I’ll drink to this: Cleveland vineyard does good

Image of Mansfield Frazier. Photo by Jan Thorpe for Good.

“Oh my God, we’re in Hough,” my mom said.

I was a teenager at the time, sitting in the front passenger seat beside my mom, who was driving, her nose just inches from the windshield, as she strained (pre-GPS) to find her bearing–inspecting road signs, as we passed boarded-up houses and sketchy markets we viewed out of our periphery. (One of inner city Cleveland’s most notorious neighborhoods, Hough wasn’t the sort of place you looked at head on.)

And then she did it:

She locked the car doors with a resounding “click” I was sure could be heard by all in a mile radius.

“Oh my God.” A devout Catholic, my mom wasn’t one to take the Lord’s name in vain. So I knew this was serious–being lost in Hough–but I also felt shame. Here we had been in Cleveland, taking in the sights at the art museum, grabbing a bagel or bialy in University Circle, maybe? I don’t remember if we were heading back home from a theater performance at Playhouse Square–or maybe I had had a ballet rehearsal.

Anyway, a few wrong turns and we were in Hough, the site of riots during my mom’s years as a student at nearby (Case) Western Reserve.

We got out of Hough; my mom found her way back through the parts of the city she’d known as a  student and young married woman, and we made it back to our house in the country.

It wasn’t until later that I contemplated those who never got out of neighborhoods like Hough; and much later that I contemplated those who didn’t want to.

Reading The Cleveland Anthology, I came across a piece by Mansfield Frazier called “A Vineyard In Hough.” Yep, a vineyard.

Here’s how it started: Frazier, who writes about “the problems of the underclass” and his wife, who holds a master’s degree in social work, didn’t want to be “arm’s length liberals,” so they moved to inner city Hough in 2000 in an attempt to “recreate a vibrant middle class neighborhood.”

There, they created a vineyard, a sustainable green project that encourages neighbors–including recent parolees–to work together on a project that creates “a much stronger social fabric.”

My mom passed away almost 12 years ago now, and in that time Cleveland–and Hough–has changed. I like to imagine how a trip to Hough might go now.

If you can’t pick up a copy of The Cleveland Anthology, here is a great article by David Sax on Chateau Hough, which uncorked its first bottles in June 2014.

What does urban revitalization look like where you live?

Cheers to the weekend! ~ Rebecca








a bit of writerly advice


As a gift to celebrate the birth of my twins (more than eight years ago!) a good friend gave me a book, Writing Motherhood, by award-winning writer and educator Lisa Garrigues. (Many thanks, again, R.!)

In the book, the author draws from her own efforts to balance motherhood with writing and shows that mothering “provides endless material for writing at the same time that writing brings clarity and insight to mothering.”

Some of her best advice applies to mothers or anyone else feeling emotionally and physically drained by the rigors and responsibilities of life:

[They ] arrived feeling physically exhausted and emotionally spent–in some cases “brain-dead”…they discovered that motherhood need not be an impediment to creativity. On the contrary, it can be a limitless source for story–a mother lode, if you will.

Write on!



Re-blogging query letter help: the all-important first line


This site–link below–focuses on children’s literature, but a query letter needs to grab the agent by the collar, whether the book in question is for children or adults. I thought this post on the all-important first line of a query letter–the hook–was helpful.

I especially like thinking about a query letter in three major parts: “the hook, the book, the cook.”!

Maybe this will help you, too. ~ Rebecca

via New Jersey Farm Scribe: The Query Letter’s First Line

Step 2: Reviewing the publishing road map


Call it cold feet.

Nah, let’s call it, being truly prepared. Here at Rust Belt Girl, I’m documenting my journey into the frightening abyss that is traditional publishing. Only I haven’t set off just yet.

Here’s the deal: right now, I’m preparing to query literary agents about my completed behemoth 86,000-word novel manuscript. Only, there are steps I must take first. Or else I ruin my one-and-only chance with agents: professionals who don’t take kindly to, “just kidding” or “no, really, this is my finished manuscript” emails.

In Step 1, I covered the all-important agent query letter, which is like a passport that introduces the agent to the book (with a brief synopsis) and to the author (with a list of credentials.)

For Step 2, here I (optimistically) look toward the road ahead, which hopefully includes hearing back from at least one of the agents I query. In stalling planning, I reviewed a few old emails from writer-friends who were in the position I hope to be in soon.

One of these writer-friends received a request from an agent to read his entire manuscript, which the agent did. Her feedback on the novel manuscript was largely positive.

Then…she sent my writer-friend some questions. I will paraphrase the questions here, as I think they provide a window into the thought process of the agent.

