Youngstown: Descent into Darkness

My friend Deb over at Youngstown Moxie found this great photography project on rustbelt cities created by freelance photojournalist Sean Posey of San Francisco. His family left Youngstown in the 80s and now he’s putting together a fine art/documentary project that will look at Youngstown and other areas of Michigan and Pennsylvania as it considers the rustbelt and the effects of de-industrialization on these communities. I love the slide show (the images of disintegration, decay, nature reclaiming a once settled and extremely populated region, the abandonment left in the wake of the 80s, are the sort of images I tried to collect through words when my characters Adam and Jamie come into Youngstown toward the end of One for Sorrow–and by the way, for readers of the book, the photo of the church in this slide show is the church that Adam and Jamie squat in when they reach town) and the Bruce Springsteen song is a perfect match for background music. But I’ll just crib from Deb and you can follow the link to the site to see for yourself. Thanks for finding it Deb!

Odd how things work around here. A friend of mine sent me a link to a slide show created by Sean Posey and as I was looking through the photos I recognized a church that another friend of mine, Chris Barzak, had written about in his book One for Sorrow. The church is located by YSU and I’m told that it is was the first church in the area. It is in poor condition and I would love to see the building saved. However, that is a story for another day.

I want to share with you the slide show that depicts our ruins in all of their glory. In the decay there is much beauty. I,for one, believe that by looking and perceiving the ruins through a lens of creativity, new birth will come to Youngstown. Not only has Sean Posey captured the beauty of the place, but he has somehow managed to imbue his photos with the emotional strength and courage of the people who reside here though people are are not his subjects, and are not within the frames of the photographs. Click here to view the show.

When being that guy isn’t a bad thing

Karl Rove on Obama: “Even if you never met him, you know this guy,” Rove said, per Christianne Klein. “He’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.”

I identify with this comment, in the case of being the guy with the beautiful date, holding the martini and cigarette and standing against the wall as I make snide comments about everyone who passes by in the country club. My point is, have you been paying attention to the people who are passing by?  Hello, have you realized we’re standing in a country club?

The snide comments are well-deserved.

My Algis Budrys Story

I recently learned of the death of Algis Budrys, and was immediately struck by the unfortunate news. For readers who don’t recognize his name, he was a science fiction writer and editor. I never met him myself, but I do have one Algis Budrys story despite that.

When I was eighteen years old and an aspiring writer, I came across a magazine called Tomorrow that piqued my interest. It was a speculative fiction magazine from the 90s, and Algis was its editor. After reading several issues of the magazine, I decided to send one of my own stories to the magazine because I enjoyed reading the stories in it. It was the first submission to a magazine I’d ever made, and I didn’t know what to expect from the process of submission. When, several weeks later, I hadn’t heard anything back, I worried that the submission had been lost in the mail. This was in the days before the internet had really taken hold as a communication tool throughout the broader spectrum of society, and so magazines didn’t list websites or email addresses in their pages. They listed physical addresses, and sometimes, in the case of Algis, a phone number.

Around the time the manuscript had been gone for six weeks, I decided I should contact the magazine. When I dialed the number, I imagined a skyscraper in Chicago, where the address of the magazine was listed. I imagined a floor of cubicles and lots of officey type people scurrying around in there, busily creating the next issue of the magazine. What I discovered when I phoned, though, was that the very man who picked up the line was the editor himself, and that there was no officey noise in the background. I explained why I was calling, and Algis apologized for not having got back to me yet. He explained he’d recently had surgery and was in the hospital for a while and was home again, and trying to catch up on his work. He said my story was probably in a stack on his coffee table in front of his couch, where he was sitting at that moment. I had a sort of reality breakdown at that moment and realized that my idea of how magazines were produced was not always, or probably not mostly, what I thought it would be.

