surrounding the sign is a simple, short line representing the ground. Yet the sign is obviously in situ. If you observe highway signs beyond the information they provide, you will note that few are absolutely perpendicular to the ground. In Steve’s drawing, the sign leans slightly to the right, as the actual sign did.

To me, this drawing is elegant, careful, and proud. The sign, standing naked, has shed its context, its mere utility, its universally accepted purpose, and exists before us as an icon recognized and captured by a singular vision and artistic talent.

Several years earlier, I asked my mother, a painter, how she decided what to paint. She picked up a catsup bottle, turned it upside down, and set it back on the table, long neck supporting broader base. She gestured toward the bottle, but said nothing.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Mom’s lack of explanation, I got the point. You don’t paint a catsup bottle. You don’t paint a table. You don’t paint a person. You paint shapes, colors, light, shadow. You paint what you actually see, not that thing’s function.

Mom’s demonstration partially explains the success of Steve’s sign drawing. He, too, cast aside utility in favor of a more personal experience of an object. And Mom’s demonstration seemed particularly apt as I embarked on writing, first poetry and then fiction, and as I taught fiction writing, particularly description. Don’t describe what you think a house or a tree or an arm is supposed to look like, I would say, describe what you truly see.

Still, I was lousy at description.

I admired other authors’ elegant analogies, perfectly chosen adjectives, and bright choices of detail. Writing and reading my own descriptions, I felt nothing but the labor of their execution.

Steve’s drawing, I was convinced, presented an ideal of observation, an ideal of description. The stakes were high in that drawing. Five years of waiting. One-third of his life. Straining from the back seat of our station wagon for a glimpse of any fragment of concrete barricade or orange traffic cone or pavement or sign that suggested the highway taking shape, coming to life. The completion inspired not only Steve’s bicycle journey to see the result, but his first and only piece of creative writing. On a piece of typing paper, positioned horizontally, he wrote in large letters, “Route 474 is here now.” He adhered the paper to his wall with Scotch tape. It remains the greatest poem I have ever read.

My mom’s paintings also were, to me, ideals of observation and depiction, as well as lessons in description. They were nothing like Steve’s drawings. Where his drawings were spare, exposed, Mom’s paintings were thick, practically oozing. My favorite paintings of hers were encaustic, a mixture of pigment and hot wax. Mom would paint with a blow torch in one hand and a narrow palette knife in the other. Her paintings featured people—frequently herself—in silhouette and shadow. Facial features were suggested, but never clear. I once asked Mom why she didn’t paint faces. She said she just wasn’t very good at painting faces. Mom was an incredible technical artist. She could draw or paint anything she wanted in whatever medium she chose. But for some reason she didn’t, or couldn’t, paint faces, especially her own.

What Mom and Steve had in common was a form of courage that comes from confinement. Defined by a deep sense of the world as a place of beautiful hostility, Mom’s art staked its claim with her own insistent anonymity in the midst of sharply observed, ominously commonplace surroundings. Defined by the need for a narrow form of order within a world of painful illogic, Steve presented the purest, most direct, most controlled observation of the structure that gave him relief and joy.

Confined by their relationships with the world, Steve and Mom tenaciously occupied their defined positions, their art an act of courage that insisted on the integrity of those positions.

I quit writing in the early 1990s. I had had some success—stories and a short book published, almost 20 years of teaching. But I no longer knew what to observe in the world or inside my head or my body. And for what observations I could muster, I had even less idea of how to translate them into words. I still was terrible at description.

The skill I lacked, however, was not technical. I lacked the courage that Steve and Mom had to so an intent degree. I lacked the courage see and accept whatever vantage point I had on the world. I lacked the courage to observe fiercely from that vantage point. And I lacked the courage to stake my claim with descriptions that were as thin or extravagant or silly or studious or colorful or stark as they needed to be.

These days, as I think about Steve’s drawing of the Interstate 474 sign, I want to write something as perfect as his narrow lines representing the sign’s strips of supporting metal. And these days, it seems increasingly possible that the courage to make such highly selective observations can be accompanied by an equal measure of comfort.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

The Kanneh-Mason Family

JEFFREY HAMPTON
COVERING CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL MUSIC ARTISTS
TDR REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR / August 21, 2021

I have always been a fan of classical music at work in other art forms, whether performance art, poetry, or photography. However, in my opinion, the choice of music in many artful amalgamations is relatively safe, verging on mundane. The often paired Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky) and visual media come to mind. But the Kanneh-Masons’ debut album, Carnival of the Animals, is anything but mundane

This collaboration sees the Kanneh-Masons – a family supergroup of seven siblings, all classical music prodigies – team up with Michael Morpurgo and Olivia Coleman.

Micheal Morpurgo, known for the novel War Horse (adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 2011), provides poetry and narration.  While Academy Award winner and star of The Crown, Olivia Coleman, also contributes as a narrator on the album. 

