A few items of summer

It’s been a while since I last posted the picture of my cat screaming, and various things have occurred both before and after that, which I am aiming to catch up with and report here, in this dusty corner of the internet.

Item One:  As of this summer, I have new literary representation in the very fancy domain of the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency , with Barry Goldblatt taking up the cause of furthering the publication of books by Christopher Barzak.  For years, Barry and I had circulated among a lot of the same folks, and occasionally I would hear through those same folks about how much he loved my writing, and in particular my debut novel, One for Sorrow, at which I would always blush like a school girl and wonder how could he possibly?  And though we seemed to always be missing each other at conventions, when the opportunity arose for a change of representation, Barry was one of the first people to come to mind.  Very happy to finally have had the chance to hang out with Barry in person at length over the past weekend, when I spent four days with him and twenty-some of his other clients at an agency retreat in southern Illinois.  If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have caught me talking about owls and cats and cicadas, all of which were aplenty in that wilderness.  Along with many taxidermied creatures peering out from walls and corners of the lodge.

Along with that, I had the pleasure of a guest in the writer Richard Bowes for a week or so in June, when we explored the city of Pittsburgh a bit, and also further south of Pittsburgh, went on a pilgrimage to the Frank Lloyd Wright House called Fallingwater.  Here are some pictures of a.) Pittsburgh (from the very cool installation art museum called the Mattress Factory), and b.) installations within the Mattress Factory, and c.) Fallingwater:

a.) Pittsburgh








b.) Me, in an installation








b.) creepy masked musician installation








b.) cubes!








c.) Fallingwater








Another venture this summer was doing new things to the house.  If you’re someone who used to be a regular reader of this blog (back when I was an actual blogger and not just a irregular updater), you’ll know I purchased a home several years back, and have been restoring it slowly but surely, as I can afford it.  Here are some photo updates from various places in and around le maison:

Front patio








Front walk (patio hiding behind bushes)








Back patio (and new stone garden)








Various pots of things we’re growing, like asparagus and onions, and purple fountain grass!





A side garden








And another of the side gardens








Front gardens (this keeps changing, depending on the month and season)








And the front of the house (new trim as of last year)








Lots of other things are afoot:  novel writing, novel rewriting, story drafting, etc.  One thing that I wrote this summer was a blog post for the literary journal, Tin House, which features a series of articles on independent book stores throughout the country.  When asked to write one, I had few choices, as Youngstown only has one indie bookstore left in existence (as far as I know, that is, and I’m fairly certain at this point).  So I wrote about Dorian Books, a place near and dear to me, which I also featured as a set piece in my novel One for Sorrow.  You can click here to read my article in full.

And lastly, because I know how much so many of you like cat stuffs, I am including a short video of my cats upon receiving fish-shaped catnip holders from their grandma in Japan.  Clearly, they are crazy:

Until next time, which may be a while, as August is in gear.  Time to prep for classes which start in a few weeks, and to get as much writing done as possible in what’s left of the summer.  Cheers.  I hope everyone out there is staying cool

Map for a Forgotten Valley and 631

Dear Locals (and those traveling nearby) who will be around Youngstown on February 15th.  I am giving a reading from my series of creative nonfiction vignettes called “Map for a Forgotten Valley”, along with a showing of Derek Jones’ short film “631”.  Here is a blurb of what the evening will look like.  Please click on the image to make it larger.


Please come, listen, watch, speak.

Also, the image of the feral house on this flyer was taken by Tony Romandetti, photographer extraordinaire. 😉

New Pics, New Blogging (maybe)

My adopted Japanese mother recently complained that I no longer take pictures of things and post them online.  She questioned whether this was because I needed a new camera.  Maybe my old one no longer worked?

And so when my birthday came, a package from Japan arrived at my house.  Inside the package was a new Canon digital camera.  Now I am compelled to post photographs.  Those Japanese ladies are sneaky!!

Here are the first ones I’ve taken.  I do remember taking lots of photos while I lived in Japan, and posting them here for friends and family and interested parties to see what life was like where I was living.  And I remember that it was fun to do this.  In the past two years, though, life became very busy for me, teaching full time, taking classes toward an MFA degree that I’ve finished this summer, and trying amid all of this to continue writing.  I had to stop doing lots of things I enjoyed doing, things that added to my happiness in life quotient, while managing these other pursuits.  Writing a blog and taking photographs and posting those was one of those things that stopped, not completely, but to a trickle.  I want to get back into the habit of it, though, because keeping a blog wasn’t only just fun, it satisfied my desire to have a space in which to meditate out loud, and to share things from my life with people I want to keep in touch with but live far from.  Even though I’m back in the U.S., I have lots of friends who live far away, in other states.  And also in other countries.

