On Writing: Interview with M.M. Wittle

M.M. Wittle appears to dabble in everything. She writes plays, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. She recently published 3 Decades and I'm Gone, a non-fiction chapbook based on the loss of her parents. Her plays have been produced at various Play in a Day festivals in the Southern NJ theatre community as well as her play, "Family Guidance" had a reading at the Walnut Street Theatre. Her most recent full length play, "Ghost Lights" will be at the Luna Theatre in May. She is the creative non-fiction editor for The Fox Chase Review and an adjunct professor as well as a Literacy Coach in Camden, NJ. I first met Michelle at Rosemont Writers Retreat a few years ago and wanted to see what she is working on now. Jim: Out of all the writing you do, is there one genre you are most passionate about?

M.M.: I think plays are the easiest for me to visualize, flash fiction would be the next passion. I do my best work when I have to be contained in a smaller form.

Jim: 3 Decades and I'm Gone is a very personal look at suffering, survival and healing and you use poetry, prose and pictures in the book. Tell me how the project came about.

M.M.: This is a funny story. The poetry came first and my idea was to just have the poetry as a chapbook about loss. Then the bat came into my apartment and I started researching what bats symbolize. When I saw bats take one's grief I thought that was interesting but didn't really pay it any mind. When I was in therapy and found out grief is a step in the grieving process, the book came into formation. I know there were some things I still couldn't fully talk about but poetry made it easier because that was just an image. Some pictures said things I could never fully explain. And the flash creative nonfiction made telling the story easier because I only had to spend time in that memory for 1,000 words.

Jim: Can you tell me about the Play in a Day concept and how often you've done it?

M.M.: The play in a day concept is I have 12 hours to write a play with my characters and props dedicated to me and then the director and actors have 12 hours to put the show on. I've done this for about 2 years and have written about four ten-minute plays. There is another Play in a Day festival coming in April or May and rumor has it the performance will be at Stockton University.

Jim: So working on these short plays and flash fiction, do you consider yourself a minimalist?

M.M.: I never though of it that way. I just like the challenge of the forms and how specific the word choices have to be when writing in the smaller forms.

Jim: Can you tell us about an incident where you received writing advice that was meaningful to you and what that advice was?

M.M.: When I was a full time teacher, I stopped writing. I felt like I had to spend my time really focusing on my students and their education. I didn't know how to balance teaching and writing. However, I had a friend say to me after I complained that I had nothing new to say no one can tell a story the way I can tell the story. Then J.C. Todd kicked me out of poetry class because she knew I was writing around the poem instead of writing the poem. Her instructions were to write everything about the poem I had in my head. That helps me a lot when I am trying to find my way into a story.

Jim: Did J.C. physically kick you out of class? That sounds like tough love! It sounds like good advice though.

M.M.: She didn't physically kick my shin but she did tell me the poem I wrote wasn't what the real poem was about. Then she told me to go into an empty classroom and just write. J.C. Todd is one of my pillars of writing. I knew she would be the only one to teach me how to write poetry and she still inspires me today. In a post script to this story, the poem still hasn't been written yet.

Jim: Can you tell us about your new full-length play "Ghost Lights" that is being produced in May? What is the play about? And as the playwright, how much do you get involved in the production once it is on paper?

M.M.: "Ghost Lights" is my homage to the theatre. When I worked in a theatre in Philadelphia, I became curious about ghost lights and there place in theatre history. The play was once just a 14 page act and now it is a full 90 minute production. The play looks at all the cliches and wonders of the theatre. It was such a joy to write and I'm grateful to Haddonfield Theater Arts Center for the opportunity to write the play for their adult theater class.

Scott Laska asked me if I wanted to write a full length play for his adult class and I jumped at the opportunity. I attend class most nights and listen to the actors play their roles. Some of the choices they made influenced how I shaped the play. It was a really spectacular experience to build this show for them.

Normally a playwright writes the play and if the play goes to a reading or workshop, he or she gets to do rewrites based on what the playwright hears. With this experience, I worked with the director Benjamin Sterling Cannon, and the actors on a weekly basis. It was so wonderful to be able to rewrite the play weekly and really watch it take shape.

Jim: Sounds awesome. Good luck with the play!

M.M.: Thanks!

Learn more about "Ghost Lights," which is being performed at The Luna Theater, 620 S. 8th St., Philadelphia, PA on May 9th. Order M.M. Wittle's book by clicking here.

Eric Smith discusses Inked and the Philly Lit Scene

Eric Smith appears to be always running through Philly. He has written The Geek's Guide to Dating and co-founded the popular website Geekadelphia. When not writing at a city cafe, organizing the Philly Geek Awards, or emceeing a local story slam, Eric is making books shine for the independent Philly publisher Quirk Books. He has just published his own YA novel, INKED, and agreed to answer a few questions about writing, tattoos, and all things us literary types like to geek out about.

Jim: Tell us about your new YA novel INKED.

Eric: Sure! INKED is a YA fantasy novel that takes place in a world where, once you come of age, you're forced to get magic tattoos that tell the world what you're best at. It marks you, and you're destined to do that thing for the rest of your life. Farmer, soldier, whatever. The story centers around a teenager that doesn't want his future set for him, and the misadventures that happen as a result.

Jim: What inspired you to write about tattoos? Was there a flash where you said, "this would be a cool story?"

Eric: A friend of mine is a tattoo artist, and when he was working in Philadelphia, he made a comment about all his tattoos. On how he'll be a tattoo artist forever, because of the way he looked. It was a joke, but it got me thinking a lot about that idea. It sort of spiraled out from there.

Jim: Are you inked?

Eric: I am! Quotation marks on my wrists, and Jules Verne-inspired tattoos on my left arm. When I was a kid, his books were the first ones I really fell in love with. Despite how my mom feels about the tattoos, they are kiiinda her fault.

Jim: Where can we find INKED?

