Books Through Bars Teams up with Indie Bookstore to Continue Operations

Books Through Bars has a goal to put themselves out of business.

BTB is a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization that distributes free books and educational materials to prisoners across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia. BTB has a dream that one day incarcerated readers will have enough resources and materials on hand that the organization can cease operations.

We have all heard the phrase “books change lives.” However, this is more than a cliche. Studies show state prisoners who pursue educational opportunities while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison after their release.

BTB conducts innovative programs to promote personal growth, re-integration, and positive change through books. Unfortunately, the program was forced to shut down due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, W.W. Norton, publicity director and owner of Freebird Books Peter Miller, found out BTB needed a home base for its collection operations. Freebird’s basement is now serving as a rent-free center for BTB, and the program has been able to pick up where it left off.

To revive book donations, Miller began monthly book drives that led to thousands of donations. The monthly drives involved customers donating discounted three-book sets to inmates. In June, the drive centered on N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. In July, Fratz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Albert Woodfox’s Solitary, and Malcolm X: Selected Speeches were bundled. August’s monthly drive included a graphic nonfiction bundle featuring John Lewis’s March: Book One, George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, and How to Draw Faces. Following monthly drives included titles on historical perspectives, LGBTQ+ materials, and voices from marginalized communities.

Since restarting in the late spring of 2020, BTB has distributed over 3,000 books to incarcerated readers. One of the most popular title requests sent to BTB are dictionaries. Letters from incarcerated readers show comic books and graphic novels remind inmates of their childhood, and these titles also act as entry points into the educational mission of BTB.

When asked about the impact of opening the basement of Freebird Books to the nonprofit, Miller said, “BTB has raised my awareness of what prisoners have to go through to get books to read. Working with them has transformed me. Books are how we can all escape.”

You can donate to Books Through Bars at their website here and read more about Freebird Books and BTB’s partnership here.

– Cassidy

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(Re)Open(ed) in Boston

The pandemic has been going on for over half of 2020. Though it isn’t easy to adapt to reality, we are learning to adjust with the times. Yeast and flour are still flying off the shelves to sustain our new hobbies; I have been keeping myself busy comparing pizza slices. We are all trying to find ways to pass time. 

It’s been a while since we’ve eaten inside, and it’ll probably be even longer before we can dance at concerts again. Luckily, businesses are reopening.

Here are a few re-openings and highlights of what you can (still) do in Boston. 

Open Museums: 

As of October 9th, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Museum of Fine Arts started allowing for visitors again at reduced capacity. 

In addition, the Boston Children’s Museum is back open to offer some fun for kids, along with the Museum of Science, which currently features an exhibit on the science behind Disney Pixar. 

Food Destinations: 

The Boston Public Market is an indoor farmers market complete with a honey shop, bagel joint, and homemade soap sellers. Located in Haymarket, it’s not too far from Faneuil Hall, which has also reopened.

Complete with a 6,000 square-foot patio, TimeOut Market in Fenway is a great social-distanced destination. The market curates some of TimeOut Magazine’s favorite Boston restaurants and offers to-go counter service.

Boston Tours: 

Expect to see Boston’s famous duck and trolley tours traveling around the city. Boston Duck Tours and CityView Trolley are welcoming passengers to tour Downtown Boston again, if you want a guided tour of the city. 

For Halloween:

The Salem Witch Museum recounting the 1692 trials is back open, and remember to schedule your visit online. The Ghost and Graveyard Tours resumed operations Downtown and offers a haunted history of the city from grave robberies to underground tunnels.

For Fall: 

Connors Farms and Boston Hill Farm are two apple orchards about a half-hour drive from the city where you can pick your own apples or bring home a gallon of cider.

While the fall weather holds, it’s a great time to take a walk and enjoy nature within the city. The Boston Common and Public Garden are great places to stroll around. Charles River Canoe and Kayak provides boat rentals for a day on The Esplanade. Or you can watch the leaves change in the oldest Arboretum in North America, The Arnold Arboretum

I hope this list gives you something to do! 