So here are a few photos I took recently.  Home, garden, cats (Kokoro first, Yuki second), and an amazing Tom Kha soup that Tony made tonight.

Walking on sunshine

School is out. I’m writing again. It’s Friday and this week, my first week of freedom of time, I’ve managed to write 3600 words. Have completed a chapter and started a new one. This is what I’m talking about. Oh, summer, how I have missed you. Hopefully by the end of August, I’ll have a completed novel.

Last month I successfully defended my MFA thesis at Chatham University in Pittsburgh and will graduate this August. This means next year, though still teaching full time at Youngstown State University, my writing time will return to various projects I’ve had in the queue while furthering my education. I can’t wait to find out what it’s *actually* like to teach full time and write part time, as opposed to work full time, take classes part time, and try to write. Probably it will be something like it was for me in Japan, when I taught there, which would be a good thing. I liked that pace of work and writing a lot.

Today, now that I’ve got my writing done, it’s time to start spring cleaning in the house, and other home improvement projects.

Tonight, I will be going to see W;t at the Oakland Center for the Arts, downtown Youngstown, directed by the fantastic Robert Dennick Joki, with an apparently amazing performance by Youngstown star actress Molly Galano.

Then, maybe karaoke at the Boxcar Lounge afterward.

I could write a song for summer. At this juncture, I am in love with the time it gives me.

And lastly, on this day in 1940, author Angela Carter was born. I wish she was still around and writing up a storm of revisions to our most beloved cultural myths, legends, folktales and fairy tales. If you haven’t encountered her work before, here’s a link to a free online presentation of her rewritten fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, in which the old tales are told in a language appropriate to their subject matter.

Hope everyone else out there is feeling good and doing fine.

Summer Stock

It is now August, and I’m at the tail end of what has been a very busy summer.  I managed to move forward a bit with the novel, wrote two short stories, and an essay, and also took two classes toward my MFA degree and will be taking a third one beginning at the end of next week.   I sold one of the stories, and am still tinkering with the other, but have high hopes for it.  It’s a much weirder story than I’ve written in a long time, and so I’m still sort of interested and intrigued by it, because it’s a different sort of weird than I tend to write, hence my own interest in it.  And then I was invited to read at Thurber House, and will be reading at the residency period at Chatham in Pittsburgh this month, too.  Also, like a cherry on top, One for Sorrow was optioned to be made into a film by the director Carter Smith, who won the Sundance Film Festival’s short film category in 2006 with “Bug Crush” (You can watch it by clicking here).  He went on to make his first feature film with The Ruins, based on the horror novel of the same name, and seems to be about to make a film based on the novel, Come Closer, by Sara Gran (loved that book).  He’s also optioned Troll: A Love Story, by Johanna Sinisalo (also loved it), so I feel like his option on One for Sorrow makes a lot of sense, considering the sensibility of his other selections.  There’s never a guarantee that an option on a film will eventually become a reality, but I would be absolutely crazy thrilled if this does go forth some day.

Aside from these literary movements, household renovations and restorations are afoot: a new front porch to match the original (the foundation beneath the porch/patio was eroding due to some factors the original builders, 80 years ago, hadn’t thought of) and plans for a restoration of the bathroom to something along the lines of its 1930s design, much of which was there, just totally screwed up by previous owners who had absolutely no idea what they were doing to beautiful old decor.  Front garden was gorgeous all summer, though the back gardens still need to be redone.  Everyone says that when you own a house, there is always something coming up that needs to be done.  And they are correct.  I wish I were fabulously wealthy, so I could just get it all done and be finished with it for a while, rather than this plodding one-project-at-a-time pace.

Back to Pitt next Friday for a residency period.  Looking forward to being in the city again, though I probably won’t have as much time to explore it as I did during early July when I was there.  The residency schedule looks like it will be keeping me busy for most of the time.  I will make sure to still get out and eat Ethiopian, Indian, (good) Japanese, and Thai as much as possible, though.  I could be made easily happy as a lark, as they say, if someone here in Ytown opened up one of each of those and I no longer had to cook them all myself.  Food options are the source of my happiness.