You might recognize the Kanneh-Mason family name as some of the siblings have already enjoyed high-profile gigs. Sheku Kanneh-Mason played at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding and has released several critically acclaimed pieces for the cello. His older sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason, had a strong debut with Romance – the Piano Music of Clara Schumann.  A personal favorite album is her new release, Summertime, from July of 2021, featuring American composers.

The centerpiece of Carnival of the Animals is the lovely suite for a chamber group of the same name.  Here the music is woven with poetry, each providing context imagery and humor to the music.  The music is wonderfully played, and the whole performance gives the work a storybook quality, a vibe heightened by the cover art, which depicts the Kanneh-Masons as cartoons surrounded by animals.

Carnival of the Animals has always been a funny work, with some of the movements named after animals. As it progresses, it seems to juxtapose humans and animals by capturing pianists in their natural habitat, running scales, and finger exercises as two pianos slowly lose time with one another.  The poetry is never distracting, giving each movement an excellent introduction.  One funny moment happens before the movement “The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods,” which has a poem that plays up the humor as the clarinet joins in early with the narrator. One can’t help but hear “Cuckoo” every following time we hear the solo clarinet.

The second half of the album doesn’t fair as strongly, though. The second half is a short story of sorts. “Grandpa Christmas” is excellent and sentimental in its own right, but the synthesis we find in “Carnival of the Animals” is missing.  The music is a variety of different composers and instrument combinations. Here we have pieces of Edvard Grieg, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Bela Bartok, and Eric Whitacre.  They are delightfully realized but do not gel as well with the narration.  Often the narration runs longer than the piece of music (none of which are long), resulting in a disjointed and distracting experience.

The final piece on Carnival is an arrangement of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”  Overall a pleasant arrangement and warm finale to the album as a whole.  The arrangement was done by the Kanneh-Masons and is delightful.

Carnival of the Animals is a robust initial effort from the Kanneh-Masons and breathes new life into the piece of the same name. The sheer amount of talent put into this album produces a unique performance.  Even though the second half may not be as strong, it is worth a listen.


Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / July 21, 2021

Now available for pre-order: Robert Fromberg’s How to Walk with Steve

Autism is repetition.

As a boy, my brother Steve would play the same 15 seconds of “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles 50 times in a row. Today, he sometimes has to touch a doorjamb with the edge of his foot five times before entering a room. Our phone conversations must occur at the same time on the same day each week, and they follow a strict template for what I ask and how he responds.

Some of Steve’s repetition is for fun. The passage in “A Day in the Life” that he used to repeat is the accelerating sound collage toward the end of the song. The effect is really cool, and who wouldn’t want to listen to it multiple times?

Some of Steve’s repetition is for comfort. He used to do what we called “bounce.” When he sat, he bounced forward, fell back into the seat, bounced forward, fell back, bounced forward. As a boy, I tried to bounce. It felt good, like sleeping in motion. This type of repetition, in the autism world, is called self-stimulation and has an addictive quality. I don’t know about Steve, but I wanted to bounce forever.

Steve’s repetition sometimes creates order. He craves minor variations as a means to reinforce highly familiar structures. He adores the small differences among the omnipresent sameness of McDonald’s restaurants and interstate highways, to cite just two examples. In a world composed of movements, behaviors, words, signs, and symbols that operate in a way that seems inexplicable to a person with autism—and to me as well, I suppose—the ability to create order through repeated sorting is an understandable refuge.

And sometimes, his repetition is an expression of despair. I have been tempted to write an essay about Steve during the COVID-19 pandemic that would consist solely of the following statement repeated 4,800 times (that’s roughly the number of days of the pandemic so far multiplied by five repetitions per call, multiplied by two calls per day):

“I’m worried the pandemic will last for the rest of the year or two years or ten years or for the rest of my life. I’m worried I won’t go back to work for the rest of the year or next year or for ten years or for the rest of my life. I’m worried I won’t be able to see you for the rest of the year or next year or for ten years or for the rest of my life.”

Writing is also repetition, sometimes for obvious reasons, and sometimes not. Over his 50-year writing career, Rex Stout repeatedly used the name ‘Darst’ for peripheral characters in his novels. (Speaking of repetition, I didn’t notice this until I had read his books more than 10 times.) In his brilliant novel The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett repeats the full name “Ned Beaumont” 860 times. The central feature of Raymond Federman’s oeuvre, along with frequent textual repetition, is an evocatively inconsistent rewriting of his own life story.

Repetition of words, phrases, syntax, and grammatical structures is critical to transitions, pace, emphasis, and parallel concepts, among a thousand other facets of prose and poetry. Outside of verbal repetition, there is repetition within an author’s body of work of detail, character, theme, setting, and, well, you get the idea. Despite this presence and usefulness, repetition gets a bad rap in writing specifically and in the arts in general.

