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

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.

C’est Moi


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

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

Valentine’s Cats

We got these little dudes a year ago today, and I’ve regretted it every day since.  Just look at their faces.  Regret is written all over them.

































They are totally into doing photo shoots.  Seriously.  Especially the one with the huge white mane (Kokoro).  In fact, the second picture from the bottom reminds me of the cover of that old Bergman film, Persona.  It’s appropriate, too, if you know that film. Kokoro has always got to be the one out in front, Yuki shyly looking over his shoulder.

Pics from KGB

Okay, so here’s a little break into the interlude I’d claimed would be the standard over the holidays.  Ellen Datlow put up photos from the evening I read with Alaya Dawn Johnson at the KGB bar last week.  It was a packed house, a fun night, a great audience.  Here are several of my favorite pics from the night, but you can see all of them by clicking here.

Me and Meghan McCarron, all smiles










Me and my editor, Juliet Ulman, listening intently










Me and Juliet, in living color










Me and my valiant agent, Chris Schelling


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.

Modern Ruins

One of my favorite sites on the internet these days is Shaun O’Boyle’s Modern Ruins.  Full of photographic essays about places whose industries, way of life, or some other historical aspect, has fallen into ruin, it’s a beautiful way to preserve a particular swath of our cultural memory.  My favorite is the Big Steel collection, which was shot nearby, just outside of Pittsburgh, where you’ll find husks of decaying and abandoned steel mills, part of the landscape I grew up in.   I find them to be coldly beautiful and of another world, like Greek and Roman architecture, which you’ll also find in various spots here and in other parts of the rustbelt, in little cities that once dreamed of being empires.

Obama at YSU

Obama came to Youngstown State University to speak to a crowd of 6000 today. I was down in the pit with a couple of friends, about ten feet from the stage, and had a good view of him. Took some pictures (and also some video, but I held the camera up and down instead of side to side, and am still trying to figure out how I can flip it so I can share with you all–if anyone knows how, please send me instructions and advice in an e-mail!). Anyway, Obama was his usual inspirational self, and the crowd adored him, as it seems they do everywhere he goes. On my way out of the rally, I was stopped by a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, and interviewed about what I thought of Obama and his ideas for Youngstown. I was supportive, but in my own usual manner demanded more than I heard. I don’t want this area to find itself just another manufacturing region again, like it was. I want green jobs, and a creative economy, and investment in education for the rural and urban poor. I want a community college for this valley. Bringing manufacturing jobs here will help the economy in that it’ll put people to work, but manufacturing made this town an industrial wasteland in the past, and we still have environmental problems because of it–lots of brownfields to be turned green in the future, is what I’d like to see–but it’s pretty much being on key if a politician comes to a non-working working class town and tells them they’ll bring working class jobs back to their region. I, on the other hand, want something better for us. If you read the Chicago Tribune tomorrow and I’m quoted in there somewhere, give me a shout out to let me know!

Here are a couple of photos that I think came out nice. Isn’t it strange how public figures really do look like they do on TV and in photos?