Totally excellent

I came across this video via the blog “I Will Shout Youngstown” this afternoon, and thought it was really representative of the spirit that’s been taking over Youngstown in the past couple of years, and that community spirit seems to be growing more and more over time now. To be completely honest, it feels strange to feel this good about my community. I grew up when it was spiraling ever downward in its history, so there was a constant feeling of entropy surrounding the place, that the world was closing down around me, that things got worse, not better. Somehow I turned out to be a creative person in the midst of a sort of ambient atmosphere of disintegration, or maybe I turned out to be a creative person *because* of that atmosphere, as a sort of rebellion against it. But anyway, all of these good things happening here now, even though I feel like I’m a part of those things in my own small way, it still does, sometimes, feel strange to feel that Youngstown has begun to turn in a different direction, and maybe decay and disintegration won’t be the predominant trend in these parts forever. It makes me wonder, too, how that will affect the way I write about this place in the future, because I’m largely inspired by place in my writing. Not just this place, but any place where I’ve spent a significant amount of time. That will probably be more evident when my second novel comes out. So it makes me wonder if at some point all the ghost stories and stories of entropy and madness and melancholy that I seem to gravitate to in regards to this place will begin to disappear. It makes me wonder what sort of stories will come in their stead. I look forward to finding that out, but for now, check out this video put out by the American Planning Association, which awarded Youngstown with the 2007 National Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach. Maybe it’s a bore for people living elsewhere, I don’t know, but the new progressive spirit of this place that’s been happening here lately has been engaging for me, and interesting, as I notice my own relationship to the place begin to shift into a new shape.

Home again

I am back home from New York City, a bit bedraggled but thoroughly enjoyed myself. Saw Aimee Mann in concert, the anniversary reproduction of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming”, Southland Tales, shopped in open air markets, was a guest on the Hour of the Wolf, which you can listen to here, and ate lots and lots of good food. Gave a reading at the KGB Bar last night with Naomi Novik. The place was packed. My friend and colleague from YSU, Phil Brady, was in town and came, so we had another Youngstowner in attendance. Afterwards I had dinner with everyone at an amazing Chinese place nearby. The actress Helen Mirren was there, too. I stared unabashedly once this was brought to my attention. Luckily I was outside the restaurant when that happened, finished with my meal, and could stare through the restaurant window at the second floor at her, without her noticing and feeling like she had a stalker. I barely slept last night, got up at 5 AM this morning to get ready and catch a taxi to the airport in time for my way-too-early flight to Pittsburgh. On the way, my driver made it clear to me over and over that he had only just arrived in America recently, and kept asking me for directions to LaGuardia as he took me further and further out of the city. On one exit he asked if it said LaGuardia. I was totally out of it and sort of looked up and said yes anyway, even though after we passed into that exit and into a tunnel I immediately wasn’t sure if I had just said yes as an automatic response or if the sign really had said LaGuardia. Getting ready to go into another entrance ramp lane, he pulled up beside another cabbie, rolled down his window, and said in a hysterical voice, “LaGuardia!? LaGuardia!?” and the other driver looked back at him in puzzlement, concern and panic, shaking his hand as he drove, a gesture that said, “I don’t know what the hell you’re saying!” I rolled down my window at that point and said, “Which exit is LaGuardia?” and he told the other driver to follow him. It was the most ridiculous taxi ride I have ever experienced outside of Tijuana and Bangkok. New York, oh, New York, how the mighty have fallen.

My eyes are dry and puffy from lack of sleep. I have a cough that came with a cold two weeks ago, but didn’t leave when the cold left. My body feels heavy and fatigued. I am going to make tonkatsu for dinner, because tonkatsu makes everything better. Always, always.

Thank you for a great week, New York and its denizens. I hope everyone has a great holiday season. Now I’m off to settle down into bed for a cold winter’s night.

The Year in Brief

Following the trend of posting the first line of the first day of each month from the past year’s blog:

Jan: Spring semester at the university begins next week.

