C’est Moi


I rarely post pics like I did all the time in Japan, since it was like, you know, another country and all that.  But my friend Jan took a pic of me tonight at a board meeting for the Oakland Center for the Arts, and I didn’t realize it.

I always like the candid photos better than the ones I actually know people are taking.  Somehow, as soon as I know a photo is being shot, I turn into ice.  But I like this one.  It’s in the artist’s gallery in the Oakland, one of my “places” here in Youngstown, where I give my time and energy and thought and all that good stuff.  If you’re around this weekend (as in tomorrow, Friday, as well as Saturday) you should come down to see Robert Dennick Joki’s show, I’m Not that Girl, at 7PM.  I’ll be there Friday evening.  And since Rob’s doing it, it promises to be a good show.

One resolution accomplished

Back around New Year’s, I made one writerly resolution.  From that blog post:

“One of my goals for the year is to write something joyful instead of melancholy, extroverted instead of introverted, playful instead of serious.  I suspect I will have to change some of the ways I perceive things to do so.  But that could be a good thing.  Fingers crossed and intentions set.  Full steam ahead.”

And finally, in May and June of this spring and summer, I think I’ve done it, in a short story.  It’s a more irregular way of writing for me, but it was definitely fun.  My only worry about writing a playful, joyful, less serious story is that there is less heft to such a story.  But then I wonder why play and joy may equate with less importance.  I think it may be more difficult to write this sort of story and also make it feel like the sort of story that lingers with a reader afterward for a long time, because the emotions aren’t the sort that pin a person down to something heavy.  Or this may not be a general issue at all, but simply one of my own issues.

That said, it was fun, and now it’s time to look it over one last time before sending it out into the world.  

One resolution down.  Now, back to trying to finish this third novel by end of 2009 at latest.  Puh-lease, Writing Gods, shine your benevolent light upon me (for an extended period of time). Thanks!

Out of this furnace

I’ve been reading a novel called “Out of this Furnace” for one of my summer courses.  It’s by Thomas Bell, an author from Braddock, Pennsylvania who grew up in a steel mill family.  The novel is semi-autobiographical, following three generations of a Slovak immigrant family from the turn of the century through the thirties.  The novel was published in 1941, not long after the last decade Bell writes about in the book, the 30s.  The book works more like a very well-done historical narrative more than it does as a novel, at least in terms of what expectations for novelistic writing looks like these days.  It provides many more insights than a typical historical narrative, too, because of the personal relationship the reader builds with its characters, rather than the distanced tone of an actual historical narrative.  In any case, I learned a lot reading it, about a time and a place and a particular kind of people, and also a lot about how things looked during the first thirty years of the Twentieth century around places like the one I grew up in, which isn’t very far from the novel’s setting.  Just outside of Pittsburgh.

In any case, a couple of quotes leaped out at me while I was reading today.  The leaped out because even though they were written seventy years ago or thereabouts, they felt like they could have been written today:

“The depression deepened to the sound of voices chanting that prosperity was just around the corner, the country was fundamentally sound.  In the face of unparalleled catastrophe the rich and powerful lacked even the decency to keep silent.  Blind, ignorant, obsessed with the myth of their own infallibility–they had been obeyed longer than was good for an human being–they drooled their obscene mumbo-jumbo, witch doctors without faith in their own magic imploring the betrayed to have confidence, the penniless to put their money into circulation, the despoiled to take pride in an America plundered, gutted and laid waste.  Silence would have become them more and proved wiser, for there must have been many like Dobie whom their stupidities shook out of bewilderment, goaded to anger.”

And another:

“What did they ever do for the working people?  All through the depression they haven’t done anything to help anybody except the big banks and corporations.  What good did voting Republican do John when he was getting dollar-fifty pays and taking money down to the mill on paydays to keep his insurance in force because they weren’t even giving him enough work to pay for his insurance?  He had to take from our few dollars in the bank and pay it to the mill on paydays instead of them paying him.   I owe four months’ rent and I’ve got a store bill that scares me when I think of it.  Do they think we’re all greenhorns and they can rub our faces in the dirt forever?”