A quick Google search shows that the internet is dotted with articles warning against unintentional verbal repetition in writing. One begins: “Children love repetition. Adults not so much.”

When I used to be a speechwriter, more than once I was reviewing an intended-to-be-inspirational scripts with speakers, only for them to point to some repeated word or phrase I had used for emphasis and say, “You have this word here” (pointing at the one spot on the screen) “and the same word here” (pointing at the next sentence). “Why would you want to do that?”

I remember in my graduate writing program when I was 21 years old being told that I had done one type of story enough and should now try something different.

I am a prodigious watcher of the TV show Project Runway. I re-watched the entire (at that time) 16 seasons plus several seasons of Project Runway All-Stars while going through a divorce. The contestants are forever being praised one week for mastering a certain type of design and criticized the next for repeating it: “You’re beginning to seem like a one-trick pony,” the judges inevitably say.

How many artists of any kind have enough breadth to master more than one style? How many of our lives have more than one idée fixe? Surely, any form, technique, subject, or style has enough richness to warrant a life’s attention, and surely the richness of any one life warrants spending its creative portion immersed in that singular richness.

Skepticism about repetition seems rooted in the same ideological framework that would presume it is not necessary but wrong for my brother Steve to draw pleasure from listening to a 15-second portion of a song 50 times (at its extreme, the “normalization” school of thought for the developmentally disabled would not tolerate Steve in his room for a couple of hours with a Beatles album on the turntable and one hand on the tonearm).

It is not wrong but necessary for Steve to touch a doorway five times before he enters. It was not wrong but necessary for me to draw comfort from 240 similarly structured episodes of Project Runway during a period of upheaval. It was not wrong but necessary for my brother to issue as many repetitions of despair as he wants during a pandemic that has blown apart his experience of a pleasurable present and his expectations for a predictable future.

Writing, like all expressive arts, and like autism, is a necessary life-long grappling with what each of us craves and fears. Repetition is how we do that.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

Anthony Emerson
Covering FAMILY, PLACE, AND HEALTH
TDR Regular Contributor /July 15, 2021

Part One: Where I’m Coming From

There is a town north of Bangor, east of Moosehead Lake, and 200 miles west of the Bay of Fundy, where great men went into the woods to make a life. Their wives lived with quiet, determined intention, and their children were reared beside a river engorged with timber and lakes bespeckled with rocky isles. These families built a life, a community out of the northern forests of snow and pine. They lived off the land because they had to, because prosperity loomed in the collective imagination of the community. But it was not ripe for the taking, it was a thing to be etched in hard stone like a sculpture, a promise seen only by those who knew their way in the woods. Like a birch bark canoe, it had to be coaxed from the hardwoods of the north country by men with skill and grit and a drive to go places that were unforgiving and wild. Those men were pioneers who turned their backs on the sea and the sun-weathered faces of their fathers, said goodbye to their mothers and the dreary coast, the fisheries and promises of a good life; or bid farewell to their mother countries like Italy and Lithuania, and followed the hallucinations of manifest destiny inland, to the Maine frontier. And there they built a city in the wilderness, the largest paper mill in the world, and churned out newsprint for publications like the New York Times. This town, named after an Abenaki word, that means “land of many islands,” that sits on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, with its leafy gold that lays in the shadow of a great mountain, where tough men drove logs and felled trees the size of buildings, and made paper out of pulp… is still there, though long past its glory. It is called Millinocket, my people are from there, and today I call it home.

People that I love, love it here. They fit in. They drop their r’s and eat fiddlehead soup.

They’ve mourned and wedded and grown up and then became old here. They’ve sat in the pews, the grandstands, headed unions, hosted knitting groups and Tupperware parties, and joined or started every organization that makes a person a bona fide local.

Today, the mill is gone and only rubble and emptiness occupy the space where the pride of Millinocket once stood. The last version of the mill left in 2008, but the dream of a day when the mill would again be up and running and return the town to paper-making splendor has died only recently. In my time as a resident, I have felt the slow anguish of a dying thing fade into the cold nothingness of death. For more than a decade, the people of Millinocket have resisted the tides of change, balked at non-papermaking proposals, and languished in economic hardship exacerbated by the opioid crisis. There is a confounding ethos of anti-conservationism, something the locals refer to as “tree-hugging.” I feel like an outsider. And yet, these are my people. I want to know them. I want to know what they want for themselves, for their community, and for the wilderness just beyond their homes—the forests where our fathers’ fathers worked and lived and made a life for themselves; and where our fathers drove trucks and built second homes after they got hired straight out of high school and “followed the window.” What are we to do with the acres of pine and hemlock and hardwoods that were to be our birthright, but that stand to this day steadfast in the face of climate change and the inexorable will of man to forge on— all while our dreams dissolve into dust?

This is not a love letter nor an appraisal of what is right or wrong about a place or a community. It is not a critique, nor could it be; I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know what it all means to me, but I find solace in examining the bonds between myself and the here and there. No matter how I feel about it, I come from here. But I came back for the woods.