Feb: News came yesterday that a hypertextual flash fiction project called “23 Small Disasters” created by myself, Elad Haber, Greg van Eekhout, Meghan McCarron, Tim Pratt, Benjamin Rosenbaum (who conceived the idea), and Kiini Ibura Salaam was sold to Ideomancer, where it will serve as an entire month’s issue.

Mar: I’ve been asked to write a short essay on “The Language of Moths” for the Nebula Awards, which has placed me in the awkward position of talking about one of my own stories, which I don’t usually do, or like to do, for various reasons.  This is my first stab at it, though.

April: As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

May: We went to Millcreek Park today, to enjoy the sun and the flowers and the people who had come out to enjoy it with each other.

June: This Saturday was Streetscape in Youngstown’s downtown. A couple of hundred volunteers from the community came out to plant flowers and to landscape the downtown together.

July: This weekend was Youngstown’s Summer Festival of the Arts.

Aug: Found this in my email from my friend Graham this morning:


and the day started off with great cheer.

Sept: Hope everyone is having a good holiday weekend.  The book release party was really awesome, and I’ll be writing about it and posting some pictures of the art and attendees sometime this week, but for now I’m going to post this link to the blog for the radio show Lincoln Avenue, hosted by Dr. Sherry Linkon.  Sherry recorded an interview with me that will air this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and you can listen to it by visiting WYSU’s homepage.

Oct: Good news came yesterday. One for Sorrow is going to be translated and published in Italy by Elliot Edizioni!

Nov: I’m back home from World Fantasy Convention. Four things I have decided:

1. Flying by airplane is my great annoyance. I wish I could teleport to wherever it is I want to go.

Dec: Just a quick note to say I’m in the final days of the fall semester, very busy, stacks of essays to grade, student fiction portfolios to read, and have been busy with preparing for the Oakland Center for the Arts annual “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” production.

All in all, I think it’s been one really awesome year.  Busy, but really awesome.


I am sick. Have been for the past three days. I’m coughing so much, my lungs hurt. I have medicine, but this cough refuses to let go of me. If I could shake it, I think I’d actually feel normal. Half of my energy goes into just producing the coughs. I have managed to fix good meals in the past few days though. Tonight was Japanese ginger pork with steamed green beans and rice and black sesame. Lots of green tea. I’ve got to beat this icky flu/cold thing if I keep eating things like that, right?

Despite all the sickness, I have finished grading student essays and fiction portfolios, and will be ready by mid-afternoon tomorrow to turn in final grades and then finish up an application for a job I’m hoping to land next year. Hopefully by end of Tuesday, I’ll be ready to officially start my winter break. And then on Thursday I’ll be heading to New York City for a week, where I’ll do a radio interview with Jim Freund on WBAI’s Hour of the Wolf, and a reading at the KGB Bar. Looking forward to seeing the city around Christmas time. And relaxing. Definitely relaxing.

Cough, cough.


Autumn and Early Winter in my hood

Fall didn’t last nearly long enough, if you ask me. I love these colors, and miss them already.

This little guy was living in my attic. I chased him out and had words with him one day while he clung to the side of my house and barked at me. Apparently I had invaded *his* place.
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Finally the Christmas tree and lights are up. More and more gingerbready everyday.



Life with a house

I feel like I’m at the end of the strangest and somewhat stressful three or four months of my life. More stressful than those first few months of living in Japan even, getting used to a different culture. In the past four months, my first novel has come out, I’ve been teaching three classes at the university, one of them a fiction workshop that I dearly loved to teach but which took a lot of my energy because my students were ridiculously awesome and I wonder if it was a fluke or if it is just teaching a fiction workshop that got me so psyched and consequently I delivered a whole lot of energy and time to that class. And I’ve bought a house, and moved in. And of course have been doing a lot of promotional events around town and in nearby cities. Which is a new thing for me, and seems odd at first but I’ve gotten quite used to going to bookstores or whatnot and giving a reading or signing books. It felt slightly uncomfortable at first, doing things like that, mostly because I get sort of shy when a lot of attention is directed towards me specifically (unless it’s karaoke we’re talking about, ahem) but now it’s got to the point where I look forward to events because it’s at those that you really do get the experience of talking to your readers, which is really an amazing experience. In any case, I feel like I’ve constantly been running after a bus this fall. I always manage to stop it and get on, but I’m that guy who gets on and is out of breath and sweating as he looks for a seat as the bus starts moving again.