And there’s more where that came from.

Commentary or Fan Fic?

Apparently there’s this book that’s been self-published in England and due to be published in the U.S. that is a “sequel” to Catcher in the Rye, making use of many of Salinger’s original characters, aged appropriately.  The author of the book says it’s not a sequel, and that, “The book explores the famously reclusive Salinger’s efforts to control both his own persona and the persona of the character he created,” according to the brief. “It also scrutinizes and criticizes the iconic stature of Salinger and his creation by comparing the precocious and self-satisfied 16-year-old Holden with a 76-year-old version of himself fraught with indecision and insecurity.”

According to the NYT’s, “Mr. Colting acknowledges that three original characters from “Catcher in the Rye” appear in his novel: Mr. C, his sister Phoebe and Stradlater, Holden Caulfield’s prep school roommate. He also provides a list of more than two dozen original characters he has created for his novel, including Mary, Mr. C’s deceased wife, and Daniel, his son.”

Hmm, sounds like a sequel, Mr. Colting, despite the new characters.  Also sounds not so much like metafiction, as a Case Western professor has declared, so much as it does fan fiction, where a writer takes characters  and situations from a copyrighted book and spins their own versions on a favored author’s original tale.  If it were a story that was in the public domain, it wouldn’t be a problem.  Salinger, however, is very much alive at 90 and fighting this.  

The author says the novel is a commentary on Catcher in the Rye.  That sounds nice, but it also seems, at least from the reportage (and it may turn out to be incorrect reportage, we’ll have to wait and see), that the author really has infringed on Salinger’s copyright by including actual identifiable characters from the original novel.  Saying it’s commentary on Catcher in the Rye seems like a good defense, but I have a feeling it won’t hold up in court.

My first novel, One for Sorrow, was a partial commentary on Catcher in the Rye, but made no use of any of Salinger’s characters or plot in order to do so.  I simply wrote a coming of age story from the point of view of a working class boy growing up in the Rust Belt, who sees ghosts–something that would never happen in a Salinger book, ha!–and runs away from home the way Caulfield goes off the grid once he’s kicked out of Prep School.  My narrator doesn’t have the means to go anywhere fancy like New York City, where Caulfield runs to, rents a hotel room, hangs out with a girlfriend in ritzy restaurants, buying drinks, and where he tries to purchase a prostitute, among other things.  My narrator isn’t really able to afford that sort of running away; he hides instead in his girlfriend’s closet, then in an old lean-to in the woods near his house, and finally gets as far as Youngstown, Ohio, where he squats in an abandoned church.  No alcohol, no restaurant binges, no prostitutes, just crappy desperate turning from one place to another until the reality that he’s unable to run away from his problems sets in.  At one point he reads a book at his girlfriend’s house which is untitled but is obviously a summarized version of the plot of Catcher in the Rye, and he comments on that book, trying to show the differences in how that book looks to a kid from a closed-down ex-manufacturing/ex-steel region who isn’t anywhere near the middle or upper classes, and a much more Midwestern perspective versus Catcher’s East Coast.  I consider that sort of thing commentary on another book.  Taking another author’s characters whole-cloth, though?  That sounds like fan fiction to me, not commentary, though I’m sure commentary does arise out of the fan fiction.  The author probably should have tried to find a different way to do this than to appropriate actual characters.

I’ll be interested to know what comes of it.   Mainly because, even though I wrinkle my nose a little at Holden Caulfield and his drama, I like the kid nonetheless, and the book remains one of my favorites.

Wherefore art thou, Juliet

Today we bring you an awesome interview with the editor of my first two books, Juliet Ulman.  Okay, so “we” don’t bring it to you, Jeff Vandermeer does, over at Amazon.com’s blog, Omnivoracious.  Here’s a connecting pass to it.  And if you like reading Juliet’s really smart and insightful perspective on editing, publishing, and the future of publishing, you can hop over to Jeff V’s personal blog, where there is some more Ulman love going on, including a little ditty from moi.

