Category Archives: Writing

Covering the Rochester Fringe

It’s been a few years since I’ve covered entertainment – and really, very little I covered was local – so I was surprised and thrilled to be offered a press pass to cover the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival for my favorite local website,

I’ve never been to the Fringe, and to be honest, given my dislike of crowds and traffic I probably wouldn’t have gone had it not been for the pass. But the list of events is mind boggling. So I got together with a friend and we bought tickets to a bunch of comedy and impro shows (before I knew I had a pass), and then I made a list of other stuff I want to see (that I wouldn’t see otherwise).

Yesterday, I went on what may be the coolest tour of Rochester that I’ll ever take, Remote Rochester. It’s an immersive street theater, thought provoking walking tour that has you traveling the streets of the city with 49 other people, all of you connected by a voice speaking to you via headphones. For two hours you contemplate life, death, nature, technology, yourself, and other people. It was brilliant. My review will be up at soon.

Watch here for links to reviews and other stuff I’ll be writing about Fringe. And thank you Fringe and Rochester Subway, for giving me a chance to go back to doing something I loved, but forgot I loved: experiencing cool stuff and then writing about it.

You can see the full line up of shows at this year’s fest on the Rochester Fringe website.

Writing for Rochester Subway

martha matilda harper building 082 resized

One of my goals for 2015 was to pitch a story to, my absolute favorite local website. It’s a great source for local history as well as current affairs.

I pitched it, and the site’s founder Mike Governale liked my idea! So I set off to write about a building next to where I do improv, on East Main St in the city of Rochester. The name “Martha Matilda Harper” is etched over the front door, and I thought it might have been a school. But a quick google search told me there was a much, much more interesting story to be told. You can read more about Martha Matilda Harper here!

And for National Nurses Week, I did a short piece on Ida Jane Anderson, the first registered nurse in New York State. A reader who liked the story sent me a photo from the 1920s of his aunt, who worked at the Park Avenue Hospital; I’m working on a follow up.

You can check out more at And if you’re in town, check out RocCity Transit Day flash mob!



And the winner is … me?

EPA award 2015

Imagine my surprise this week when, while congratulating writing and publishing friends on their wins at the recent Evangelical Press Association Awards in Denver, I scrolled through the list of Higher Goals winners in the Humorous category and saw who won first place – ME, for my column “Insomnia”.

I had forgotten then the publishers of Refreshed Magazine had entered my columns in this year’s contest. I was surprised at not only the win, but … first place??

Lamar and Theresa Keener, publishers of Refreshed Magazine, took home numerous EPA awards and deserve loads of congratulations for their hard work and dedication to putting out such a high quality magazine. I’m honored that they include in their Refreshed family!

Buckets and buckets and buckets of gratitude are due my editor, Lori Arnold, for her patience, grace and willingness to put up with my quirks and writers block. There’s no greater blessing a writer can have than an excellent editor who laughs at her jokes.

This is my third EPA award, but whose counting? Well, I am, because if I’m being honest I’m still always amazed that people read my scribbling. The biggest thanks, of course, goes out to you, dear reader, for reading my musings and ramblings so that I don’t have to get a real job.

You can read my column every month in Refreshed Magazine, both in print and online.

And the next book is …

Mt. Hope Cemetery, October 2014 (c) Joanne Brokaw

Mt. Hope Cemetery, October 2014 (c) Joanne Brokaw

As regular readers of the blog know, for some time now I’ve been fascinated with Mt. Hope Cemetery – the geography, the peace, the history, walking the dogs there. It’s spurred my own genealogical research but also research into some mysteries and murders, locals ties to national stories, interesting stories about everyday people and just random weirdo stories.

I’ve blogged about my adventures in the cemetery and I’ve always been surprised by the number of people who are as fascinated as I am with the things I uncover.

Well, if that’s you, then you’ll be happy to know that my next book is a go, and it’s going to be about people buried at Mt. Hope! It’ll be published once again by Wordcrafts, whom I adore working with. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50 #27: Writing for free

I'm many things, but a doormat isn't one of them.

I’m many things, but a doormat isn’t one of them.

I was contacted recently by a website looking for someone to write three, 500 word articles a week, for $20 an article.

I considered it. Sixty dollars a week – or $240 a month – would be helpful right now, especially since after taking a long creative break my monthly writing income is smaller than the weekly allowance for most American teenagers.

In the end, I decided that it wasn’t enough money to justify the time I would need to spend writing the articles. And while I would retain the copyrights and could resell the articles, I’m not writing in that genre any more so I wouldn’t have a ready market for reprints.

Too much work, not enough money.

This was on my mind this morning when I read this great piece by Revolva and her offer from the Oprah Winfrey folks to perform at Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour – for free. (Really, Oprah?)

Back when I was covering entertainment for Christian and community publications, my writing income ran the gamut from several hundred dollars an article to next to nothing. And sometimes nothing.

I hear a lot from people who criticize writers who write for free. It devalues your talents, they tell me, and they’re right. But every once in a while, I’d have a legitimate reason to give away a reprint or pen a new piece for no financial compensation. I considered it a sort of tithe, a sacrificing of my gifts for the benefit of someone else.

The key was that I made the decision to offer my services – often to a local band that needed a press kit bio, and always when it was someone I respected, believed in and wanted to see achieve their goals.