I apologized for bothering him at home and felt like a right stupid git, as my granddad might say, but Algis took the time even then to say that there was no need for an apology, and he began asking me questions at that point. Where did I live? How old was I? How long had I been writing? Had I been to any writing workshops before? Who were some of my favorite writers? We had a nice chat, and at the end of it he said he looked forward to reading my story and would try to have a response for it as soon as he was able. A week later, the story showed up in my mail with a detailed rejection letter from Algis, who talked me through what he thought was good in the story and what he thought needed more work, and he attached a set of manuscript submission instructions that would be generally good for me to follow for most magazines unless they specifically had different manuscript format procedures. I had done mine fairly accurate, but there were some quirks to it because I’d followed advice I’d found in a Writer’s Market that was fine but a little over the top on how to submit a story to a magazine. He also said that, while my story had speculative elements in its make-up, the way I had written it was in a more literary style, and he thought I should send it to literary journals in the future as well as sf magazines. I wasn’t sure what a literary journal was at the time. I discovered those shortly afterward, taking his suggestion and seeking them out. I wasn’t as impressed by them, but did like the writing style of many of the stories in those journals. Even then I was writing somewhere in between what many readers would perceive as separate genres or kinds of stories. It was the first time someone had told me anything helpful about my writing, and I realized soon after that I’d be a hard sell to a lot of places, literary journals and genre magazines alike, because I didn’t do either one the “right way” apparently. Things have changed a lot since then, in terms of what readers expect from a “sf” story or from a “literary” story, but it was definitely the first time I had a sort of “You Are Here” moment in trying to find my place on the writing map, thanks to Algis.

When I think back to that phone call and my eighteen year old, naive self phoning Algis Budrys at his home in Chicago about a story I’d sent him, I still laugh. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him. He was just one of the many people within the sf community that did something, said something, to provide me with a sense of a writer’s reality and community, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

From Locus:

SF author, critic, and editor Algis Budrys, born 1931, died this morning, June 9, 2008, at the age of 77. He began publishing in 1952 with short fiction in Astounding, Galaxy, and other magazines; notable stories include “The End of Summer” (1954), “Nobody Bothers Gus” (1955), “The Edge of the Sea” (1958, a Hugo nominee), “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night” (1961), and “The Silent Eyes of Time” (1975, a Hugo nominee). His first novel was False Night (1954), revised in 1961 as Some Will Not Die; later novels included Who? (1958, a Hugo nominee), The Falling Torch (1959), classic Rogue Moon — about matter transmission and an alien labyrinth on the moon, an expansion of novella “Rogue Moon” included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1960, a Hugo nominee as a novel), The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn (1967), Michaelmas (1977), and Hard Landing (1993, a Nebula nominee). He wrote critical reviews for Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1960s and ’70s, many collected in Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf (1985, a Hugo nominee and winner of a Locus Award). Since the mid 1980s he was associated with the Writers of the Future program for new writers, and he edited many of the annual L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future anthologies from 1985 to present. He was also editor of magazine Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, which lasted 24 issues from 1993 to 1997, and was twice nominated for a Hugo Award in the semi-professional magazine category. In 2007 Budrys won a Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) for lifetime contribution to SF and fantasy scholarship.


As I said in comments about my writing woes, I’m the sort of writer who gets to the point with a book where it’s beating the hell out of me, but instead of abandoning it, I usually stick around and wrestle with it, like Jacob and the angel, until it says uncle and gives me its blessing.  I think this one has finally caved, but I won’t get so cocky as to think there might not be a rematch before all is finished.

Still, progress is being made.  Phew!

Good things

1. It is beautiful outside today.  I am going to spend most of the rest of the day out in it after writing this.

2. My kittens are adorable.  Seriously, no one has better ones.  They’re sitting in the window watching birds together at the moment.  Last night, after a serious catnip binge, they chased each other around in circles in the kitchen, sliding on the floor like little kids in socks.  It doesn’t get better than that.

3. The landlord of the rental property behind my back yard finally moved a heap of branches and leaves and other junk that had been partially on my land, blocking me from having access to the back of my garage, which has grape vines and poison ivy growing up it, and needs to be taken down.  Obviously I will not enjoy removing the grape vines and poison ivy in the summer heat, but I am really glad he removed this stuff (after I tried contacting him myself, and then made the city do it when he didn’t answer me.  I guess he finally got annoyed enough that he hired some group of people to come in and do the work.  Much relieved!  (I know, sad that something like this is relieving, but it is.)

4. Netflix has the most awesome shows you can watch online without actually having to have the discs delivered.  I watched Heroes this way last season when I didn’t feel like being tied down to a weekly day and time.  Now I’m watching Weeds.  Did anyone see this show?  It’s got some good writing and some bad writing going on it, but it’s captured me.  I love the intro song to the show.  And the crazy characters.

5. It’s summer. Screw working for a while.  I just got done working!  I am totally going to go do some summery things and let myself relax a little.

