My mugging

Hi all. I’m sorry this note is short, but I only have the use of one hand right now. A lot of friends have emailed or messaged to ask what happened to me in NYC and how I am doing. This is the short version, due to my not being able to type with both hands. And it’s hard because of that to reply to everyone individually.

On Sunday night, after seeing a movie with my friend Rick and some other NY friends, I walked Rick home to his building late at night, then headed off to the apartment where I was pet-sitting for a friend for ten days. On my way back to my place, I took Bleecker Street, a street I’ve always taken since I started visiting NYC twelve years ago on a regular basis. In the blocks between 7th Avenue and Perry Street, I was attacked by two young men. One in particular did the attacking. The other stood in shadow for most of the time. I didn’t even know he was there initially.

What happened was, I was looking at my cell phone and as I stepped up onto the curb, the attacking young man came out of a shadow and punched me in the face. On my chin, specifically. It was the hardest hit I’ver ever felt in my life, not that I’ve felt many. It took me up off my feet. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my flip flops flew off, and so did my glasses. I landed on my back, hard. But also on my left arm, which I instinctually used to try to brace the fall. I saw stars, literally, and my vision went in and out. When I finally had it back, seconds later, the young man was standing over me. He said, “Give my your phone.”

I was in shock, pretty stunned, and I had damages I didn’t register already. But somehow, for some reason outside of myself, I pulled myself up from the ground, dragging my left knee and foot against the sidewalk as I did so, because I couldn’t use my left arm, which resulted in some bad road rash, and stood in front of him. In a fit, I began hitting him across his face with my phone, saying, “You want my phone, here’s my phone.” This went on for a while. I said some other things while I was swinging, like, “Who do you think you are?” and “What kind of person jumps at someone and hits them in the middle of the night?” I swear, I was like an outraged granny with a handbag, except I had an iPhone. And I wasn’t a granny, and my swings fell hard.

The guy eventually jumped backward, out of my range, and looked off to the side. He said, “Aren’t you going to help me?” and it was only then that I realized there was a second guy with him. I do remember thinking, Oh god, please don’t come help him. I quickly looked where he was looking, and saw the second guy crossing the street away from us, shaking his head, saying, “You picked the wrong dude.”

The guy who attacked me then looked back at me. I was still swinging wildly and cursing at him. I’m good at cursing, especially when I’m afraid and pissed off. He shook his head like he couldn’t believe this is how things went, and then he turned around and ran away from me.

It was only after he ran away and turned a corner that I realized I was barefoot, and that one of my feet was bleeding bad, and that I couldn’t see well, because my glasses, too, had flown off in the hit and fall part of the incident. I got down on all fours, found my flip flops and put them on like I was in a horror movie, frantically, afraid, and then started looking for my glasses, which I was sure were broken, but turns out, when I found them, they weren’t.

I got up, turned back in the direction I came from, saw the friend of the assailant crossing the street back to my side about block down, and thought, Oh Christ, just leave me alone! He started coming toward me. I held up my cell phone and shouted that I had called 911 and to come for it. The fact was, I had tried to dial 911 but my phone had clicked off in the fight because my thumb had covered the top button thing and when I tried to call it up I couldn’t get a screen. Frantic, I faked it. Then the “friend” of the assailant turned down a street corner too.

I huffed it back to the apartment where I was staying, angry and scared, and locked myself in once I got there, and tried to reach my friend Rick, whose phone was off because of the movie we’d gone to, and he’d forgotten to turn it back on. My arm, I realized only then, was beginning to swell and had stabbing pain going through it. I iced it and talked to my partner on the phone, and kept trying to call my friend Rick. I was sort of out of my head, afraid to leave the apartment at that point. I decided to wait until morning to get medical attention.

So I spent the night in a lot of pain, with my arm turning colors and swelling to a point where I thought the skin would burst and weird alien worms would swarm out of it. Then in the morning Rick got my messages and came to my place with a cab and took me to the emergency room. I have a fractured left humerus, right beneath the ball that locks into the shoulder socket. My arm is really crazily black, bruised from the fall it took for me.

I had to return home the very next day, and when I did, I went to get follow up care with an orthopedic trauma specialist. I’ll be in a sling for 4-6 weeks, and on some pain meds that are making me woozy. So while I’d like to respond to all of my friends individually, I hope you’ll understand that I can’t right now. I love you all to pieces, but it’s taken me forever to write this with one hand. I hope you understand.

I’m incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support in this time for me. I’m on an emotional rollercoaster, and I appreciate all of the kindness people have shown me in the wake of this event. Right now I’m trying to come to terms with the event beyond the event itself, and trying to stop thinking about all the pieces of that incident that fling themselves back into my vision at odd moments. It all feels a bit like a nightmare. I’ll try to be in touch as soon as I can. Thanks again for caring.

