YOUNGSTOWN – Growing up on a farm in Kinsman, Christopher Barzak spent his days pondering stories that took him to faraway places. They acted as a substitute for the lack of children to play with in the neighborhood.
“I spent a lot of time alone, reading and imagining stories to entertain myself. I also had an immune system disorder that made me an often sick child before it was diagnosed and treated,” said he said “Sick children tend to be isolated and trying to recover, and that created a situation where I couldn’t be as active outside. So I read a lot and I started writing stories in response to the ones I liked the most.
Wanting to be part of a world filled with words and ideas, thrills and magic, he pursued this goal from an early age.
“Before I could spell, I drew sequential pictures and stapled them together to make what I thought were books. Once I learned to read and write, I moved on from drawing to writing my stories. When I got really hooked I was in third grade and there was a short story contest at my elementary school that I submitted a story for. I won and then continued to write by myself, whether or not there is a contest.
After graduating from Maplewood High School in 1993, her college education reflected an academic pursuit related to literature—a bachelor’s degree in English and minors in creative writing and psychology in 1997 from Youngstown State University, a Masters in English in 2003 from YSU and a Masters in Creative Writing in 2010 from Chatham University in Pittsburgh.
Inspired by the works of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allen Poe, Shirley Jackson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Angela Carter and many others, Barzak’s tastes leaned towards authors who wrote about the world we live in combined with supernatural elements.
“I loved the intersection between the real and the magical,” he said. “I love reading stories of these genres both literally, but I also enjoy the metaphors that the fantasy aspects of this type of writing can provide a reader to understand real-world situations and conflicts in an oblique angle, indirectly I enjoyed learning about mythology and folklore that spoke of the human condition through fantastical metaphors.
Explaining how this influenced his literary endeavors, he said, “I like fantastic and supernatural stories that incorporate social commentary because I like social realism stories. While these two types of writing seem to be separated, there is always a way to find the seam where they meet and explore that seam between the real and the unreal. I rarely work to build completely alternate worlds like in the “Game of Thrones” series. As much as I love stories that take place in completely alternate worlds, I prefer writing in this one.
Barzak, 47, has written four novels, published two collections of short stories, presented numerous works in anthologies and participated in writing workshops and conventions. Her debut novel, Crawford Fantasy Award-winning “One for Sorrow,” was adapted for a 2014 film, “Jamie Marks Is Dead.”
Reacting to the film version, he said, “It really is every writer’s dream to see the book he created inspire other people to take the material and release it in another kind of medium. I’ve also had novels adapted into plays and that was also fun to watch. Someone who adapts your work is going to do something that’s inherently a little different from the book you wrote. A movie really can’t include everything a 300 or 400 page novel can because it has a short time frame of a few hours to work with, but I like to see what other people do with the stories I write. .
Currently, Barzak is completing “Monstrous Alterations”, which he described as “a collection of stories that are all retellings and adaptations of famous works of fairy tales, fantasy and classic monster fiction”.
As he continues to create reality-based fiction mixed with fantasy, Barzak added a teacher and editor to his writing career when he returned to northeast Ohio after briefly living in Southern California, Michigan and Japan, where he taught English.
“I love being part of so many different levels of the writing and publishing process. It’s nice to be able to see and understand the work of writers, editors, and teachers from all angles,” he said. declared.
He teaches “Craft & Theory of Fiction: From Fairy Tale to Fabulism” as part of the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts (NEOMFA) in Creative Writing, a graduate program to learn the art of poetry, non -fiction, fiction and playwriting that is shared between YSU, Kent State University, University of Akron and Cleveland State University.
Unfortunately, YSU has decided to cancel the program and close admissions. Barzak remains “a small hope” that the administrators will change their minds.
“The Mahoning Valley needs a voice. It needs storytellers to tell about our lives here, to reach beyond this place and to connect us to the wider world, and this program has been an opportunity to help develop the talents and skills of local writers, while attracting students from across the region. in the United States to study at YSU as well as occasionally in other countries, such as the United Kingdom.
For now, he’s using the knowledge and wisdom gained over the years to inspire the next generation of writers.
“Read widely and outside of your favorite writing genres. You can learn to do different kinds of techniques from different kinds of writing,” said the author whose past, present and future blend l artistic and the scholar.
Barzak is married and lives on the north side of Youngstown.