A Poem by d w Stojek

                              O’ it’s a lonely maypole
                      in three footfall snow,
                      and where may I go
                      without reason, without clothes?
                           
                      By the seat of my bicycle,
                      full of frost and icicles                           
                      let my Fancy sway,
                      unfettered in the winter’s shortened day…

                         “Yes, but well, what are you doing here?”
                      Had you noticed my axe you would not have asked.
                      Well, you wouldn’t now, would you dear?
                      Alas, I whittle with what is Little--                         
                        	    
                      I am tired traffic. A faltering star. 
                      Spring, too distant, too far,                           
                      and where would I go,
                     O’ if not to the lonely maypole?

d w Stojek is a poet, photographer, and general nuisance to those within earshot. He is eagerly awaiting the day when ‘Build-a-Bear’ re-opens as a series of genetic labs that will enliven the blighted strip malls of Suburbia.

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

A Poem by Susan Miller

It will be like a snow day —
all of us penned in our holes,
yearning to topple onto
barstools, strip off our
winter wool, order rounds
of Jack and uncork
our weather war stories.

Yeh, just like a snow day,
that’s what you said, as
always so rock-solid sure.
You didn’t want to hear
my what-ifs, feel my
clammy palms, see
my screaming phone.

You tried to make me laugh
at your downward dog in
our fuzzy Facetimes,
teach me Crazy Eights
by text, clink cocktail
glasses at laptop screens.
Just like a snow day.

You said the tickle was
nothing, maybe some
sneaky spring pollen
or your hardwoods
belching dust. No worries
at all — just pieces of what
would be one stellar tale.

I wanted to call you to
tell you that I finally made
it outside. How every step
felt slippery and uncertain,
how I dodged sidewalk
slowpokes before I
burrowed back indoors.

How 15 months later,
I peeked into the pub
now electric and pulsing
with people. How you should
be there, we should be there,
hugging and holding court.
Yeh, like after a snow day.

Susan Miller is an editor/reporter for USA TODAY who enjoys writing poetry as a hobby. Her work has appeared in Whimsical Poet, Gemini Magazine, Months to Years, Common Ground Review, Under the Bridges of America, Sandy Paws, Quaranzine, Written in Arlington.

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.


A Poem by Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

today i woke up
at 7 am
so i could sign up
for my fall quarter class
at 8 am

i ate
a quick sandwich
of dollar store white bread
mustard & mayo
kraft singles
garlic baloney
pickles
potato chips

& i grabbed
one (1) pre-made canteen
of morning coffee
from the fridge

poured one (1) mug
& reheated
for three (3) minutes
then put it back
in the canteen

today i told my therapist
that i’ve just started taking legal action

for two (2) years
of stalking and sexual harassment

the title ix
just placed
a no contact order

which is basically
a restraining order

which expires
as soon as i graduate

in december

& i’m not saying
it doesn’t help but
it’ll take three-to-six (3-to-6) months
for the trial to go

& i’m just
so scared

& i know that
i’m taking the right action

but this coffee couldn’t be strong enough
to prepare me for

the reliving
of my trauma

& uncertain futures

i’m all out of creamer
& my hands

are shaking.

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man with Borderline Personality Disorder. He’s from Seattle and currently attends the Evergreen State College. He’s been published by University of Amsterdam’s Writer’s Block, UC Davis’ Open Ceilings, UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He’s @RomanGodMercury on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A Short Story by Mark Hall

“Christ!” Daniel McRae’s father cried. The back door slammed shut with such force that it shook the house. “Daniel!” John McRae bellowed, drawing out his son’s name. “Get your ass down here! Now!”

For an instant, all was quiet. Daniel crept from his room at the top of the stairs. On the landing, he froze in the silence. Then, heavy footsteps as his father made his way through the house. “Shit,” Daniel muttered to himself. Quickly, he searched his mind for what could have set his father off this time. His hands shook as he ran them through his mop of dark hair. He gripped the stair rail to steady himself. Then he remembered his bike.

Daniel looked down over the banister in the direction of the kitchen. His face bruised with anger, John stalked his son, one hand gripping a sturdy broom. There were specks of dried blood on its thick handle from the last time he had struck Daniel. Halfway up the stairs, he stopped. “How many times have I told you not to leave that bike in the driveway? How many, goddamn it?”

Daniel was fourteen, slight for his age. There on the landing, he stood several steps above. From this vantage point, his father appeared only slightly less threatening.

“I’ve told you and told you!” John roared. “Put your goddamn things away!”

Daniel took a step back. Cornered, he turned his back to his father and steeled himself. He covered his head with his forearms as John raised the boom with both hands. He struck his son hard, again and again. “Goddamn it!” he shouted with each blow. “Goddamn it! Goddamn it! Goddamn it!”

As the blows struck, Daniel’s mother, Aida-Claire, appeared below. She could have stopped her husband. She knew that Daniel hadn’t just left his bike carelessly in the drive. He’d put it there deliberately, to replace a tube in a flat tire. Daniel had talked to her about it that morning. There wasn’t room enough to work inside the garage. He’d only just finished and left the bike for an instant to run upstairs for his shoes.

But instead of intervening on Daniel’s behalf, Aida-Claire mirrored her husband’s anger. “Your Daddy has told you time and time again not to leave that bike in the driveway,” she echoed. Aida-Claire kept her eyes on John as she spoke. She was performing for him. “Someday, one of us is going to back over it.” She glanced, briefly, at Daniel, her voice trembling, “Then you won’t have a bike.” Daniel registered the fear in his mother’s eyes. He hated her for that. Bile rose in his throat. Aida-Claire was trying to remember her lines. “Maybe,” she added, her voice rising, as in a question, “you shouldn’t have a bike in the first place, if you can’t take care of it.” Like an actor on a stage, she looked to her husband for approval. Whenever his rage exploded, Aida-Claire stood on the sidelines like this, egging him on. Sometimes she’d even pile on additional transgressions from days or even weeks past that Daniel ought to be punished for. If John’s anger was directed at him, Daniel understood, then it wouldn’t be aimed at her. But it wasn’t enough simply to avoid her husband’s wrath herself. Aida-Claire had to become his ally, his accomplice.

His anger exhausted, John threw the broom to the floor below and turned toward the kitchen. For several minutes, Daniel remained still, to be certain it was over. Then, with difficulty, he unfolded. Slowly, he made his way back to his room, leaning against the wall as he went. He was careful not to slam the bedroom door, though he wanted nothing more than to tear it from its hinges. Curled up on his bed, his head throbbing, Daniel caught the sound of his bike as it clattered into the back of his father’s pickup. “Godfucking cunt!” John shouted, as the tailgate failed to catch. Then the truck scratched out of the drive.


The first time Daniel’s father struck him, John and Aida-Claire had been out one evening. Daniel was looking after his little brother, Will, who had had a nightmare. When their parents returned home, Will was in tears, groggy, incoherent, lost between waking and sleep. He cried out from this in-between state. They found Will on the floor, next to his bed. His father concluded that Daniel must have hurt his brother somehow. But that was ridiculous, inconceivable. Daniel would never hurt Will. But John had come for him. He’d pierced Daniel with a low, steely voice: “Go to my room and get the biggest belt you can find.”

