At The Heinz History Center: A Look at Immigrants, Visionaries, and our Personal Histories – August 23rd

From the Adena’s soulful burial mounds to historically pivotal Logstown, to the Harmonist’s world-shaking village of Economy and the company that fabricated the Empire State Building, history and daily life in Ambridge and Pittsburgh will take center stage at The Heinz History Center on Wednesday, August 23rd at 7pm.


Please join me for a reading and discussion of more than 300 years that shaped western Pennsylvania — the movement of natives, waves of immigration, bold visionaries, and the vivid memories that still define our lives. In what I intend to be a light-hearted event, we will talk about regional history and our personal histories — our neighborhoods, schools, food traditions, churches, and of course, bars.

New to the ‘Burgh? Consider what a reviewer of Rust Belt Boy and fellow emigre, Jennifer Graham wrote of the book: “Should be required reading for every new Pittsburgh resident.”

The Senator John Heinz History Center is one of my favorite, most fun and informative institutions in Pittsburgh. I hope you will come. I look forward to seeing you. And admission to the event is free. More details HERE.

A Father? A Brother? A Friend? Do you have a Rust Belt boy in your life?

Milt at campFather’s Day is coming and yes, I am using my father’s fishing-camp portrait to gain your attention, because I have a story for you. A San Francisco reader wrote that her spouse’s wheelchair-bound father had become a silent, angry old man. They sent him my book for Father’s Day last year, and, “your stories uncorked so many of his own. They talked for hours about his childhood in eastern Ohio, the first rich conversation they had had in many years… he shared memories and details about his early life that she had never known.”

Explaining the value of a gift, writer Lewis Hyde insists “The gift must always move” My dashing father, Milt, was a true gift — to his family, his community, and nearly everyone he met. With my book, I try to keep that gift (and many more I received) moving.

Giving a book, any book, is a profound way of passing countless gifts along. And I hope you will consider going to your local bookstore, or Amazon, and finding a gift a Rust Belt boy or any father might keep moving, maybe by sharing something that you had never known.

Thank you, Chris Shipley, for your generous letter. It, and all the letters readers have been kind enough to send are real gifts. I promise to move them along.



Greenwich Village Reading, May 22

CSCafeI’m thrilled to be one of three writers following featured novelist Fiona Maazel at the renowned Cornelia St. Cafe on Monday, May 22nd. The program begins at 6:30pm, and I’m looking forward to seeing some NYC-based friends, meeting new readers, and seeing Bennington classmates and alums. Please join Ms. Maazel, myself,  Narrative Magazine editor and fiction writer, Cecile Callen, and talented polymath Whit Coppedge for what promises to be an entertaining 90 minutes of stories.

Please save the date: Wednesday, August 23rd.

Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center’s Books in the ‘Burgh Series features RUST BELT BOY: Stories of an American Childhood 

Learn more HERE. It’s a big auditorium. Please come, if only for a nap. I love meeting readers, and we’ll all go out afterwards!




3 April Events, a Question, and Madness

Can’t wait to get back to the Burgh for three readings in early April. All are free, open to the public, and different: a library, a bookstore, and an auditorium. Please join me. I would love to see you.

Saturday, April 8: Carnegie Library West End, 2pm

Sunday, April 9: Barnes & Noble, Cranberry, 12 Noon

Tuesday, April 11: Legacy Theatre at Cumberland Woods Village, Allison Park, 11 am

Before I admit to insanity, I need to ask: what would you like to see here, if anything?

I could keep thanking you and all the readers, bookstores, reviewers, librarians, Amazon commenters, media producers and hosts, friends, family, barbers and hairdressers (you know who you are) who have made the past year a dream. I could post letters from all over the country that would break your heart. Self-serving and boring? Yes.

You can find news about Ambridge at Ambridge Connection, and great historical pieces at Ambridge Memories. You can find stories about the Rust Belt everywhere, because, in the past year, the nation seems to have noticed the place. And, Pittsburgh? The media has never been more noisy about the city.

