For my ‘hood of humans: a retrospective and a gift

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The Port Clinton, OH, (Walleye capital of the world; don’t give me a hard time on this, MN) Walleye Festival 2018 at night. (Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

Nope, I’m not going to get all weepy on you (and I’m not going anywhere), but I am going to share a few of the coolest things that have come out of my first year, social–as in, social media.

A retrospective as it were (we will miss you, Daily Post.)

But first, a little tongue-in-cheeky lyrical accompaniment–hum along if you can–from “Brotherhood of Man” (a la How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying):

There is a Brotherhood of Man,
A Benevolent Brotherhood of Man,
A noble tie that binds
All human hearts and minds
Into one Brotherhood of Man.

 

I don’t know a lot about brotherhood or business (OK, maybe a little about the business of writing), but I know that noble ties that bind are hard to come by anywhere.

Question: What connects us human readers and writers, really?

Answer: A love of ideas communicated as words, right? Carefully chosen ones–yes, all in the right order. Not the sort of stuff you can dash off between your Dunkin Donuts run and the office (unless you’re Hemingway and D.D. is a bar).

Rarely do I feel more alone in the writing world than I do while pawing my way through my FB feed populated by thousands of “writers” group members. You (and Mark Zuckerberg) don’t need me to tell you that there’s not enough real connecting–or even real socializing–going on, on social media, for writers, readers, or anyone else.

Not so for my WordPress Reader feed. Of course, I’ve taken the time to curate the scads of sites I follow. (If I’ve missed yours, let me know!) But there is, generally, great care and feeding done to the words that make up WP posts. And that care feeds community. So, here’s where I lament the draining of the Community Pool, especially, and and thank the WP editors for making it and the Daily Posts, like this, happen. (Not to worry, though, there is another pool I plan to dip my toes in and hope you might join me there.)

Back to the good care and feeding of our reading/writing community here and everywhere…remember when e-book readers made us fear the end of real books was nigh? In the same way I worried that email would disappear with my foray into social media. My findings: I still email the friends and fam I used to. And, guess what, people–even strangers–still respond to emails, even from bloggers (like this one), who reach out to writers they want to interview. I’m here to say email still works, and stay tuned for an author Q&A with Cinderland memoirist Amy Jo Burns, who will fill us in on her upcoming novel, Shiner!

My final finding in my very unofficial year-long social media study: the heated FB or LinkedIn debate: which is better suited to connecting with other writers and readers. My sense is that the pace of FB is more frenetic, making LinkedIn the place to connect with other communicators of your ilk looking to take the time to consider something more substantial than a jumping pygmy goat. (FB has cornered the goat video market, and that’s OK).

How do you best use social media to meaningfully connect with your fellow communicators?

I’d love to know.

And, as it’s the last day of short story month, I’d love to present a little gift, the latest issue of Flock literary journal (FREE to view online only until June 4), chock full of carefully tended words, all in the right order. Short stories not your thing (wah?)? How about a poem about honey? Art or interviews your bag? This issue’s got that too.

Hope you enjoy.

 

 

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American Dreaming

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Another American bird, the osprey. Image courtesy of pixabay.com.

Lately, I’ve been American Dream-ing. My historical novel-in-progress interrogates the meaning of this term so overused as to be often scoffed at now, and questions what it means to be an American at peace, and at war on the Homefront. My short stories ask whether there is an American Dream to be found anymore in U.S. places defined by rust, and loss of industry, jobs, and people. Being a pessimistically optimistic Midwesterner by birth, I must say, um, yep.

Then there’s my own little dream, something like a lowercase american dream, not at all dire, to write: to dream on paper, I guess.

Recently, I ran across an interview with Crooked River Burning author and Ohio native Mark Winegardner, in which he talked about his start in writing as a journalist. The idea of being a “creative” writer was foreign and impractical, not done in his family and town–until, of course, he did it. Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood author and Pennsylvania native Paul Hertneky said much the same thing. Practical doesn’t trade in dreams.

My (late) mom, a child of the 50s and early 60s (when one could put a finger on just what was meant by “American Dream”), was lucky enough to attend college–if unlucky enough to do so when the prevailing idea was to send a girl to college to land a husband. Still, her love of art and literature stuck (as did the husband), and, of course, it grew in me. I guess I’m propagating dreams through the generations here, tending and growing them. Sounds kinda like gardening, which she would have liked. Really, I’d rather just have her back.

Maybe I’m feeling melancholy with remembrance because it’s Memorial Day weekend here in America, a time of remembering dreams secured and dreams dashed. I know who this day is really for and will send up a prayer for them.

