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.

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.