Even though all of August is still before me, it feels like summer, free time, is over now.  Ah, well.  It was a good run while I was able to run freely.  Next year, it should be even a bit more freer.  Till then, onwards and upwards.

Away and all…

Yes, I’ve not been blogging for a while.  I’ve been in Pittsburgh for the past week, taking a very cool Pittsburgh Field Seminar.  The classes are every day, and long, but I’ve quickly gotten to know my way around the place because of all the traveling and touring we’re doing, and not just getting to know its layout, but its history and an understanding of the various neighborhoods, of which there are many.  It’s a cool city, but even cooler knowing it better than on the surface.  I’m developing a bit of a crush on it, actually, and already predict that I’ll be making a somewhat long-distance relationship with it because of all this.  Monthly or perhaps bi-monthly visits in the future.  It’s got far too many good things to offer.

Not much more to report for now.  Except that this past Friday, I went down to Kentuck Knob, a Frank Lloyd Wright house south of Pittsburgh.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry, which has some good info on it.  And here’s a little something I wrote after coming home from seeing it:


     A house that fits into the side of a mountain like a key fits into a lock, or maybe more a house that grows out of the side of a mountain the way a leaf grows out of a tree.  Stone and wood that will never rot, hauled up from the swamps of Tidewater.  Octagons of light slowly drifting along the floors, keeping time.  The kitchen is the woman, the woman is the kitchen, so says a far too practiced and perhaps overused tour guide, Dolores.  We are at Kentuck Knob, where Frank Lloyd Wright meant to never visit, but did, just once, and was showed up by a seventy-one year old building contractor who had initially refused to build a Frank Lloyd Wright house, and then did it anyway.

     It’s not a space in which a person keeps house, it is a space one exists in, the way the blade of grass exists in the wind, bending with it.  Windows are walls looking out on an old forest, groomed to some extent, enough to make it look as if it is not groomed at all, simply naturally tidy.  A triptych of boulders here, for instance, a pond round back of the master bedroom’s window so that one falls asleep to and wakes to the sound of a stream gurgling nearby.  If it weren’t for the vintage stovetops that pull down from the walls of the kitchen to be cooked upon, and the matching oven, remnant of my parents’ childhoods, though certainly a product their families never would have afforded, and if it weren’t for the art—Native American bridles and bits, a desk with a stone Buddha, placed down next to the owner’s picture alongside Princess Diana—you would think it, the house itself, a natural product of its environment.  Which is the point, of course.

    Who were the people who had such a place built, and on such a piece of land as that, high up on a mountain, so that when you walk through the lane round back and pass under a thin stretch of trees onto a hill that looks out and down upon a vista of rolling hills and mountainsides folding into one another for miles and miles?  Dairy famers, apparently.  Though it must have been quite a dairy to have placed them in such circumstances. 

     Lord Peter Palumbo is the current owner, International Somebody.  Collector of eclectic sculpture.  So much sculpture that he’s made the meadow just down the side of the mountain into an open-air museum.  A red army of cut-outs, tribal in posture and lined up like good soldiers, own one corner of the meadow, which is groomed lovingly to look, like the house and the land above, as if it has not been groomed so thoroughly.  A piece of the Berlin Wall, tattooed with graffiti.  A church steeple.  An Andy Goldsworthy cairn.  Edwardian mailboxes and telephone booths lined up here and there.  A touch of England on a mostly untouched Pennsylvania mountainside, a hidden shrine in the woods.  Lord Palumbo will soon be coming to enjoy all of this for the next two months, according to Dolores.

     What is it about such places that they are able to inspire and to awe, but to also feel, to many, too remote, too artificial in their desire to be organic and natural, too different from what is considered normal to finally seal the deal?  None of this my feelings but that of fellow travelers, who crave the civilized world and society enough to mention missing it during a tour.

     If only the strange sculpture of the eaten apple weren’t so absurd, its core remaindered on the back lawn among the antique plows, the sort you would need to hitch to a horse, like the one my grandfather kept in his front yard for a long period of my childhood, propped next to a gigantic maple tree, unused, unable to get rid of it even though he has a practical, utilitarian nature, and it had not been used for decades.  Is that art?  Not really.  Maybe it is actually an extreme form of practicality.  One never knows when one may have need of it.  Depression-era syndrome:  refusal to cast anything aside, to waste.

