My city is gone

Memorial Elementary School

School buildings like these are becoming endangered in this country, as cities sacrifice local history in the name of “progress.”

When the Pretenders’ lyric “I went back to Ohio but my city was gone” floated over the airwaves in 1982, I was fresh out of college and had just moved from my Northeast Ohio hometown to California to seek my future.

Now that I’m older, I understand what Chrissie Hynde’s song was trying to tell me. For a long time, I wanted to go back to Ohio to live. But my city is gone.

In 2008, the passing of a property tax levy in my hometown funded the building of new schools, at the same time dooming several of the older schools. Since then, the short-sighted city planners have been bulldozing a big chunk of the city I grew up in.

I say short-sighted for good reason. Cities such as my hometown are suffering a brain drain of major proportions. Young people – college graduates with professional and technical skills – are abandoning their home turf in droves, heading out to promised lands such as Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas.

People like me who moved away long ago are now older and a little homesick. We discovered pastures further afield aren’t necessarily so green, after all.

Perhaps we’ve been considering a return to our childhood home. It could be a shot in the arm for those communities, because we’d be bringing with us our seasoned knowledge and professional and technical skills.

Except – if I ever make the decision to move “home,” I would like it to still be there.

In the next few weeks, yet another major landmark in the town I grew up in will be razed. (Memorial Elementary School to be demolished.)

Neighborhoods are made up of people, it’s true. But residents of a city live within a landscape they recognize as home, anchored with schools and businesses and that old tree on the corner that’s been there since your grandfather was a kid.

Communities grow up around these things that are as integral to the feeling of the place as the people are. They are as enduring as the same family names showing up on the school roster every generation. They are brick and mortar patriarchs and matriarchs, the architecture of home, literally and in our minds.

People cling to these images like they do their families. When those of us who leave want to come home, we expect these things to be there. Changed, perhaps: a new owner for this restaurant, or different family in that house. But the school we went to is still there, filled with another generation of children, and we all have something in common.

Our city.

When we come back, to live for good or to visit, it’s that sense that no matter how crazy the outside world becomes, some things never change. It’s familiar. It’s home.

One would think that my hometown would have learned that selling its soul in the name of progress is short-sighted and foolish. This is the same city that allowed the architectural wonder of the city founder’s palatial mansion to be torn down in 1965 to put up a shopping center – and now insists that downtown businesses design storefronts in the mansion’s image. I love my city, but it’s like shutting the door of the estate’s last remaining outbuildings after the horse ran away.

They literally paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

That was before my time. But the destruction of the high school that my grandpa, my mom, my uncles and aunts, my sister and I attended – that happened during my time. Another blow to my soul was the razing of my elementary school, a beautiful brick structure of great character, built in the art deco style of the 1920s.

These losses broke my heart in a way nothing ever has. I realize these things happen as we grow older. But the destruction of these landmarks that viscerally connect me to family and friends and the city I call home are like the city founder’s lost mansion: irretrievably gone.

When these things vanish, the character of our city is diminished. Gone is that indefinable thing that makes it different from the endless communities of tract homes and suburban sprawl stretching across the country, homogenizing everything in its path with mediocrity and dullness.

Once it’s paved over, maybe my hometown will finally shake free of the jokes about there being a bar and a church and a chicken restaurant on every corner of the city. But you know, it’s our little quirk, and it makes us different. It makes us memorable. And if you can’t laugh at yourself a bit, then there really is a problem.

Maybe, after all the homogenizing, there will be fewer “bad” neighborhoods. But those neighborhoods are home to someone who, if they have left, might come back – but only if there is actually a city to come home to.

Who wants to return to a place leveled by strip-mall sprawl and little boxes made of ticky tacky. And guess what? No one new is going to move in either. Why bother, if it’s all the same everywhere? Live somewhere with better weather – such as those “greener fields” that young people go to after college.

It’s true there are a lot of us who left to find success beyond our city limits. Maybe we found it and maybe we didn’t, but in the process, we expanded our horizons and grew as individuals and maybe picked up a few good ideas along the way. We came to realize the value of growing up in a place like my hometown. We might have returned with our knowledge and our talents and enthusiasm – but now we’re less likely to. Because, as the Pretenders sang, “our city is gone.”

Build new schools, tear down old ones with character – it’s all in the name of “progress,” right? But there are things larger than money – such as loyalty to the people who live in the community, who walk their dogs past those structures destined to be torn down, who will die a little bit inside when those things are gone.

Because that’s one less thing that makes them feel whole and right and part of this experience that is the town they love. The systematic destruction of a past that was good and true and honest  doesn’t fix the city. It breaks it.  It rips out authenticity by the roots and paves it over with false hopes and a thin veneer of prosperity that wears off quickly.

If you want to pump money into the neighborhoods, remodel them, don’t tear them down. Don’t tear out the heart of the city and break the hearts of the residents. Leave those structures that form the cornerstones of memory and the sense of feeling “at home.”

Use its history as a foundation for the future. Don’t tear it down. Don’t make it less unique. Make it more so. Believe in it. If you do, maybe we will, too.

