Introducing “jenny”

“jenny” is something my students in the Literary Arts Association at YSU have been busily preparing as a new online literary magazine.  This is a radically energetic and creative group of students, and I’m really proud to be working with them as they put together something new and electric like this.  Please take a look at the site preview.  The debut party will be on November 24th at 7PM at Dorian Books in Youngstown, OH.  Details on the front page of the “jenny” magazine site itself.  If you’re around the area, please join us.  And if you’re not, please give the magazine a read when it debuts and consider sending your own work in the meantime!

–Chris

Dear Friends,

Youngstown State University’s Student Literary Arts Association is proud to invite you to submit work to our new online literary magazine: Jenny.

Allow us a moment to explain the title of our venture.

Like many struggling postindustrial cities across the country, Youngstown, Ohio is a place defined by images of ruin and rust, and there are few images more striking than that of the Jeannette Blast Furnace. “Jenny,” as plant workers called her and as Bruce Springsteen referred to her in his 1995 song “Youngstown,” was one of two furnaces located at Youngstown Sheet and Tube. It was a place where things were made, shaped, created.

The blast furnace was shut down in the late 1970s and was demolished in 1996. Steel was one of many industries that left this region built on manufacturing in the last four decades of our history. While the absence of our blast furnaces has been felt in terrible ways throughout our region, our fire has not gone out. In the aftermath of de-industrialization, we are not a people without industry. Youngstown is not done creating, not done making. We are each of us, every day, telling stories. Here in the pages of Jenny, we aim to display some of those artifacts made by wordsmiths and visual artists alike.

Jenny will publish short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and interviews with artists and writers. We hope to bring together writers and artists both from the local region as well as the wider world, connecting our stories with yours, yours with ours here in America’s heartland and America’s rustbelt. Submissions do not have to be set in Youngstown, or in rustbelt or postindustrial settings at all, though we do encourage writing and art that speaks to that experience.

Jenny will appear twice a year, in late fall and spring. We will be publishing 5-7 pieces of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry per issue. We ask that prose not exceed 7,000 words (preferably 5000 or under), and that poetry submissions not exceed 5 pages (or 5 poems).

Each issue will also include a featured artist. If you are interested in being a featured artist, please contact us with a proposed series of images or photographs.

Along with writing and art, we will also feature interviews with authors and artists, and podcasts of selected stories and poems.

Please direct all submissions and questions to ysujenny@gmail.com. Please submit all work as an attachment in .doc or .rtf format. Deadline for the Fall issue is October 29th. If your submission arrives after that, we will consider it for our Spring issue, the deadline for which is April 2nd.

We look forward to your contributions.

Sincerely,

YSU SLAA (Student Literary Arts Association)

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.

Don’t look back

I am in the process of finishing my third novel.  Forgive the paucity of posts here.  I’m keeping my head down and shouldering forward.  The end is in sight.  I’m in that zone where the rest of life can disappear around me.  Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to lift my head and look around at other things for a while.

But it’s taken me three years of working on this book to reach this point, and I don’t want to pause or look over my shoulder right now.

More soon.  Happy summer.

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.

Q&A

Joseph Mallozzi hosts a book of the month club over at his very popular blog.  This month The Love We Share Without Knowing is the selection.  Joe posted a great response to the book and then opened the comments section up for questions from his fellow readers.  Today my responses went up.  We talked about all sorts of things:  genre writing versus literary, Japan, my life there, the making of my book.  If you’re interested you should teleport over to Joe’s original post on the book, and then move onto the Q&A post.

Thanks again, Joe.  It was fun!

A step up

According to Jeff VanderMeer on The Best of 2009:

“Interfictions 2 edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak was a significant step up in quality from the first volume. Contributors included Lavie Tidhar, Brian Francis Slattery, Peter M. Ball, Alan DeNiro, M. Rickert, and Theodora Goss. Intended to showcase interstitial fiction, this volume also featured some of the most experimental and formally daring genre fiction of the year. In this respect,Interfictions 2 not only did a fine job of presenting interesting stories, it filled the gap left by the erratic publishing schedule of the Polyphony anthology series, while also seeming more focused and accessible. In a generally conservative publishing environment, the Interfictions series now serves as an important bastion for new writers, both as an anthology with an open reading period and for its encouragement, like such online venues as Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld, of risk-taking. Such safe harbors are essential.”

Pretty cool.  I like the step up, and the recognition of a necessity for spaces to display risk-taking fiction.

Back on the range

Home again from spending five days in Seattle, where I saw eagles nearly every day (a good omen or portent, I’m told), rode a ferry out to Vashon Island, where I spoke with really awesome, smart high school students about writing, Japan, and my second book, gave a reading at University Bookstore, where I met possibly the best bookseller ever, enjoyed the company of old friends at a local writers dinner (hey Johnzo and Victoria, Ted and Marcia!) as well as the company of new friends (hey Matt and Meghan, Les and Diana!), and lead a seven hour long writing workshop at Richard Hugo House.  Wow, seven hours exhausted me.  But I bet it exhausted my students even more.  They, after all, were doing most of the writing that day.

Seattle is a gorgeous, wonderful city, large yet easy to manage, insanely urban yet full of nature reserves, and it seemed the majority of its consumer oriented businesses were largely local, rather than imported from huge elsewhere corporations.  And those huge elsewhere corporations that are there seem to largely be locally grown big businesses.  There’s a different vibe in the air there, a chilled relaxedness, and this was really a nice change to experience.  I look forward to returning when I’m not scheduled to work, so I can climb some mountains, see more islands, more eagles, more owls, and explore the city even further.