Eric: It's a digital exclusive release with Bloomsbury, under the imprint Bloomsbury Spark. It's available via all major eBook retailers. You can pick it up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBook, etc. An audiobook will also be coming out in the next few months via Audible.

Jim: How would you describe the Philly literary community to someone new in town?

Eric: Very warm and welcoming. I feel like everyone is eager to connect with one another, and just as eager to celebrate the success of each other. Folks like Lillian Dunn at The Apiary are always trying to pull people together, and super editor / writer Sarah Grey always seems to have a great networking event going on. Once you catch wind of something happening, go. Meet people. When you're in, you'll never want to leave.

Jim: You've written The Geek's Guide to Dating and co-founded the popular website Geekadelphia. What advice can you share on embracing our inner geekness?

Eric: Hm, I guess to just let that geek flag fly, you know? You never know where your passions are going to lead you. No sense in bottling them all up. Embracing and promoting all the geeky things I care about led to so many great things in my life. Awesome friends, a platform that helps launch my career in publishing, first real book deal and an agent... just do it!

Jim: I know you've hosted a First Person Arts Story Slam and judged last year's Grand Slam. Is there a most memorable story you've heard at a storytelling event?

Eric: You know, it's hard to think of one specific story, but I can tell you my favorite storytellers. I cannot get enough of Marjorie Fineberg Winther. My goodness, that woman has me in tears every single time I see her. She's hilarious. I also adore any story that my friend Andrew Panebianco tells, whether its on stage at a First Person Arts event or at happy hour. He's one talented guy.

Jim: One envisions Quirk Books being a truly hip company. Can you give us a glimpse of what it's like to work there?

Eric: It's one awesome hub of creativity, that's for sure. A group of really passionate people working on projects they adore day in and day out. We have a lot of fun bringing our fun books into the world. It's like one big happy geeky family, that place.

Jim: Not to rush you, since INKED has just debuted, but do you have ideas on your next writing project?

Eric: Well, I've been fussing over a sequel manuscript. I definitely pictured Inked as a series. So, lots of editing to do there, as I work to get it into shape. Right now, that's it.

Thanks for having me, Jim! :-)

To learn more, and to check out upcoming INKED events, check out Eric Smith Rocks! You can download the book from Amazon by clicking here.

Books on my Christmas Wish List

It's Thanksgiving morning, so time to make my Christmas wish list! Here's the books I'm hoping to find under my tree this year, along with a list of books I recommend with some tongue-in-cheek suggestions on who might enjoy each book. MY WISH LIST

imagesRedeployment by Phil Klay - My friend Eli, a former Marine, read this short story collection over the summer and highly recommended it. Having just read Tim O'Brien's classic The Things They Carried in the past year (an amazing collection), I'm anxious to see what direction Klay takes. Klay won the National Book Award for fiction this year, and short story collections don't win that often.

imagesStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - I picked up Emily's first novel for my wife a few Christmases ago, and then was lucky enough to meet Emily and get her second novel when she did a reading at Steel City City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville. When my friend Pat told me he enjoyed her new post-apocalyptic novel, I placed this on my list. Emily was nominated for a NBA this fall also.

imagesThe Mom Squad by Christine Weiser - Christine, one of the co-founders of Philadelphia Stories and the author of Broad Street, recently published this novel about a stay-at-home mom who uncovers corruption at Philadelphia City Hall. If you read her previous novel, you know Christine writes fast paced plots with humor. The cover is reminiscent of Charlie's Angels, so you know this has to be fun.

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

Here's some of the books I enjoyed this year, with a humorous note on who the book might make a good gift for:

2903a3a42a1e4a0f316013844df1f86aThe Blessings by Elise Juska - This fractured novel follows members of the Philly-based Irish-American Blessings family through their lives. Beautifully written, Elise captures the small sad moments in their lives as well as the pivotal family events. Recommended for your Irish-American Catholic friend or relative who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, particularly if they still attend church.

photo-26Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain - I know this satirical novel was on my list last year and I love it enough to still recommend it. My book club hated it, a very literary friend hated it, but my Aunt Peggy thought it was hilarious. The plot is set on Thanksgiving day, at the Dallas Cowboys game, as a platoon of soldiers are being celebrated for a firefight they survived in Iraq. This novel has tons of expletives, and I found myself laughing and in tears, often in the course of one paragraph. Recommended for that macho friend or relative who loves reading The Onion and drops the occasional F-Bomb.

lifedrawing3DLife Drawing by Robin Black - This is a dark and quiet novel, set in Bucks County, PA. The antithesis of Billy Lynn's Long Walk. A woman and her husband, both artists, struggle with their marriage when a neighbor moves in next door. Recommended for that brooding, self-reflective serious middle-aged bookworm.

CannedCanned!: Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can by Russ Phillips - This beautiful coffee table book explores the craft beer scene's revival of beer cans with photos of craft beer cans from every region of the country. From Phoenixville's Sly Fox Brewery to Wild Onion Brewery's, we see how craft beer is marketed with colorful images of everything from beautiful women to Grateful Dead logos. Recommended for that friend who you always meet at Victory, Side Bar or TJ's or your buddy that works in graphic design.

imagesThe Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival by Matt Teacher - I reviewed this comprehensive gin guide for the Town Dish this fall and I've been a bit obsessed with this book ever since. Matt Teacher provides gin recipes, gin history, and insights into famous gin bars and distilleries. Not only is this book fascinating to read, but it makes a great reference guide and looks great sitting on your coffee table or on your wet bar. Recommended for that person who is always pulling out a new bottle of liquor and mixing drinks when you visit.

unnamedWest Chester Story Slam: Selected Stories 2010-2014 - I recommend this because it contains 40 true stories told by people who have become friends over the past five years. Several stories are hilarious, such as Luke Stromberg's story about a missing wheelchair and Kevin Ginsberg's story about getting lost in Camden. Others are touching, such as Karen Randall's Lettuce story and Jessica Kupferman's remembrance of her mother. Recommended for that relative who is always telling good stories, or that buddy you always discuss The Moth or This American Life with.