Instead of jokes like, “Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights?” – maybe people will actually come back to a place that has substance and texture and buildings made of brick, not stucco.

We will carry a torch for the city that made us who we are,  a place to be proud of – a city that’s not “gone.”

Author Cara Bristol discusses the writing life and her new erotic sci-fi romance, “Breeder”

Cara Bristol was one of my earliest writing colleagues. We were eager and fresh-faced journalism grads from different colleges. We ended up at the same suburban newspaper, writing for the society section (typically called the “soc page” in newspaper jargon). We wrote wedding copy and covered women’s clubs, but both of us had bigger dreams. Funnily enough, at that time, none of them had to do with writing novels. And now we’re both doing it.

Cara featured me on her blog the day my novel “Rings of Passage” came out in August, and now I’m interviewing her on mine. What goes around, comes around – and now we have come full circle. Upon the Oct. 15 release of Cara Bristol’s first erotic science fiction novel ,”Breeder,” I asked about her life as a writer, how the creative process manifests when she writes, and some challenges she must face juggling real life commitments and her art.

(see interview below)


Read an excerpt below

“Breeder links:
All Romance eBooks (ARe)
Loose ID
Author’s website
Twitter  @CaraBristol

Cara Bristol interview

Karla: At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was there an event, or a comment someone made to you? Or perhaps an experience that made you think, “Hey, I’d like to write.”

Cara: I’ve always enjoyed writing. The students in high school would complain about having to write term papers, but I secretly enjoyed the assignments. When it came time to choose a college major, I chose journalism because it involved writing. I liked journalism. I love writing fiction.

Karla: What were your earliest written works? (Poems, short stories, songs, essays, novels)

Cara Bristol BiographyCara: Well, the “earliest” is a 30-page mystery I wrote in the fifth grade. Professionally? As a journalism and public relations director, I’ve written numerous newspaper articles, brochures, annual reports, newsletters, press releases. I wrote (and published) my first erotic romance in 2009. I now have 12 erotic romance titles published. Most of them have been released in the last two years.

Karla: What made you to decide to write a novel, in particular?

Cara: I enjoy the freedom and creation of writing fiction. My preferred format is the novella, but I let the work decide the length. I’ve written short stories, novellas and novels.

Karla: Do you have a very early work that you would like to reinvent or get into shape to share with the world? What is it?

Cara: The work I would redo has been published. If I could, I would rewrite Unexpected Consequences, the first book in the Rod and Cane Society domestic discipline erotic romance series. I would make the heroine less naïve—although I really enjoyed that aspect of her personality when I originally wrote it.

Karla: What is the MOST important to you? Plot? Character? Setting?

Cara: Character. But, of course, all three are important because they are so interwoven. Character drives plot, plot creates character and setting affects then both. But I write romance because I find relationship dynamics fascinating. Put the right (clashing) two characters together and the story practically writes itself. For example, in Body Politics. I sent a diehard feminist on a blind date with a Dom who likes to spanks his women. In Breeder, an Alpha Commander falls in love with slave he is forbidden by law to want. Can you see the conflict?

Karla: Do you write genre fiction or literary fiction? Do you think there is a clear delineation between the two styles? And if so, what is that?

Cara: I write genre fiction (romance), in several subgenres: erotic, paranormal, domestic discipline and science fiction. I see literary fiction and genre fiction at two opposite ends of the continuum. One is black, one is white. But in between, it grays and becomes hard to tell them apart. But my fiction is definitely on the genre side.

Karla: How scheduled are you when writing? (9 to 5, when you have an assignment, when the inspiration strikes).

Cara: I am very scheduled about my writing. I work (write and promote) seven days a week. I am usually at the computer by 5:30 a.m. That said, I rely a lot on inspiration. Even when I’m not at my computer, I’m usually thinking about my writing.

Karla: Where do you write? Is there certain music you have playing in the background? A favorite room, desk or chair? Are you like J.K. Rowling, and write in a coffee shop?

Cara: I have a lovely, dedicated home office that is mine, mine, mine. (I used to share an office with my husband). I do not write to music, I find it distracting.

Karla: Are the stories that you write different from those that you read? For instance, romance versus humor.

Cara: No. My time is so limited that I read strategically. First priority is my genres. Second priority is authors I know. Third is everything else.

Karla: Is writing your job or your hobby? If it is a hobby that has turned into a job, are there drawbacks to this?

Cara: Writing is my job. What no one realizes until they get into it is how consuming a writing career becomes. It’s insidious! When I worked in corporate PR, I didn’t work seven days a week, nor did I bring work home. Now I write at home and writing and home life bleed together. Writing/editing occupies about 50 percent of my work time, promotion the other 50 percent.

Karla: Is one successful novel enough, or do you see yourself as a “career” writer?

Cara: If you were only in it for the money, and you hit it out of the ballpark like JK Rowling or EL James have and earned gazillions, perhaps one novel would be enough. But those authors not even good examples because they both wrote series. You can never rest on your laurels because for 99 percent of authors, eventually the sales from any one book drop. And even if I hit megastatus, I would probably continue to write because I love it so much. I am driven to write. If I hit it big, I might not write as much, but I would still write.

