Streets of Sorrow Finds A Home at Evening Street Review

18 October 2022

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Evening Street Press of Sacramento, CA is an independent press with a philosophy. Dedicated to the equality of all people, Evening Street publishes an anthology twice a year featuring poetry and prose of “clarity and depth.”

Evening Street Review #35, Autumn 2022 includes my newest story, Streets of Sorrow. A fictional tale inspired by events that took place in my hometown of Cedar Rapids Iowa, Streets of Sorrow is about a young writer meeting an old writer. As their friendship deepens, young Natalie’s new mentor teaches her to translate life into art.

Read Streets of Sorrow in the online edition of Evening Street Review.

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Meet Rock Salt Journal

13 October 2022

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Rock Salt Journal is a start-up online literary journal published from the coast of Maine. The project of passionate volunteers, the work featured in Rock Salt Journal, reflects the rugged beauty of New England shores and the folkloric traditions of its rich storytelling history.

My newest story, Of Course, I Didn’t, appears in the Fall 2022 issue, NOW LIVE at Check out this fresh take on the tall tales and sea stories of days gone by to support the emerging writers and artists featured in Rock Salt Journal.

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Meet Me at the Corner of Paper Street and Pixel Avenue

12 September 2022

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In 2012, I was working as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, the year they launched the first Nook e-reader. The Nook was the company’s effort to compete with Amazon’s market-changing Kindle. My fellow booksellers took an interest, learned the features, and celebrated with every unit sold. I flinched at the prizes awarded to the top Nook sellers. “Why the long face?” the assistant manager asked.

“This is going to put us out of business. They’re asking us to sign our own pink slips.” Fourteen months later, Barnes and Noble closed our location. It seems we didn’t sell enough Nooks. Or maybe we sold too many.

They’re asking
us to sign our
own pink slips.

But I bought a Nook of my own before the year was out. I can count on one hand the number of paper books I’ve bought since then. Even with the employee discount. Over time, I upgrade as new models come out. If you have the Kindle app on your iPad, that’s cool, too. As digital formatting improves and the vast catalogue of book titles increases year by year, e-readers and tablets save space on our bookshelves and give access to millions of books, newspapers, and magazines in seconds. If it cost me a boring job I’d had for too long anyway, the Nook also became my new library; the one with hundreds of titles that I can throw in my bag and pull out at will. I’m Hermione Granger with her magic camping sack.

Young people buy more e-books than their parents and grandparents. Earlier this month, reported that 62% of e-book sales come from readers 18-45. College students and 20-something’s account for the largest share, 26% of total E-book sales. Maybe it’s too predictable. Is it any surprise that the young are quicker to embrace a digital alternative to the paper volumes of old? Weekend garage sales abound in my neighborhood, overflowing with the unwanted possessions of a by-gone generation. The days of dining tables for ten and home libraries with thousands of titles are passing. Surviving relatives pile them up for sale, clearing the clutter. Their own favorite novels, textbooks, histories, and gossip rags live on devices the size of steno pads. No dusty shelves or cardboard boxes required.

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Am I suggesting you donate all your books to charity? Good luck. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other local organizations are so inundated in my neighborhood, they turn me away from the donation point. “No room for those. Too many books already.” Should we save trees by eschewing wasteful paper books in favor of digital versions? Well, maybe. But I consider the environmental consequences of e-waste, too. At least trees can grow back.

So, meet me at the corner of Paper Street and Pixel Avenue. Bring as many books as you can fit into your backpack.

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How A-muse-ing: or, Use an Inspiration Tape Like a Champ

13 June 2022

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The scene is a locker room before a boxing match. The out-of-shape Champ lies on a massage table, tended by a curvy masseuse. Before him, a TV is showing his inspiration tape, the 70s classic, Dolomite. If you know the 1996 movie, The Great White Hype, you’ve seen this before. Though the Champ has let himself go, he’s a better fighter than the opponent he’s set up to face. Dolomite, his inspiration tape, puts a fire in his ample belly. “Alright. Now I’m mad,” he says, as he strides out to win in a foregone conclusion.

Though there’s not a lot of room for analysis in a little-known (but totally awesome) 90s comedy, there’s plenty to say about inspiration tapes. Artists throughout history have turned to muses. Beautiful women, breathtaking landscapes, and classical mythology have been wellsprings for creatives seeking sparks of genius. Dreams coalesce around the moments of clarity offered by our muses.