I know I shouldn’t take for granted the freedoms we have–freedom to feel melancholy, to trade in the impractical, to dream on paper. I sometimes imagine living in a place where hitting “Publish” is truly terrifying, not trivially terrifying.

Luck has followed me to my own little spot in America, where my complaints are few.

Oh OK, here’s one, since you didn’t ask: these springtime days I am awakened from my real dreaming just around 5:40am by the loud, screeching calls of our favorite local raptors, the osprey, or fish hawk. First world problem, I know. They are beautiful and majestic, I have to groggily remind myself, like another American bird we know. And so I try to fall back to sleep and weave the call into my dreams for when I turn to writing it all down at a suitable hour.

So, while my characters are parsing “American Dream” so am I, in the America of our past, present, and future. Whether you are American or not, I’d love to know how you define the term.

I’m guessing there are as many different definitions as there are those to do the dreaming. The term is interrogated in a recent feature article (with fantastic b&w photography) on Bloomberg.com: “Why Do Americans Stay When Their Town Has No Future?” The gist of the piece: “Family and community are the only things left in Adams County, Ohio, as the coal-fired power plants abandon ship and the government shrugs.” Best quote:

“‘The American dream is kind of to stay close to your family, do well, and let your kids grow up around your parents,’ he says. It was a striking comment: Not that long ago, the American dream more often meant something quite different, about achieving mobility—about moving up, even if that meant moving out.”

What’s yours?

 

 

 

The power of a shared place: revisiting my conversation with Rust Belt Boy author, Paul Hertneky

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Bridging the gap: a Pittsburgh bridge. Image courtesy of pixabay.com

Place is powerful.

This should come as no surprise to you that I feel this way. There’s power in a place’s sights, sounds, and struggles. We are shaped by our native places. We share a kinship with people who stomped the same stomping grounds of childhood. (Don’t believe me? I will immediately become besties with anyone, the world over, wearing a Cleveland Browns jersey.)

What better time to muse about our native places than Father’s Day? (OK, maybe Mother’s Day, but I’m biased.) As we in the U.S. approach the holiday with trepidation–how many gas grills can one man need?–I suggest another kind of gift for the father or father figure in your life (no, I don’t get a cut here):

I was thrilled to come across Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood.
And I was even more thrilled that the author, Paul Hertneky, agreed to talk to me about his native place (just a couple hours east of mine) outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For those who missed it, or who would like to revisit it, here it is, my…

Author Q&A with Paul Hertneky of RUST BELT BOY: Stories of an American Childhood

Darlings done in: May 20, 2018

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“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

William Faulkner

Yep, we got it, Will. Do those darlings in. What counts as darlings? The (flowery, purple or otherwise unnecessary) prose in our stories, poems, and blog posts we just can’t let go–but know we must.

On today’s editing room floor, as it were:

“He fantasized about how he would greet Kate after three days away. He would sweep his wife into his arms like one of her matinee idols might.”

Um. Fantasy–in my historical novel manuscript? If it’s not happening, it’s not staying. Cut!

Here’s another. (The trouble with writing a historical novel is that there’s just sooo much interesting history. But, one must remember that it’s a novel, not a textbook.)

“In the nineteenth century, coal was discovered in the hills, and easterners brought industry, almighty steel, to the west…”

Cut! (And that “almighty steel” might be a contender for “purple prose.”)

No one said revision and editing would be easy. If a section, paragraph, or phrase is especially dear to me, I will save it–in a file on my computer or in a jar where I keep actual slips of paper with cut phrases on them. (Sometimes fodder for story prompts, sometimes a good joke, sometimes both.)

In this way you can revive your darlings like writer K.M. Allan. Don’t fear when it’s time to slash and burn your way to a better manuscript. Happy revising!

What’s your favorite revising or editing tip?

 

 

We’re turning 1!

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(Not my dinghy.) Thanks for the pic, Dad!

Happy Paper Anniversary! (Ironic, but true.) It’s Rust Belt Girl’s one year blogiversary.

Happy, happy day! We made it a year. I appreciate you sticking by me—and just think of all the writing paper we haven’t wasted!

For the obligatory anniversary stats: this post make 51, with an average word count of 370 (wordy me), for 347 total comments (lots by me) from 593 total followers, some of whom hopped on this train on that banner day when my post was a WordPress Discover feature. Thanks again, WordPress editors!

I started this blog to wrap my head around the literature of my native Rust Belt. For sure, one of my favorite comments, starting out in the Community Pool (best place to be on a Monday) went something like this: I don’t know where the *#$& the Rust Belt is, but I like it!