Beyond the borders of town, a brilliant expanse unfurls in all directions, blanketing the earth in summer’s green, autumn’s amber, and the soft cotton of winter snow. Just past the banks of the Penobscot River’s West Branch—in a far-off country—the crown jewel of Maine rises from the wilderness. It is a special place that I love wholly and inexplicably, where men I admire found meaning in the formidable landscape and where I search for my own meaning among mountains and men.

Without ever having reached Katahdin’s peak, I knew I was in the presence of something special. The way the mountain materialized on the horizon, beyond a lee or muskeg and around every wooded corner of the backroads outside of town—was a gift; it was a thing that never got old, its majesty deserving of celebration. Katahdin’s crown seemed to hang from the sky like an ornament and changed color with the seasons or glowed different purplish hues with the cloudbursts of spring and early summer. It remains a monument in my life, both literal and abstract: it’s a wellspring of inspiration—the mountain and the wildernesses that skirt its base—and a vestige of my childhood; it’s a place on earth that scrapes the firmament, where I have always stored my aspirations, and a luminary, a symbol for what I care about: the land and its most vulnerable inhabitants. It is an idea, a gospel, a thing created in the image of god; it is a revelation. Man could never conquer nor make sense of it, only fight to preserve it and store it in our consciousness. The wilderness at its base is the altar upon which I worship; on Knife’s Edge I risk becoming a martyr, and in the waters of Chimney Pond, Katahdin Lake, and Wassataquoik Stream, I am baptized. Fording the rapids of the West or Each Branch I pay my respect to past disciples, wild Bodhisattvas like Thoreau and Roosevelt; I can feel their presence and their reverence too. Their wilderness dreams are mine now, we store them in the clouds with the words of the man who made it happen, the one who decreed that this land remain “forever wild.”

I want to know myself and I never feel more rawly myself than when I am paddling or hiking or camping. In fact, just being in nature strips me down to who I essentially am; and being in this nature—the north Maine woods— makes me feel rooted, connected to a timeless throughline that is elemental to my personhood. Who I am in relation to the Maine woods is who I am as an individual, on the most basal and primal level; in the wild, the good and bad of my character are revealed. But I am not a hermit, the whole of my spiritual and psychological makeup cannot be deduced from the wilderness alone; I am a member of a family, a community, and a generation. MY generation, whether born and bred or interloper, has no memory of the good times, the prosperous years when Main Street had an opera house and teenagers could afford to buy their own homes. We may be few in numbers, but we carry the burden of ancestral trauma with an unentitled poise that I am genuinely proud of.

This essay and the ones that will follow are my attempt at probing the consciousness of a place, a people, and a landscape, so I may better understand what it means to be from Millinocket, of the north woods, and to see what remains of the noble lumberman of our past. Is it only names, geography, and frostbitten skin we share with the strong men and women who built this town? Or is an inimitable desire to live and work in a place where most men couldn’t coded into our DNA? Who are these people? And how do I fit in?

Ronald McGuire
Covering The Business of Being a Writer
TDR Regular Contributor /July 12, 2021

Writing is not easy, it seldom pays well, and it fills your inbox with rejection. In early 2020, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to write full time. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made the same choice, but with a better strategy.

Writing is emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and can provide a good living for those who persist and hone their craft. As for rejection, it’s like table stakes in a poker game. If you can’t manage the baseline bet, you should sit out the game.

With that said, I am no expert. I did write for a major news outlet years ago, but that was a side job to my real job. Since last year, I’ve completed three novels, a book of poetry, a script for a TV pilot, and have a growing collection of short stories. In my first year, I made every mistake a rookie writer can make, and it’s possible I invented some new ones.

The last six months have gone much better. I’m not a rookie anymore. What do I have to show for all this you ask? Good question. 

My first script was a finalist in a TV Pilot competition, my self-published novel (under a pen name) was a finalist in another competition and cracked the Top 100 in its genre on Amazon (#98 briefly), and I’ve had several short stories accepted for publication. I have one novel in the hands of a publisher right now, another one just completed, and I have begun querying agents.

So far, I’ve made exactly zero dollars. The Big Payoff for me is experience. I learn best from hands-on experience. Now I’m on this journey, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned so far. Let’s start with the most basic – Do the Work. 

Do the Work

It sounds simple, but many aspiring writers never write, and for active writers, writing is haphazard and filled with distractions.

I spent years dreaming of being a novelist, and I didn’t write a single word toward my goal, mostly out of fear and self-doubt. Your dream of being a writer won’t materialize if you don’t sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and type. Hemingway wrote his first drafts in pencil, so that works too. 

As new writers, the odds are already against us in this business. But there are ways we can start to tilt things in our favor. I’ve found the three most important things for me are:

  • Having a dedicated space to work
  • Blocking out distractions
  • Setting a writing a schedule (and sticking to it).