For me, it’s the 1984 Milos Forman Oscar-winner, Amadeus, a biopic of Baroque composer, Wolfgang Mozart. My grandparents, both music teachers, considered it educational. As a girl, I eyed the elaborate costumes, wigs, and period sets. But Grandma and Grandpa directed my attention to the music, particularly scenes of music being written. “Watch the artist at work,” they nudged me, in awe of Mozart’s immense talent. “This is the life of a genius.”

In Amadeus, Mozart is troubled; overworked, underpaid, and out of luck. Brilliant but mad and often drunk, he’s the subject of admiration and jealousy. Royalty and high society celebrate a rival composer, Salieri, who knows himself a lesser artist and seethes with rage. Mozart will succumb to sickness and death, leaving heavy debts and an unmarked grave while Salieri fades into obscurity, embittered by God’s indifference. If you could have popular success or doomed genius, which would you choose? What if it destroyed you? What kind of artist would you be?

Okay. Now I’m ready to write.

Muses hide in plain sight. Our inspiration tapes are born of our roots, reminding artists (and pugilists) of what drives us. Relics from our formative years, they deepen over time as we saturate them with meaning and memories. Whatever adversity we face, they make us believe we will do this. An athlete will dominate his sport. An artist will become immortal. Our inspiration tapes open the door to our best work and truest selves.

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Before I Was a Writer

10 May 2022

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Many writers spend years dreaming of when they’ll quit their day jobs to write full time. Millions of us around the world spend our spare hours at the keyboard, blogging, journaling, drafting, and redrafting. Few of us can sell enough writing soon enough to avoid the dreaded “regular job.” I worked as a cashier, a cocktail server, and later, a bookseller. When we’re working, we write whenever we can, between shifts, on cigarette breaks, in our heads as we navigate the days. Day jobs can be obstacles. Or, they may give unexpected raw material for memorable stories.

Keep reading for a list of writing heroes who started out dreaming, too. Some hated every minute, while others found a goldmine of inspiration. If your favorite author isn’t on the list, share their inspiring origin story below in the comments section.

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Agatha Christie

In 1917, Christie became an apothecary’s assistant for an annual wage of £16, roughly £800 ($1000 USD) today. Her pharmaceutical knowledge figures in many of her novels, including in 1920, Hercule Poirot’s Mysterious Affair At Styles.

Robert Frost

Frost dropped out of Dartmouth College after just two months, returning home to Lawrence, Massachusetts. He worked as a teacher and classroom assistant and sold his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy,” in 1894 during a stint at a light-bulb filament factory.

James Joyce

Joyce paid the bills as a singer and a pianist after abandoning his medical degree. Later, he taught English in Croatia and Italy before returning to Ireland to open Dublin’s first cinema, The Volta.

Franz Kafka

For nine months, Kafka worked for an insurance firm but left when long hours — 8am to 6pm—interfered with his writing. In 1911, he co-founded an asbestos factory.

Harper Lee

Lee worked as a reservation clerk at Eastern Airlines for years before receiving a gift from friends with the note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” That year, she produced the early drafts of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Hilary Mantel

Mantel earned a Bachelor of Jurisprudence degree, then became a social worker in a geriatric hospital and later worked in a department store before turning to writing full time.

Haruki Murakami

After working in a record store during college, Murakami and his wife opened Tokyo coffeehouse/jazz bar, the Peter Cat.

Vladimir Nabokov

At Wellesley College, and later Harvard, Nabokov curated the butterfly collection at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He wrote many nonfiction books on butterflies and moths, visiting the country every summer to collect new specimens.

JD Salinger

In 1941, Salinger was an activities director aboard the luxury Caribbean cruise liner, MS Kungsholm. Slight Rebellion Off Madison, a short story written then, went to press in 1946. The story’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, launched Salinger into his iconic novel, Catcher in the Rye.

Kurt Vonnegut

For a short time, Kurt Vonnegut worked as a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He later found work in the PR department at GE and in 1957, opened a Saab dealership. By 1963, the year Cat’s Cradle became a bestseller, he was teaching English at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

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Now that you’ve had a few hints, try this quiz from on the unusual day jobs of famous writers.

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The Bizarre Day Jobs Of 20 Famous Authors by Paul Anthony Jones HuffPost, Updated 6 December 2017

The Early Jobs of 24 Famous Writers by Adrienne Crezo Mental Floss, 26 June 2012

The Complementary Arts

4 May 2022

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There are many reasons a writer takes a break. Overwhelming obligations, jumbled thoughts, headaches, and crying babies. The neighbor mowing his lawn and the phone lighting up with scam calls. The vast empty page and the impossible task of stringing words across the white abyss. Did I just call a blank page the ‘white abyss?’ Break time, please.