Anyhow, it’s been a completely faster pace of life for me. Having the house, too, is something that I’ve realized I have to get used to also. I’ve spent the past twelve years moving around from apartment to apartment, and now I have this whole place and neighbors and a street (a tiny little street, which feels like its own little community) and, and, and…it feels really different being a homeowner than a renter. And I hadn’t expected that. It’s a good thing, I think, to feel that you have a place of your own. In some ways I feel like it’s more of a shelter to retreat from the rest of life than I’d ever considered in previous places I’ve lived. The first few weeks I kept feeling like there must be a landlord lurking around somewhere, and I realized how odd it is how we come to incorporate certain presences into our consciousness, like a landlord, and how something as little and seemingly banal and ordinary as that can change your perspective and relationship to everything, or lots of things–so small but it makes real ripples. At least this is something I’ve noticed.

Noticing and feeling this, it makes me even more sad for the people who have lost their homes in recent times to bad mortgages. I have to say here, I don’t like the way this home foreclosure problem is being presented in most media. The media and the government language for dealing with this clearly indicates that it is the fault of the people who are losing their homes, that they shouldn’t have tried to purchase something they clearly couldn’t afford, and that they deserve what’s happening to them, having their homes ripped away from them by banks that have received thousands and thousands of dollars from them as they tried to hold onto their personal shelters. These mortgages are called bad mortgages because the language of them was cryptic, and most mortgage officers for the banks didn’t go out of their way to explain the way they worked in this particular case to the borrowers because if they had, most of the borrowers would have realized they couldn’t have afforded a home with a whack interest rate that demands a couple hundred dollars a month one year and fifteen hundred or two thousand a month the next. But it’s the borrowers’ fault, the tone in the media takes, because really in the end they should educate themselves about these things, right? Whatever happened to a business like a bank being completely honest with its customers though? What happened to businesses that are held accountable for the services they’re offering? I don’t understand why they aren’t being treated as criminally as they’ve behaved in this whole phenomenon, and find it just another symptom that America truly is more a capitalist government than a democracy. A government run by business for business. Screw the people. They’re there to be screwed. And unfortunately people just take it and say, That’s life.

I have my very own home for the holidays for the first time in my life. I mean my *own* home, not my family’s. And having moved around and around between rented spaces the entire length of my adult life, I can now fully appreciate the comfort and sense of privacy having your own home can give you. When I think of those families that have been displaced in recent days due to being conned by banks, I feel like America is existing in a somewhat Dickensian shadow at the moment. Tiny Tim, no healthcare for kids Bush, Scrooge, all that. This Christmas, I hope the ghosts of past, present and future visit the people–the lawmakers and supposed leaders–who have ruined great things in this country in recent times, and I hope they give them hell.

Great books you may have missed in 2007

From the Village Voice:

Yet could there be enough fell doings in a year that saw only one book from Stephen King, the Richard Bachman trunk novel Blaze? King’s son Joe Hill took up some of the slack with his bestselling horror novel Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts, a lovely, earnest collection of short fiction. One for Sorrow, Christopher Barzak’s lyrical first novel, gave a melancholy edge to a ghost story about a teenage boy haunted by his murdered classmate. Arthur Phillips’s Angelica at first seems to be a fairly conventional, if elegantly written, gaslight tale of supernatural obsession and possession. But as its multiple storylines unfold, a more disturbing truth emerges, drawn from the real-life horrors faced by women in Victorian England.

You can read the entire list here.


Just a quick note to say I’m in the final days of the fall semester, very busy, stacks of essays to grade, student fiction portfolios to read, and have been busy with preparing for the Oakland Center for the Arts annual “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” production.  That’s finally over as of last night, but now the holidays are upon us.  If I owe you an email, and I know I owe several (hundred thousand), I’m sorry for being so late.  I’m trying to dig myself out of all the things I need to do at the moment, and then hopefully I’ll start catching up on emails soon too.