COMING IN 2015

10670103_10204953133365665_7366139958525587162_nCommunion by Curtis Smith - I saw Curt read an older essay of his at the Rosemont Writers Retreat this summer, and it was awesome. I later read another essay he wrote on Faith and enjoyed that as well. As someone who grew up Catholic, I think this collection will resonate with me. I love the fact that Curtis and I both attended Kutztown University also. Unfortunately, Communion won't be released until Spring 2015. Maybe in my Easter basket?

What books are on your Holiday Wish List this year and what do you think I missed?

What is "Books in Bars?"

BIBWhen my friend Linda Ortino and I started discussing holding an event at her family's bar/restaurant, Ortino's Northside, I thought we should try something different. QVC viewers will recognize Linda. She was a QVC model for many years (See her photo from a Nolan Miller show below!) and is now an on-air guest with a variety of products. She was always a blast to work with in the studio. I haven't seen Linda in years, so I'm excited to visit! Anyway, you might be asking, but what is "Books in Bars?"

"Books in Bars" is simply a happy hour for people who enjoy reading books. Think of it as a networking event for book readers - in a bar! You won't have to listen to an author read. No highbrow literary diploma needed. Did I mention the event is held in a bar? Just enjoy happy hour specials while discussing books with other avid readers. Meet other book lovers and learn about their favorite books, authors, and genres. You may walk away with a larger "To Be Read" list.

For the Sunday, November 9th event, the Ortino family is generously offering a 1/2 price appetizer menu, 1/2 price Margaritas, and $3 Craft Draft Specials. Ortino's Northside is located at 1355 Gravel Pike, Perkiomenville, PA. Books in Bars will run from 3pm - 6pm. Their phone number is (610)287-7272.

Each Books in Bars event will feature two writers with recently published books. On Sunday, November 9th, the writers will my friend (and former QVCer) Robb Cadigan, who is the author of the popular novel Phoenixville Rising. I'll have a few copies of Shoplandia, my novel inspired by QVC. Yeah, you can buy a book if you would like, but there is no pressure. Writers happen to enjoy talking about books in bars.

Books in Bars will be an occasional series. We have chatted with bar owners about holding possible future events in Phoenixville, West Chester, and Media. To sign up and receive email notices about upcoming Books in Bars events, click here. Also, if you are on Twitter, reach us at @BooksInBars.

Here's a photo of Linda (center) all ready for a Nolan Miller show.

FullSizeRender

Writer's Digest quotes my #nanowrimo advice

Are you doing #nanowrimo this year? I've participated in National Novel Writing Month twice over the years and blogged about the experience back in 2010. In their latest issue, Writer's Digest quoted me about the experience, which is kinda cool. On newsstands now! If you'd like to read my entire post blog post about #nanowrimo, click here. If you are hunkering down this November to partake in #nanowrimo, good luck! WRITERSDIGEST

Philadelphia Inquirer reviews Shoplandia

Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 10.21.47 PMThanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer for their recent review of Shoplandia. The online version of the article was titled: 'Shoplandia': Delightful exploration of the glitzy, manic world of home-shopping TV. Holly Love's review ended with this gem: "Despite a smiley-face ending, this novel is worth its weight in all the gold, silver, and crystal jewelry now on clearance prices until midnight. Give me 10,000 copies. I'd gladly give it a go selling them on QVC myself." You can read the full review by clicking HERE.

My One Question for David Lynch

IMG_3270Okay, total geekboy moment for me tonight. Film director David Lynch returned to his college stomping grounds - Philadelphia - for a retrospective. Lynch attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts several decades ago. I was lucky enough to sit in the second row of the Prince Music Theater where he was interviewed before a screening of his film Lost Highway. During the interview, he took questions from the audience, so I asked him, "Can you tell us about how your time here in Philly influenced your work, and what you think of the city now?" Lynch responded by recalling a building near his apartment that was completely covered in black soot. He then said, "Every place had a kind of a mood but swimming in the atmosphere was huge fear and a chance for big violence. There was a feeling of corruption, there was a feeling of despair, there was feeling insanity. And it all sort of swam together. Now the city seems much brighter and cleaner and more ordinary to me."

Directly after my question, David Lynch was asked about how he ended up with a role in Louis CK's show Louie.

IMG_3286"I think there were about fourteen people ahead of me for that role, and they all turned Louie down. Louie wrote me these letters, and I turned him down a couple of times, and he wrote beautiful letters, and then I read the scripts and the scripts were really great - really great - and Louie said they came pouring out in one continuous waterfall. I was really impressed. I didn't want to do it because it's a very frightening thing to act and I don't like to travel too much and he got me to go from LA to New York and go into a hotel and act, so he is a pretty incredible guy."

One more note: I'm pretty happy that I refrained from blurting out that I had gone to see Blue Velvet alone on Valentine's Day the year it came out and the cashier slipped me a candy heart with my change which was strange and I sat in the Roxy Theatre in Philly and almost walked out at the first set of disturbing scenes but then ten minutes later I was laughing hysterically at the famous Dean Stockwell party scene and then ten minutes later I was sniffling as Jeffrey Beaumont lay battered in his room and that I left that movie theatre that day in shock and had to walk across the city back to my apartment at 9th and Lombard, which was the most frightening experience in my adult life.

Yeah, so I'm pretty happy I refrained blurting all that out.

IMG_3268

Pop Culture Tonight

Pop-culture

I was thrilled to be interviewed recently by Patrick Phillips of the syndicated radio show Pop Culture Tonight. It turns out Patrick is a fan of QVC, and often has it on his television while working. We had a fun time chatting about real life in a shopping studio and some of the funny moments in the novel. Pop Culture Tonight is a unique show that interviews people from all aspects of pop culture. It was cool to see he had recently interviewed Lloyd Schwartz of the Brady Bunch, Alfred Molina, Marc Somers, and even Marion Ross of Happy Days fame!