I work in the afternoon, six hours per day minimum, on average. This includes research, querying agents, or submitting to publishers, contests, and literary magazines. Mornings are for strong coffee, light reading, and walking the dog. In the evening, I do more research and a lot of brainstorming. Yet, I still struggle.

My schedule was recently obliterated by a piece of mail. Its contents presented a frustrating problem, but not an urgent one. I spent ninety minutes of my afternoon dealing with it. Then I spent the rest of the day trying to refocus on writing. I got next to nothing done. It felt awful. I didn’t properly prioritize my time, and I paid for it with a lost afternoon.  If I’m to have any hope of succeeding as a writer, I have to learn to be selfish with my time, my space, my priorities, and my writing.

A loss of focus can cost even more time by allowing loads of errors to sneak into my work. The less focused I am, the more likely I will make mistakes which will cost time in the editing phase. The most insidious of these are typos. I am a self-taught typist, so I make a lot of typos.

But Editing is Easy with Tools Like Spellcheck & Grammarly, Right?

For the record, spellcheck is not your friend, and auto-correct is your declared enemy. Spellcheck won’t tell you when you’ve typed “form” instead of “from,” and it won’t tell you when auto-correct changed a mistyped “decided” to a correctly spelled, but wrong, “denied.” 

These tools are unreliable and can often be more hindrance than a help. Plus, I tend to read right through typos and incorrect words, my mind filling in where my eyes refuse to see. 

I’m not saying, ‘don’t use them,’ I’m saying, ‘don’t trust them.’

I learned this the hard way when I wrote my first novel and decided to self-publish. I ran spellcheck and grammar check, fixed what was found, and sent the manuscript off to The Land of E-Book Publishing. 

When I loaded the ebook into my reader, I discovered it was filled with typos. I stopped counting at 47, across 42 chapters. One was in the opening paragraph. It wouldn’t have mattered if no one had downloaded the book. But they had, and I was embarrassed.   

Don’t trust automated tools, ever. Reread, reread, then reread some more. If you have someone in your life to proofread your work, or can afford to pay someone, consider yourself lucky. 

Quick Tip

My solution is to reformat my text every time I read it. Change the font, the spacing, the borders, or even print the work if it’s not too long. If it’s a novel, I export it as an EPUB and read it on my favorite device. Think of it like driving down a bumpy road, then driving down the same road after it’s been repaved. Same road, different experience.

When I do this, I’m more likely to catch my errors and correct them before anyone else sees my work. It’s not a perfect system, but I’ve gotten good results from it.

In the end, writing is editing and editing is writing. I allow myself one exception to this rule. I try to avoid extensive editing while writing a first draft, whether it’s a novel or flash fiction, or anything in between. I like to capture my thoughts, finish the story, and clean up the words later.

Whatever I write, I expect to edit and revise until the work is polished. 

Another Quick but Helpful Tip

Here’s another useful tip: take some time between each pass. A day, a week, a month, you’ll figure out over time what length of break works for you.

Work on something else, read a book, improve your third-person bio, or research publishers, agents, journals, and competitions. Create some space to let your mind forget some of what you just wrote, then come back to it and edit with fresh eyes. 

A Final Thought

Don’t believe everything you read about writing. 

People like to Tweet quotes by famous writers, and Hemingway’s missives are no exception. The attributions are often wrong, or the words taken out of context.  Hemingway is often quoted as saying, “Write drunk, edit sober.” 

I’d argue that’s objectively bad advice. But, according to Katherine Firth, Hemingway never said it. What he wrote in A Moveable Feast was: 

‘…my training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing’ (p.61).

You can see the difference. 

The internet, and book stores, are loaded with advice for writers and a lot of it is good. But even the good advice won’t always be a good fit for you, and the bad advice can send you on some costly detours. Consider the source, take what works for you, leave the rest. 

I said I was no expert, but after 18 months of full-time writing and research, I know where to find a few experts. 

Below are links to some websites I’ve found useful. If you’ve been writing for a while you know them already. If not, they make terrific companions for your writing journey. 

To sum it all up, work hard, be selfish with your time and attention, write-edit-repeat, take advantage of the help that’s out there, trust yourself, and learn from your mistakes. 

You got this.

