Category Archives: Writing

Writing, daffodil bulbs and being a catalyst for change

I’ve been having a bit of a frenzied few months, covering Fringe Fest, traveling to Western Massachusetts to visit family, doing improv, taking classes.

What I haven’t been doing is writing.

I’m on deadline for my next book – that feels weird to even say that, “my next book”, as if my last book was some sort of literary milestone. It’s just a collection of previously published columns, with one new piece written after my dog died. It was done more for me than anything else, to put a period at the end of a difficult, depressing, and unfruitful time in my life. It let me say, “Here, I accomplished this in the midst of the turmoil, and now I’m on to bigger and better things.”

It’s a little thing. It’s nothing.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for this next book, which feels like an actual writing project that’s going to be worthy of the effort. A book I authored. But I’m rabbit trailing while searching at, and reading books and filling the pages with sticky notes to mark trivial bits of info I want to go back to. I’ve got piles of files of stories I want to include but none of the stories actually written yet.

The book is a collection of stories about people buried in Rochester who made contributions to science, society, entertainment…or just have weird and interesting stories.

Mostly the latter, because I love a good weird story, a tale of a totally random action that sets in motion something that changes the world.

Like the story in the video above, about educator Stephen Ritz, who turned his classroom in to a garden and transformed his students’ lives.

Here’s my question: who gave him the daffodil bulbs? Continue reading

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.

You can find links to all of my posts from the Fringe here.

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?