6. I have strawberries growing in my side garden.  I love having a side garden, as well as three back gardens.  Now I just have to get them all into shape and maybe get a nice stone table (I would so love it to be stone) to sit at out there in the shade and eat at for the next three months.  Outside is sounding more and more appealing to me.

Writing Woes

Lately I have been depressed.  Like, majorly depressed.  Like, stay in bed all day and when you wake up at various intervals and think about the thing that’s depressing you, you go back to sleep–that sort of depressed.  It’s only been for about a week or so, but it’s felt like a wrecking ball has just demolished all of my good habits and routines in the blink of an eye.  It’s hard to go to the gym now.  It’s hard to write.  It’s hard to feel good about getting myself up and around to do anything at all, really.  I ate two pieces of toast today, and I’m still not really hungry.  It’s ridiculous how classic the symptoms of my depression are, isn’t it?  I mean, I don’t even do anything interesting when I get depressed, except back in my much more wild early to mid twenties (okay, late twenties as well for a while there.)  In any case, the reason for all this depression lately is because I’ve turned in the final manuscript of my second novel and have attempted to make a smooth transition back to working on the novel I’d been writing before I sold the second novel and began revising parts of it for much of this past year.  This hasn’t happened.  Why?  I find that I dislike various aspects of the third novel.  One aspect is a voice-oriented thing.  I’ve decided I don’t like certain language tics in the voice of the narrator, and want to change some of his tone in various places.  Another thing that’s bothering me is the accretion of certain kinds of details and imagery that I now find just not what I envisioned for this book at all, or if I did, I don’t know why I would have wanted that originally.  I also feel there is just a big gap in a particular social dimension of the novel, and I’m frustrated that I didn’t capture that in what I’d already written.  So now for the past two weeks I’ve found myself opening the novel file on my laptop and trying to do revision work on what’s there, to correct some of these things that bother me about the book at this point.  But it seems that just when I get something right, I look around and find more wrong elsewhere.  It’s like weeding a vast, endless dream garden–once you get to the other side of the garden, the weeds have already begun to grow up where you began again, ad infinitum.  This has led to a quick and certain downward spiral of my general mood, as described above.

I think part of the problem is also that I began this “third” novel before I left for Japan, wrote about a hundred pages of it.  Then, while I was in Japan, I felt compelled to stop writing it for a couple of reasons:  it’s set back here in the States (mostly Ohio, though there will be a good part of it in two different places in New York State–Manhattan and around Lake Chautauqua, I think); and then there was also the fact that I was in Japan suddenly, and felt compelled to write about the culture I was living in at that moment.  Actually, I always feel compelled to write about the culture I’m living in, and right then it was Japanese culture.  In any case, in the time between finishing pre-publication revision on One for Sorrow and selling The Love We Share Without Knowing, I returned to work on this third novel, Yesterday’s Child. I wrote another hundred pages, then went back to revising The Love We Share.  Now I’m back to the drawing board with Yesterday’s Child and, honestly, I think I’m a different writer than the one who began it, and want to make a lot of different decisions than that writer made when he started it in the summer of 2004 and took it up again in 2006.

Why am I blogging about this?  That’s another good question.  Since I moved back to the States, I have largely stopped blogging about lots of things.  I’ve been busy, for one, doing lots of other things that I didn’t do in the past:  author readings, signings, going through a stressful time when I was interviewing for the fiction writing job at the university this spring, etc.  But also because I felt a little like withdrawing from sharing my life publicly as much as I once did.  When I was in Japan, blogging was a way of not having to write a letter to each and every single person I wanted to stay in communication with back home, and it was a way of sorting out the life I was learning to lead there.  Back home, well, it was certainly an adjustment to return to the U.S. after being gone for a couple of years right at that point where I felt like I’d put down good roots in Japan.  But I didn’t feel as compelled to write in a public journal about that as much.  I suddenly wanted the privacy that I think we all need to truly find our own relationship with the world at that juncture in my life.

So.  Here I am again, writing about something personal.  But you know what, I feel better for it just putting it down here.  I’m not sure why, but I do.

I have a kitten who is refusing to leave me alone at this point, so no poignant ending to this, I’m afraid.  More later.  And if you have any good writing energies to spare, send a couple of vibes my way. 😉

Funding Strange Horizons

Here’s another good, literary cause:

Strange Horizons is having their annual fund drive.  Check out these cool prizes you can win by donating.  New prizes are being added weekly, so be sure to check back if in case I don’t convince you right away to run over and donate.