Some authors claim that writer’s block is a myth; they’ve heard of it, but never had it. Warren Ellis [comic book writer, Transmetropolitan] asserts, “when a writer cannot write… Then that person isn’t a writer anymore.” If I ask my six-year-old, he’ll agree. What do you call a writer who isn’t writing? Just a regular person.

“Writer’s block is a

fancy term made up

by whiners so they

can have an excuse

to drink alcohol.”

― Steve Martin

As a regular person, I once had a case of writer’s block that lasted twenty years. It started when my diary was read by immigration officials during an ill-fated (read: poorly planned) move to the UK. A quiz on my romantic daydreams and amateur poetry, as interpreted by a dour airport bureaucrat, sliced away the uninhibited part of me that could pour thoughts onto the page. Now every word was subject to review by outsiders. The diary wasn’t a safe place anymore.

When I married, set up housekeeping, and fell into a thankless low-level job, I stopped writing except in fits and starts. I destroyed the stories I wrote with relentless editing. “Ms. Immigration might read this,” I thought as I snipped out dialogue, details, emotions, and revelations. I tried poetry, letter writing, and Bridget Jones-inspired journaling, but always lost steam. Writer’s block was winning. That’s when I discovered the complementary arts.

“If you get stuck, get

away from your desk.

Take a walk, take a bath,

go to sleep,make a pie,

draw, listen to ­music,

meditate, exercise;

whatever you do, don’t

just stick there scowling

at the problem.”
― Hilary Mantel

I improved my meager cooking skills, sketched illustrations for a picture book, and threw myself into meticulous housework. At the store, I skipped the bakery aisle, making bread and cakes from scratch instead. I taught myself knitting, making sweaters, gifts, and baby clothes for charity. I confined my writing to thoughts, dashed off on scraps of paper during lonely shifts at work, tossed into the trash on my way out the door. Instead of writing stories, I told them in my head, imagining the kings I was cooking dinner for, a child smiling at my drawings, and the babies in Afghanistan wearing my little green jumpers. I built virtual cities in video game simulators, inventing a family for each house, an owner for every shop. Writing, writing, writing, in my head while cultivating the complementary arts of daily life.

“Housework won’t kill

you, but then again,

why take the chance?”

― Phyllis Diller

Now, I’m rarely in the mood for a break from writing. After years spent on hiatus, I have no more time to waste. When my keyboard yawns in boredom and my thoughts scatter, I’m furious. The process is too slow. The house is too noisy. I am too lazy to pull it together and work. Forget knitting and cooking and container gardening. Housework? For the birds. Where are the words I need? Why is it so hard to do my dream?

Though I don’t want them, I return to the complementary arts again and again. Kids’ science projects, doing the laundry, and restorative naps. Drawing treasure maps, spot-cleaning the bathroom, and following my favorite baseball team. My sanity demands it. Imagine an office job without weekends. Look at the quality of life for people who work seven days a week. They are exhausted. And they probably drink too much. They need time for the complementary arts.

“Writing about a writer’s

block is better than not

writing at all.”
― Charles Bukowski,

The Last Night of the

Earth Poems

For writers, writing is essential to life. We have an urge to “write through it,” to shrug off writer’s block, and force inspiration to arrive on demand. Stress levels rise, frustration creates tension, and every word is more grudging than the last. We blame ourselves and wonder whether we are still writers. When chattering birds nest outside your window or a cat’s meow derails the morning’s work, the relief of the complementary arts can save the day. A home-cooked lunch and a nap in the afternoon, a digital collage of the clutter in your head, or singing your favorite song loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Clear your thoughts with your complementary arts and tell the world you’ve never had writer’s block.

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Editing Software or Not: How Much Comes Down to Mechanics?

11 April 2022

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I often read the work of fellow aspiring writers who need honest opinions. When I read for other writers, my chief priority is looking beyond typographical errors and grammar mistakes, searching instead for themes and content. In early drafts, criticizing technical errors only muddies the waters. Many amateur writers and critics mistake proofreading for feedback, missing the underlying gem of the story.

That being said, mechanics matter. When a writer is seeking publication and representation, technical mistakes are key to separating the wheat from the chaff. A manuscript tarnished by typos, missed words, and formatting errors, doesn’t stack up well. It faces stiff competition from authors who have gone the extra mile polishing their pieces. Those writers submit grammatically flawless stories, judged solely on the merits of their content. For serious consideration, aspiring writers need to meet these standards.