The Odds

Looking for a good suspense/mystery novel for the summer?  You should check out Kathleen George‘s newest novel, The Odds.  








I have to make a qualification on this recommendation.  I haven’t read the book yet.  I know Kathleen as a mentor in the MFA program at Chatham University, and over the past year she’s been reading the novel I’ve been writing and giving me wonderful advice as I push onwards in it.  She has a keen eye for drama and moving a story forward, and I expect those aspects will be plentiful in this book as well.  I just ordered my copy, as it just came out today.  Looking forward to it.  Hope those of you who check it out enjoy it.

Interfictions 2: Your Name Here

I had to steal this entire post from Gavin Grant, because it’s not only all the information those of you who may read this may need, but funny.  If anyone out there is so inclined to aid in the cause of non-profit bookmaking, here’s your chance:

Interfictions 2: Your Name Here

Well, maybe more like Your Rich Pal Who Likes To Directly Support the Arts’s Name Here. The Interstitial folk have had the great idea of sending out a direct call for support for their new anthology in Tweeterland, Blogistan, Flogistan, and Facebukia. And in case those countries are not on your usual paths, here’s the goods:

We live in a world of niche marketing. The Interstitial Arts Foundation brings artists together to tear those barriers down.

We are asking you now to join us in our next adventure in storming the barricades: Interfictions 2: a New Anthology of Interstitial Writing, edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak. Interfictions 2 will be published in November 2009 in collaboration with Small Beer Press.

Interfictions 2The first volume of Interfictions, published in 2007, was hailed as “A phenomenal collection…engrossing and provocative” (Hipster Bookclub) that “belongs on the nightstand of anyone interested in the development of contemporary short fiction” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

This second volume features original work by a whole new set of writers who joyfully explore the big imaginative spaces between conventional genres. And this time, we’ll be reaching out to even more readers by publishing a series of free stories on the new Interfictions 2 Annex online!

What can you do to help? This extraordinary collection of interstital fiction needsyour financial support. We’re asking you to sponsor not just a book, but an idea – the idea that artists need to be able to express themselves freely and directly to their audiences, without the restraints of conventional genre limitations.

Here are some ways you can help us publish Interfictions 2:


  • $500 pays one author for a 10,000 word short story
  • $375 pays one author for a 7,500 word short story

8 stories will be available only online, with one appearing every week from August until November 2009.

  • $400 covers author honoraria for the entire Annex
  • $50 pays one author for an Annex story


  • $400 covers typesetting fees
  • $200 buys Interfictions 2 a magazine ad
  • $100 prints up promotional postcards
  • $25 sends out five copies to reviewers
  • Your Choice: Gift amount of your choosing supports the IAF’s General Fund

Become an Interfictions 2 Sponsor with a gift of $500 or more, and we’ll list you as a Sponsor on our Friends of Interfictions 2 web page. And if your gift of $500 or more is received by June 30, 2009, your name will be published in the printed anthology!

Your gift of $499 or less will get you listed on a Friends of Interfictions 2 web page as a Booklover, and Booklovers who donate between $375 and $499 by June 30, 2009 will have their names published in the printed anthology. Individual supporter names will not be linked to specific stories or work.

We’ll also send signed copies of both Interfictions and Interfictions 2, signed by editors Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, to supporters who contribute $375 or more. In addition, Sponsors of $1,000 or more can choose to receive a signed limited edition print of Connie Toebe’s “Moonlight“, the art used on the cover of the first Interfictions.

The easiest way to contribute is on our Web site athttp://www.interstitialarts.org/donate.

Or you can mail your check along with the 2009 Gift Form to P.O. Box 35862, Boston, MA 02135. Contributions of any size are most welcome.

The IAF is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, so your contribution will be fully tax-deductible. But more importantly, when you make a gift to the IAF, you can bask in the knowledge that you are helping to build a new work of literature that can change people’s lives.

Thank you for your continued support. Please feel free to link to or pass on this page to anyone else you think might be interested in art without borders!

Ellen Kushner
Vice President & Co-Founder,
Intersitial Arts Foundation