Me, the writer, I’m thinking of securing an agent as an end–a conclusion to years of writing and revising and editing and rewriting. For the agent, signing a writer is only the beginning of the journey. As such, the agent asks the writer:

  1. Provide all your writing credentials in detail, including previous publications, short stories, screenplay writing, etc.
  2. List authors that you think have a style or write in a genre comparable to yours.
  3. Is there anything you could do to help promote your book, for instance contacts or friends who are writers and could provide blurbs, friends who could review, people you could leverage?
  4. Do you blog or have a following on Twitter, Facebook, or another social media platform?

Could I answer those questions? Mostly, I think I could.

  1. I’ve got some credentials under my belt, including a couple short stories published fairly recently.
  2. Here’s where I have to forget my humility. Genre- and subject-wise, my book compares to Snow Falling on Cedars, The Master Butchers’ Singing Club, and (more recently) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Language- and subject-wise, my writing in general compares to Alice McDermott’s. (Of course if I were to meet any of these authors, I would faint straight away!)
  3. Thanks to this blog–and the writers I’ve met “reading and writing the Rust Belt”–I do think I could wrangle up a blurb or two, something I couldn’t have said last year at this time.
  4. And, why YES, I blog (thanks to you, followers). Yes, I’m on Facebook. A major following–not yet. But stay tuned…

What do you think of the agent’s questions? Does this make the road ahead for us would-be published authors appear any clearer? Are there any questions you’d add, if you were in an agent’s shoes?






a bit of writerly advice


Good for a Monday morning, here’s advice I ignore all too often:

Nulla dies sine linea

In Donald M. Murray’s classic, The Craft of Revision, he says, “‘Never a day without a line’ was the counsel of Horace, who lived from 65 B.C. to 8 B.C., and it has been the counsel of writers in every century since. Put rear end in chair every day and keep it there until the writing is done.”

Amen, Donald!

a bit of writerly advice

banner-2748305__480Today’s advice is for essay writing, specifically–and a little hard to swallow for those of us who enjoy telling personal stories…

Phillip Lopate‘s dictum: The trick is to realize that one is not important, except insofar as one’s example can serve to elucidate a more widespread human trait and make readers feel a little less lonely and freakish.

–found in the New Ohio Review 22 Feature: Of Essays and Exes called “Writing What You Know and Whom You’ve Known” by Joey Franklin

What do you think of that dictum? What’s your writing dictum?

Step 1: What to pack for a trip into the novel-publishing abyss?

free image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Into the book publishing abyss I go!

Okay, abyss travel takes a bit of preparation, so consider me packing my most necessary items.

What is this abyss? In my 2017 wrap-up/2018 resolutions post, I wrote about journeying into the abyss that is querying literary agents to represent my historical novel manuscript.

Why the trepidation? Because novelists I know spent years querying agents before receiving a reply email–much less a contract.

(And then there’s ego. There’s the fact that my novel manuscript is my first child–born before my human children. It has changed a lot through the years, gone through growing pains (and novel workshops and beta readers and many revisions and edits); but the germ of the story has stayed the same, and it’s mine and–I freely admit–I still love it.)

I love this baby enough to send it out into the world–to be tested and judged.

Why not self-publish? Because I know enough about myself–this self who only entered the world of social media in 2017–to know it’s not for me.

So I must pack for my trip into the publishing abyss, and I hope you’ll come with me! (These posts will be found all in one place on my newly-reorganized blog. Categories: publishing.)

What to pack?

The novel manuscript is raring to go. Only, agents are very busy people who don’t take kindly to 80,000 words landing on their desks. (Go figure.) So, they require a kind of passport:

That passport is the agent query letter. Whether sent through snail mail or email, the agent query is the most important thing I’ll ever write. Really.

This how-to article sums up the agent query letter’s importance nicely:

“A query letter is a one-page letter sent to literary agents in an effort to get them excited about your book. You have one page and 300 words (or less) to woo a literary agent into falling in love with your story and then requesting your manuscript.”

See? Trepidation!

I’m still editing my agent query letter–whittling it down from a hulking 330 words. EVERY WORD COUNTS.

My hook:

In the vein of Snow Falling on Cedars, LOW HEAVEN is a completed 86,000-word historical novel that explores loyalty to family, friends, and faith and what it means to be an American, through the untold story of the exclusion and internment of Italians in America during World War II.*

What do you think? Like it? Hate it? (I can take it.) Comment at will!

More to come. Stay tuned to the journey…


*Goes without saying, since we’re friends here, but all my writing at Rust Belt Girl is protected intellectual (even if it doesn’t sound like it) property. Thanks. ~ Rebecca









A bit of writerly advice

free image courtesy of KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

Happy 2018! In honor of the new year, I’m beginning a new category here at Rust Belt Girl, “writerly advice.” Some entries will be not-so-sage advice offered by me (my days teaching English 101 should have taught me something!); some entries will feature advice from the experts. All will give me–and hopefully you, too–a little motivation to keep up fighting the good fight (i.e. writing the good write).

Today’s advice:

Show, with deftly-inserted bits of “tell.”

–Rebecca (Rust Belt writer)