Thanks to Les Howle for bringing me out!

Important things

Drove north and east to visit Erie, PA today, where my writing pals Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl were visiting Alan’s parents.  Had a great several hours to talk and catch up with them before having to head back home (and them having to catch a flight back to Minnesota).  But on the way home, I strayed away from the interstate and into the rural back roads that make up the geography of my childhood and adolescence. Which I’ve been writing about lately in a course I’m taking in my MFA program at Chatham University, which focuses on writing about place, nature, and the environment.  Lately I’ve been writing these tiny little lyrical essayistic things–I’m not sure what to call them–that make use of poetic lyricism and imagery and tone to convey more than the controlled logical arguments of a traditional essay, which all center around both the rural environment I grew up in, as well as the post-industrial urban environment I moved into for college.  As I write them, I’m starting to see they may be small word objects that go together as a mosaic collage-like exploration of some of the stranger or anachronistic sites, objects, and experiences that are specific to rural and post-industrial Ohio.

Driving through the place where I spent my formative years, back into Youngstown afterward, provided me with reminders of things I’d forgotten, details and memories evoked from those details, that make me want to explore this type of writing beyond my fiction in the future, regardless of my degree being nearly completed.  I wasn’t sure, to be completely honest, what I would think about a course on Nature and Environmental Writing, but it turns out it provides a rich writing (and reading) experience that I hadn’t expected.  I also hadn’t expected to discover I’d been reading and enjoying a certain amount of that kind of writing for years without knowing that’s what it was.  This past week, for instance, we read a piece by Ursula K. Le Guin that I had read years ago, from her collection, Unlocking the Air, called “The Creatures on My Mind” as a meditative piece on human/non-human life form relationships.  Rereading that, I was also reminded of one of my formative experiences as a writer, reading Le Guin, and how–if I could have my way, and be good enough on top of having my way–I wanted from an early age to be a writer like Ursula Le Guin, who did not do one particular thing, but many different kinds of writing, for children, teens, adults, science fiction and fantasy, magical realism, realism, poetry, nature writing, essays, literary translation.  I admired how she went wherever her material took her, and explored a variety of forms.  So along with being reminded of details and memories from the first twenty years of my life this weekend, I was reminded of my early writerly desire to work in a variety of forms.

It’s been good, lately, to find myself returning to myself, as I must admit that the past two years of being a full time teacher and a half time student has scattered my energies in so many ways that I sometimes lost track of important things.

Dear Reader

There are so many reasons for writing.  For me, I take pleasure in design for the sake of design.  The perfect melding–or even if not perfect, the interesting melding–of various materials into a shape that catches the eye of the mind as the words flare during the process of interpretation and become fireworks, emotional surges, and flashes of insight, in a reader’s imagination as well as my own.

But there are other reasons beyond design itself.  Many reasons.  I was reminded of one last night, after coming home from the latest event I put on for the Ytown Reading Series with my students.  This message was waiting for me in my inbox:

After hearing about the Nebula nomination, I went out and bought your book for my Kindle.

I’m about 60% through it and wanted to tell you I’m really enjoying it. It wasn’t what I expected (the SF ghetto tends to follow certain rules), but I have been very pleasantly surprised.  After I’m done reading it, I’ll probably read it to my wife.  I hope that isn’t a problem.

Normally my wife would get the Audible edition, but it doesn’t look like there’s a audible version for me to buy for her.  So she’ll get me, instead.

I’m always touched to hear from readers who have enjoyed, appreciated, or found something they were looking for, sometimes desperately, in one of my stories or books.  And each time I hear from them, I’m reminded of what else writing is inherently about:  other people.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of writing for one’s self.  I do that when I’m fascinated in the process of writing as a reader myself.  Writing as a reader is something I do.  I’m often telling myself stories as I write, experiencing the act of writing as a reader, existing in dual levels of the process at the same time, making and interpreting as I create.  But it’s other people, not just myself, that will hopefully, eventually, read what I’ve made.  And hopefully will find something they’ve wanted or craved or needed, even without knowing it, when they do read what I’ve written.  Those are the kinds of books I love most, to be surprised that I wanted something without realizing what it is I’ve thirsted for.

I try not to be materialistic:  to not seek after the fame and the riches, to not be jealous or envious of those who are rewarded richly in publicity and recognition and money for their writing.  But reading over this reader’s message today, after being reminded of the importance of connecting with others through my work, I also realized that it’s hard to connect without my writing being somehow recognized, as the Nebula nomination lead him to seek out my work, a book he would never have heard of if not for the award.  I’ve recently found bloggers and Twitterers talking about my book’s nomination as well.  Some had already read it, and exclaimed giddily how happy they were that the book had been nominated for the award.  Others confess to the book having eluded their awareness, and after reading it were surprised that it had been so overlooked or unnoticed.

I don’t want to desire recognition or to be known, mainly because I don’t want to be beholden to desire.  But I do understand now more than ever that recognitions like the Nebula nomination are how those other people, readers who may be waiting for my words and don’t know that my books even exist, discover my stories and books.

I’m looking forward to discovering more of my readers in the future as well, the people I don’t know exist, who don’t know that I exist yet either. I hope someday that we can be brought together in that space where words fire and flare.