Helpful Links

Writer’s Digest: workshops, free downloads, how-to articles, competitions, you name it, they’ve got it, and most of it is free.  https://www.writersdigest.com

Winning Writers: one of the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, they’ve got a focus on competitions and a massive list of links to great resources for writers, everything from advice, to literary forums, to ways to spot scams targeting writers. https://winningwriters.com

Alliance of Independent Authors: This should be your first stop if you’re considering self-publishing. There’s a LOT here, just like the two websites above, but one of the most useful things you’ll find is their ‘Best Self-Publishing Services’ list. If you read nothing else before you self-publish, review this list. https://selfpublishingadvice.org/best-self-publishing-services/

Lit Rejections: A site with stories, quotes, and a blog about literary rejection, it also has some great interviews as well as information about literary agencies. If none of that sounds useful, at least visit and take a look at the collage of book covers from best sellers that were initially rejected. It’s eye-opening. http://www.litrejections.com 

Authors Publish Magazine: Everything is free on this site and their email newsletter is filled with great information, but not overloaded. They research publishers and provide links to ones that are open for submissions, with a healthy dose of paying markets. https://authorspublish.com

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / June 28, 2021

Last summer, it was impossible to turn on the news without seeing protests. George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 sent people into the streets in record numbers.

Last year, police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes during an arrest for counterfeit bill, resulting in Floyd’s death. Chauvin previously had 18 misconduct complaints. Because several bystanders took videos, Chauvin was arrested and found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Floyd was born, the scene was much of the same. People came out to demand police reform and justice for Floyd. Though people are not in the streets to the same extent now, that doesn’t mean activists aren’t doing important work.

Criminal justice reform advocate Kimberly Muktarian is one such person, though she’s frustrated with the lack of change on a community level.

“With George Floyd, it woke a lot of people up, but not to change,” said Muktarian. “America doesn’t want to change unless it’s done by force.”

Six months ago, Muktarian and her allies requested an African American affairs board, but she says the city government is still debating what that looks like. Additionally, activists are asking for subpoena power, police accountability boards across the state and the dismantling of North Carolina qualified immunity. Muktarian hasn’t seen any of this happen.

“Even down to the Juneteenth federal acknowledgement, we’re getting symbolic victories but not real victories,” she said.

The Market House

One of the biggest frustrations for activists is the still-standing Market House, building where white settlers formerly sold enslaved Africans. Especially given the removal of so many confederate monuments across the country, Muktarian and others are frustrated that the house still stands. The city plans to turn it into a museum.

The Market House has existed in Fayetteville since 1832 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970. Market House advocates argue that enslaved people weren’t sold there “that often” or that white settlers only sold enslaved Africans “occasionally,” though it did happen, resulting in at least dozens of enslaved people sold at the Market House.

“We should not have to pay for the upkeep of a slave house or slave plantation,” said Muktarian.

During protest after Floyd’s murder, local activist Mario Benavente says several people tried to break into the Market House.

“I was present for things after the sun went down, and at that point the police started coming around,” Benavente said. “It was at that point I made my way to the streets and documented everything I could that night, May 30. I went live and I was on there for a while. My focus was on making sure the police were doing what they should be doing.”

Earlier this year, Benavente occupied the Market House with several others in the community. Folks would bring them water, generators and canopies, so they were able to stay at the protest around the clock and offer their excess supplies to people experiencing homelessness.

At last, city officials promised to make changes. Benavente has yet to see them do so.

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin has a different take, although he agrees that doing nothing is not an option.

“We chose to repurpose it,” he said of the city turning the Market House into a museum. “History has a dark past, but we have to tell it in its entirety.”

Kathy Greggs, co-founder of Fayetteville’s Police Accountability Community Taskforce, says the Market House is one of the reasons she feels there hasn’t been any change since George Floyd’s death. She says people look at it and understand they are still in bondage.

Greggs and others asked the City of Fayetteville to remove the monument back in 2014.

”To me it’s just the most ignorant thing right now when we have other states removing their confederate monuments,” she said.

Police accountability

Greggs and the other organizers at Fayetteville PACT are dedicated to assisting folks in Fayetteville in regards to racial disparities, which for them includes issues of the criminal justice system, climate justice and more.

In the last few years, they’ve worked on cases of police planting of evidence and police corruption. They’ve worked with the North Carolina Justice Center, the ACLU of North Carolina and Black Voters Matter.

Right now, their main goal is to get an independent citizen review board in Fayetteville.

“Police have edited and tampered with plenty of evidence,” said Greggs. “We’ve had that here in Fayetteville.”

In the last year, Greggs said, “I don’t believe there’s been any change in Fayetteville. There’s been no policy changes.”

In fact, there have been few changes in the last decade, Greggs noted. She cited the “driving while Black” controversy in Fayetteville, a term coined to express how police officers are more likely to stop Black drivers just because of their skin color. Black drivers are still dealing with this disparity.

“Nothing has changed since George Floyd,” Greggs said. “No policy changes, not even budget changes to help the homeless. We’re in still water and have not moved.”

Greggs believes that until officials work with the people, there can be no change. “In order for us to be in unity, we must trust our officials,” she said. “Without trust, there is no unity.

“Right now, no one is held accountable. Everything they do is based on what they want and not the people.”

In fact, the city has requested four times that the North Carolina legislature give them the authority to make a review board according to Mayor Colvin. They have yet to do so.

He says that the frustration from the community is that “the police are policing themselves.”