Pop Culture Tonight airs in Detroit, Michigan's WROM Radio, KAZI 88.7, and Independent Talk KFNX 1100. The show can also be listened to directly from the Pop Culture Tonight website. My interview should be available in a few days. Thanks Patrick for having me as a guest!

If you are visiting my website after listening to the show, check out the menu above and click on Studio Photos to see some of the celebrities I've encountered through the years. If you are looking to pick up a copy of SHOPLANDIA, here's a link to order from Amazon. Do you want to give that home shopping fanatic friend of yours a gift? Personalized copies can be ordered by clicking here.

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 1.52.19 PM

Robin Black's Life Drawing: A Review

lifedrawing3DLet's consider MAA: Middle Age Adult novels. Robin Black's new novel, Life Drawing, is a quiet, but powerful novel about marriage and the attempt to recover from betrayal. The story revolves around a couple striving to go the distance in their work and life. They are married and in their late forties, she (Gus) is a painter and he (Owen) is a writer. They live an idyllic life in the country, and they are now more passionate about their work than each other. When a new neighbor moves in across the way, their quiet lives are more than shaken up. At the core of the novel, which is written in the first person from the wife Gus's perspective, is her conflicted feelings about an affair she had years ago. Consider this passage where she reflects:

To what exactly had I felt entitled with Bill? There is an answer: Joy. Not happiness, which by that time seemed a fantasy one had to agree to give up in order to keep from going mad. By forty, is there anyone who hasn't had to recognize that happiness, as understood by youth, as illusory?"

And later, she reflects:

The betrayer doesn't get much sympathy, not even from herself, but it is in fact a heavy weight to have hurt someone you love, and it can be difficult even years later to detect any impermeable boundaries around the damage you may have done.

Gus's reflection on the affair, along with a visit from the daughter of her love, stir up the pot. When the neighbor's daughter comes to stay, and develops a crush on Owen, the strings of this novel are pulled taut. I loved the conversation between the couple on their ride to Cape Cod, where Gus declares:

"Great. I'm the chauffeur and she's the inspiration."

There's more than the affair swirling around in this novel. Gus works to bring WWI soldiers back to life through her art, and her frequent visits with her ailing father provide texture to the discourse on memory of one's loves. Robin Black is an eloquent writer and Life Drawing is a page turner with a tragic ending.

The Evolution of Shoplandia's Book Cover

Graphic Designer Larry Geiger has designed the covers for all of Oermead Press paperbacks, as well as the graphics for West Chester and Delco Story Slams. One of the joys of collaborating with Larry is watching his creative process, and his sense of humor that comes through in early cover ideas. photo-62When it came to SHOPLANDIA, Larry read several key chapters and we brainstormed ideas over a few months. We discussed images - televisions, remote controls, shipping boxes, a tight shot of a show host with a lapel mic, helicopters, dogs, etc. We talked in-depth about the spirit of the book, which is about employees pursuing their version of the American Dream while working at a home shopping network. How does a book cover capture the humor, the mayhem of a live 24/7 television studio that reflects American society?

Usually around 10:30 at night, I'd receive a text from Larry with an image of a book cover. He was mocking up covers in almost stream of consciousness and he'd text me a new cover every ten or fifteen minutes. I'd text back a first impression - often "ha!" or "funny!" Here's a few of the book covers that Larry created during the process.

ShoplandiaBookCover5_5x8_5_Cream_290 copySHOPLANDIA is humorous novel told through stories, filled with surreal moments in a fast-paced setting. It's an American novel also, and the studio is definitely a circus-like setting. The title alone does not convey this is a story about a home shopping channel. People might think it is a novel about a shopping mall so in the end we concluded we needed a television at the center. Larry's creative ideas and our fun discussions during this time was such a joy, and on the day we decided to go with the final version, poet Virginia Beards sent me her quote for the back cover.

"Jim Breslin viscerally knows the dynamics of a three-ring circus played out on the rotating stage of a 24/7 shopping network. They're all there--stars and has-beens, pretty pitch women, sad clowns, roustabouts, network lions and wolves. Both moving and entertaining, Shoplandia mingles the humor and pathos inherent in the big tent of our consumer obsessive culture." - Virginia Beards, Exit Pursued By a Bear and Others

When I read Ginny's quote, it paired perfectly with the design! If you'd like to read reviews on Amazon, (or even add your own!) click here. You can find SHOPLANDIA at IndieBound, Chester County Book Company, BookPlace, and Main Point Books. If your local bookshop doesn't have a copy, they can order a copy.

To learn more about Larry Geiger's creative visuals, click on Larry Geiger Design.

Shoplandia Summer

EARLY REVIEWS FOR SHOPLANDIA, the new novel by Jim Breslin, are in. ShoplandiaBookCover5_5x8_5_Cream_290 copy"With a tone and style reminiscent of George Saunders and situations that would feel right at home in a Don DeLillo novel, the stories collected in Jim Breslin’s Shoplandia offer an engaging and informed behind-the-scenes look at the home shopping industry." - Marc Schuster of Small Press Reviews. Read the full review here.

“Breslin’s choice to set the stories within the television shopping network corporation is one of the most refreshing and strategic narrative moves I have experienced in a long time.” – Jillian Benedict, Turk’s Head Review

You can read Jillian’s entire review by clicking here.

"Shoplandia reveals the absurd world of home shopping networks with rollicking humor and gusto." - James Esch, Turk’s Head Review

photo-59“Compelling and poetic, Shoplandia’s stories have all the insight and complexity of the best novels. Breslin gives us a thoughtful meditation on consumerism and the American Dream.” - Terry Heyman, Greetings From Insanity

“Jim Breslin viscerally knows the dynamics of a three-ring circus played out on the rotating stage of a 24/7 shopping network. They’re all there—stars and has-beens, pretty pitch women, sad clowns, roustabouts, network lions and wolves. Both moving and entertaining, Shoplandia mingles the humor and pathos inherent in the big tent of our consumer obsessive culture.” - Virginia Beards, Exit Pursued By a Bear and Others

"Drawing from his experiences in TV production, Jim Breslin's Shoplandia immerses the reader into that wild and weird world. This collection sizzles and pops, particularly in "Laugh Track," where Breslin's evocative storytelling about the seamy side of the television industry is so potent that you can almost smell it. - Josh Goller, The Molotov Cocktail

But wait, there's more! Check out the reviews posted on Amazon and Goodreads. Have you read SHOPLANDIA? Enjoy it this summer and join the discussion!