When it came to publications? Almost never. I wrote for cheap – and I mean super cheap – for publications that had almost no budget. And I wrote for lovely compensation from publications that had the budget to pay and me happily did so. But when it came to publications with lots of money who offered me nothing? No way. Continue reading

Recharging my creative batteries at the Irish pub

Sitting at a local Irish pub and writing.

Sitting at Barry’s Old School Irish Pub and writing.

As a writer, the biggest thing I struggle with is staying motivated. Working from home, I’m easily distracted by things that need to be done in the house, by the dogs, by Netflix. If I pack up my stuff and go someplace else to work, I often forget files I need or simply go blank sitting in the coffee shop.

Part of my problem is just not feeling comfortable out among people. Writing is such a personal thing, too intimate an act for a public venue. I’m comfortable at home, but retreat into my shell. I’m out of my shell in public, but my thoughts are often too shy to leave my brain and meet the page. I feel like, if I’m writing in public, I should be creating something worthy of public scrutiny, when really I may simply be musing on my blog about reality TV or cats.

It’s like wearing a mink coat and then having everyone realize that underneath you’re still in your pajamas.

Today, I’m at Barry’s Old School Irish Pub, in the village of Webster, NY. While researching my Irish ancestry, I got involved with the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI), a group focusing on Irish cultural heritage – movies, literature, history. They’ve been welcoming and kind, and very patient with my endless questions and novice knowledge of my fairly recently discovered ancestry. I’ve been working with Barry’s owner Danny Barry on some social media for the IACI, and immediately fell in love with his little village pub.

While I’ve always been enamored of my Italian heritage, it’s been my Irish genealogy that’s connected with my soul. As I’ve waded through old records and documents, I’ve met my great, great, great grandparents and researched their journey from Ireland to Massachusetts, putting together pieces of the family puzzle, and immersing myself in my blue collar, mill working, large family.

I can feel the Irish blood pulsing through my veins.

So today, I sit at a corner table in this small bar, Irish music playing over the speakers, the owner’s wife and mother among the employees behind the counter, baking and cooking and laughing and singing. When I asked if it was OK for me to hang out and write (Danny had already told me it was, but I hate being in the way), they not only welcomed me but told me to take the cozy corner table, with the padded seats and bright window light. They said it was the best place to work, and assured me that I wouldn’t be in the way of the lunch crowd.

They’ve refilled my coffee, chatted away, and given me updates on the delicious treats as they come out of the oven. And for the first time in a while, I’m able to write. Maybe it’s the mournful bagpipes mingling with the scent of fresh pumpkin bars, the laughter of the family dancing with the fiddle, or just the warmth both physical and spiritual. But I’m eager to fill the blank page with words, to once again open a vein and bleed on a page, to be creatively naked in public.

Where’s your favorite place to recharge your creative batteries?


Finding Emma Moore

The likely spot where Emma Moore's body was found in 1855.

The likely spot where Emma Moore’s body was found in 1855. The circled area is all parking lots and buildings now.

For a couple of years I’ve been doing some research on three women who died in our area in the 1800s. Just everyday women, but their stories really stuck with me. One of them is Emma Moore. Regular readers know that I’ve been taken with the story of the single woman who disappeared in November 1854. Her disappearance sparked a city-wide panic; the mayor refused to investigate, insisting she left town of her own accord. Her family had no reason to believe she was leaving town, and they feared the worst. The citizenry rose to the occasion and formed committees to do their own investigation. Thousands of people assisted. Rumors of screams heard near her home that night sparked committee members to question witnesses all the way to the lake. A line search was conducted from Brown’s Race to Irondequoit Creek.

Her body was found in March 1855, in one of the races that powered the saw mills. She was about six months pregnant, and it’s believed her body may have been there the entire time.

I’ve wanted to find the place where her body was found, but for a long time all I had to go on was “in the race, behind the Thorne Building.” No one seemed to know where that was; the Thorne Building wasn’t on any maps. I tried the library, the landmark society, maps. I just didn’t have enough information to go on.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really try that hard; I had a lot of news stories to read through, and other women I was also researching. But I always had Emma Moore in the back of my mind.

About six months ago, I started going through the mounds of research I’d amassed over the last year, and found a very detailed description of where her body was found – down to the direction of race, how many rods in distance from the post office, what the walkway over the race was made of. I had details; now I needed to find a map.

This weekend was the annual River Romance along the Genesee River, so I took advantage of the chance to explore the city, from the river to the rooftops of the library. Today, I brought along my new information about where Emma’s body was found. And while on the tour, the guide, Hal, pointed to an area where he thought the mill races used to be – where we were standing, in a parking lot.

Later, he emailed me a map detailing the buildings I’d mentioned, all from the new research I’d just waded through. The map is from 1875, twenty years after Emma’s body was found. I probably didn’t even bother to look at that map when I was researching in the library, thinking too much had changed since 1855. But low and behold, there it is. The spot where Emma Moore’s body was found.

The area I circled is now parking lots and buildings. (For those of you in Rochester, that’s a block of buildings near the corner of Exchange Street and Main Street, just over the Broad Street Bridge.)

There’s still a question about whether she lay there the entire four months, or if her body washed there from farther up the river or race. Or if it might have even been held someplace else and dumped there during the winter. I have stacks of research to still read through.

But for now, I’m happy to find the spot where she was found. I’ll be going back to snoop around.

Emma Moore, Sarah Bardwell, and Me