I’m happy to consider hosting a conversation about any stimulating or funny topic. In absence of that, I will continue to post book news and events.

Now, this. As heartbreaking, lonely, crushing, and financially unwise as writing RUST BELT BOY has been, it has given me the most surprising and most rewarding single year of my life. Like a junkie, and, as a result, with all the madness of those who race formula one cars, who run for office, who ride bicycles on our roadways, who cook meth, or shoot smack, I’m working on a second book.

Kill me now. Or pity my wife.

Thanks to Team Manning


I owe much of the success of RUST BELT BOY to my New York publicity team of Scott Manning (aka Mr. Publicity) and Abigail Welhouse of Scott Manning & Associates. They faced an uphill battle, trying to get the reviewers and tour appearances for a first-time book author with a title from a small publisher. But they believed mightily in the book and in me, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Scott and Abby threw all of their know-how, experience, wisdom, and contacts in the world of booksellers and media at the challenge of bringing my book to a wide audience. And they knocked it out of the park. In addition to all of that, I felt like I was working with my best friends. Scott is a brilliant writer, and Abby a stuimg-inset-headshot-abigailnning poet, so I’ll let you read their account of their “little book that could.”

“Mr. Publicity’s Little Book that Could” — and because of them it did.






Hello, Santa?

Don’t you think Santa, himself, is a gift — of our imagination, our North Pole, where weird and magical gifts take shape, all those little elves hammering away? Once received, our favorite gifts come alive and increase in value and meaning as we pass them among us. If you’re wracking your brain to find a gift for your father, mother, brother, sister, friend, or the kind soul who cuts your hair, maybe I can help.


 I’m calling in a pierogi order

Here are two gifts I received from readers this year:

“Liz bought a copy of your book for her father, himself a rust belt boy. Dad is now mostly confined to a wheelchair and seemingly content (discontent?) to complete his life as a grumpy old man. He rarely engages in conversation and when he does it is mostly to complain that the doctors don’t know what they are doing and neither do the health aides, for that matter. He did, though, read your book and, as Liz relayed, your stories uncorked so many of his own. He and Liz talked for hours about his childhood in eastern Ohio, the first rich conversation they had had in many years.  Apparently, he shared memories and details about his early life that Liz had never known.”

Christmas cover.jpg“Your book should be required reading for every new Pittsburgh resident. I lived in Pittsburgh for 18 months… but never really understood the difference between what I experienced and what my neighbors did until I read your account.”

Touching stories like these have been coming in since May, and I feel compelled to pass them along. Those stories, and the lessons I’ve learned from them, make every minute I’ve spent writing and hawking the book worthwhile.

For instance, I’ve learned that thousands of American towns, perhaps most of them, had been mill towns, or still are. They share common traits — rivers running through, ethnic neighborhoods and churches, social clubs, and more.

Readers say they love giving the book as a gift, and ’tis the season. You can order direct from Bauhan Publishing (where you can request a signed copy) or from Amazon. You can also buy the audiobook from Audible.

Here’s wishing you a fun and festive holiday. Cheers!

“Where is the Rust Belt?”

Literary agents and publishers in New York asked me that question for years. Well, they sure as hell know where it is now!


Every day I read yet another analysis of why voters in the Rust Belt voted the way they did. I have been invited to join the fray, but I think the reasons are too many and varied for me to identify without more reflection. It’s noisy out there in media-land and one more voice isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Maybe those who really want to know what happened can add my book to their reading list, leavening the circumstances described in the bestselling Hillbilly Elegy. If that book, my book, and this election woke Americans up to the tragedy the nation ignored for decades and the resurgence taking place in isolated spots, most of them urban, throughout the region, then we may be seeing a turning tide. Either that, or we’re seeing the brief glare of the lights and cameras, another set of headlines, another miniseries in the fleeting attention of national audiences.

And maybe that’s okay. Folks in the Rust Belt and elsewhere can simply go back to work, if they can find some.

