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.

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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.

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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.

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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.