By now, Daniel knew well how the next day would go. Ordinarily, on Sunday mornings, the whole family attended church together. But after a Saturday night beating, only Daniel and his father would go, just the two of them. Daniel hated this worse than the beatings, riding silently in the car, alone with his father, sitting next to him through the service, watching him pray, then the mute drive home.

Knowing his father would expect him at the ready, when morning came, Daniel dressed slowly, painfully. He hadn’t left his room since yesterday. Will had brought a sandwich, which Daniel hadn’t touched. His little brother sat on the edge of Daniel’s bed and laid a hand on his hip. He patted Daniel gently for a long time. Will had come to tell Daniel that he’d hidden the broom behind the living room drapes so their father couldn’t hit him anymore. Daniel could not respond. He was sore all over. Even his teeth hurt. He was deep inside himself now. There he would remain. He would not speak, unless prompted. He would not look at his parents tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. He would give nothing. He would be a blank.

As Pastor Lealand droned on, Daniel ruminated. He’d heard the expression, “This hurts me worse than it hurts you.” Daniel didn’t believe it, but he understood that his father suffered whenever he beat him. Daniel read it on his face, the deep trough between his eyes. That’s why they were at church together in the first place, just the two of them. His father felt guilty. That’s probably what he was praying about right now, Daniel thought. He took pleasure imagining his father’s anguish. How could he add to his pain, Daniel wondered.

He could tell. Daniel could tell a teacher at school how his father beat him. On Monday morning, Daniel could raise his shirt and show the angry welts across his back. By then they’d ripen, purple, black. He could show his teacher, Mrs. Winfield. “My father did this,” he would say. Mrs. Winfield would gasp as her eyes filled with tears.

Among his friends and colleagues, John McRae was respected, well-liked. Out in the world, he was charming, jovial, a successful businessman, a deacon in the church. His family was handsome and happy. But at home, Daniel’s father was silent, brooding. Night after night he sat in a worn leather wingback chair, working a crossword puzzle. From time to time, he cleared nothing from his throat. “Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh.” Daniel hated that sound. He cringed at the thought of it. No one would believe what John McRae did at home behind closed doors. If Daniel told, then maybe he would be removed from his home, he fantasized, taken into care. Even if a foster family was horrible, it would be worth it. It would be worth it to shame his father and mother. She’d be the talk of the next Junior League luncheon. His parents would hate that, all the talk. Imagine the looks they’d get at church next week when word got around.


After church, Daniel put on his headphones and set out to mow the grass. The front lawn was wide and deep and took hours to finish. Normally, he chafed at the task, but not today. Today, Daniel didn’t care, because mowing the lawn gave him an excuse to avoid his parents. This afternoon Daniel took more time than usual, moving slowly, wincing at each turn. His shoulders ached. But he pressed forward into the heat, knowing that afterwards he’d be too exhausted to think, his mind washed clean by the scorching sun and the ordered lines drawn with each pass of the mower.

Midway through, the McRae’s neighbor, Dave, pulled up, a small boat hitched to his truck. It was a Boston Whaler, just like the one they’d rented once on the Gulf. Uncle Dave, who wasn’t really an uncle, had taken Daniel and John fishing at Apalachicola Bay, not long before John began beating Daniel.

Inexperienced with saltwater fishing, the three of them had nevertheless enjoyed themselves immensely. Daniel had been impressed with his father. On the pier at Cedar Springs, a tiny fishing village on the Bay, John McRae seemed at home among the people they met there. He chatted up the old salts to learn where the fish were biting, what lures to use. On the water, John was easy, relaxed. He and Uncle Dave drank beer, while Daniel downed Cokes. They ate sardines from a tin and peed off the back of the boat. They joked and made up fish stories about “Hog-o-rilla,” the big one that got away, again and again. Lines were tangled. Hooks were caught in their hats and fingers. They bled prying them loose. A rod snapped. A pricy reel was lost in the water. They laughed through it all. Then, in the heat of the afternoon, the three of them leapt from the boat to swim in the Gulf. Together with Uncle Dave and his dad, Daniel had felt a part of something, the world of men that had seemed so strange and distant to him before.

John beamed with pride when Daniel caught the largest speckled trout of the day. “My boy,” he said with a wide smile. Afterwards, back at the pier, Uncle Dave showed Daniel how to gut and clean a fish. Daniel could tell that his father was surprised to see how deftly his son handled a knife.

At home, John set a wide, black cauldron of grease on a gas burner in the backyard for a fish fry. Neighbors gathered. The McRaes always put on a good party. Daniel watched with admiration as his father sliced potatoes neatly, with the skins on, then fried them up, at once crisp and tender. Then, without a recipe, John made up a batter of hushpuppies, with onions and jalapenos chopped fine. Before he dropped a fillet into the grease, John held up each one and praised its perfection. “My boy,” he said again, as he told the story of how Daniel had wrestled the big one into the boat, then, later, on the pier, how he had cleaned the entire catch all by himself, like a skilled fishmonger. Looking back on that day, Daniel considered it the happiest time he’d ever spent with his father.

“Nice work.” Uncle Dave said, as he surveyed the half-mown lawn. “What do you think?” He smiled back at the boat and made a sweeping motion with his outstretched hand, as though he were presenting a lavish prize on a game show. “It’s just like the one we rented at Apalachicola Bay.”

Before Daniel could speak, from behind him, John stepped out the front door and down from the porch. “Uncle Dave!” he drawled loudly, a wide smile, all hail-fellow-well-met. Daniel tensed as his father laid a hand across his shoulders, his thumb and forefinger resting lightly around his son’s neck.

“What do you say we take this baby out at the end of the month?” asked Dave. “Your Mama says your birthday’s coming up, Dan. Let’s make a day of it. Bring home that Hog-o-rilla this time.”

John squeezed Daniel’s neck slightly. Daniel stiffened. “Yes, sir,” he said to Uncle Dave.


At school on Monday morning, Daniel didn’t tell. Nor the next day either. As one day led to another, he found that he had folded so completely inward that now it was difficult to imagine turning out again. In his mind’s eye, he could see the scene in vivid detail: the raising of his shirt, the turn of his back to his teacher, Mrs. Winfield. Her eyes would widen. Tears would well up. Her doughy fingers would reach toward Daniel to touch the ugly bruises, tentatively, gently. Then Mrs. Winfield would pull him to her. She was a big, expansive woman. Daniel would wince in her fierce, soft embrace. He might cry too, as he gave himself over to her protection. But Daniel could not summons up the words to tell her what was happening at home.


The next time John struck his son, Daniel had been sitting at the kitchen table, shelling peas, while Aida-Claire stirred a pot on the stove. More than two weeks had passed since the last beating. Tensions had lifted, though Daniel, wary, continued to steer clear of his father. But he and his mother were mostly back to their old selves. Daniel enjoyed watching her cook. She was relaxed at the stove, organized, efficient. She could juggle lots of tasks at once with calm. Whenever they were alone together in the kitchen, theirs was a quick, easy, banter. They teased one another often. They laughed. Aida-Claire confided in Daniel, sometimes airing complaints about his father. Daniel enjoyed her confidence, which made him feel grown up.

