Nope. Not a churchy post. Hang tight, folks.*

It’s festival season around here. Whether that means discovering just the right pumpkin, a new lager, or a better, more flexible version of your writing self, don’t forget to stretch (more on that in a bit).

Earlier this month, I headed to Youngstown, Ohio, for the third annual Lit Youngstown Fall Literary Festival held on the YSU campus. Here’s a rundown, plus tips, and–of course–a list of the autographed books I lugged home! (First, shout-out to my cousin, Theresa and her husband, Steven, who kindly fed me homemade pizza and put me up for the night along my way through PA.)

DAY 1: I was in the hot-seat on the first morning of the conference, when I read from my novel-in-progress, choosing three scenes that feature my three female MCs in or at the water. I called it “Women at the Water’s Edge” and introduced myself and my writing as always returning to water. I guess I flow downstream or maybe the Cuyahoga River-burning jokes on my home city of Cleveland really got to me as a kid. Either way, water wends its way into much of my writing, and in the case of a reading, provided a good overarching theme.

Not-pro tip: when reading longer works aloud, try to capture a mood and tone with language–over concentrating on plot and character development. Think like a poet, and focus in on strong images.

I was more than happy to play the opening act for poet and author David Swerdlow, who read after me–passionately and powerfully–from his new novel about a school shooting, called Television Man.

Panels, speakers, and workshop leaders–oh my!

Last year, I must have appeared composed enough to be asked to moderate a session, this year. So, I had the pleasure of introducing culture critic, radical educator, and writer, Erica Cardwell, who traveled from New York to present at this conference. Her creative nonfiction workshop was a real high point of my weekend.

Grounding her session with the James Baldwin quote–“Home is an irrevocable condition.”–we participants mined our personal pasts and notions of home for material. And this fiction writer (moi) got nonfiction on the page, which is really something!

Other highlights of my day included conversations with published authors about the writing process and the after-the-writing process of publishing. And, instead of coming out of these conversations focusing on what feels impossible (agent querying, anyone?), I came out refocused on the writing, itself–the reason I do this whole maddening thing. Not-pro tip: return to the writing.

As for that church pic up there…how’s that for a reading venue? Both poet Philip Metres (pictured) and Erica Cardwell, along with a young writer and scholarship winner, read their work in the sanctuary of St. John’s Episcopal Church, an active partner of Lit Youngstown. And after…the world’s most glorious lemon cake. Not-pro tip: enjoy amazing cake after readings.

Just as I did when attending last year’s literary festival, I like to sprinkle in some research side-trips when in Ohio. This year, I didn’t have to travel far to get a taste of the 1980s music scene–just a few minutes to visit with my new friend Sonny Boy Hopchek, local musician, and owner of Underdog Records (the place to be if you want vintage vinyl!) since 1975. (Shout-out to John for the introduction.)

*Big thanks to R.W. Franklin for supplying the lit festival photos in this post. You rock!

As for after-hours…how does the saying go? “Into each writing festival a little hotel HGTV must fall?” Or, maybe that’s just me. Really, though, a full day of festival-ing can be a lot for an introvert. Not-pro tip: take time to recoup.

DAY 2: Recoup I did, and the next day began with a fiction craft talk conducted by Michael Croley, author of short story collection Any Other Place, which I’m loving. Talk takeaways: to get at emotion put your plot in motion; meaning, construct a plot to reveal your characters. The author and professor also talked about acute and chronic tension in our stories–the tension in the front and back story. But are they really front and back? Croley quoted Grace Paley: “Every story is two stories communicating with one another.” After learning that it takes Croley about 10 drafts to discover the plot of a story, I left that workshop feeling ready to revise (and revise).

The panel I sat on (along with the editors of Youngstown’s own journal, Volney Road Review) and the signature editors panel, titled “Cultural Identity in Writing & Publishing,” covered some of the same terrain: How can writers find publishing venues to realize their work (and, by extension, selves) in the world? On the other side of the desk, how do we editors (of journals, magazines, and even blogs) seek out and publish a diversity of voices? Tactics ran the gamut: from reading submissions blind (no names attached) to soliciting work solely from people of color. Is any tactic going to ensure that our compilations of creative voices–lit journals, mags, and blogs–represent the diversity of experiences of our writing communities and wider world? It’s a big question but one worth discussing and aiming for. Not-pro tip: be open to new strategies to find new voices.

Lit Youngstown’s indomitable leader, Karen Schubert, introducing the project and poets

The second evening of the conference, we took to the streets–or the sidewalk, anyway–for the Words Made Visible sidewalk project, a year-long collaboration between visual and literary arts. Four poets read from their work featured on four permanent sidewalk slabs: two on the lawn of St. John’s and two in the sidewalk of downtown Youngstown. Talk about making your mark, right?!