WordPress is definitely global. As much as I enjoy connecting with my fellow native or current Midwesterners (and I really do), one of the best things about this blog has been finding commonalities between far flung people and places—and the literature and art that comes out of those places.

Author interviews, photography, blogger collaborations, book reviews, apropos re-blogs (thank you, Belt Magazine), stories, essays, and—new this calendar year—writerly advice and notes on traditional publishing. Whew! Hopefully, even if you’ve never heard of the Rust Belt, you can find something here that suits your taste. Even if it’s funny. Especially if it’s weird.

This blogiversary coincides with the anniversary of my jump onto social media via FB. Yep, you read that right. When everyone else starts jumping ship, I’m like: that boat looks nice and sturdy! (Really, dinghy pics definitely forthcoming.) What have I found as a social media newbie? If I let it, social media zaps my focus so that I have the attention span of a hyper puppy. (Nope, still haven’t taken the real puppy plunge yet; I’ll keep you posted.) Social media also keeps me connected to friends, family, and writers too nice to ignore my friend requests! But those connections are more like taps on the shoulder—“remember me?”—than conversations.

We’re conversing here—real two-way street stuff. So, now it’s your turn. Happy Blogiversary to you, because it definitely takes two! What would you like to see from me in year two? (Cotton anniversary, btw.) I’ll try to oblige. ~ Rebecca

 

Our Place in the World: Water Ways

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We writers love to talk about finding our literary voice (good piece on that here), along with our favorite tropes, motifs, and images. Basically…stuff we know.

We’ve all heard the “write what you know” advice, often attributed to ol’ Papa Hemingway. What he really said (and more Hemingway writing advice here):

Write about what you know and write truly and tell them all where they can place it…Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study about.

So, we read, travel, meet, live, repeat, and read some more–to amass the places, people, and ideas that we know fully, that become an integral part of us. So much so that these places, people, and ideas pop up in our writing as setting, characters, tropes and all those other fun literary terms.

All that’s to say that our writerly voice and our place in the world (weekly photo challenge) go hand-in-hand. For me, the way to discovering my literary voice–my place on the page (definitely still a work in progress)–and my place in the world are parallel journeys. And both follow water.

They say the apple doesn’t fall far… My dad, a lifelong Lake Erie boater, went around the world’s waterways as a young man in the Navy and still didn’t get enough of the stuff. Being landlocked makes him itchy. (Here he is on his 1942 Lyman he restored himself.) I suppose I inherited some of his itch.

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From the Great Lake of my girlhood to the river I’m on now (header photo)–water makes its way into much of my creative writing. Not only as setting and a handy trope, but I’m interested in water’s relationship with our human bodies (which are so much water!), and I wish I could fish and swim and dive with an expert’s ease. And there’s where I write what I don’t know, because I want to know more.

This summer I will do more to know more to write more. How’s that? And I’ll do it in a dinghy! Yep, we bought a dinghy–my little family’s first foray onto the water.

Does your place in the world inform your place on the page? I’d love to hear about it and to see pics!

 

 

 

 

My audio feature is live(!) and 4 things I learned for good story recording

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My story is set on a fire escape, which reminds me of scaffolding (utility) and a jungle gym (frivolity). And there’s the crux: between work and play, adulthood and childhood, responsibility and freedom, the communal and the individual.

It’s called “Recruit,” and the audio feature–me reading my story in all my Ohio-accented glory–is live at Flock Literary Journal.

From “Recruit”:

‘There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.’ I thought of our lake that couldn’t wash away the filth of this city. Of our river that burned so many years ago and still seemed to burn.

From Flock Literary Journal:

In “Recruit,” Rebecca Moon Ruark has us on the edge of our seats and knocks us over with sentences like the above. We’re excited to share with you this short story in audio, a glimpse of what’s to come in #Flock20!

If you’re looking for a little reading (or listening) this weekend, I’d love it if you checked out “Recruit.” Let me know what you think! And share it with a friend who likes stories.

What I learned along the process of recording my story:

  1. Audacity (free recording and editing software) is awesome.
  2. External microphones are best but my MacBook’s internal mic did the trick.
  3. Closets–all those hanging clothes absorb extra sound–make a good recording studio.
  4. Be authentic, even if you have a weird accent.

Not to mention all the writerly stuff I took away from this process. So, props go out to all the podcasters out there who make it sound so easy. And to the poets, who brave live audiences all the time.

Happy weekend and happy reading.

What’s on your literary plate?

 

 

 

 

“Watching Time”

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An island in the rust belt,
once perhaps a wayward
rhinestone jewel and now?