On this evening, Daniel had said something joking to his mother. John had walked in at the tail end of Daniel’s remark. He hadn’t liked whatever he thought he heard. Then, in a flash, John was on him. That’s the way it was. One moment, calm. The next, pure rage. From zero to ninety in an instant. Anything might set him off. In his unpredictable volatility, John McRae was utterly predictable. He snatched Daniel up by his arm. His grip was fierce. Daniel was up and out of his seat before he knew it. The chair clattered to the floor. The peas overturned. “I won’t have you talk to your Mother in that tone of voice,” John shouted.

“What? What did I say?” Daniel screamed, his voice high, breaking. Already he could not remember his own words. He could not reconstruct the conversation he and his mother had been having. His heart pounded in his ears. He opened his mouth to defend himself. “I, I . . .” But nothing would come. Daniel looked to his mother. She would explain. It was just an innocent joke. She hadn’t been bothered by it at all. But Aida-Claire’s mouth was a straight line. Still holding a wooden spoon in the air, she would not meet Daniel’s pleading gaze.

John dragged Daniel out the kitchen door and into the backyard. He took a wide stance and held his fists up in front of him like a boxer. “Put up your dukes, boy!” he demanded.

His father’s pose, his words, struck Daniel, unexpectedly, as comical. Surprising not only John but also himself, Daniel erupted into bitter laughter. “You wanna hit me? Is that what you want?” Daniel laughed. He looked at his father squarely now. His dark eyes, the mirror of John McRae’s, narrowed. Laughing at his father, Daniel discovered in that moment, diminished him. Suddenly Daniel felt strong, commanding, and so he continued to provoke. “You wanna hit me, big man?” he taunted. “That make you feel powerful? Big man gonna beat up a fourteen-year-old kid?” Daniel’s own fists were balled tightly at his sides. His voice was low and steady now. He pressed, “Beat up a kid. That make your dick hard, big man?”

The next day, Daniel woke with a glistening black eye. He smiled wryly as he examined it in the bathroom mirror. He laughed again, the same bitter laugh he had laughed the night before, seconds before his father decked him.

Later, at school that day, Daniel told anyone who asked that he’d hit a pothole and gone head over handlebars on his bike. He hadn’t told anyone that he no longer had a bike.


With the black eye, something had shifted in Daniel. He was no longer afraid of his father. He could see his weakness clearly now. After he had laughed at him, Daniel had felt something rise up inside of himself and break loose.

Nevertheless, Daniel continued to brood about his father’s increasing violence, an endless loop of white-hot resentment, turning over and over again in his mind. Early on, his father had demanded, at the slightest provocation, “Go to my room and get the biggest belt you can find.” John knew which one he meant. So did Daniel, who learned quickly that the beating would only be worse if he chose the wrong belt. The broom had come later, then anything close at hand, once an extension cord, another time a brass candlestick. Only lately had John pared down to bare knuckles.

Daniel puzzled over the why of his father’s behavior. What had he done wrong, Daniel wondered. Aida-Claire had tried to explain once. She reminded Daniel that John had lost his own father when he was only eight years old. The grandfather Daniel had never known had died of a heart attack in his mid-thirties. “And so, you see,” his mother had said, “your Daddy doesn’t know how to be a father, because he never really had one himself. He doesn’t know what to do with a teenage boy. He’s afraid. Afraid you’ll challenge him. Afraid you’ll outstrip him, outshine him.”

To Daniel, this sounded more like an excuse than an explanation. His mother was merely propping up her husband, taking his side again. If he was a threat to his father, Daniel reasoned, then before long he would come for his brother, Will, too. Will was only eight. His father had not yet hurt Will. But he would. Daniel would kill his father first, before he’d let him do to Will what he’d done to him.


The night before their fishing trip, Daniel was lying in bed, when through his noise-cancelling headphones he heard a shriek from the bathroom that separated his bedroom from Will’s. His brother had been splashing in the tub, sloshing water onto the floor. It had soaked clear through to the downstairs, leaving a dark stain on the silk wallpaper in the dining room below.

His father had surprised Will, still naked in the tub, beating him violently with a hairbrush. “Goddamn it! Goddamn it! Goddamn it!” he roared.


The next morning, Daniel and his father and Uncle Dave were to leave in the dark hours well before dawn, driving south to Apalachicola Bay. They would be on the water by daybreak. Dave’s boat was too small for the open ocean, Aida-Claire had worried. It wasn’t safe. She wouldn’t think of letting Will go along. He was too small, she insisted. After last night, Daniel thought, Will wouldn’t have wanted to spend the day with their father anyway.

In the kitchen, Daniel tiptoed around his father, making sandwiches, packing the cooler, gathering up their gear. Already on edge, he startled at a knock on the kitchen door. Outside in the dark was Dave’s wife, Sara. Still in her nightgown and slippers, damp from the wet grass, she’d come over to say that Dave was too sick to go fishing. He’d eaten a bad oyster last night, she thought. But Daniel and John should go on without him. The boat was all loaded up and hitched. She handed Daniel the keys to Dave’s truck. “He won’t be going anywhere today,” she said, as she turned on the stoop. “Happy birthday, kiddo. You two have fun.”

Daniel smiled weakly. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. His stomach tightened, as he thought of the long, seething day alone with his father. Without Uncle Dave as a buffer, Daniel wished that he himself had eaten the bad oyster.


The drive south was silent, tense. Daniel put on his headphones and tried to sleep. But he was too restless, and so he only pretended to doze, his eyes closed, nothing in his ears but his own thoughts. He’d been wide-awake most of the night, trembling with rage about Will and the hairbrush. After his parents had shut themselves behind their bedroom door, Daniel had crept into his brother’s room, where he spooned him up in his arms, still teary, trembling, gasping from time to time, until Will finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

As soon as John stepped out onto the pier at Cypress Springs, it was as if he had flipped a switch. He was at home on the water. It was early yet, still dim. A few old salts were tying chicken necks into tattered crab baskets and tossing them off the rickety pier. John talked tide charts and wind speeds with a toothless old man, so brown and weather-beaten he looked like a desiccated leather bag, washed ashore from some distant land.

Daniel stood beside his father, gazing out over the Gulf, John’s hand resting lightly on his neck. “My boy,” John said to the old man with pride, “Turning fifteen today. Near ‘bout grown, he drawled. He’s gone land a hog-o-rilla today!” For catching speckled trout, the small, wizened man recommended a white rubber grub with a weighted red head and a double salmon hook. He rooted through a battered tackle box and handed Daniel a small packet of lures. “Good luck catching that hog,” he said with a wink.


Daniel remained taut until he and his father had successfully launched the boat. This was just the sort of cooperative task that could easily go wrong and set his John off. Not until he settled into the bow of the boat did Daniel take his first deep breath of salt air. His father stood behind the wheel and sped, full throttle, toward the open Gulf. Daniel braced himself as the small craft bounced against the chop. One hard bump, he thought, might catapult Daniel right out of the boat. His mother had been right: The Boston Whaler was too small to be safe on the open water. With the wind in his ears, Daniel was both afraid and exhilarated in equal measure.