     On the drive back to Pittsburgh, I watch the mountains and their thick canopies of trees rising and falling across the horizon.  There is so much green here, which is something with which I am familiar, but not in these shapes and sizes, the land holding you within its folds of green the further down the mountain you drive, making you feel smaller and ant-like. 

     Back up on the ridge, on Kentuck Knob, in the Frank Lloyd Wright house, the feeling of being ant-like, a creature, is in the details of the inside-out house, but you are given perspective, a way of seeing everything at once, not feeling enclosed.  Are his houses art?  They must be, not because they provide perspective, as almost any house will do almost by default of the form of making something to live within, but because the perspective is so consciously planned to lift you outside of the ordinary.

YSU-Ytown Reading Series

Just a brief announcement that I, along with my assistant Mona Lisi (yes, it’s her real name, and it’s awesome, isn’t it?), have been doing the work to start promoting awareness of a new YSU-Ytown Reading Series, a new monthly event (during the college school year) I’ve created to bridge university activities with the community that hosts the university.  Here’s a look at the who/what/where/when/why of the series.  I hope if you’re in the region, you’ll help spread the word on your own blogs, Facebooks, Myspace sites, or by any other means.  Word of mouth is always good.  But more importantly, I hope to see you at our first event, which will feature Cleveland author Catherynne Valente on October 6th.  And our second reader, David Giffels, from Akron, will be coming in November to read from his memoir, All the Way Home, published by HarperCollins (read this awesome article in the New York Times about him and his new book!). Read ahead to get all the pertinent info, and please friend us on Myspace and Facebook.

Welcome to the new YSU-Ytown Reading Series. Held at 7PM at Cedars Cafe in Downtown Youngstown on the first Monday of the month (September through December and February through April), we will be bringing you authors from the Youngstown/Cleveland/Pittsburgh corridor as well as the rest of the nation (and the world on occasion) hopefully for a long time to come.

And on top of that, after each featured reader, the mic will be open for our local poets and writers to share their words as well. But to do that, we need an audience to make it happen, meaning YOU.

So please check out the blog entries at this site to find out more about our upcoming readers, and pass the word around about this new community series to anyone you think might be interested in listening to and meeting authors, as well as interested in bringing their own words into awareness in our town, Ytown.

As Bukowski wrote, “a poem is a city” Not to mention short stories, novels and memoirs.  Bring your city and make it part of ours.

Our first reader will be Catherynne M. Valente, on October 6th at 7 PM.

Born in the Pacific Northwest in 1979, Catherynne M. Valente is the author of the Orphan’s Tales series, as well as The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and four books of poetry, Music of a Proto-Suicide, Apocrypha, The Descent of Inanna, and Oracles. She is the winner of the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Spectrum Award. She currently lives in Cleveland with her partner and two dogs.

This is going to be a great new reading series complete with open mic after the featured reader so we hope to see you all there. Come show your support for local writers, and bring your own work to share!

The second reader has been announced! The reading and open mic will be held the first Monday, November 3rd, at 7:00, Cedars Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Youngstown.

Former Beavis and Butt-Head writer David Giffels is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal and the author of All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-down House, a memoir about coming of age as a father in a ramshackle mansion reclaimed from termites, belligerent squirrels and decades of neglect. The book will be published May 27, 2008.

He is the co-author of two other books: the rock biography Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! (SAF Publishing, 2003), and Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron, a 1998 history of his hometown that is the best-selling title in University of Akron Press history.

His essays appear in The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Indiana University Press, 2006) and The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier (Random House, 2004), and he received a “Notable Essay” citation in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004. He has written the introduction to a West Point Market cookbook, to be published by the University of Akron Press this fall. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

He is a contributing commentator and essayist on National Public Radio station WKSU in Kent, Ohio. In a 16-year career, he has won dozens of journalism awards, including the 2006 national award for commentary from the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors. He has been nominated five times for the Pulitzer Prize.

Giffels has bachelor’s degrees in English and mass media and a master’s degree in English/creative writing from the University of Akron. He writes in the former servant’s quarters of a semi-rehabilitated Tudor Revival home in Akron, where he lives with his wife, two children, and a large but uncounted number of bats.

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!

New additions

Two new additions to the Outlook household, Yuki (Snow) and Kokoro (Heart–because he has a faint heart murmur the vet on duty at the shelter told me). Yuki has blue eyes and Kokoro green–otherwise I’d never be able to tell them apart.  They’ve been playing for the past five hours straight, and have finally settled down into these positions that compel me to take many many photos of them. This house is brimming with cuteness at the moment.