One of the things I love about Strange Horizons is that they give new writers a chance to break into print professionally.  My own first “pro” story, Plenty, was published there, and can be read in their archives still.  It’s a great bunch of people who run the show there, and I hope they have years and years of publishing writers, new and old, for everyone else’s readerly benefit.

So what are you waiting for?  Go donate, and read, and enjoy.

The Sun Inside

I’ve mentioned it once here before heading off to Wiscon, but I’m mentioning it again. Rabid Transit Press, a small collective that is made up of myself, Alan DeNiro, and Kristin Livdahl, have begun a new publishing endeavor that we’re calling our Electrum Novellas line. The novella is a narrative form that doesn’t get much play these days, seeing how they take up too much advertising space in magazines, and take too long to read in online magazines, and are often too short for book length publication because of reader fascination with novel-length stories. For me, a story is a story, but each form of story–short, novelette, novella, and novel–do different things, emphasize different aspects of narrative, and since we’re fans of narratives that come in all shapes and sizes and genres, we decided we’d start packaging novellas for like-minded readers to enjoy, since they’re hard to find these days.

Our first novella is called “The Sun Inside” by David J. Schwartz. David’s first novel, Superpowers, is due out in just four days here in the U.S., and was released a couple of days ago in the U.K. I’ve been reading David’s short stories for several years now–we published one of them when Rabid Transit Press (formerly Velocity Press in those days) were publishing the Rabid Transit anthologies of short stories by new writers with voices and visions that didn’t necessarily fit in the genre magazines nor in the mainstream, literary markets. Writers who ransacked various genres for whatever they found useful to tell their stories, and made something new out of it all.

That’s basically the sort of story we’re still looking for these days, though now we’re looking for them at the novella length. Our guidelines can be found by clicking here, and our first novella can be purchased by going to this website and exchanging cash for story via PayPal. Support the novella by buying one and making it that much easier for us to bring you another one. Support David by buying a copy of both “The Sun Inside” and then go over to or wherever it is you buy your books, online or in person, and buy his new novel, Superpowers. You won’t regret putting your money down for either one of them. He’s a smart, fascinating storyteller who can wind pop culture, politics, and the intimate lives of his characters into wild adventurous narratives that are always satisfying.

On top of a great novella, you get great cover art by Youngstown’s own Steven Andrew, who I think should be making covers for the big leagues, if anyone out there happens to be listening!

I’ll be judging. Just call me Tyra.

On Saturday, June 14, the latest incarnation of the Oakland Center for the Arts popular Fundraising is a Drag event will feature Downtown Youngstown’s first drag pageant!

The show begins at 8 p.m.. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 7 p.m.. Attendees may bid on items in the fabulous Chinese Auction during this time as well. All winners will be announced at the end of the night. All tickets are $15. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

The evening will be hosted by notorious drag diva Starrlet O’Hara and will feature performances from Maxine Factor, Ahrin Starr, Kage Coven, Mary Kate Rockefellar, Buffy Melendres Starr, SuXanadu, Anita Joint, Alecia Sarkis, Jenifer Kuczek and many more. The panel of judges for the event will include a dazzling array of local celebrities and Ytown A-listers.

Five contestants will compete for the title of the Oakland’s Next Top Drag Queen and prize package that includes a $200 gift certificate from Jaci Clark photography, season tickets to the Oakland Center for the Arts, season tickets to The Stage open mic night, a complete drag makeover, and the most coveted prize, a guaranteed feature role in the December 2008 Oakland Center production of How The Drag Queen Stole Christmas, directed by Robert Dennick Joki.

The Oakland Center for the Arts is located at 220 West Boardman Street in downtown Youngstown. For tickets, please call the reservation line at 330 746 0404. For more information about the Oakland, visit

Things I’ve been doing lately

1. Copyediting the final manuscript for The Love We Share Without Knowing.

2. Getting a local writer’s group up and running.

3. Getting a local book club up and running at the Oakland Center for the Arts. (Want to join?  E-mail me!)

4. Working out again, finally!

5. Getting a story ready to submit to a magazine.

6. Writing a story solicited by another magazine.

7. Landscaping.  I like the results better than the efforts, which is probably true of many projects.

8. Scaring cats out of my office while I try to work.

9. Eating Japanese food.  I recently found a really good Asian market nearby-ish.  Yay!

10. Attempting to catch up on my very full e-mail inbox.  If I owe you one, sorry!  I’m working as fast as I can!