The first pink rays of sun peeking up from the east, John brought the Whaler to a stop and they dropped their lines. After some time, Daniel could feel a loosening inside himself. He could see from his father’s smooth, easy casting that he, too, was relaxing. They both enjoyed the quiet. On the water, the silence wasn’t strained, as it had been on the drive down, as it always was at home. Here, the silence was purposeful, attentive. The only sounds were the gentle lapping of the water against the hull, the occasional plop of their lures on the surface, a light breeze in their ears.

There was nothing to talk about until something powerful struck Daniel’s line. He popped up his rod sharply to stick the hook. John leapt up and grabbed a net. Sparked with adrenaline, for several minutes Daniel wrestled, expertly reeling in, then releasing the slack to tire the creature out. His arms began to throb, but Daniel remained cool and steady. His father praised and encouraged. “That’s it. Bring that hog in,” he coaxed. When a streak of white flashed alongside the boat. John leaned over and scooped up a shark, nearly eighteen inches long. “My boy,” he said with pride, as he held it up by the tail. Daniel didn’t want to care, but, in spite of himself, he felt the warm rush of his father’s approval.

This jolt of excitement shook both Daniel and John out of themselves. As morning turned to afternoon, they talked a little, then a little more. They talked about college and Daniel’s interest in veterinary school. His father knew a local veterinarian from his business-networking group, who might be willing to take Daniel on as an intern. Daniel was pleased when John offered to arrange for them to meet next week.

When the sun rose high above, Daniel and his father raised the Bimini top and retreated under the shade. At lunchtime, they devoured their sandwiches. John pointed out that they’d packed beer enough for two, expecting Uncle Dave to be along with them. He offered a can to Daniel. “Just one,” he said, looking over the top of his sunglasses, raising his eyebrows. “You’ll be drinking on the sly soon enough,” he smiled. “Happy birthday, kid.”

“Cheers,” Daniel said, looking at his shoes.

They clinked their cans together. Daniel had tried beer once before, but he didn’t much care for the taste. He drank anyway, to please his father.

Daniel considered the moment. This day met up with other joyful days, though Daniel had to search for them now, when he had been happy in the company of his father, like the first fishing trip with Uncle Dave. But too many other days, terrible days, had stacked up against him and made Daniel wary. Anything could shatter the calm. Daniel might say or do the wrong thing at any moment. And when he did, his father’s rage would flash. His voice, that howl, “Christ!” like a wounded animal, would make Daniel whither. Then the bottom would drop out. Thinking of it now made Daniel nervous. The sweat turned cold on his back. Suddenly, he felt trapped on the tiny boat, alone with his father.

When it became too hot to fish any longer, John tossed over a small anchor and he and Daniel leapt into the water. By now, they’d tried several spots with mixed results. As the day wore on, they’d traveled further and further out into the Gulf. Closer in, near the shore, they could see the bottom clearly, even stand in the open water in some places, the sea grass tickling their legs. But now they were far out, where the water was much deeper, colder. They could barely see land now.

Once in the water, Daniel thought of the small shark he’d caught that morning. Where there were small sharks, there were large ones. He climbed back into the boat and dosed under the Bimini top.  The beer had made him drowsy. When his head nodding snapped him awake, Daniel scanned the surface of the water, searching for his father. He found him in the distance, floating on his back. John had drifted far from the boat. If Daniel closed one eye, he could almost make him disappear.

Daniel’s mind turned again to his brother, Will, and to the hairbrush of the night before. He ground his teeth.

Just then, his father waved, swam a few strokes, then returned to floating on his back. Daniel closed one eye and made him disappear again. He thought about starting the motor and making his way toward his father. John was a strong, confident swimmer, but here the current was stronger. He had drifted too far to make it back to the boat on his own.

Daniel could make his way toward his father, he considered. Or he could turn the boat in the opposite direction, toward the shore. He held this thought for several minutes, like a delicate sharp object cupped in his hands. He unspooled the idea. There were no other boats nearby, none in his field of vision. There was no one to call for help. Their cell phones were back on shore in Dave’s truck. There would be no reception this far out in the open water. How long, Daniel wondered, could his father swim in the open Gulf? How long before he got a cramp, or just tired out? Daniel would need to take his time getting back to shore to call for help. Anything could happen. His father might have been drunk when he went in for a swim. Daniel could pour out several more beers on the way back to shore. Maybe his father had drunk all the beer, intended for Uncle Dave and himself. Or maybe his father had had a heart attack while swimming. Anything could happen. His father had been there, floating on the water, and then he wasn’t, Daniel would report. He had searched and searched, he would say. He hadn’t given up, even when a late afternoon thunderstorm rolled in. Only when night began to fall did Daniel return to shore.

Daniel looked up and considered the darkening sky. He scanned the surface of the water again. It was becoming choppy. Thunder rumbled low in the distance. When he spotted his father again, Daniel closed one eye and made him disappear once more.

Then Daniel pulled in the anchor and lowered the outboard motor. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine sputtered to life, belching a cloud of blue smoke and fumes. The sound of the motor caught in his father’s ear. He popped up and waved vigorously, this time motioning for Daniel to swing around and pick him up. Daniel stood and waved back. He smiled. He turned and squinted toward the shoreline, then back at his father. Daniel put one hand on the wheel, and with the other, he pressed the throttle lever.

Mark Hall is a professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His creative nonfiction has appeared in The Timberline Review, Lunch Ticket, Passengers Journal, the Sand Hills Literary Magazine, Hippocampus, The Forth River, and others.

A Poem by James Croal Jackson

(Columbus, Ohio, 2018)

Shades of Colorado, bleak
as winter sky packing gear
in the trunk before your
flight, reverberations of
song trapped in guitar
from the blinking purple
show at the grime dive.
I went to exhaust their
pierogi supply, to sit
in crowded silence
watching the people around
me, wondering why I came
here, the question resonating
along the ceiling, silent
as raindrops falling
from the bare rafters.

James Croal Jackson (he/him) is a Filipino-American poet who works in film production. He has two chapbooks, Our Past Leaves (Kelsay Books, 2021) and The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017). He edits The Mantle Poetry from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (jamescroaljackson.com)

Welcome to the 2021 Dillydoun International Fiction Prize

WeeksDaysHoursMinutesSeconds
6
:
2
:
0
0
:
4
2
:
4
3

Enter Now

Entries must observe an 8,000 Word Max / No Min

Open to all works of fiction and all genres whether categorized as a short story, flash fiction, or self-contained excerpts from longer works.

Please familiarize yourself with all the Rules & Guidelines prior to entry.

Contest Opens: June 2, 2021
Contest Closes: October 31, 2021 Midnight CST / GMT-5
Winners will be announced by November 30, 2021

Cash Prizes

1st Place – $2,000

2nd Place – $1,000

3rd Place – $500

Honorable Mentions – $50

All winners and honorable mentions will be published in the print anthology,
and will receive one (1) free contributor copy.