Until then, love to you all.

Being on Set for Jamie Marks is Dead

At the end of this past week, I took a spontaneous trip to upstate New York to visit the film set for the movie “Jamie Marks is Dead” which is based on my first novel, One for Sorrow. The director and script writer, Carter Smith, had sent me an email earlier in the week inviting me to come see things in action if I had the chance, and since it was Spring Break week at my university, I hurried to finish up some other tasks I had on my desk, then got in the car to head across the great sea of hills and endless highway of Pennsylvania.


It’s an interesting thing, visiting a film set. They’re another world entirely, in a couple of different ways. For one, it was a foreign thing to me, a writer, who is used to spending the majority of his life behind the screen of a computer in a room with his door closed. But beyond that, film sets are a created world, where personal assistants pick you up at the hotel to drive you to that day’s location, a double wide trailer in a rural area that has seen better days, much like my own hometown, and when you get to that location, there is a dead deer’s carcass hanging from a basketball hoop. Which, honestly, wasn’t really surprising, and seemed the perfect detail. The novel I wrote was set in a rural town like the one I grew up in, and though my dad, an avid hunter, never hung his deer from a basketball hoop, they did hang to drain out in our garage.

But there were no personal assistants back then like I had taking me to the set, where we had to wait outside on the front porch because they were filming at that very moment inside. When they were finished, a chain of command that originated somewhere deep in the house circulated the word “cut” through a variety of channels, mostly through audio receivers attached to various crew members’ belt loops, and the door was opened for me to enter into the living room of the doublewide, which was were I was given a headset and placed in front of a monitor to watch as they began immediately to film again.


In front of me, I saw two teenage boys, one standing up from his unmade bed to go over and discover that the ghost of a former almost-friend who had recently been found dead was half-naked and hiding in his closet. I knew those boys immediately, and the lines they were saying in that moment. They were words I’d written nearly ten years ago, as I worked on the first draft of One for Sorrow as a 27 year old, and hearing those words performed in front of me on the monitor, all I could do was stand there and feel my jaw drop open in shock.

I’d known, obviously, that my book was being adapted into a film for several years now, but knowing something and realizing something are two different things. One is cerebral knowledge, the other is knowledge incorporated into one’s integral reality. I was just then, seeing all of this manifest in front of me, realizing that my book was really being made into a movie.

When the scene was done a second time, a break was taken, and the director came out to meet me. Carter and I had spoken on the phone five or six times in the past couple of years, and had exchanged emails at various times between phone calls, so we had a passing familiarity with each other’s voices, at least. But it felt good to finally stand in front of him, this other writer and director who had read my book when it first came out in 2007 and loved it so much he became determined to make it into a film. We talked briefly, I smiled a lot, feeling a bit like a kid getting a wish made into reality, and then the filming began again.


Carter Smith and Madisen Beaty, who plays the ghost of Frances Wilkinson.

I took a dinner break with the cast and crew (which was actually their lunch break). They work 10-12 hours days, and take breaks every six hours like clockwork. Meals are served in what seemed like a horse camp’s mess hall, and I ate with Carter and the two main leads, Cameron Monaghan and Noah Silver, who play Adam McCormick and Jamie Marks respectively. They were all really welcoming, and we talked about the movie, the book, their work as actors. Noah wanted to know what my high school life had been like, because the story they were playing out is a bit, well, I guess intense? I laughed. I’m used to that question. My growing up was not as intense as Adam McCormick’s and Jamie Marks’, but there’s an emotional truth from what being a teenager felt like in the book that I was able to talk about. The ghosts and talking shadows and dead space of the novel are all, for me, metaphorical extensions of my interior adolescent world.

I spent the rest of the evening behind the screen of a monitor, watching another scene acted out over and over, from different camera angles. And no matter how many times I watched them do the same scene over, it was overwhelming for me. A lot to process. The second scene I saw made that night was the first time Adam gives Jamie a word, which in the magical logic of the book can help Jamie live a little longer, find meaning in his afterlife on earth for a little longer.


But at some point in the evening, Carter’s assistant, Robin, took me over to a side room with a laptop to watch a roughly edited scene they had finished the day before. It was a scene that had the majority of the main cast in it–Adam and Jamie, Judy Greer playing the character Lucy, who has paralyzed Adam’s mother in a drunk driving accident, and Liv Tyler, playing Adam’s mother. It was a scene that was both desperately funny as Judy Greer’s shadow said all of the things Lucy herself wouldn’t say out loud (very cool special effect) and desperately sorrowful, as Liv Tyler’s Linda calls over her son, who seems to have gone off the rails completely, to make sure he knows that he’s the most important thing in her world.


As I watched, I couldn’t help laughing, and then couldn’t help but tear up a little as Liv Tyler gave a gut-wrenching emotional performance amid Judy Greer’s darkly humorous ranting. Seeing that rough-cut, I knew that this film was going to be stunning, that Carter was making something magical with it.