“Even before the national conversation, we had some severe problems with our police department,” he said. “In 2013 the Department of Justice came in and gave us an analysis that showed we were targeting Black drivers. We had a number of police shootings. They worked with us to institute more community policing. Of course activists want to see more, but if you look at the last few years, we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Local activist Mario Benavente, however, said that there is still a lack of accountability, and that it was very present during the protests immediately after Floyd’s murder. He saw police officers teargassing small pockets of people protesters during the May 2020 marches.

“People were literally tripping over themselves, falling on the floor, choking,” Benavente said. He is still waiting to see an investigation done.

“It’s not just the Minnesota cops,” he said. “Every police dept. across the country has those root issues. Their focus at the end of the day has less to do with public safety than cracking sculls.

“A year later, nothing has changed. Our city council has been cowardly. I’m not sure what special interests are afraid of upsetting, but they’re not doing anything regarding the demands activists are making of them.”

A little bit of hope

In spite of all of this, some activists are still hopeful that things can change.

Dawn Blagrove is one example. As the executive director of Emancipate NC, she has spent the last year fighting for transparency from the police department.

Folks like Blagrove at Emancipate NC have dedicated themselves to dismantling systemic institutional racism and mass incarceration. They do this largely through community education.

“Our overriding philosophy is that the people closest to the harm are those who are most well equipped to find solutions,” said Blagrove. “So we do community educating and meetings. We created a program called the Justice League where we bring in people who have been touched by the criminal justice system. We then give them the tools they need to make change in their communities.”

Similarly, much of the change Blagrove sees is how we talk about race, which she says is just as important as taking to the streets.

“Part of the change we’ve seen is one of a change in the collective psyche of America about what conversations are acceptable to have,” she said. “Without the uprisings of the last year, there would not be interest in abolition. Defunding the police has been a thing since years ago, but has only come into the public lexicon in the last two years. That’s progress.”

Blagrove won’t stop at conversations, however, and hopes that others won’t either.

“We have changed the conversation,” said Blagrove. “We’ve introduced terms and ideas to the American psyche. Now the work is turning those ideas into concrete changes that result in equity.”


Read Nicole’s Books:

Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / June 23, 2021

Between the ages of about 5 and 12, my brother Steve, who has autism, drew many hundreds of pictures. Although the number of pictures was large, the number of subjects was small: school buses, highway signs, house layouts, and street maps of Peoria, Illinois.

Steve drew with the shaky hand of a child, but with relentless precision, capturing minor variations in the window shapes among the city’s school buses; the subtle differences in logos and lettering among interstate, state, and county highway signs; and the shape of toilet bowls and direction each door swung in a house he had visited only once. He drew accurate freehand maps of the entire city of Peoria, which is 50 square miles and at that time had a population of 120,000.

As Steve, who is now 59 years old, entered his teens, he drew less and then not at all, shifting his attention to postcards, then photography, and later the internet. However, his subject interests have remained consistent. He still investigates new brands of school buses, describes the exit sign from interstate route 474 to Illinois highway 6, knows after one visit whether a house has two basins or one in its kitchen sink, and finds a YouTube video of the slight curve on Kickapoo Creek Road just outside the Peoria city limits.

Steve’s interests are not choices. To Steve, choice is excruciating. Just watch him try to select a candy bar from among the dozens of varieties at a convenience store and finally wail, “This is hard!” Steve’s interests chose him, not the other way around, and he has pursued those non-choices for a lifetime without the hesitation or doubt that defines pretty much everything else he does.

For writers, the notion of choice is in a constant war with the creative process. Our fertile but fearful brains wade through options from subject to diction, assessing them against criteria from significance to salability. As for what has chosen us, we are ready, even eager to ignore those mysterious things, so tiny and weak and weird and wrong-headed they seem when held up against our notions of what others expect from our work.

As a writing teacher at Northwestern University for almost 20 years, I had only one idea. At the time, I felt pretty silly, leaning on just one idea when my colleagues and students seemed to have so many. But I feel better these days about my idea, which was simply to point at something, anything, that reminded me of my brother Steve, that is, anything that seemed to have chosen the writer from among the many things the writer seemed to have chosen.

It wasn’t so hard to do. Often, it was just a matter of sensing when the writer was having fun. At other times, it was a particularly sharp detail. At other times, it was an unexpected digression. At other times, it was a sidestepped convention or conventional wisdom.

These non-choices stood out like bright marbles on a sidewalk. There was the student who, in an otherwise conventional crime novel, wrote an outrageously long description of the contents of the shelves inside a roadside gas station. There was the student who wrote a computer program (this was in 1990) to randomize the sequence of his story and included the code in the manuscript. There was the student who, in the midst of a typical I’m-sad-that-Grandma-died essay, suggested oh so briefly that the clicking of Grandma’s dentures had made the writer’s scalp feel like it would leap off her skull. There was the student whose dialogue was so lengthy and digressive that any sense of narrative was buried. There was the student who wrote a story about a lonely boy who joined a club of people learning to speak Esperanto.

