On Place: Writing YA Set in The Rust Belt
The term Rust Belt was coined in the early 1980’s and refers to the geographic region of the U.S. where industry once thrived but is now in a state of economic decay. (Basically, it’s the whole state of Ohio and the adjacent areas in neighboring states like Michigan and PA….) For a lot of people the term “Rust Belt” conjures negative images…that of defunct smoke stacks and residual pollution, unemployment lines and homeless shelters, boarded up houses and vacant strip malls. Having grown up the daughter of an autoworker in the Cleveland area and now living and working in the Youngstown area, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s true, the Rust Belt has all of the above mentioned things and more. But what many people don’t realize is that we have a lot of fabulous things as well. Symphonies, fine dining, beautiful park systems, a ton of professional sports teams, and even opera! We have a very low cost of living for the most part and you can actually own a decent home in the Rust Belt and not have to be a millionaire. (You may have to work two part-time jobs in the process but still, at least it’s possible, right?) Oh, hey…did I mention that we have OPERAAAA? (Click here, I swear!)
However, the best thing about the Rust Belt is not these big city attractions but the people who live here. Most Rust Belters are no frills, hard-working, call-you-out-for-bullshitting types who know how to take a hard punch as well as a good joke. The Rust Belt is home to people who brown-bag it to work everyday, who use the term “garage-sale” as a verb, and who don’t apologize for loving corn dogs and drinking too much pop. I have lived in Ohio all of my life and have come to believe that it takes a certain type of person to grow up and thrive here. It takes a person who is tough, resilient; who doesn’t just get up after they’ve fallen down but jumps up when they’ve been knocked down. Cleveland has been called “The Mistake By The Lake” for years. It is home to a struggling football team that’s been lovingly referred to as The Factory of Sadness. Don’t get me started on the jobs situation here or Orange Barrel Pothole Season which lasts nine months out of twelve. And, trust me, however bad Cleveland has it on these fronts, it’s nothing compared to what the people in my adopted hometown of Youngstown face. We were named poorest city in the nation, ya’ll! Ugh! But despite the adversity, we keep getting up. Because that’s what we do in the Rust Belt. WE KEEP GETTING UP.
Most Rust Belt kids learn this mantra early on. They learn quickly that they’re probably not going to be prom queen but that they can still have a fun time dancing with their friends. They realize that they’re probably never going to own a Lexus but that their mom’s used Ford Focus drives just fine. Like they’re parents, they can stretch a buck like nobody’s biz and are sensible dreamers who (when they aren’t working after-school jobs to help make ends meet) still find time to make art , music and literature. And guess what? I get to write about all of this! Man, do I love writing YA fiction set in my home state of Ohio. I get to write about everyday fighters. My characters get to go great places…to the gritty downtowns of Cleveland and Youngstown or aboard fishing boats off the shores of Lake Erie. They take field trips to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame or ride roller coasters with their friends at Cedar Point. Or they simply head home to their extraordinarily ordinary young lives in the neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and trailer parks of the Rust Belt. I am so proud to set my first contemporary YA novel WHAT HAPPENS NEXT here and I hope that you will pick up the paperback which releases on September 24th. I hope you get to know this part of our country through my character Sid and her family and friends. Maybe you’ll even come to Cleveland, Youngstown, and other parts of the Rust Belt for a visit someday. That would be nice…and totally affordable…don’t you think?