The Ghost Chile or Trick or Treating?

photo-17As I've talked with friends who have recently read Shoplandia, it's been fun to note which chapters have resonated. Early on, the chapter "Pepper Man," where Warren's life is changed after he eats a ghost chile handed to him by a motivational guru, appeared to be a favorite. Recently though, a few friends have mentioned that Chapter 11, "Day of the Dead," where producer Dottie experiences a rather catastrophic shift on Halloween night, was surprisingly emotional. One friend told me she cried as she read that chapter on the beach. Hearing that these stories connected with readers in different ways has been really fulfilling. If you've read Shoplandia, I'd love to know which chapter you enjoyed the most and if a chapter left you hanging. Did a favorite character emerge or was there a character you hated? I've appreciated the public notes so far on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter, and the private notes through personal conversation, email, and messaging. Thanks so much.

If you've not read the novel yet, you can read an early version of the chapter called "Damn Yankees" as it was published in Turk's Head Review. Shoplandia is available at Chester County Book Company (West Chester, PA), Main Point Books (Bryn Mawr, PA), BookPlace (Oxford, PA), and online at IndieBound and Amazon. There's also a link to order direct from Oermead Press.

Also, for those who are on Goodreads, we're doing another giveaway of three copies of Shoplandia. Click here to enter.

Is YA Like Mac and Cheese?

I once heard a comedian joke, "I don't understand the allure of skiing. I mean you put these slippery things on your feet and slide down the mountain. Try putting skis on and NOT sliding down the mountain, now that's a challenge." That's kind of how I felt while reading John Green's bestselling Young Adult (YA) novel The Fault Within Our Stars. Try writing a love story between two cancer-stricken teenagers that doesn't make readers cry, now that's a challenge. I just finished the novel last night and am strictly in the "it's okay" camp. John Green is a likable guy with a huge following. I like his Youtube videos, and admit I'd watched a few videos before I realized he was an author. While I didn't hate the novel, it didn't wow me either. Okay, a tear may have fallen, but this novel didn't stir up the emotions of many, many of the books I've read over the years.

Like any novel that becomes a huge financial success, the detractors have come out of the woodwork. Slate Magazine ran a piece recently where writer Ruth Graham derisively stated that adults should be embarrassed to be caught reading YA novels. The article can be found here.This article created an immediate backlash on Twitter, with people defending the YA genre. My favorite quote from this debate came from author Jennifer Weiner who, when asked why she would defend YA, tweeted, "First they come for your YA and then they come for your chick lit." Hilarious and true.

So here's my take. For me, reading YA is like eating Macaroni and Cheese. I've known many kids who grew up on a diet of mac and cheese, it is one of the few things they will eat - and they eat bowls of it. My son was an example of this, but now his palate has matured. As a college junior, he has developed a more adventurous appetite and turned into an opinionated "foodie." As an adult, I enjoy mac and cheese occasionally. It's a comfort food.

Our reading choices are similar. Is there a lit pyramid like the food pyramid? I tend to read short stories about suburban angst - and have to break out of my habit to read other stuff - non-fiction, poetry, chick lit, YA, etc. Do you have a favorite genre and have to "flex" your reading habits to try new genres? Anyway, I've had my fill of mac and cheese for the year, though maybe next summer I'll have another serving.

On Writing: An Interview with Meg Pokrass

When the writer Dinty W. Moore recently asked on Facebook who comes to mind when one thinks of Flash Fiction writers, the name Meg Pokrass was near the top of the list. Meg appears to have an obsession with this form of fiction, which is often considered to be any story less than 1,000 words and is sometimes tagged as prose poems. Meg and I first crossed paths on fictionaut.com a few years ago, where flash is fairly popular genre. Her flash pieces called "The Serious Writer" had me cracking up. In addition to being published in over 150 journals, Meg often drives engaging conversations about flash fiction through her Facebook page. She has a sense of humor also, often referring to her alter-ego agent as Peg Mokrass. I wanted to interview Meg about her writing, her influences, and her thoughts on the genre itself. Meg lives in San Francisco and her latest collection, "Bird Envy", is available through the Harvard Bookstore. Jim: What’s your definition of flash fiction?
1378788_10204018533408357_4020769808589480367_nMeg: Honestly the answer to this question is boringly simple, so I'm going to have to make it boringly simple. It is a story which is under, 1,000 words. Some stories are more like prose poems, or could be called prose poems. Some are more narrative, and feel more like fiction. "Flash Fiction" is a broad label for short form writing. There are many different ways to write flash. But the universal understanding of it always boils down to a story under 1,000 words.

Jim: Why does the form appeal to you?

Meg: I have always found myself stuck on certain parts of longer writings, just hopelessly in love with sentences as much or more than reading an entire novel. When reading novels, I'll read a brilliant paragraph or page a hundred times. Sometimes I get stuck and can't move on. This is how I fell in love with the form. I find a huge world inside of small moments, and observations. I always have.

Jim: I'm enjoying "Bird Envy". These pieces are little gems where I can read one piece and savor it for a few hours, then read another piece. How do you recommend reading flash?

Meg frontCover-1 (final)Meg: I'm glad you enjoyed "Bird Envy" Jim. I recommend reading flash just the way it feels right to. For some people they prefer to digest a bit at a time. Others, it seems, need to read a book straight through and then reread certain pieces later. I feel that reading flash fiction is similar to reading poems. It is hard to take in too much at once. For me, if a book of flash is meaty, the way it should be.. like poetry, it is best to read bits at a time.... to put the book away and return to it later. I don't see any reason to read the pieces in order, though many authors would disagree. One of the nicest compliments about my writing I've received came from the poet Bob Hicok, who said he could open my book "Damn Sure Right" and start anywhere, that his eyes would get caught on words and sentences, and his mind would eagerly hop all over the pages (these were not his exact words, but that was the idea, and it meant the world to hear it).