By the way, RUST BELT BOY, the book or audiobook, makes a great Christmas gift for the boys and girls who grew up in mill towns all over the U.S. — as well as for their sons and daughters. Order today from direct from Bauhan Publishing or from Amazon.

The Tables Turned

My curiosity has always guaranteed me a seat facing interview subjects or a position  behind the camera. Recently, I’ve had to get used to occupying the opposite seat with a camera pointed at me for an hour. On Sunday evening (10/23) at 7pm, under the spell of PCN television’s PA Books host, Brian Lockwood, you can watch me squirm. pabook-20-years-tan-background-1-e1460475132716

brianlockmanBrian comforted me with his own curious questions. After all, he’s been interviewing authors for 20 years. Thank heavens we were taping, because his questions had me at a loss for words, another unusual circumstance for me.

I’ll be traveling back to Ambridge as a guest of Trinity School for Ministry, sitting in on discussions there, reading at Nine Stories in Lawrenceville, and launching the Upper Ohio Valley Festival of Books in Wheeling, WV. West Virginia and Southwestern PA dazzle in Autumn, and I’m looking forward to seeing family, friends, readers, and the volunteers pinching pierogies next Friday.

The Richness of Difference

Dublin NH, the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh, and Wheeling WV stand well apart from each otherdublincommctr, and I revel in their differences. Tomorrow, I’m reading at 7pm at the Community Center in Dublin, a leafy village spiked by an austere steeple at the foot of Mt. Monadnock, and a storied lakeside haven for painters, writers, and readers.

On October 27, I’ll read at 7pm in Lawrenceville, an old steelworkers’ neighborhood now in the vanguard of Pittsburgh’s hip turnaround, soaked in coffee and craft beer, shot-through with artisans and skinny jeans, and home to Nine Stories, its newest bookstore.lawrenceville_neighborhood

And on Halloween, forget the tricks, a treat of free pierogies will fortify attendees as I kick off a literary fest at 7pm at the Ohio County Library in Wheeling WV, birthplace of Bill Mazeroski and the home of one of my literary inspirations, Rebecca Harding Davis. At the height of its steel, iron, glass, and yes, cigar industries, Wheeling had the most wealth per capita of any U.S. city. wheeling

I am grateful for the invitations to read in these three diverse spots and look forward to meeting the folks who show up. If you’re anywhere nearby, all three readings are free open to the public. I hope you will come by.

In the next day or two, I’ll report on what I learned about Buffalo, Erie PA, and Cleveland during my visits at the end of September.

A gentle reminder: If you’ve read and enjoyed my book, please go to my page on Amazon and rate it. Ratings truly help the book get into as many hands as possible. You can skip writing a review, but a simple star-rating will make a difference. Also, if you’re a member of Goodreads, please register a review or rating on Rust Belt Boy’s page.


Two Sweet Reviews

“A good, sympathetic review is always a wonderful surprise,” Joyce Carol Oates once said. To have two in one week feels like Christmas.

Thank you Renee K. Nicholson, of The Los Angeles Review, for understanding how Ambridge made me who I am and how my story grew out of leaving.



And thank you, too, Allyson Hoffman, of NewPages. You show insight in the way you recognize beauty in “the dirty and exhausting labors” of a steel town.

Back to the Belt – Buffalo, Erie, and Cleveland 9/21-24

I would like to thank Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo, Werner Books in Erie, and Mac’s Backs Books in Cleveland for inviting me to these three great cities on the lake. If you’re anywhere nearby, I’d love to meet you, and have you join us for the events. Please note that the actual readings in Buffalo and Erie will be held at larger venues — that’s good news!

Here’s a rundown:

Hope to see you!


The Burgh and the Big Apple

Carnegie, Frick, Warhol, the connections between Pittsburgh and New York City form a long list. As a result, I’ve noticed New Yorkers take an interest in Pittsburgh. RUST BELT BOY recently captured the interest of the producers of The Leonard Lopate Show, on WNYC. Lopate, the lion of public radio talk masters, peppered me with questions last week and you can hear the WNYC interview right here.