All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All TDR publications are considered at the end of the year for our Best of the Best print anthology. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.

Entry Fee: $25

You may enter the competition as many times as you wish prior to the closing date. All entries must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee.

Online Entry Only

RULES:

  1. You may enter as many times as you wish but each entry must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee. We accept entries via Submittable / Online Only.
  2. Entries must not have been previously published in print or online, been broadcast, or won a prize. Online publication includes your own personal blog/website/social media.
  3. Entries must observe an 8,000 word max. No minimum. All genres, themes, and fiction categories are welcome. Work must be original.
  4. This competition is open to all writers whether published or unpublished with the following exceptions: writers who work or have worked on The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff (or are related to a past or present member of The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff).
  5. There are no geographical restrictions on this competition. All international entries are encouraged but must be written in English.
  6. Judging will be conducted by the TDR Editors. Judging will be blind. Please do not include any personal, identifying information about the author in the actual manuscript.
  7. Please format your entry as follows:
    • Give your entry a title. This is how your entry will be identified throughout the judging process. If your work has been short-listed or long-listed by another contest, please make sure to give the entry a different title to ensure our ability to blindly judge.
    • Number the pages but do not add any other information that would identify the author.
    • 1.5 or double-spaced.
    • Use an easily readable font like Times New Roman (or similar) 12pt.
    • Use reasonable margins, preferably 1″ on all sides.
    • Accepted formats: doc, docx, pdf.
  8. Refunds will not be considered. No changes, alterations, or substitutions can be made after your entry is received.
  9. Simultaneous submissions are fine but please be aware, if you place the work elsewhere during the deliberation period, the entry fee is forfeited. If you would be so kind, please notify us as soon as possible should the work become unavailable so that we may remove it from consideration.
  10. Prizes are as follows: 1st Place: $2,000, 2nd Place: $1,000, 3rd Place: $500, Honorable Mentions: $50. All winners and honorable mentions will be included in a print anthology and will receive one (1) free contributor copy. The number of honorable mentions will be determined by the contest judges.
  11. The Dillydoun Review is not responsible for contributor copies once we post them. Please make sure that you provide the correct postal address.
  12. All winners and honorable mentions will be awarded cash prizes via Submittable.
  13. By entering the competition, writers agree that honorable mentions and winning entries can be published, using the author’s name, on our website and/or in our print anthology, in local or international media outlets, on social media, or may be broadcast with media outlets for up to one year after the closing date without further remuneration. After which time all rights revert to the author.
  14. Winning and honorable mentions included in our print anthology will not receive future royalties beyond the payment of the cash prizes stated above.
  15. Winners and honorable mentions will be notified by email. Results will be made public on our website and celebrated via social media and newsletter.
  16. All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All work published by TDR is considered for a Best of the Best print anthology at the end of the year. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.
  17. By entering, acceptance to all the Rules and Terms & Conditions are implied. Entries that fail to comply with the Rules and Terms & Conditions will be disqualified. No correspondence will be entertained in these matters and all judges’ decisions are final.
  18. Please feel free to contact us at thedillydounreview@gmail.com if you have questions or need clarification about the Rules and Terms & Conditions.

Enter Now

Welcome to the 2021 Dillydoun International Fiction Prize

WeeksDaysHoursMinutesSeconds
6
:
2
:
0
0
:
4
2
:
4
3

Enter Now

Entries must observe an 8,000 Word Max / No Min

Open to all works of fiction and all genres whether categorized as a short story, flash fiction, or self-contained excerpts from longer works.

Please familiarize yourself with all the Rules & Guidelines prior to entry.

Contest Opens: June 2, 2021
Contest Closes: October 31, 2021 Midnight CST / GMT-5
Winners will be announced by November 30, 2021

Cash Prizes

1st Place – $2,000

2nd Place – $1,000

3rd Place – $500

Honorable Mentions – $50

All winners and honorable mentions will be published in the print anthology,
and will receive one (1) free contributor copy.

All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All TDR publications are considered at the end of the year for our Best of the Best print anthology. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.

Entry Fee: $25

You may enter the competition as many times as you wish prior to the closing date. All entries must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee.

Online Entry Only

RULES:

  1. You may enter as many times as you wish but each entry must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee. We accept entries via Submittable / Online Only.
  2. Entries must not have been previously published in print or online, been broadcast, or won a prize. Online publication includes your own personal blog/website/social media.
  3. Entries must observe an 8,000 word max. No minimum. All genres, themes, and fiction categories are welcome. Work must be original.
  4. This competition is open to all writers whether published or unpublished with the following exceptions: writers who work or have worked on The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff (or are related to a past or present member of The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff).
  5. There are no geographical restrictions on this competition. All international entries are encouraged but must be written in English.
  6. Judging will be conducted by the TDR Editors. Judging will be blind. Please do not include any personal, identifying information about the author in the actual manuscript.
  7. Please format your entry as follows:
    • Give your entry a title. This is how your entry will be identified throughout the judging process. If your work has been short-listed or long-listed by another contest, please make sure to give the entry a different title to ensure our ability to blindly judge.
    • Number the pages but do not add any other information that would identify the author.
    • 1.5 or double-spaced.
    • Use an easily readable font like Times New Roman (or similar) 12pt.
    • Use reasonable margins, preferably 1″ on all sides.
    • Accepted formats: doc, docx, pdf.
  8. Refunds will not be considered. No changes, alterations, or substitutions can be made after your entry is received.
  9. Simultaneous submissions are fine but please be aware, if you place the work elsewhere during the deliberation period, the entry fee is forfeited. If you would be so kind, please notify us as soon as possible should the work become unavailable so that we may remove it from consideration.
  10. Prizes are as follows: 1st Place: $2,000, 2nd Place: $1,000, 3rd Place: $500, Honorable Mentions: $50. All winners and honorable mentions will be included in a print anthology and will receive one (1) free contributor copy. The number of honorable mentions will be determined by the contest judges.
  11. The Dillydoun Review is not responsible for contributor copies once we post them. Please make sure that you provide the correct postal address.
  12. All winners and honorable mentions will be awarded cash prizes via Submittable.
  13. By entering the competition, writers agree that honorable mentions and winning entries can be published, using the author’s name, on our website and/or in our print anthology, in local or international media outlets, on social media, or may be broadcast with media outlets for up to one year after the closing date without further remuneration. After which time all rights revert to the author.
  14. Winning and honorable mentions included in our print anthology will not receive future royalties beyond the payment of the cash prizes stated above.
  15. Winners and honorable mentions will be notified by email. Results will be made public on our website and celebrated via social media and newsletter.
  16. All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All work published by TDR is considered for a Best of the Best print anthology at the end of the year. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.
  17. By entering, acceptance to all the Rules and Terms & Conditions are implied. Entries that fail to comply with the Rules and Terms & Conditions will be disqualified. No correspondence will be entertained in these matters and all judges’ decisions are final.
  18. Please feel free to contact us at thedillydounreview@gmail.com if you have questions or need clarification about the Rules and Terms & Conditions.