Jim: You joked on Facebook recently about the flash fiction community being incestuous. Can you elaborate?

Meg: Hm. It is a sensitive and complicated matter. I was disturbed, about 4 years ago, starting out as an online flash fiction editor and writer, about elitism within the flash fiction community— how you always saw the same names in flash magazines, and how closed a community it felt. Because I was new to it and was getting published a lot, I encountered hostility from existing writers, there was a feeling of territorialism which I ran into deeply the more I was published. There were private virtual offices, and I was shut out of the most important flash feedback/writing group. At this point, I was developing doubts about being able to have my work published or read because of the shut-out. What seemed to bother my colleagues the most was that I was comfortable about the concept of promoting my own work. I felt I had to do so, having no advocates. I had to be my own agent, if you will. You have to understand, back then, if a flash writer, for ANY reason, got on the bad side of a flash fiction magazine editor, it could end your publishing career.

With that worry, I created a writing community on Facebook, in which I did the opposite of what was being shown to me by the insiders. I believe I helped to open up the genre to new writers of the form, bringing in anyone who wanted to try hard, giving them prompts and so forth. Not shutting people out. I have, along the way, developed a community with heart. I am very proud about learning from what happened to me and doing something to help change things, instead of being muted.

The good news is that, these days, instead of 7 flash fiction magazines in existence, there are hundreds. Nobody has this kind of power anymore. And though you still tend to see the same names, the same "cool writers" if you will, and "hip" magazines to be published in, it is a more open playing field. There has been progress.

Jim: In this world of short attention spans, do you think flash fiction is on the brink of finding a larger audience?

Meg: It seems to me that flash fiction publications are multiplying in droves. Even some of the stodgier, more traditional print magazines are accepting submissions for flash fiction. I do not believe its growing readership is the result of short attention spans so much as the mobile device revolution and how perfect the form is for an e-reading experience.

Jim: Where's it happening for flash fiction now?

Meg: Flash fiction is being taught in MFA programs and it appears to be gaining slow but steady recognition as one of the most vibrant current forms among academics. The reality of flash fiction’s internet explosion can no longer be denied, so writing students are naturally studying it. There was a great panel about teaching flash fiction in the classroom this year at AWP, 2014. The panel was created and moderated by Sophie Rosenblum, co-editor for NANO Fiction, and I felt so fortunate to attend it. Flash fiction is rapidly gaining popularity in academia. It is an amazing time to be involved in the form!

Jim: You are just starting the New Flash Fiction Review? Can you tell us about it?

Meg: Kirk Nesset, one of my favorite writers and teachers of the short form and I are doing this together. Our first issue will include new work by Gary Lutz, Steve Almond, Chuck Rosenthal, Sherrie Flick, Robert Scotellaro, Molly Giles, Pamela Painter, Natalia Singer, Sean Lovelace, Tom Hazuka, Randall Brown, Cooper Renner, Matthew Fogarty, Leonard Kress and more wonderful, amazing flash fiction writers. The response to this issue was overwhelming. We feel proud and lucky!

Jim: Tell me more about your novella in flash that's coming out this fall.

Meg: "My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form" will include novellas-in-flash by Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, and Aaron Teel as well as essays on the craft of creating the novella-in-flash. I have loved the Rose Metal Press for years, it is a dream to be included in a book like this.

Jim: Tell me about your screenwriting project.

Meg: I am not allowed to say much about this yet. But, I can say that two years ago I was commissioned to create a piece with veteran screenwriter Graham Gordy, an original screenplay. I have had the time of my life. We are about finished with it now, and I’m crossing my fingers that we will see it completed as a film. I learned so much by working with Graham Gordy, enjoying it so much it did not feel like working. I could do this foreer. The last five years have been the most creative and happiest years of my life so far.

You can pick up Meg's latest collection of flash fiction "Bird Envy" at the Harvard Bookstore. Follow Meg on Twitter or Facebook or check out her website, MegPokrass.com.

First Shoplandia Reviews Are In

photo-59That week between a book launch and first reviews can be a tense time for writers, so it's exciting to see fairly positive reviews trickling in for Shoplandia. My local bookshop, Chester County Book Cmpany, made the novel a staff pick with a nice quote from Andrea in the store. I was also thrilled to see reviews from two literary sites that I admire in the first week, as well as a few reviews on sites for book lovers. Here's a nice quote from the website Small Press Reviews - "With a tone and style reminiscent of George Saunders and situations that would feel right at home in a Don DeLillo novel, the stories collected in Jim Breslin’s Shoplandia offer an engaging and informed behind-the-scenes look at the home shopping industry." - Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews

You can read Marc's entire review by clicking HERE.

Here's a quote from the second review -

"Breslin’s choice to set the stories within the television shopping network corporation is one of the most refreshing and strategic narrative moves I have experienced in a long time." - Jillian Benedict, Turk's Head Review.

You can read Jillian's entire review by clicking HERE.

At this point, there are two reviews posted on Goodreads and one review on Amazon. Each reader takes aways something different from a novel, so I love reading various perspectives. Thanks so much to those who have written reviews to date.

Have you read SHOPLANDIA yet? If so, do you agree with the reviews above or do you have a different perspective? I'm looking forward to reading reviews throughout the summer. If you have read SHOPLANDIA, please join the discussion and add your thoughts at Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook or other sites you enjoy. Or send me a message with your thoughts. Thanks for reading Shoplandia!