Karla: Are you a tortured artist? Is writing therapeutic, cathartic or simply fun?

Cara: Fun. I’m not the least bit tortured.

Karla: Is your creative process something you sweat over? Or is it something you trust to “kick in” as soon as you get started.

Cara: I had one book that I sweated over and if that’s what writing was like for me all or most of the item, I wouldn’t be a writer. I have learned to trust that inspiration will come.

Karla: If you have a troublesome plot issue, how do you solve it? Is there a method or a meditation you turn to solve the problem?

Cara: Often I find that switching POV helps. Other times, it helps to think about the problem when I am in “nonwriting” mode, i.e. away from my desk such as taking a shower or walking. I get a lot of ideas around 3 a.m. too.

Karla: What advice would you give to new authors who are trying to find their voice and their stride?

Cara: Stop trying to find your voice and tell your story.

Karla: How do you blend other parts of your life (family, day job, etc.) with writing? What challenges arise?

Cara: I don’t have another day job, so that’s not an issue, but blending writing with family and other commitments is an issue. I’m still working on that. I know some authors who have day jobs and small children at home and I have no idea how they do it.


 “Breeder” excerpt

If not for the sneeze, Dak would have exited the musty, dank corridor. But the muffled sound caught his attention. When he squinted into the darkened cell, he spotted a female crouched on a straw mat in the corner. He hadn’t noticed her on his way into the Breeder Containment Facility; the habitation unit had appeared empty.

Dak turned to the BCF director and sighed. “What about her?”

The beta’s already crooked mouth drooped farther in distaste. “My apologies, Commander. You don’t want that one.”

Sival’s disparagement piqued Dak’s interest. The director’s opinion had proven worthless; none of the breeders he’d preselected for inspection had rated close to satisfactory.

“I would like to see her,” Dak insisted.

“Very well, Commander.” Sival saluted and opened the habitation cell with a master entry card. Dak stepped into the small enclosure. The director followed, and the metal gate clanked shut.

The naked female drew into a tighter ball and tucked her face deeper into the crook of her arm. Other breeders had preened as soon as they’d noticed him and his chest-insignia identification. He wasn’t just an alpha. He was the Alpha.

This breeder’s lack of respect and failure to adhere to Protocol by acknowledging his presence struck him as odd. Dak frowned. “Is she mentally deficient?”

Sival tightened his lips. “No, stubborn, ill behaved. She would not befit an Alpha Commander.” He nudged the female’s hip with the toe of his boot. “Rise to your feet.” She did not respond, and he moved to prod her again. Dak forestalled him with a wave and grasped the female’s arm.

“You will stand.” He hauled her upright. She averted her face, so he grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him. Tangled hair the color of black heating stones fell back from an oval face to reveal eyes like the Parseon moon. The glimmer of intelligence that sparked within the violet depths aroused his interest more than anything else he’d seen so far.

Nature had bestowed the Parseon people with an exceptionally strong immune system so that they rarely required medical intervention, but breeders by nature were weak, and so many of the ones he’d seen had seemed dull or ill or both. This one’s skin, when unsmudged by grime and dirt, probably glowed like the pale sands of the Ospian Sea. He supposed, as breeders went, she wasn’t unattractive, although the stench emanating from her was. His beta would throw a fit if he dragged such a creature into their domicile.

“Why is she so filthy?” he asked.

“She refuses to bathe.”

As Dak scrutinized her facial features for shape and symmetry, he noted little imperfection or dysgenics other than her lack of hygiene and her gender. When cleaned up, she would please the eye, but to bear his sons, it mattered more that she be healthy and strong.

He released her face, stepped back, and assessed her from head to toe. He exceeded the height of most males, alphas included, while she stood smaller than the average female.

The top of her head failed to even meet his shoulder. She was thinner than other breeders too, although her chest bore an abundance of fatty breast tissue. In the chill of the cell, her nipples had puckered to hard points. Despite the coolness, he was experiencing a rise in temperature. A dormant lust chose that moment to kindle, causing heat to coil in his abdomen and groin. He could not remember the last time he’d experienced such a spontaneous reaction—if he ever had. With the pads of his fingers, he probed the sides of her neck for swollen areas. The way she trembled under his touch aroused a sliver of sympathy. Breeders lacked courage, and uncertainty frightened them. Not all alphas and their betas treated breeders well. If he chose her, she would be adequately fed and housed. His command consumed his time and energy, which left his beta alone for long stretches. A breeder would relieve Corren of household chores and provide him with a physical outlet as well.

“What is she called?” Dak asked.

“Her sire named her Omra.”

Peace, it meant.

He parted Omra’s lips with his fingers and slipped a digit into her mouth, running it along her upper gum line to check the solidness of her teeth. At a flash in her eyes, he jerked his hand away a centisecond before she snapped her jaws together, so that her incisor only grazed the tip of his finger.

Sival’s face reddened. “Commander, I apologize. I will have her flogged.”

“Unnecessary. I will take care of it.” He unclipped the sudon from his belt.