Find all the RUST BELT BOY public radio interviews here

Women Who Mow – by request

Note: Announcement at the bottom of the page. Now this tribute to summer…

When I do yardwork, I mutter. I’m usually cursing the grass or the leaves as if they are enemies hiding in foxholes. Take that… Get over here you rotten bastard… hey, where do you think you’re going… you can run but you can’t victa-lawnmowerhide… On the other hand, my heart sinks when I behead a daisy or a violet that couldn’t get out of the way. I apologize. I try to go around the rest of its family. Sometimes I can’t. So my muttering deepens.

Fortunately, my wife mows. Coming home to a lawn she has just mowed offers no satisfaction greater than the image of what I missed. I conjure it: the posture, the pace, the rhythm, the sweat, the flattening calves, the pivoting, the woman directing the roaring beast and killing vegetation all at the same time.

When I drive through the suburbs, I see plenty of women mowing. They wear headphones and listen to songs that were hits at a time when they never could have imagined wrapping their tender hands around such a mundane vibration. Some of them ride, which does nothing for me, unless they’re riding a combine or a hay rake.

On a hot day, a mowing woman will stop for a drink of water, and any passing man will melt at the sight. Exhausting the tank, she stops in her tracks, uncoils her fingers from the handle, yanks off her cap and either reaches into her back pocket for a kerchief, or, if you=re lucky, grabs the hem of her t-shirt to mop her forehead.

With each blade of grass freshly severed and bruised, the bouquet rises by the acre, dancing with the lethal sweetness of gasoline fumes. Even the worst, weediest lawns glisten with grooming, beg for bare feet, and reveal the color of envy, complementary to any shade of flesh. Across the flat expanse, up the gentle slope, around the muscular roots, the blanket settles in a sigh of silence as soon as she kills the engine.

Men have denied themselves this pleasure for too long. But I have fallen in love with women who mow. All my life, I had seen it as men’s work, since my mother never mowed.  Now, I think of what my father missed. I never saw dad pouring fabric softener, and I never saw mom tipping gas into a mower.

I ask women about mowing. Most say they’d rather mow than vacuum, or do any of the household chores. They like what men like: the verdant aroma, the trim tidiness. Some like the sweating. But one woman told me: I don’t pump gas and I don’t mow grass. That was before her divorce. Another woman snarled at the idea that it was men’s work.  She said, there is no men’s work and women’s work, only work that needs to be done.

With summer upon us again, growth knows no bounds, but it is brought under the whirling blades to please us. And, once again, nature serves in perverse, useful, empowering and     unexpected ways.


Amazon Ran Out!

The Good News: Buy directly from Bauhan Publishing with a discount and free shipping through May.

Thanks to all of you, Amazon can’t keep up. Click on the link above to get RUST BELT BOY at a price that beats Amazon’s and free shipping. If you’ve already read and enjoyed the book, let Amazon know. Please, pretty please, go to the RUST BELT BOY page and rate or review it.

Today’s our Day

RBB shelfOnly cicadas have waited longer to emerge than the book that gestated in this blog, and, if you’re getting this via a newsfeed or email, you’ve been around through that period. But you’re more than a witness. You’ve had a hand in bringing RUST BELT BOY: Stories of an American Childhood into bookstores today.

Ten freakin years ago, almost to the day, as I prepared to leave for a week at a cheap hotel on a beach south of Boston and begin work on the only book I ever felt compelled to write, I fell out of my woodshed and broke my right wrist. It may have been a sign. This might be a long, rutted, monster-infested road.


I refused to give in. Patched up with a cast that allowed my fingers to wiggle, I bought magic markers and flip charts, an ergonomic keyboard, and set out to wrestle the essays, stories, memories, and characters cluttering my files and dreams onto paper.