Enter Now

A Poem by Anita Nahal

Blame It on My Wild Heart, 12×12″, mixed media on canvas by Lorette C. Luzajic
Toronto, Canada

Which might explain why like pieces of bread dunked in hot tea or milk I may fall off suddenly. Pliable and desirous to be held. You’ll try picking up remains metastasizing like kneaded dough gone awry, rolling like a gooey ball stuck. Stuck and stuck, refusing to budge. Not mine nor your peace wanting to smudge. A wholesome life I crave, and craving has a mind of its own, walking behind or eons ahead. It’s not that my heart is not beating love, not that my heart is not oozing desire, not that my heart doesn’t wanna give or receive. If not, why would I be waving it as a flag then? Or place it bejeweled and blushing outside my body, then? I even carry a magician’s hat tossing and turning, conjuring spells out the Book of Shadows.

At twenty-nine I gazed at distant stars gently urging and rubbing shoulders with them, wistfully beseeching voyages. Now stars rubbing shoulders with each other gaze at me, nodding sympathetically at the frayed knots of my virgin romances gone astray. Baggage becomes dense and worn out, yet wheels are not ready to squeak and repose. I let the stilettoes of yesteryears go. Switching to block heels instead. Shorter I appear and the shorter and shorter I become, wider and wider the distances between you and me. On many tongues sit #&’s and the #&’s increase in quantity and volume as they attempt replacing, #buts. A mammoth robotic lottery wheel circles my face becoming one with partitions in my brain. Not many can keep rolling without any moolah coming their way.

*Book of Shadows: A book containing religious text and instructions for magical rituals found within the Neopagan religion of Wicca

* Moolah: slang word for money. Being employed in the poem to denote anything of value.

Anita Nahal is an Indian-American-diasporic poet, flash fictionist, children’s writer and columnist. Anita Nahal has three books of poetry, one book of flash fictions, four for children and three edited anthologies to her credit. Her third book of poetry, What’s wrong with us Kali women? was released by Kelsay Books in August 2021. Two of her books are prescribed in a course on multiculturalism and immigration at the University of the Utrecht, The Netherlands. She teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal

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. 

A Poem by Anna Papadopoulos

She’s twelve —
a faux-leather fringed bag
holds her confidence in place.
The tips of her ballet shoes
peep out like a Labrador’s face
framed by the partially rolled-down
car window.
Her pigtails swish back and forth
and greet the day.

He’s older —
with limbs that have outgrown
their roots
like wild weeds.
His red cap flaps
without saying much.
His Pumas hit the pavement with a groove as he draws closer.

It’s unclear, even years later,
why he pushed her into that well-manicured,
prickly, piercing bush;
tore the bag from her torso
until all that was left
were the bag’s fringes —
hanging on the shrub-like ornaments
and waving the summer goodbye.

Anna Papadopoulos has been a cashier, columnist, wedding photographer, chandelier, marketing professor, and corporate executive. She adores New York City’s gritty beaches and littered streets, where treasures exist everywhere. She and her husband share their home in Staten Island, NY with their twin sons, daughter, a poodle, a Siberian cat, and her mother’s neglected Lenox collection. Her poetry has been featured in The Monterey Poetry Review, Newtown Literary, The Dillydoun Review, The Closed Eye Open, Second Chance Lit, Conestoga Zen, and the Poetry and Covid Project, an initiative funded by the UK Arts and Humanities.

A Poem by Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton

When winter solstice turns
the river slows.
It will slow again.

From the alcove
I watched you:
a disaster of peppermint.

Saints with fractured smiles
trod carpets of clover.

You pressed a silver ring in your palm
I never gave you.

Outside, a pale ferry glides
on ice
across the Ohio

To a shore dotted with lanterns
our grandparents bring
from farms.

I wake you to tell you
something has happened.
You come to

pissed as hell.

A blurred
train sweating diesel
tears me
away:

oak tree rotting
in my hands.

Golden cloud, your hair
fades in the window.

I never make it to shore.

Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton is a Louisville, KY native who migrated to Corpus Christi with his family. Between Kentucky and Texas, he has traveled and lived in several places, including Spain, Appalachia, Panamá, Peru, the Philippines, and the Colorado River. He has two chapbooks: Rain Minnows (Gnashing Teeth Publishing), and Slow Wind (Finishing Line Press), and his poetry appears in such journals as Windward Review, Driftwood, Voices de la Luna, Tiny Seeds Journal, and Sybil Journal

A Prose Poem by Mary Lynn Reed

The bluffs drop fast to crumbling sand, a dangerous cliff to startle, lose your footing. Late afternoon sun glimmers across the ancient scrub plain where the Torrey Pines grow slow and steady, their roots burrowed, deep and twisted. Sometimes you have to stop and close your mind to everything and everyone. Stop trying so hard to dazzle, to win. Why do you drive so fast? Why is there no time to waste? The trail is flat, roped off, switches back and forth slowly. Until you reach the sign with the red line through the wheelchair and you know things are about to get worse. The ropes are gone, the path narrows, rocks appear. The thing you never think about, the thing that’s been lost for so long you wouldn’t know how to retrieve it if you tried, is: What the hell do you want? Where are you going and what are you looking for? A boardwalk covers a fragile low pass. Singular chirp from the brush gives pause. The absence of birds, now noticed. To walk alone is not such a horrible thing. The pace is your own and the sky is still blue. No other comfort to worry. No other’s need to serve. Hold your head up. Look around the bend. A jogger stops short and holds his hand out. “Shh—,” he says, pointing down. Six feet long with soft diamond markings slithering slowly across the sandy path. Breathless while your senses search for the rattle, quick impulse to coil. But its movement stays smooth, silent. Harmless, you think, peering under the brush, watching it go. At the summit the hill breaks wide open and the light hits the cactus just right and you can hear the waves crashing onto the beach, far below the cliff’s edge. Stand there a minute, take it in. Be still and whisper: here we are.

Mary Lynn Reed is a writer, mathematician, and editor. Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other places. She lives in western New York with her wife, and together they co-edit the online literary journal MoonPark Review

A Short Story by Bill Garwin

One more time, am I dining in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory?

I’m sorry, what?

The darkest place on earth.

A little obtuse, but okay. They call this dining in the dark.

Because?

Because it’s very dark.

No shit. But why are we dining in the dark? Our first date and you bring me here. Is this your online dating debut? Are you embarrassed?

Of course not. You’re beautiful. After two weeks of serve and volley, I feel like I know you. I wanted something special, something you’ll remember. They say the other senses are heightened when you’re deprived of one. The food will smell better, taste better, the conversation will be sharper, more focused, absent visual distractions.

Glad I spent so much time getting ready. I should have cut a slit in a little black trash bag. Would have been more in keeping with the ambiance. Can you help me find my water?

Right side at two o’clock.

You’re saying that only because water is always right side at two o’clock. I absolutely assure you, if I spill, it will not be in my direction.

You won’t spill.

Oops!
Is that your chair I heard sliding away?

You didn’t spill, did you?

Nope.

Just having fun?

Yep.

At least they let us order in the foyer. Do you remember what we ordered?

Honestly, no. I couldn’t keep from staring at you. You’re so much prettier than your picture. Why?