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Some parts have seen
better times and some
have seen bitter times,…

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…some hang around
like the ghosts of a
history of light and dark,…

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…and some don’t see time
at all, but time sees them
and watches…..closely.

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Like a rag or a bag snagged
on a stick in the river, some
parts moving, some standing still,…

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…a city that seems at
times not to know where—
or even when—it is.

 

“Watching Time” poem and images by Johnny Crabcakes at A Prayer Like Gravity

Rebecca here: thank you, thank you to Johnny Crabcakes at A Prayer Like Gravity for these fine photographs and words. Together, they provide a window into the Rust Belt city of St. Louis, always changing, ever still. Please visit A Prayer Like Gravity for much more.

I’ve said before that my lack of talent with a camera has turned out to be a blessing. Wanting to feature regional photography here at Rust Belt Girl, I’ve turned to the experts–like Johnny Crabcakes; along with my fellow Northeast Ohio native, Johnny Joo, who specializes in abandonment photography at architecturalafterlife.com; and Michelle Cole, who posts her thoughts and photography at Intensity Without Mastery and who shared with Rust Belt Girl here and here what her life is like today in Lima, Ohio.

Want more photography? Check out my handy-dandy Categories.

Are you a photographer in a Rust Belt-ish place? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

We are what we read

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OK, I don’t buy that entirely, but I do believe in “garbage in, garbage out,” in most things.

That’s why I try not to read crap. I mean, no one tries to read crap, but the older I get the less guilt I feel for starting a book and not finishing it.

What I’m saying is…books have a great power over me. For this reason, I expect a lot from them, as I would from any encounter that will suck up, what 6, 10, even 12 hours–for a doorstopper.

I ask a lot from a read, which generally has to tick 2 or more of these boxes: subject matter I want to know more about; believable characters; language that I envy.

Truth is, I have become an old man (as far as reading habits). I am that crotchety guy at the bookstore who wants to get his history, his humanity, and his poetry all in one tome.

Is this asking too much of one of my fave genres, historical fiction? Of course, as soon as you say, “genre,” literary types are thinking, well you might get your history and your humanity, but the language won’t sing. On the other hand, historical fiction buffs don’t want their story bogged down by MFA-grad-style poetic language acrobatics. Walking a tightrope indeed!

Am I oversimplifying. Of course. Are there novels that tick all the boxes? Yes. Since we’re talking historical fiction (in which I’m up to my eyeballs, as I’m working on a historical novel manuscript), I’ll throw All the Light We Cannot See out there as pretty stellar. In the WWII vein, I’d also add the less recent Snow Falling on Cedars. What do you think?

This weekend I hope to finish Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, which ticks two of my boxes, and that’s OK.

Let’s chat books. What are you reading? How many of your boxes does it tick? Is it informing what you’re writing?

 

 

 

 

Agent query letter purgatory

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…because “hell” seemed a little strong.

What’s up?

Months ago, I announced that it was time for me to dive into the process of seeking literary representation (an agent) for my WIP, a historical novel manuscript.

I was ready. However, my manuscript wasn’t…quite. (And you only get one chance to make a good impression–or any impression at all–on an agent.) So, revise revise revise, and I have come out the other side knowing that now is–really–the time.

I talked here before about the steps required to prepare for this journey. Step 1 is knowing what to “pack” for the publishing road ahead, with agent query letter as “passport.” Step 2 involves putting myself in an agent’s shoes. What might he/she want of me besides a manuscript? Step 3 will involve compiling a list of agent who might be a good fit (stay tuned…).

Today: I’m in query letter purgatory. It’s not hell, really. We writers write and we write about writing, and so to get to write about our own writing is kinda neat–if tasking, and requiring a good bit of objectivity. Some say the query letter is tougher to write than the novel (a bit of an exaggeration, but still valid): As in, boil down an 85,000-word story into a 150 word synopsis. Oh sure, no problem. It certainly can’t hurt to start with a fantastic first line (or “hook”).

And here’s another couple pieces that I’m using to spit-shine my agent query letter:

Successful Query Letter with Lots of Tips by Erin Beaty on Kathy Temean’s wonderful blog Writing and Illustrating

How to Polish Your Query Letter for a Professional Shine on the Writer’s Relief site

All you writers out there, ever written an agent query letter? How’d it go?

When I’m not working on my query letter, I’m reading novels I could use as comparisons to mine. Right now it’s Lilac Girls about the Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, which isn’t a close enough fit, but I’m enjoying it.

What are you writing and reading this week? Like this publishing talk? There’s a category for that at the top of my site.