It’s an adaptation, so there are some differences in the script from the novel itself, but that’s the nature of adaptations. But what I like about this adaptation so much is that even when there’s a scene that isn’t in the book itself (there are a few), Carter has taken dialogue or details from scenes original to the book and transplanted that material into the new contexts. So there’s something old and something new mingling together, the original and the adapted versions tied together. It’s smart and remains faithful to the novel in that way, even as it occasionally diverges from the novel’s sequences. I couldn’t feel like I have a more faithful and thoughtful adaptor.

I spent the night, then had breakfast with Carter the next morning, then headed home, though I could have stayed for longer. I was still a bit stunned by everything I’d seen the day before, and processing all of it, a little starry-eyed. Also, I had convinced myself I could find the set on my own and when it came time to find it on my own, it was trickier than I’d thought. Since I had a long drive home, though, I decided to turn the gps on and head in that direction, with my head still full of images from the night before.

I never thought I’d have a chance to be on a film set, let alone on the set for a book of my own being made into a movie. This life is surprising, even when you think it can’t surprise you any longer.


I’m home again, and now it’s time to get back to writing. One thing the set visit gave me was a spark of inspiration. I’m working on one of the last revisions of my next novel. And who knows? I can’t say now that someday, I might have the chance to make another visit to a different set for a different book of mine being made into a movie. I’ll say it’s unlikely, but I’ve already had too many unlikely things happen to me in this brief life of mine to say with any certainty that something strange and wonderful won’t happen to me. I’ve learned that it’s really stupid to say the word “never.”

If you’re interested in seeing photos from the film set, go to google and search the term “#jmid”. You’ll find hundreds of photos from cast and crew and the director hash-tagged online, on Instagram mostly, but also attached to twitter etc.

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

This Year/New Year

Happy New Year to everyone!  I’m excited to start over, however arbitrary a choice in time to do so it is, or perhaps however traditional/stereotypical a time it is to start anew, and look forward to a year of pursuing new writing, new relationships, new growth in myriad dimensions (I’m considering a move to an alternate world, don’t you know?) and new newness.  New new new.  Now now now.

This past year I published a couple of things:  a story called “Map of Seventeen” in the Beastly Bride (eds. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) which has been selected by the editor Jonathan Strahan to be included in his annual anthology The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (due out from Night Shade Books in March 2011).  The other thing I published was a collection of place-based vignettes I’ve been writing called Map for a Forgotten Valley, which The New Haven Review released in its most recent issue just a few weeks ago.  It’s the year of maps for me, apparently.  Hopefully next year I can begin to travel them and chart new territory.

As usual, at the beginning of the new year, I’m wondering what others have read in the past year that knocked the back of their heads off (or their socks, or whatever).  The Nebula Awards are coming up soon.  I have until February 15th to make my nominations.  So if you have any Scifi/Fantasy recommendations in short story, novelette, novella, and novel forms that you think I should look at, please leave me a comment pointing me in the right direction.  I always read as much as I can each year, but there’s always HEAPS of books and stories that I miss completely.  So recommendations, please!

Looking forward to another year of writing, reading, teaching, running, eating good food, enjoying, laughing, and looking around at the world.

Map for a Forgotten Valley

As promised in earlier posts, my series of lyrical essayistic vignettes, Map for a Forgotten Valley, are now available to be read online at The New Haven Review.

I’m interested to see what readers might make of these dispatches on place, environment, history and local culture.  It’s a very different type of writing I’ve done in these pieces, and I found different muscles engaged while writing them than I usually use for fiction.  It was a good experience, and I’d like to write more of them, to continue writing in this series occasionally.  There is one other vignette in the series soon to be published in Muse, a Cleveland magazine.  I’ll post info on that one when it becomes available too.

The New Haven Review can be found by clicking here.

But you can click right to the pdf file of my pieces by clicking this link too.

Happy Holidays.

Autumnal updates

Haven’t been able to write in here for a bit now.  School’s back in session for fall, and I’ve been valiantly running to keep up with it, and, at times, ahead of the pack.  It slows down my abilities to do a number of other things, for sure, so I have to make decisions.  Shall I work on my rewrite of the novel draft I just finished?  Or shall I blog?  Novel revision wins every time.  Priorities, priorities.

I’ve got a number of irons in the fire, though, other than doing revisions to the novel.  I’m working on a proposal for an anthology that I won’t say anything about at the moment, but am looking forward to putting this book together if me and my cohort editor can pull it off and sell it.  It’s a lark of a book idea, really, playful and fun, and I need more playful and fun projects. So, perfect.  More later if we can make it develop.