Life lesson. Set a low bar and exceed it. Instant success without effort.

You’ve done a lot of this social app dating?

Some. How about you?

Lately, yeah.

Madam and monsieur, my name is Aramis, and I will be serving you tonight.

Aramis, as in the cologne?

No madam. Aramis as in the Three Musketeers. My mother was a Dumas fan. But enough of me. I am prepared to serve your appetizers. Please place your hands in your laps to avoid any culinary catastrophe.

How can he see our hands?

Night vision goggles.

Why can’t I have night vision goggles?

Kind of defeats the purpose.

For the madam, the fried squash blossom stuffed with a savory ricotta filling resting upon a cushion of our house-made marina featuring local heirloom tomatoes,

And for the clearly more adventurous monsieur, the pan-fried pufferfish tails with a delightful sweet and sour apricot accouterment.

Wait, I didn’t order pufferfish tails.

I may have made a menu modification for you when you went to the restroom. You surprised me with this dark dining. Thought I’d spice things up for you.

Aren’t pufferfish poisonous bottom feeders?

Monsieur, our chef is highly skilled and can only remember a single instance of adverse reactions to this most delicious morsel.

Aramis, you’ve tasted them?

No. But more importantly, I’ve served them numerous times.

More importantly, to whom?

That would be who. But I assure you, prepared by a knowledgeable chef, the toxins in these delicate tidbits cause nothing more than a pleasurable tingling or numbness in the lips and mouth and a slight high.

And the chef is knowledgeable?

So he has informed me.

I’d like to change my appetizer.

Aramis, you still there? Where is he?

I think he’s gone. Left in a puff of smoke. Man up. If I hear a loud thump on the table, I’ll call for help. Besides, I’ve got more important problems. I’m certain the squash blossoms are wonderful, but how do I find my mouth.

It’s below your nose and above your chin.

Eat up. I’ll just wait for the thump.

Too late, I already took a bite.

I’d put you on the clock, but I can’t see my watch.
You feel okay?
Did you hear me? Are you all right?                                                                                           That was your fist hitting the table. Say something.

May I offer you a taste?

Very funny. Not a chance.

Can I ask you a question?

Why do people do that? Ask if they can ask a question. You’ve already asked a question. You should say, may I ask you two questions? Sure, you can ask a question. After you answer mine. What do you think of Hawaiian pizza?

Suddenly I wish I could see your face. Are you kidding? No answer, so I’ll assume you’re not kidding. You’re serious.
Okay, a question demanding a multi-layered response. Medically, adding a food group to an otherwise divine entre can only be a healthy choice. Theologically, there are those who say God didn’t intend pineapple on pizza. Structurally, the wet of the fruit may damage the integrity of the crust. Politically, liberals are more likely to accept, while conservatives will look back for guidance to Queen Marguerite of Italy. And of course, libertarians believe it’s the domain of the individual to decide. Philosophically, is it still pizza, although possibly quite delicious, does it become something else? Sociologically, can Americans justify making radical changes to a dish created by Italians or is it an inappropriate appropriation?
How’d I do? And as important, why’d you ask? Maybe this restaurant wasn’t such a good idea. I wish I could see your face. A little help; I’m working hard here. You still there? Why so quiet?

You are different.

Different good. Right?

Yes, intelligent, funny. A good man. You care about this. It’s not just dinner.

Finally, this stupid restaurant is serving a purpose. You can’t see me blushing.

You wanted to ask two questions. You’ve asked one. What’s the other?

Madam and monsieur, we will be removing your appetizers and serving your entrees. You have both selected the salt-encrusted branzino. The chef has chosen a little-known method which allows the crust to seal in moisture. The fish will steam in its own juices, while the crispy skin prevents the salt from penetrating. The crust is a mixture of kosher salt and egg whites reminiscent of the appearance and texture of wet beach sand. Please enjoy.

The madam has a question. This branzino, does it have a face?

Of course, madam.

Can you guide me as to where I might find the face?

Above the shoulders.

Great question, but he’s gone again. Am I right?

I believe you are. I’m going to use my finger to figure this out. I’m not eating fish eyes. Give me a second, then you can ask your question.

Right with you.
Found it!

Ditto. Executing a lobotomy. You ready for my question?

The wind-up has been massive. The question better be commensurate.

How do you feel about short-term relationships?

Short-term relationships? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I’m not even sure what it means.

Let me help. Picture your normal relationship, but with an abrupt ending.

You do remember this is a first date? You’re proposing some relationship with a baked-in exit strategy? Is it because I’m only semi-worthy?

No. No. It’s not you, it’s me.

Finally, we agree.

I have an expiration date.

What are you, a bottle of milk?

I’ve got cancer. A year, maybe eighteen months. I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to make impossible promises.

Suddenly dining in the dark makes nothing but sense. You’re hiding in the anonymity of the shadows.

It’s a balancing. I’d love to see your reaction, but I’m not sure I could ask the question in the reality of full light.

You’ve done this before and I’m guessing with zero success. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Look, I like you, although it’s more accurate to say I’ve enjoyed our 45 minutes together, but this is insane. What if I just commit to give you an answer sometime in the near future?

I can work with that. I just don’t want to hide anything.

Can you get our waiter’s attention? I need to use the ladies’ room. I’m feeling the stress of your second question in my bladder.
Did you just whistle?

Sorry, trying to be helpful.

Monsieur, you beckoned?

The lady wishes an escort to the restroom.

Madam, please place your hand on my shoulder.

If I can find it.

Monsieur, I am sorry for the delay, but the madam seems to have vacated the premises.

Aramis, she’s not coming back, is she?

No sir, I do not believe so.

Did you offer her the money?

Yes sir. As always.

Her response?

Quite typical. She hit me.

Slapped you?

No. Hit me. Fist to face.

I knew I liked her.

She did leave you this note. Take my flashlight. Please place the note under the table as you read it.

The Dance – Garth Brooks

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance

Thank you, Aramis. Did you read the note?

I must admit, I did.

The lady should have paid more attention to the last two lines of the song.

I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Will you be dining with us again tomorrow night?

It seems I will.

Bill Garwin has several degrees and a third-dan karate black belt. He believes stories indelibly enrich our lives and relishes in their telling. His novel, City of Schemes, received first place, Utah League of Writers 2020 Quill Awards for its opening chapter.

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.


A Poem by Benjamin Rose

In the autumnal mode

The cowards of state have panicked and fled;
The young men lay down their rifles for lost,
For we have betrayed the quick and the dead,
And roots dug in vain are slain by the frost.
Now in the glare of the harsh summer sun
The bullet-bit banner wavers and fades
Corrupt and deserted, scorched in despair;
The skies are vacant and void as the grave.
Dreams dissipate, and the hopes of the young
Fade into nothing. Dissociate, numb,
Frenzied with panic, they take to the air.

The streets of Kabul are filled with grenades
Borne upon shoulders, recalling the scars
Carved through the city when rockets arrayed
The city in terror; when Hekmatyar
Strove with Massoud to portion the spoils
The Mujahideen had won from the Bear
By strength, Stinger, and obstinate valor
Ripped from the Soviet’s maw. But the snare
Of greed and ambition marred the toil,
Till blood flowed current, bitter as oil,
And chaos trailed the contest of power.