-Charleigh

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“A Hard Road:” Charles Coe Considers Voter Attitudes

Charles Coe, a member of CambridgeEditors’ Editorial Team, is also a poet and prose writer. His latest essay, “A Hard Road” published in Plume, recounts his thoughts while traveling through Western New York as a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute. Getting “a lay of the land,” Charles opts to have his driver take the scenic route to Chautauqua, where manufacturing jobs have dwindled and the abundant Concord grapes have little demand. Coe notes this landscape is “a common one in the rust belt and farm country.” 

Commenting on “A Hard Road,” Coe states his essay “reflects on how a common attitude shared by people who support the current administration is suspicion of and antipathy toward art and artists.”

This common attitude is established in the collapsing barns and beat-up homes he sees along the drive, and Coe notes the Trump 2016 signs at seemingly every home and turn. The duality of poverty and political agendas, aligning with the side of wealth baffles Coe. He likens his own understanding of the signs to the following Lindon B Johnson quote: 

“I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

He goes on to list the political beliefs and agendas of the Trump voter: a disbelief in climate change, Covid-19, and the desire to fund football teams over libraries. In “The Hard Road,” Coe considers the driving principles behind The Trump Voter without high-income. He also takes into consideration Trump’s view on the arts, leaving readers with the question of whether Trump even reads poetry. 

Coe teaches English at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island and is a poetry and nonfiction professor for their low-residency MFA program. You can read more of his work in his  2019 book, Memento Mori, a poetry collection capturing mortality, change, and loss. 

– Charleigh

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Writing Advice From Stephen King

Spooky season officially kicks off in October, but these 10 pieces of advice from the master of horror Stephen King are excellent for writers year-round. Whether you write thrillers like King or explore other genres, check out these words of wisdom from an author who’s sold over 350 million copies:

1. Avoid passive voice

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King speculates some writers use passive voice because they feel timid with their writing. King states, “I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty.”

Here’s a tip on how to identify passive voice: if you can insert the phrase “by zombies” at the end of your sentence and it works grammatically, then you’re using passive voice.

2. You can say “said”

According to King, “The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said.”

It’s natural to want to dress up dialogue to be more descriptive, but writers don’t have to solely rely on phrasing like “Bill cried angrily” and “Monica tearfully replied” to communicate with their reader. Instead, try out describing actions and reactions alongside dialogue to cue your reader in.

3. Don’t rely on adverbs

For King, this piece of advice connects back to why passive voice is a no-go in most instances. “With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.”

King recommends giving the reader context instead of a never-ending stream of words that end in -ly.

4. Let your writing sit

After you’ve finished a draft, take a break. It may feel counterproductive to let a work sit instead of rereading it, but King recommends reading your draft after 6 weeks have passed. Time passing creates distance, so editing your work will feel more like reading another person’s draft.

5. Kill your darlings

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said, “Murder your darlings.” Characters, entire story lines, and individual sentences alike may need to cut — or killed — to improve the overall story. Being emotionally attached or having invested time and energy into a certain aspect of a story doesn’t necessarily mean it should stay in the final draft.

6. Eliminate distractions

For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have a writing room like King, simulating a writing room can be accomplished by cutting out unnecessary distractions.

Try working in relative silence, even if leaving the TV on for background noise is tempting. If you find yourself staring out a nearby window, try closing the curtains or pulling down the shades.

7. Set time limits

King says, “The first draft of a book — even a long one —  should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

This may not be true for every writer, but King has a point. If you set a strict time limit for you to churn out your draft, then commit to daily work, you’re all but certain to have an end result by your deadline. Consistency directly relates to progress.

8. Stay true to your own style

In On Writing, King warns against trying to mimic another writer’s style in an effort to create new success. “People who decide to make a fortune writing like John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”

9. Write one word at a time

When a talk show host asked about how he wrote, King replied: “One word at a time.” King explains, “It’s always that simple. Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like The Lord Of The Rings, the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

If the concept of finishing a whole draft feels insurmountable, focus on completing smaller goals that build on one another. One word on a page tends to multiply.