Otherwise, I’ve placed a number of writings in various venues coming up this fall and spring.  Some creative nonfiction pieces as well as fiction.  This fall, for example, I’ve got four nonfiction vignettes appearing, all in relation to the Mahoning Valley and Youngstown, Ohio.  Pieces that focus on place, sometimes poetically, sometimes philosophically, sometimes prosaically, but always “trying” something out.  They are as follows:

“Mahoning Valley Blues” New Haven Review, November 2010

“The Feral Houses of Youngstown, Ohio” New Haven Review, November 2010

“In a Forgotten Valley” New Haven Review, November, 2010

“The B&O, Crossroads of Time and Space” Muse, December 2010

Likewise, in spring, another piece in this series will appear in Little Ohio, an anthology focusing on Ohio childhood, edited by Robert Miltner for Pudding House Press.  That piece is called, “All the Cows I’ve Ever Known Call Me Home Tonight”.  Fancy, right?

Two stories will appear this spring, 2011.  One is “Gap Year” in the vampire anthology, Teeth, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  I never ever thought I’d write a vampire story, but I’m still really pleased by this one.  Please do pick the book up and give it a read when it comes out in April.  Of course I’ll remind you then as well. 😉

The other story is “We Do Not Come in Peace” which will appear in Welcome to Bordertown, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner.  I believe this is also scheduled to release this coming spring.  Bordertown is where a series of stories and novels beginning in the 80s take place, a town literally on the border of the world as we know it and the fae realm of fairy tales.  In many ways it’s the place where urban fantasy as a particular subgenre was born.  I was really honored to be invited to write for this anthology, and to become a part of that fictional city’s history.

I’ve also recently sold a short story, “Smoke City”, to Asimov’s.  I’m not sure when it’s scheduled to appear in print, but it’s my second story for Asimov’s.  The first time I sold a story there, my inner thirteen year old threw a party.  This second time, I’m still excited, but this story is much different from much of my other writing, and I’m looking forward, from a more mature perspective, and from a writer’s perspective, to see what others make of it.  As with others, I’ll post here to let you know when it’s available, as I do hope you’ll give it a read through.

I was also recently recognized as a winner of one of the Mahoning Valley 40 under 40 awards, which are given to forty people under the age of forty each year who are “chosen for their impact in their professions and their commitment to public service” each year.  It’s nice to be recognized in such a way.

I will probably think of things I forgot to mention in this update soon after I post it.  But alas, this is what I’ve been able to recall for now.

Not much else exciting going on in my life, really.  Working at teaching, working at writing, working at settling in for the autumn and winter.  Today as I write this it’s two in the afternoon but outside it looks a bit like six o’clock in the evening, the sky tending toward gray and rainy.  The neighborhood is entirely quiet, which strikes me as odd, because all summer long Sundays have been when I can hear my neighbors on their back or front porches or patios, talking with friends and family, grilling, etc.  Now there’s a real hush to the place, as everyone’s begun to withdraw to the house.  I will keep my fingers crossed that we’ll manage to get a few more warm weekends before autumn settles in for good.  And then, of course, I’ll be happy to admire the changes in the leaves and whatnot.  I’m easy to please in that way, or at least I’ve learned how to be easily pleased in that way.  There is a strange consolation in nature.  Perhaps it is only strange being so removed from it as we are in general.  In any case, I’m going to turn my face toward the window now, and think of other things.

Happy autumn.

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.

We ate our way through life

While I was standing across the street talking with my 84 year old neighbor lady today, she asked me what kind of foods I liked to eat. I told her everything, from anywhere, that I love food from anywhere. She grinned. She said her husband, who passed away twenty years ago, would have liked us boys. “We ate our way through life,” she told me. I said, “That’s the way to live.” She said, “You know it.”

Older eyes

My last class for my MFA program at Chatham starts tomorrow. It’s a Multi-Genre Creative Writing Workshop, which means the participants can submit things from any genre, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, etc, for the workshop to consider. There’s me and one other fiction writer in the class, one nonfiction writer, and three poets, I believe. Along with submitting a piece weekly for the next twelve weeks, and critiquing each others stuff, there are a few books we’re reading to discuss along the way. One of them is Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Have you read it? I did about fourteen years ago, when I was twenty, in an undergraduate course called Cafe Circles, where we studied the American Modernists living in Paris. Stein, Hemingway, Porter. I forget some of the other ones now. But mainly Hemingway and Stein. Anyway, I loved that book then, but I can’t remember why. I just have always had a good lasting impression of it. I started reading it again tonight and got through the first four chapters like wildfire. It really is good, but what my twenty year old self couldn’t see that I can now is exactly why. The loving details, the beautiful rhythms of the prose, the amazing dialogue that is so real and yet so obviously constructed, artificial, at the same time. There’s a real heartbeat beneath those words. I’m glad to be rereading them again, with eyes that recognize a few things that they didn’t when I was twenty.

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.