Upcoming Shoplandia Events are May 18 and May 20

IMG_1779 Thanks so much to everyone who came out to Chester County Book Company last night for the launch of Shoplandia! Your support is appreciated more than I can express. I was thrilled to speak about the inception of the novel and how it came together. It was great to catch up with so many friends and former co-workers. A huge thanks to Chester County Book Company for hosting the event! IMG_1777For those who are interested in attending an event, there are two more coming up in the next few days. On Sunday, we'll be celebrating in southern Chester County and on Tuesday I'll be reading in northern Chester County. I hope one of these events is convenient for you!

TWO SHOPLANDIA EVENTS! IMG_1773 SHOPLANDIA Book Launch Weekend Sunday, May 18th 3-6 p.m. BOOKPLACE, 2373 Baltimore Pike Oxford, PA. (717 951-6418) For more info, click HERE.

SHOPLANDIA Book Signing/DiscussionFlyer_-_Shoplandia Tuesday, May 20th 6:30 p.m. Henrietta Hankin Library 215 Windgate Dr, Chester Springs, PA 19425 (610) 321-1700 To Register, click HERE.

PERSONALIZED COPIES ONLINE For friends who would like a signed and personalized copy but can't attend an event, I set up a site to order Shoplandia direct. Click here!

The Novel Shoplandia Launches with three May Events

My new novel SHOPLANDIA is officially being released on May 15, 2014 with a launch party in West Chester. YOU are invited! ShoplandiaBookCover5_5x8_5_Cream_290 copy SHOPLANDIA was inspired by my seventeen years spent as a television producer at QVC, the home shopping network located in West Chester, PA. Working in a live television studio can be a crazy experience, and when you add in reality TV stars, self-help gurus, and A-Team actors, it becomes a three-ring circus. This is a novel told through stories, with perspectives from production assistants, show hosts, producers and a Marketing VP. My goal was to capture the spirit of the studio and show the bonds that form under pressure in the workplace.

There are three launch events scheduled right now. More may be listed throughout the summer. If you'd like updates on events, you can sign up for my newsletter over there on the right side of the website. In addition to being available at the awesome Chester County Book Company and BookPlace, the novel will be available online at Amazon, Indiebound, and other book-selling websites.

SHOPLANDIA Book Launch Thursday, May 15th, 6-8 p.m., short presentation at 7 p.m. Chester County Book and Music Company 957 Paoli Pike West Chester, PA 19380 Open to the public. For more information, click HERE.

SHOPLANDIA Book Launch Weekend Sunday, May 18th 3-6 p.m. BOOKPLACE, 2373 Baltimore Pike Oxford, PA. (717 951-6418) For more info, click HERE.

Flyer_-_ShoplandiaSHOPLANDIA Book Signing/Discussion Tuesday, May 20th 6:30 p.m. Henrietta Hankin Library 215 Windgate Dr, Chester Springs, PA 19425 (610) 321-1700 To Register, click HERE.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at jimbreslin @ gmail.com. Below is a sneak peek at the back cover blurbs.

"Shoplandia reveals the absurd world of home shopping networks with rollicking humor and gusto." - James Esch, Turk’s Head Review

Jake Meecham has been dropped down a rabbit hole. As a new production assistant at Shoplandia, he quickly realizes America’s third largest home shopping channel is much more than smiling show hosts, quantity counters and sparkling jewelry. Everyone visiting the live studio—reality TV stars, beloved country musicians, drunk baseball icons and A-Team actors—is striving to cash in on their own version of the American Dream. Meanwhile, a motivational guru inspires manager Warren to plot out a life-changing career strategy and fledgling show host Renee searches deep to find her “sales gene.” Marketing VP Johnny tracks down a troubled long lost show host while back in the studio, producers Dottie and Dylan struggle to keep the live show from imploding.

A humorous novel told through stories, Shoplandia peels back the curtain to reveal the familial bonds that often form in our working lives.

“Compelling and poetic, Shoplandia’s stories have all the insight and complexity of the best novels. Breslin gives us a thoughtful meditation on consumerism and the American Dream.” - Terry Heyman, Greetings From Insanity

“Jim Breslin viscerally knows the dynamics of a three-ring circus played out on the rotating stage of a 24/7 shopping network. They’re all there—stars and has-beens, pretty pitch women, sad clowns, roustabouts, network lions and wolves. Both moving and entertaining, Shoplandia mingles the humor and pathos inherent in the big tent of our consumer obsessive culture.” - Virginia Beards, Exit Pursued By a Bear and Others

Jim Breslin is the author of Elephant: Short Stories and Flash Fiction. His short stories have been published in Turk’s Head Review, Molotov Cocktail, Metazen and other journals. He is the founder of the West Chester Story Slam, a monthly live storytelling event and podcast. Jim spent seventeen years as a TV producer at home shopping network QVC. He lives in West Chester, PA.

On Writing: Poet Virginia Beards

photo-57Virginia Beards is a writer and poet who lives outside of Oxford, Pennsylvania. I first met Ginny at a critique group several years ago and am continually amazed with her breadth of knowledge and insights into the literary classics. She holds a M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College. Ginny taught at Penn State's Delco (Brandywine) campus for 22 years. Now, when she's not writing poetry or taking care of the horses on her farm, she can often be found at BookPlace, her art gallery and used bookshop just outside of Oxford, PA. BookPlace serves as a type of salon on weekends, with writers and artists stopping by for spirited conversation. epbocover2_8Oermead Press has just published Ginny's first poetry book, Exit Pursued By A Bear and Others, and is celebrating with several events throughout the Delaware Valley. Of special note is the Celebration on Sunday at BookPlace, where a limited edition of 100 hardcover copies, signed and numbered, will be sold. Ginny's schedule is posted below the interview. The paperback is also available on Amazon.

Jim: The title of your book comes from the stage direction of a Shakespeare play. What do you love about the title?

Virginia: With the exception of its last two words, the title Exit Pursued by a Bear and Others is lifted from a stage direction in A Winter’s Tale in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s Collected Plays. The “and others” is my add on. Shakespeare had nothing to do with this theatre manager’s insertion at the end of Act 3, scene 2. Like many others, I love it for it speaks to the randomness and unpredictability one confronts nearly every day. There is absolutely no dramatic reason in A Winter’s Tale to send in a bear to terrify and shoo the courtier-diplomat Antigonus off the stage. It makes no sense at all. But there it is, a bear springs out and Antigonus flees. Such things happen everyday, you don’t have to be Antigonus to appreciate this.

