YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – If you Google novels set in Youngstown, you won’t find many choices. But there is an author living in Salem — Phil Suarez, who was born and raised in Youngstown — who has written two novels set in the city.
Tuesday afternoon in the sunroom of his Salem home, overlooking a soybean field ready for harvest, 74-year-old retired banker Phil Suarez listened to jazz and worked on one of his next novels.
“I always thought I was going to be a writer ever since I was a little child,” he said.
But it wasn’t until he retired that the writing became serious.
“Woke up one morning and said it’s now or never. Literally, quite literally, took my laptop, went to the kitchen, opened it up, got a cup of coffee and started with a blank page,” Suarez said.
That blank page eventually became two novels, “Skating in the Moon Shadows” and “The Last Prayer,” both of which are set in Youngstown, which is rare for novels.
“Why’d I pick Youngtown? Write about what you know and what you love,” Suarez said.
Suarez grew up on Youngstown’s East and North sides, graduating from Ursuline.
His books are set in 1959 and 1960. They include Mill Creek Park’s Silver Bridge, Crandall Park and St. Columba’s, along with the Maennerchor Club, Royal Oaks and Golden Dawn.
“I tried very hard to tell the life and breath of Youngstown. I wanted that ethnic background,” he said.
Suarez wanted three things when he started writing: the Youngstown setting, a familiar narrator…
“And I wanted my protagonist to be Mexican American because I’m Mexican American,” he said.
Both books are murder mysteries, and there are more on the way — some set in Youngstown, some not.
Suarez self publishes so he pays for everything. So far, he’s losing money, though there have been bright spots, like a recent payday from Amazon.
“It was from the UK. It was from UK sales. I thought, ‘Oh, that is so cool.’ It was $1.08. It wasn’t a lot of money, Stan, but it felt good nonetheless,” Suarez said.
Suarez’s books cannot be bought in bookstores but they are available online at both Amazon and Barns & Noble.