I faced two tasks: historical research and personal memories. I love research, and I could have lolled as I might have with beautiful, insatiable bedmate who made me never want to leave. But I had to push on to memories, peeling away the onion of repeated stories that, upon reflection didn’t ring true until I hit the core. I’ve learned since that science says we change our memories every time we recall them.

Ultimately, the truth is a hole in the ground around which the dogs bark, and I was barking alone. I started this blog to see if other dogs would join me. And you have.

Ambridge, Pittsburgh, and most of the places around and between them are tough towns. I worried about straying too much into my own memories and too far away from the common experience of those places. I was afraid of being called out on my version of the truth. So, I offered my drafty stories to readers of this blog, and you have been remarkably generous.

All of you have kept me going. You’ve offered me your own stories. You’ve surfaced out of my past to enlighten and encourage me. I’ve never known most of you, yet you’ve taken the time to know me, my Ambridge, my Pittsburgh, my little journey.

Others, I’ve known well at one time or another. My best pal, Rege Ryan, is here, and brought in his family. Lots of Bridgers, and Burghers, or as we’re now called – Yinzers. Kevin Joyce, a bright, intense, fun college friend, logged in years ago and promised to host a publication party at his famous restaurant (see Carlton Dinner – you’re invited – at, under events). Far be it from me to decline such an offer. It’s going to be a blast.

In the end, after struggling to explain this book to dozens of snotty agents, Bauhan Publishing, a venerable New England firm, recognized something special, and placed their faith in me, you, and our stories. Recently we’ve been rewarded by good reviews. Soon, I hope to have a chance to meet all of you at reading or signing and thank you personally.

As I head out on the road, on and off for the next few months – first to NYC, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, the new homes of many Rust Belt runaways, then many days around Pittsburgh – I’ll try to keep you up on the antics, places, and characters I meet. I hope you will be among them. Look for me later this month in Ambridge, Sewickley, the North Side, and, away from home at your favorite Steeler bar. While remembering that I have two wrists but only one (slightly abused) liver, the shots and beers will be raised to you, with gratitude.

Ambridge Goes to Oregon at Carlton Event

You’re not at Stubby’s anymore. In downtown Pittsburgh, The Carlton restaurant’s chef Simon DeJohn and proprietor Kevin Joyce have joined forces with Oregon’s Henry Heller of Heller Estate’s Organic Vineyard in designing a knockout menu to celebrate the publication of RUST BELT BOY on Friday, May 20th.

I’m already blown away by the thoughtfulness of The Carlton staff and the friends and family who are responding to this invitation — and everyone within the reach of this blog is included. The menu will transport us away from pierogies and stuffed cabbage and into the wilds of Oregon. We’re talking scallops and salmon and elk and more — 5 courses, 5 wines. Reserve a seat now. 412-391-4099. See the details here – RUST BELT BOY-Carlton Launch Dinner.

And the people you’ll meet, reunite and hang out with will be another treat I can guarantee.

As of now, appearances in the Pittsburgh area that weekend include:

Saturday, May 21 – Signing at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley — Noon. Reading at Laughlin Memorial Library in Ambridge — 2:30pm

Monday, May 23, 7pm – Reading at Sewickley Public Library

Tuesday, May 24, 7pm – Reading at City Books, North Side

See a complete tour listing and more at

I hope you’ll join Robbie and me at one of these places.







NH Debut May 5 & 7 Readings

Please mark your calendar and join me in Keene and Peterborough.

Thursday, May 5, 6-7pm, Keene Public Library, Keene, NH

Saturday, May 7, 11 am, Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, NH

Keene friends, I know, at 6pm on Thursday, you’re likely looking for a drink, a hike, a way to wind down. Why not come take a snooze at the library? Drag along some friends. Never been to a reading before? I don’t blame you, but it’s very easy and you can heckle me without being punched in the face. Probably. Can’t wait to see you.

On Monday, May 9th, I’ll be in NYC — Irish Exit, 52nd and 2nd… a pub, how appropriate. More on that later.