10. Write to be happy

King says, “It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

You can check out more of King’s tips in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft here.

-Cassidy

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Navigating the Hero’s Journey

A person leaves their everyday life behind, meets new friends, embarks on an adventure filled with trials and challenges, overcomes opposition, and changes their life and surroundings.

Did I describe Star Wars: A New Hope, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down, or Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”?

It’s a trick question. I described the basic plot structure of not just all three works, but also the key plot structure outlined in Joseph Cambell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, originally published in 1949. In his monumental — and monomythic — work, Campbell coins the phrase “the hero’s journey” to describe a universal pattern found in stories throughout the world’s cultures.

The hero’s journey is a familiar map for readers, film fanatics, and storytellers of all formats. This archetype consists of 3 stages, where the hero:

1. Leaves their ordinary life behind (The Departure)

2. Encounters various obstacles to reach their final goal (The Initiation)

3. Returns home and shares their victory or treasure (The Return)

The 3 stages comprise individual steps. Although not every story involves each, the steps themselves are iconic enough to be recognized when pointed out.

Campbell’s writings directly influenced George Lucas’s creation of the Star Wars franchise, which in turn contributed to Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey becoming almost a prescription for movies, TV shows, and books in the 21st century.

Whether the story is on the big screen, streaming services, or your bookshelf, the hero’s journey is almost certain to make an appearance.

But what can the reader take away from the hero’s journey? Are we to assume stories that don’t perfectly follow Campbell’s descriptive structure should always be received like the last season of Game of Thrones? Should editors and publishers turn down any book that doesn’t involve the protagonist literally or metaphorically slaying a dragon and restoring peace to the kingdom?

Simply put, the hero’s journey is one of many ways to understand a story’s plot. It’s also worth remembering the tried-and-true saying: rules were made to be broken.

Intentionally subverting the hero’s journey can create an unexpected and entertaining adventure. Being familiar with Campbell’s described 3 stages and steps means the reader can more intentionally follow and appreciate the story’s plot, whether it breaks with or adheres to the hero’s journey.

For example:

Campbell believed all stories echo each other. But key differences, subtle nuances, and surprise twists are what makes each story unique.

Understanding the hero’s journey can unlock another level of enjoyment for readers and audience members. And although the hero’s journey is a popular trail to follow, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to plots. No storyteller should be afraid of breaking the pattern.

Explore the hero’s journey and Campbell’s landmark work here.

-Cassidy

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How Meditation Can Help You Concentrate and Write

The earliest written record of meditation dates back to 1500 BCE India in the Hindu Vedas. Meditation has been practiced in many places in the east for health, religious, and spiritual purposes.

Mindfulness meditation is growing in popularity in America for its demonstrated health benefits, such as reducing high blood pressure, chronic pain, and anxiety. From walking meditation to spiritual meditation, there are many different types of meditation. 

Meditation involves:

  • Deep breathing 
  • Focused attention 
  • Quiet setting
  • Open attitude
  • Body awareness

Specific forms of meditation can involve:

  • Prayer 
  • A comfortable position 
  • Mantras (Chanting) 
  • Movement/Walking
  • Reading reflection 
  • Internally focused gratitude 

For a more in-depth understanding, read about the different forms of meditation here.

The ultimate goal of meditation is Mindfulness: to have awareness of your mind and body. When thoughts try to disturb you, let them pass while keeping your focus turned to your physical presence. This moment to regain focus and improve concentration makes it easier to focus your attention after the session ends. 

3 main problems writers face can be helped by meditation: 

  1. Procrastination 

You sit down in front of your desk, uncap your pen, then realize you didn’t pour a cup of coffee (you can’t write without coffee). You write the date on the top page only to stop again, this time, because there’s no background music. 

Feeling overwhelmed can take the form of procrastination. Meditation prompts you to shift your mental focus to your physical presence. As your body relaxes, your mind in turn relaxes, making concentration easier after the session.

  1. Being Uninspired 

Sometimes you are stuck with the project you’re working on. Sometimes you can’t decide on an idea, or stare at the page and have no idea what to write. 