More recently, I see writers online talk about choosing the next scenes of their novels in progress or choosing between traditional and independent publishing. Thank goodness, there is also Alex DiFrancesco, author of the story collection Transmutations, who posted this recently on Facebook:

“I’m saying again: There is straight up Neutral Milk Hotel and Leonard Cohen fanfic in my new book and it’s being widely reviewed and loved and I’m saying this because you should definitely, without a doubt, no questions asked, write the things that matter to you, and to fucking hell with everything else.”

The challenge for so many of us is to recognize, not choose, those things that matter to us and to have the courage to hold them up to the light.

I am jealous of Steve. Unencumbered in this respect by the tyranny of choice, he has a direct line to what is important to him. For those things, he is a fan, a recorder, a student, an interpreter, and an accelerator. A true artist, Steve is defined not by his choices, but by his celebration of what has chosen him.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

A Review of Jeeyoon Kim’s Over.Above.Beyond. (Namus Classics, 2018)

Jeffrey Hampton
Covering Contemporary Classical Music Artists
TDR Regular Contributor / June 21, 2021

Over.Above.Beyond. is the 2018 release from pianist Jeeyoon Kim on Namus Classics.  I bought my copy of the CD from the pianist’s website, but it is available on most music streaming platforms.  The liner notes open up with a user’s manual for listening that gives several easy-to-follow steps, providing an original way to enjoy the album.   This user’s manual encourages the listener to take a moment to breathe and be present while listening to the music, cultivating the perfect environment to engage their imaginations. It is recommended that the listener read the liner note for each individual piece which shares Kim’s thoughts and feelings while encouraging the listener to imagine their own scenes that they can look for when out in the real world and share on social media with #OverAboveBeyondProject.

This is a great idea! Listening to classical music can sometimes feel intimidating. But Jeeyoon Kim’s liner notes provide a rather original way to engage with the music for those who want to take the musical journey with her.  The first time listening to this album, I found myself enjoying the small anecdotes from each piece and imagining my own scenery and stories over the music.

The pieces chosen present a variety of composers, displaying some of their easily digestible, shorter works instead of hammering the listener with one titanic warhorse after another.  The first three pieces—Nikolay Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies I, Op. 38, No. 8, Edvard Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6, and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2—are wonderfully played, showing off fine attention to melody in all three works.  The works are played without an overwrought sense of sentimentality, which could drag the pace of the music.

The next piece, Johannes Brahms’ Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1, spans almost 20 minutes, making it the longest piece on the album.  Kim’s liner notes make clear her love for the piece, which is not often performed.  She encourages the listeners to imagine something different for each variation.  This piece is an emotional journey that needs unpacking, and Kim is up to the task.  The opening theme, easy to follow, is given to us with a thick, full-bodied harmony of luscious chords. Each variation grows organically from the last, and Kim never loses sight of that original theme from Brahms.  The piece, despite its length, never grows dull and is full of many wonderful surprises.  When one reaches the end, they can almost feel the sun on their back after an incredible journey.

The following two pieces are from the famous French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.  The pieces are not as heavy as what has come before and are both popular piano solos wonderfully realized here.  “Pavane pour une infante défunte” is both powerful, yet tender.  The music paints a picture of elegance fitting of a pavane, a dance that used to be performed by young princesses in the Spanish court.  Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is a playful romp full of humor.

The next piece is a rarity of a piece by Giuseppe Martucci. The Nocturne in G-flat major, Op. 70, No. 1 is wonderfully melancholic, with once again great attention paid to making the melody sing. Kim’s liner notes describe this one as an image of an old man remembering his past—an apt description of this nostalgic work that could have been written off if played by a lesser musician.

The album ends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” K.265, a famous set of variations based on a melody most commonly associated with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This is the perfect lighthearted way to end the journey.  The playing here is dazzling—playful but elegant and ultimately delightful.   It is the second-longest piece on the album, but that does not weigh it down, as it leaves us feeling refreshed.

The “User’s Manual” provided in the liner notes gives a perfect way to listen to the record overall.  I found myself more engaged as I connected both with the playing shared by the pianist as well as the guidance offered.   I found it easy to picture various images of nature and even some of my own stories with the music. Many times a classical record gives us either a concert program or a collection of pieces all from one genre with no clue of how to engage in it. Personal preference for more programmatic presentations in albums, the idea of the user manual was a breath of fresh air.   None of the music is overwhelming, and it is all aesthetically pleasing to the ear.  Jeeyoon Kim’s playing shines here. It is confidently assured and beautifully realized; the pieces played are melodic and beautiful, but not overly sentimental—a guilty pleasure of a lot of musicians who will drag and distort a melodic line until it is unrecognizable.  For anyone who wants to embark on a thoughtful musical tour, this is the album for you.