Some are born

(or believe they’re born)

with a gift for good

grammar. Those with that

privilege can stop reading.

Some are born (or believe they’re born) with a gift for good grammar. Those with that privilege can stop reading. For the rest of us, there’s much to consider. In my early stories, I did my best with foggy memories of high school English. With that, I managed two or three acceptances with small (unpaid) online journals. But it left me wondering how to improve my work to catch the eye of more prominent markets. “What am I missing?” I asked myself.

In search of an answer, I discovered an online editing software I could try for free. Curious to see how my most recent story would measure up, I uploaded the first 500 words (the limit allowed by the free version) and waited to see my scores. I expected to make my English teacher very proud. He was crestfallen. A C+? Oh, man. At that moment, a light flickered on.

I’m now a subscriber to the full version of that online editing software and my ratio of acceptances to rejections is steadily climbing. Every piece I write, including multiple drafts of every story, passes through the software before I submit it. I proofread my query letters, blog posts, book reviews, and office emails using software designed to remember every point of grammar, correct diction, and find repeated or missed words. It suggests concise language, calls out unnecessary adverbs, and even finds split infinitives (whatever they are). It makes you the best former student your English teacher ever had. The old rules reemerge; lessons learned long ago become second nature again. My rough drafts achieve higher scores. And I’m confident I’m submitting A+ work.

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Most publishers are hoping to find those diamonds in the rough. They’re looking for content that is unique, insightful, funny, or tragic. They’re looking for our stories. But with limited time and resources, they can’t afford to proofread pieces for us. We must send them our very best work, presented in its best light. It’s the only way to know that whatever reason an editor might give for a rejection (if any), it’s not careless proofreading. You may choose not to use editing software, and nothing works for every writer, but consider your editing process before you decide. Make sure you’re giving your stories their best chance to succeed.

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Who Am I to Judge?

3 April 2022

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As a reviewer for, I have access to a database of Advance Reader’s Copies available for review from self-published and small press writers. The manuscripts are rough, often with typographical errors, formatting problems, and plot holes. Through the typos, missed words, and grammatical errors, I look for writer’s work. They hammer out their stories alone, pushing themselves to finish, exhaling in triumph as they hold completed manuscripts in their hands for the first time. Authors are serious when they sit at the keyboard, pouring their hearts into their passion projects.

So, who am I to judge?

My first ARC from Reedsy was a brilliant book. With few distracting proofreading errors, it was a quick, enjoyable read. It thrilled me to uncover such a fun book, and I had a blast writing the review. The author reached out to thank me for what I’d written, an unexpected boost to my confidence. Since then, I’ve written several more and when I didn’t love the books, I practiced being honest without being personal. I’m up front with readers who won’t connect with the books while acknowledging the efforts of the artists whose souls I see shining in the pieces. When I had a book that truly missed the mark, I pointed out the flaws, believing that my integrity as a reviewer rests on my willingness to write negative reviews when necessary.

The gray area comes in

when I’m asked to read

unfinished work…

a book like this poses

a genuine problem.

The gray area comes in when I’m asked to read unfinished work. Riddled with mechanical mistakes and muddled in its narrative, a book like this poses a genuine problem. It comes from a passionate amateur. But the honest reviewer in me wants to cut it down, remind the author that readers aren’t willing to fill in the gaps for an inexperienced writer. They notice every flaw, get frustrated when the narrative turns to navel gazing, and need breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout if you expect them to make it to the end. Failing to fulfill these basic requirements leaves readers with two choices: keep slogging through or give up, most likely for good. I want to sugarcoat it. But some bad news is too bitter for kind words to cover.

That’s when I wonder if I’m cut out to review books. Could someone else see something I don’t? The assertions I’m making are subjective. Could I be wrong? And what happens if I pan the book or, even worse, return as “unready for publication?” Whose dreams am I crushing? Can one reviewer determine success or failure? I didn’t plan for this.

Basic guidelines aren’t a help when the answer is a judgement call. Earnest in doing the right thing, I’ve erred on the side of civility. The most recent book I reviewed is a ponderous memoir, a nightmare of technical mistakes, and desperately in need of a professional editor. It is unfinished. Instead of saying so, I compromised my ethics and wrote a bland review, telling myself that the manuscript will pass through other hands before it reaches the public. Surely, it’s not my place to pick on grammar and diction. Not in a book review. Returning it as “unready” never crossed my mind. It’s not up to me to make that call. Is it?