Jim: What started you writing poetry?

Virginia: I always read poetry at home from my mother's collection of Glenn Hughes chapbooks and other slim books by mostly forgotten poets--sentimental and sweet--but also some Edna St. Vincent Millay. Then I majored in English at the University of Washington where Theodore Roethke and David Waggoner held forth and attracted stellar visiting poets such as Louise Bogan, Louis Simpson, Leonie Adams. Louise Bogan astonished me with her stone face and New England accent pouring out passionate words, daring sounds and ideas. Later at Penn State for 23 years I taught poetry from centuries of western culture (Greece to Rome to Europe to Britain--Homer, Virgil, Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare and on and on to the plunge into modernism). So 4 years ago when a friend asked me to sit-in on an informal writer's group I did. I listened and thought, well I can do that. I went home and within 10 days or so wrote three poems that wowed my husband whose opinion as a literature professor held some weight. I have been writing ever since.

Jim: This may not be answerable. In your mind, what makes a great poem?

Ginny: Whew! I'm thinking keen perception, plus rhythm, diction, imagery and form wrapped up in a beguiling metaphor. Theodore Roethke's "I Knew a Woman," Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts," Marianne Moore's "Poetry."

Jim: One of my favorite poems in your new book is "Ice House." Can you tell us about the inspiration for that poem?

Ginny: Now "Ice House" came from my over 20 years commute on Route 1 from Oxford to Media and back again when I taught at Penn State, and since then the further development depredations in the Route 1 Chadds Ford-Longwood stretch. When the Dairy Queen, my favorite stop on my way home from Penn State, closed and resurrected as a funeral parlor I was bemused, astonished. Where is the fun in funeral? So I started thinking and reading and snooping about the Chadds Ford--its transformation including the crumbling of Mother Archie's church and octagonal school, the disappearance of what the Wyeths called "coon hollow," the historic inn into a go-to spot for museum goers etc. All this came into "Ice House" as did the late Wyeth painting of a private jet interior "whisking the artist to Maine" which shows the headlights on route 1 far below.

Virginia Beards has several events in quick succession this week.

Saturday, April 26 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Rosemont College Book Festival Connelly Green at Rosemont College 1400 Montgomery Avenue Rosemont, PA

Sunday, April 27, 3 to 6 p.m. Official Exit Pursued by a Bear Launch at BookPlace 2373 Baltimore Pike Oxford, PA 19363

Monday, April 29, 7 p.m. National Poetry Month Reading Chester County Book and Music Company 957 Paoli Pike, West Chester, PA Virginia will read along with Daisy Fried and other regional poets.

Four Questions About My New Novel Shoplandia

A few writers are tagging other writers to answer "4 Questions" about the writing process. My friend Nicole Valentine recently tagged my friend Robb Cadigan, and now he has tagged me. The timing couldn't have been better as I'm finally about to complete a project which I've been working on steadily for the past three years. Here are my 4 answers: 1. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

ShoplandiaBookCover5_5x8_5_Cream_290 copyI just finished up my first novel, SHOPLANDIA, which I'm happy to announce will be launched at Chester County Book Company on May 15th. See details below. Told from the perspective of production assistants, show hosts, producers, and a VP, SHOPLANDIA peels back the curtain to give a humorous and sometimes tragic glimpse into the bonds that form in our working lives. This novel told through stories also has a supporting cast of reality TV personalities, motivational gurus, A-Team actors, beloved country musicians, drunk baseball players, and aging movie stars.

SHOPLANDIA Book Launch Thursday, May 15th, 6-8 p.m., short presentation at 7 p.m. Chester County Book and Music Company 957 Paoli Pike West Chester, PA 19380

SHOPLANDIA Book Launch Weekend Sunday, May 17th 3-5 p.m. BOOKPLACE, 2373 Baltimore Pike Oxford, PA.

2. HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN ITS GENRE?

As far as I know, there is only one other novel about life behind the scenes at a home shopping channel, and that is Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs. When I first read that novel years ago, I realized he had an outsider's perspective and the novel didn't capture what it is really like to work in the absurd, yet thrilling mayhem of a studio that is live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And because he wrote about people who were co-workers and friends, I didn't find the satirical depiction very flattering. While there are still some villains in SHOPLANDIA, they are more than offset by the hosts, producers and on-air guests who are downright heroic.

3. WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

My friend Larry Geiger recently asked me, "Why do you write?" and my only reply was "Because I can't play the drums." Seriously though, after writing my first collection, Elephant: Short Stories and Flash Fiction, I wanted to write something lighter and fast paced. Shoplandia is definitely a work of fiction, but it was inspired by my seventeen years as a producer at QVC. My goal was to capture the spirit of a live television studio, which has always been a remarkable place.

4. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS LIKE?

Agonizing. Most of the time, I start with a snippet of an idea - a visual or a phrase that intrigues me and I go from there. It's like making my way through the dark. I've come to see writing is more like sculpting than anything else. The first draft is always crap, just a blob of clay. Even by the tenth draft, it's still only shaped a little bit. One of the chapters in SHOPLANDIA, Pepper Man, was written three years ago but I didn't have a satisfactory ending until last fall, when it suddenly came together. The real short pieces come together more quickly. Laugh Track came together in an afternoon, but anything over 1,000 words takes revision upon revision.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you at one of the book launches or you can purchase SHOPLANDIA online soon. If you want to stay updated on events, you can sign up for my newsletter for occasional updates. Click HERE.

I've now tagged writer Carla Sarett to answer these four questions. Carla has two collections - Strange Courtships: Nine Romantic Stories and Crazy Lovebirds and she is working on a novel. You can check out her blog by clicking HERE.