At this point of the festival, I was limping. And I don’t mean figuratively. All the writerly stretching I’ve done since last year’s festival: publishing and querying…starting a new novel…featuring poets on my blog… interviewing authors here and for Parhelion Literary Magazine, where I became features editor…working with other writers so their voices shine in articles, book reviews, essays, and stories…and I’d neglected my vessel.

This vessel-body of mine, I’ve written before, was once my creative instrument, when I was a student of ballet. This body of mine that birthed two more small ones almost 10 years ago…is oftentimes too still now, housing as it does a mind anchored to paper and keyboard. Not-pro tip: move the mind and the body.

Sonny Boy Hopchek (left) and The Shoeshine Boys

So, I was happy to close out my weekend, sitting, late-night with friends, and listening to live music to inspire my writing. Also, the hazy IPA (my first) didn’t hurt…

But not before final readings–from former Kentucky poet laureate George Ella Lyon (below right), and R.W. Franklin, this year’s runner-up for Lit Youngstown’s Short Short Fiction Open contest. Congrats to all for a wonderful literary conference. Can’t wait for next year’s!

And last, but not least, my autographed book haul: Christopher Barzak’s novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing; Jessica Fischoff’s poetry collection, The Desperate Measure of Undoing; Karen Schubert’s poetry collection, Dear Youngstown; and David Swerdlow’s novel Television Man. Not-pro tip: bring a big bag.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your festival of choice–literary or otherwise–held during the fall? What’s your favorite swag to take home?

Are we socially connected? Find me here on FB and on Twitter @MoonRuark

21 thoughts on “Don’t forget to stretch: A lit fest rundown…with not-pro tips

    1. I loved the IPA (wish I remember what it was)! I am a serious IPA girl, so long as it’s not fruity. I love the heavily-hopped bitter stuff! My hip is much better–thank you! You’ll probably know all about this, with your active self. It’s an IT band thing (also called runner’s hip–tho I don’t do that), and my chiro thinks that it’s largely due to not stretching. I think I aggravated it with all the walking in hilly Youngstown and then sitting in the car for ages. But it was worth it to get home to Ohio!


    1. Yes, always nice to feel not so alone in this writing world. Good to buoy me, especially this week, as it seems to be rejection letter time for the journals. Hope you’re well–loved your last story!


  1. Sounds amazing, Rebecca! Thanks for sharing your experience. I
    Myself, I’ve never been to a writing conference as there aren’t many where I’m from. Definitely on the must-do list for the future though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. It was amazing! And I do think it can be a challenge to find the right kind of conference for you. Some are mostly professors with new books; some mostly editors of magazines and literary agents. Some for novice writers; some for the very experienced. I do recommend the experience, when you can find one!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lit Youngstown’s is definitely my favorite considering how close it is to me and how many amazing connections I’ve made there. Another great conference to attend is Conversations and Connections which is put together by Barrelhouse every year at Chatham in Pittsburgh. So much information packed into one day for a low price and the staff of Barrelhouse are an absolute blast!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t tried the Barrelhouse conference in the ‘burgh, but I went to theirs in D.C. in the spring and enjoyed it. The highlight for me was a flash fiction workshop with Tommy Dean, who is a real expert of the form. Got words down, which is always great! Wish I could have taken advantage of their famous Box Wine Happy Hour! Might have to make it up to Chatham sometime. Thanks again for the help with this post–I’m total crap with a camera (or phone!). And congrats again, on your story and reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What’s your festival of choice–literary or otherwise–held during the fall? Answer – reading about your adventure and your non-pro tips, which are excellent by the way including the Hazy IPA! What’s your favorite swag to take home? A list of books to read that you’ve found enjoyable – I don’t even need a bag, just add them to my to-read list and smile knowing you have excellent tastes and I won’t be disappointed! Congrats on a grand adventure!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Aww, thank you, you’re welcome. I enjoy stopping here to see what you’ve been up to and your words of writing wisdom. And…you’re a fellow Hazy IPA lover too! An adventure trip to a brewery in between our worlds where we can meet up may just need to be planned someday! Or maybe a virtual blog post toast where you describe your beer and I’ll describe mine and I’ll learn from you how to write a description that is mouth-watering and refreshing! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Sounds like a wonderful event! And what a gorgeous setting. Congratulations for playing a leading role. I’ve enjoyed watching your development over the last year and I’m sure they are many more great things to come! Keep stretching!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s