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The review I submitted was as gutless as a high school book report and as shallow. When the author reached out, asking me not to “spoil” what I hadn’t realized was a surprise ending, I knew I’d made a mistake. That writer didn’t benefit when I withheld the truth, didn’t gain book sales or attract an agent. I lied to him, letting him believe his ending is a surprise (by taking out the offending line) and his book might be a success. I don’t have insider knowledge, but from my years in academia, I had a responsibility to tell him that a year’s worth of writing classes wouldn’t be enough to pull his manuscript into shape. So, you won’t see my review of that book on this website. I’m ashamed of it. And even if I question my right to judge, I won’t be dishonest again.

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A Woman of Letters

31 March 2022

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I have a friend I’ve never met in person. We found each other through a writer’s critique group that communicated solely via e-mail to accommodate a hearing-impaired writer among us who struggled to feel comfortable with in-person groups. Over time, most of our members drifted away, but I kept writing to JP, occasionally exchanging pieces and becoming close through letters describing our hopes, dreams, and setbacks. She trusted me with her manuscripts, and I read them, a chapter at a time, sharpening my skills. We spoke once on the phone, but it was awkward. Writing was more natural. This fall will mark three years of my correspondence with JP. Attached to our e-mails are dozens of pieces we’ve read for each other, along with the responses, the rewrites, and shots in the dark.

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Despite all this, it took me years to realize I have a pen pal. It’s such an old-fashioned idea. When my grandmother died, my mother found her yellowed love letters tied in a blue ribbon, a romantic gesture from a bygone era. In my childhood, I was paired with a pen pal from an elementary school in New Jersey. We were twelve; our letters didn’t last long. Now, I am writing every week to a person I couldn’t recognize in a crowd; we’ve never exchanged photos. Though we use emails instead of parchment and quill pens, we are the most old-fashioned of pen pals.

And the letters, even if they’re digital, are something special. They remind me we can say more in writing. In spoken conversations, especially on emotional subjects, our words drown out much of what we hear. Planning what to say next takes precedence over careful listening and tendencies to anticipate the other’s response undermine deep connections. Letter writing allows us to speak uninterrupted. We preserve the flow of our thoughts without distracting questions, digressions, and outside muddling. In letters, we choose our words with care, re-writing, adjusting, re-phrasing for emphasis and clarity. We can reread them for deeper meaning and cherish them when we are lonely.

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For a writer, letter writing is not a lost art. In our letters, we practice our craft, learning how our words can touch, amuse, and gall our reader. Responses will be full of the same honesty, humor, and snark. Especially if they come from a fellow writer.

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Writing About Writing

22 March 2022

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Every writer hears, “Write what you know.” And what every writer knows is writing, its intricacy, weight, and solitude. As a writer building credits, I am relentless about creating and submitting my work. Week after week, I submit to literary reviews and magazines, noting various guidelines. They often include lists of subjects editors will accept. Or dismiss. Once or twice, I’ve been surprised by journals who reject pieces about writers. “We’ve read enough stories about the writing process,” they say. “Your readers are not exclusively other writers.”

True. But any well-written story will find readers. I am not a WWII vet and yet I am swept away by Kurt Vonnegut’s novels based on his war experiences. I’ve never been to a bullfight, but Hemingway draws me in like few other writers. Vonnegut’s troubled author, Kilgore Trout, appears in several of his most applauded novels. Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises is an American writer for a Parisian newspaper. I’ve placed two stories for publication in the last twelve months featuring writers as main characters. (Check out the latest one, Real Writer on East of the Web) Did the editors who accepted them forget their readers are not necessarily writers?

The writer’s struggle

is emblematic of the

larger human quest

to find peace and order.

The literary world is full of stories about writers. Novels by Stephen King, Michael Chabon, and Virginia Woolf place writers in leading roles. Readers love these books for their authenticity. In their fictional worlds, the writer’s struggle is emblematic of the larger human quest to find peace and order. Hollywood relies on authors, too. Movies as varied as The Shining, Sideways, and Almost Famous are adaptations (by writers) from books about writers. Shonda Rhimes’ recent Netflix series, Inventing Anna, tells the dual narrative of an infamous con-artist and the writer who made her famous. Writers may risk seeing no farther than their own keyboards. But editors who refuse to read stories about writers chance throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

As writers, we have plenty of models for transforming our writing lives into interesting stories. Check out the lists below of the most loved books and films about writers. They speak volumes to audiences everywhere. And if you find editors who’ve already read enough about writers, submit elsewhere.

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Top 25 movies about writers and writing by K_kugelis | created – 22 May 2011 | updated – 22 May 2011


Sam Burt Jun 19, 2018