Reading someone else’s writing before meditation is a great inspirational tool. In your session, you can reflect on style, meaning– whatever draws you to the piece. A free writing exercise after the session can help you draw from work you admire.

  1. Distractions 

It’s easy to be preoccupied by external distractions: the traffic outside your window, your phone buzzing. 

Each time you meditate, you practice your ability to concentrate. Like anything practiced, concentration becomes easier with time. Making mediation a routine leads to a better sense of concentration extending into your daily life. 

Mindful’s “How to Meditate” article includes a 1, 10, and 15-minute meditation session for beginners.

The app Headspace offers 10 free beginner sessions (customizable to 5, 10, or 20- minutes). To combat anxiety amid the pandemic, their “Navigating Change” course provides another 10 free sessions. 

If writing is a daily practice for you, try incorporating 10 minutes of meditation beforehand.

 So often our minds are preoccupied with the sensations defining our external worlds. When was the last time you took a ten-minute time-out for your mind? 

– Charleigh

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In Remembrance of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
March 15, 1933–September 18, 2020

The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an advocate for equality and a force to be reckoned with. It’s our time to take up the mantle and continue the fight.

Here are 10 iconic quotes to remember RBG by:

  1. “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”
  2. “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
  3. “Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”
  4. “Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.”
  5. “I don’t say women’s rights—I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.”
  6. “Feminism [is the] notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents and not be held back by man made barriers.”
  7. “If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”
  8. “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
  9. “People ask me sometimes… ‘When will there be enough women on the court?’ And my answer is: ‘When there are nine.’”

Lastly, RBG had this to say about her legacy:

  1. “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.”

We commemorate the late Supreme Court Justice and her 27-year tenure with words. However, we have a duty to go further. Now, it’s time to turn words into action.

Here are 5 unbiased and dependable resources to use and support:

-Cassidy

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Advice: For Writers, From Writers

Alden Jones, writer and faculty member at Emerson College and The Newport MFA, recently launched her new memoir, The Wanting Was a Wilderness, with great success. The memoir, which began as a project examining Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 national best-seller, Wild, blends analysis and essay along with the telling of Jones’ own introspection. This month, I had the privilege of attending an author talk between Strayed and Jones. Listed below are tips these two accomplished authors have for writers of all genres.

As a writer of nonfiction, what do you do if your family does not approve of the story you want to tell?

Both writers suggest that as always, do the most you can when telling your story to protect the privacy of others. Changing names of characters is a great place to start, as well as leaving out details that do not further the story. For this very reason, some writers even choose to publish under a pseudonym.

Though your story may encompass others, remember it is still your story to tell. So long as you respect the anonymity of others, both writers agree it’s a personal choice whether you risk uprooting tensions with your family. 

How do you write about something painful? 

When asked this question, Jones explains writing about pain helps her to “reclaim” the experience. Writing can be healing. (She jokes every writer needs a therapist!) 

If it is too painful to write about it now, jot down the details you need to recount the story if you can, and return to it at another time. Ultimately, do what is best for your wellbeing. If you find writing to reopen an old wound, consider writing about another subject.  

How do you handle book criticism? 

When asked this, Strayed simply stated, “It Hurts!” Despite her 2012 success, criticism affects Cheryl no different than any other writer. Her strategy to combat negativity is simple: scroll past the review, ignore the tweet. Don’t even read them. 

Though gaining an outside perspective on your work is crucial, sometimes that perspective is not constructive. Sometimes, we have to be our own best advocates. 

You can find Alden Jones’ The Wanting Was a Wilderness here: 

https://bookshop.org/books/the-wanting-was-a-wilderness-cheryl-strayed-s-wild-and-the-art-of-memoir-afterwords/9780999431665

Get in line to get yours soon– it’s on backorder everywhere! The link above helps support local bookstores. 

-Charleigh 

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3 Tips to Get Back into the Habit of Reading

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me reading is one of their favorite hobbies, only for that person to admit they haven’t cracked open a book for months, I would have enough change to buy another novel that would sit unread on my shelf for months.