The copter’s propellers sever the sky.
What hubris drove us to make such an end?
Turn and bear witness as their nation dies.
The world shall know we abandoned our friends,
Abandoned the young to torment and death,
Abandoned women to murder and rape,
Abandoned the roll–call last and the toll.
Now, for the many there is no escape.
Fanatics will rob the land of its breath,
And garb in oppression those who are left
To bear the long grief arms could not annul.

Benjamin Rose is a poet based in Washington, D.C.

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

A Short Story by Amanda Schroeder

Echo and I dream up powers that no one will believe. In the midday Summer heat, we lay side by side in her backyard under a linen teepee. She’s so tall her legs poke out the front holes, but I fit perfectly.

We spent the whole day in her backyard, exploring every patch of grass as though the lawn behind her house was the whole world. We catch box elder bugs and stow them in pencil cases while we build them a castle made of dirt and sticks. When we come back to release them into their new kingdom we find them dead, suffocated slowly in the yellow plastic. I hold back tears of frustration, but Echo assures me everything is going according to plan. We dump dead box elders onto the muddy castle and assign them their roles, moving their bodies like they’re Barbie dolls. I think This must be heaven.


Echo’s parents are never at home, which is why we always spend our days at her house. Her dad works at a law firm where they make money when people get injured at construction sites. Her mom works in marketing and is always talking about the copy for her latest mock-up. When my parents would ask me about her parents, I would always pretend to know that they are doing well.

Echo and I always like to make up games. Echo would play dead and I would dance around her like a witch, trying to bring her back to life.

Or we huddle in silence in her living room, listening for any sounds the house makes, making up stories for the ghosts that created them. The tapping of the heater springing to life is the soul of a young dancer who died dramatically on stage, a loose latch under his tap shoes plummeting him 8 feet to his death. Echo and I always argue about which of us he is in love with. The moaning of the pipes was a woman who died hot and heavy in the middle of childbirth. We don’t know what childbirth looks like, but we imagine it orange, like a flame in the dark, and damp. We imagine her wafting through the house trying to find her baby and we sit close, holding our breath so she can’t find us instead. Echo can hold her breath for longer than me, but I always cheat, sneaking in air through my nose.

We sneak into her mother’s closet and dress ourselves up in her clothes, smearing makeup on our faces and pretending to be prostitutes. We don’t know what prostitutes are, but we know the way men talked about them from the movies. We look at each other in the full-body mirror and think THIS was what it means to be a woman.

One day, we painted our faces red with her mother’s lipstick and chased each other around the house, screaming for our lives. We didn’t hear her mother come in over the sounds of yelling and laughter. When she found us with a full tube of Mary Kay’s Red Stiletto smeared onto our faces, she started hiding her makeup.


In fourth grade, Echo’s parents move to a house with big windows overlooking a flower garden Echo isn’t allowed to set foot in. She starts at the catholic school in the neighborhood and I don’t hear from her for weeks.

One day, my parents tell me Echo is coming over. They say it like I have no choice and I look down at my dinner, embarrassed that my loneliness is so apparent my parents need to intervene.

When Echo comes into our house, it feels like welcoming in a stranger. Echo and I sit in my basement and our silences feel like smoke. When the heater makes a creaking sound, I imagine an old man who died in a rocking chair opening the doors to the heating closet peering out at us, but Echo doesn’t seem to notice. She tells me about her new life and her new school and I try my best to picture it, but I’ve never imagined a place I’ve never been before. I ask her to describe the coat rack where they hang their book bags in the morning, but she doesn’t understand the question.

I try to ask a different way – where are you in the first five minutes of school, between where you drop off your backpack and walk into the classroom. Those minutes had always been my favorite, but I dreaded them without Echo to fill the silence. I found myself praying that she was just as lonely as me.

She tells me Tommy always waits to walk in with her. When I ask her about Tommy, she says they kiss after school lets out. She shrugs like it’s nothing and I blush thinking about all the things she has done that I have not.


Five years later, I hear that Echo has died. I haven’t heard from her since the day in the basement in fourth grade, but my parents still get a call from her parents.

When my parents break the news to me, they hold hands and cry. I don’t shed a tear because I don’t feel a thing. Echo has died so many times and has always risen again. I try to let the truth sink in, but all I can remember is playing Romans in her backyard. She was Jesus and I was Pontius Pilot. I washed my hands in the little puddle at the bottom of the drainpipe, then dragged her body to the cross, a tree low enough where she could hang her arms from the branches. She hung there for three full minutes until her skinny arms gave out.

We played this game on Good Friday the year before she moved schools. Echo called it her favorite holiday after we sat in the chapel at school and got chills on our arms when the pastor slammed a book into a wall – the closing of the tomb. The silence was so dramatic and our exhilaration was so high that we sat giggling into each other’s necks.

I can’t imagine the person Echo became at 14. She died of alcohol poisoning, something I have never even tried. We miss the open casket but show for the burial. While her parent’s friends all give speeches about the person Echo would’ve become, I stare into the face of the girl in the memorial photo. She looks like a fox, except she’s cold instead of warm. Older than 14. I don’t recognize a single thing about her except for her white-blonde hair, a color most people lose as a baby.

I try to fill in the blanks of who she became. I imagine her as a doll being thrown around in a castle made of sticks and mud, her exoskeleton keeping her safe from prying fingers trying to get inside. Her pretty blonde hair never gets dirty. I imagine her in cars with leather seats going places I’ll never be at hours I’m already asleep at. I imagine her dying little deaths every day, only to get back up and start again. I imagine her smarter than me, the kind of person who realizes we need to seize the best of life every day, but who slipped too early and couldn’t get back up.

Amanda Schroeder is from Utah but is currently based in San Francisco, California. She has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Utah and her work has appeared in Cathexis Northwest Press, The Crack the Spine 2019 Anthology, and others. She is the co-founding editor of F3LL Magazine and currently serves as the web editor for Split Lip Magazine.

A Poem by Gabby Mijalski-Fahim

Four tires marry the border of two states
while the rain falls with the temperature and
trees trade in their mottled hands for pined hooks,
dipping down to kiss the roof of the car
that soon abandons acres of empty pasture lands,
left to settle in the mirror of its left wing.
Ahead, the road tenses and buckles its neck, producing a stampede of several breeds,
some silver and flat with tinted windows, others auburn and stout,
seesawing within lanes across a bustling plain that spares no time for living.
Tamers at the head of each beast steer semi-trailers with tattooed claws sailing
in the wind while they mouth a song too distant to hear.
I take the exit; a beastless road soon acquiesces to the night’s darkness
as I perch the tips of my lips on the head of my styrofoam cup,
following the dwindling path of light before.

Gabby Mijalski-Fahim is a 22 years-old cat parent, queer poet and karaoke aficionado who lives, breathes and works in the somber state of Oregon. Her work is featured in Passengers Journal, Tempered Runes Press, and Cathexis Northwest Press.