During times of media overload, where burning out from staring at screens are far from rare occurrences, a book can be a welcome break. But this points to a clear question: How do we rediscover the habit of reading?

In The Power of Habit, award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg breaks down why good and bad habits have a tendency to linger. The habit loop, as Duhigg describes it, consists of 3 main steps. The first step of the habit loop involves encountering a trigger to cue an action. This leads into the second step, which is performing the specified action. Performing this action merits the reward, the last step in the habit loop.

Here’s an example of a habit loop:

  1. Cue: a Twitter notification pops up on your screen
  2. Action: You open Twitter and see who liked your Tweet
  3. Reward: A jolt of dopamine and sense of accomplishment encourages repetition

You can read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit here.

Here are 3 tips to use the habit loop to confidently call yourself a bookworm:

  1. Set an alarm to signal it’s prime reading time

Contrary to popular belief, technology doesn’t have to be the enemy of reading. Setting a repeating alarm on your phone or other device is a simple, effective way to hold yourself accountable and stay dedicated to reading. The more you sit down to read after the alarm sounds, the stronger the cue becomes.

  1. Reward yourself when you reach a reading goal

If reading feels more like work instead of a reward in itself, then take a page out of my book and have a treat after hitting a milestone. When you finish a chapter, turn to a specific page, or read for a certain stretch of time, try enjoying a favorite snack, pouring a cup of tea, and getting cozy for the next reading stint. Remember, books pair well with self-care.


  1. Set a reading schedule

Just like its name implies, the habit loop repeats itself. To avoid losing steam and actually finish that book you’ve been meaning to dig into, set aside chunks of time throughout the week. Even the busiest readers can squeeze in 20-30 minutes of reading before starting the workday or turning in for the night. Making reading a consistent part of your routine is a sure-fire way to build a reading habit that sticks.

-Cassidy

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The Women That Got Me Here: Why I Will Remember My Time at CambridgeEditors Forever

As my internship with CambridgeEditors comes to an end, I wanted to reflect on the women who inspired me to get here. In high school English classes, I was primarily introduced to white, male authors, who I enjoyed but had no connection to. As my career and passion for the literary world progresses, I feel it is only appropriate to discuss the female authors that made me want to keep going. 

It all started with Joyce Carol Oates and her hauntingly beautiful writing, particularly in her short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and her novel We Were the Mulvaneys. With her portrayal of teenage culture in a young woman’s life and discussions of sexual harassment and assault, Oates helped me understand that my feelings are not only valid but important. An incredibly prolific author, Oates has written plays, poetry, short fiction, and fifty eight novels. She is in her early eighties, and as she continues to write, she continues to amaze me. 

Next came Zadie Smith. Her first novel, White Teeth, portrayed a Bangladeshi family and a biracial family living in London in the 70s. She discussed the Bangladeshi family’s strong ties to Islam, and by doing so she made me realize that my Palestinian heritage was something to be written about. After the booming success of White Teeth, Smith went on to write topical essays for the New Yorker, short fiction, and multiple novels. 

My love for Oates’s depiction of womanhood and Smith’s emphasis on the importance of heritage led me to perhaps my most favorite author of all time, Louise Erdrich. A Native American author, Erdrich’s novels typically take place on reservations; my favorite book by her, The Round House, is set on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. The novel explores rape against Native women, coming of age stories, and the desire for justice in the Native American community. Erdrich has continued to write multiple novels and currently owns Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis focusing on Native American Literature. 

I am deeply grateful for the women who inspired me to study literature, and I am equally grateful for the women I was privileged enough to work with this summer: my fellow intern, Amala, Founder of CambridgeEditors, Dr. Weiner, and CambridgeEditors’ Administrative and Editor Manager, Lexie. My summer of collaborating with three of the most intelligent and determined women I know will forever hold a place in my heart, and I will always look back on it fondly. As Joyce Carol Oates said in After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away, “See, people come into your life for a reason. They might not know it themselves, why. You might not know it. But there’s a reason. There has to be.” 

Kelsey Allen

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