Jim Breslin is the author of ELEPHANT, a well-received collection of short stories and flash fiction. His fiction has been published in Metazen, Turk’s Head Review, Think Journal, and The Molotov Cocktail. His non-fiction has appeared in The World According to Twitter, WHYY's NewsWorks, and various other websites.
With an ambitious vision and selfless desire to introduce the world to other new writers and storytellers, Jim created his own indie publishing company a few years ago and released the highly regarded anthology CHESTER COUNTY FICTION. (I was thrilled when my story "Baptism" was selected for inclusion in the collection.) Not content to promote only the written word, Jim also is the founder of the popular "West Chester StorySlam," now celebrating its fourth year, and the new "Delco StorySlam."
Jim and I met as colleagues more than 20 years ago at the TV shopping channel QVC. (He is currently working on an interlinked story collection where all the characters work at a fictional shopping channel. I know he has plenty of good material--I'm only afraid I may have personally given him some.)
We have since become great friends, bonding over the love of story and a good pint. Jim has been an important mentor and advisor to me as I've worked on my own publication. I'm delighted he took the time for this very informative Q&A today.
As a teenager, a high school teacher I really admired told us that THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP was his favorite book. I read the novel and was astounded. I don't know if I wanted to be a writer because I love the novel or because I wanted to be Garp (he was a writer.) My parents didn't like the idea so we agreed I'd go to school for TV/Radio with a minor in Journalism. As for when I knew I was one? Shortly after I published a few short stories and received some local press, my sons went to pick up cheesesteaks at a shop in town. They came home and said the owner asked them if "Jim Breslin the writer" was their dad. It was kind of funny.
Who or what inspired you as a kid or teenager?
The high school English teacher I mentioned above. Mr. McGuire gave us a list he titled "Mr. McGuire's Top Ten Favorite Books of All Time" but the sheet had about fifty books listed. I had that sheet for years. He was an inspiration. Harry Humes, a professor and poet at Kutztown University, walked into our Creative Writing class the first day and read aloud Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?" I still get chills thinking about that.
What creative work most recently inspired you?
I read REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates this past summer. Totally blew me away. Every page is filled with tension, dread, and melancholy. Simply amazing, dark and beautifully tragic.
The most underrated creative (writer, musician, artist) is …
Chaim Soutine. When I first visited the Barnes and saw Soutine's paintings, my jaw dropped. Why hadn't I known about him?
In moments of self doubt, how do you push through?
Writing does come in fits. It's easy to think something is brilliant one day and the next day it looks like crap. I believe in gestation - sometimes walking away from a project for months. Of course, I'll start something else in the meantime. I'm fortunate to be in two private critique groups with people whose opinions I trust.
Have you ever abandoned a creative project?
Yes. I have a few novels and dozens of short stories lying around that will probably not see the light of day.
What was the best creative advice you ever received?
I love this quote from Kerouac: "I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand, because they are the same that far down."
My favorite fictional character or hero is …
Garp is my favorite male fictional character. Mildred Pierce is my favorite female fictional character. I fell in love with Mildred as I read the novel, and my crush was only deepened when I watched the mini-series with Kate Winslet.
The last film I enjoyed was …
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. I LOVE that movie.
The next book on my reading pile is …
In the past week I read THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and then yesterday I finished THE PARIS WIFE. I have two dozen books sitting on my stand. Not sure what I'll pick. It really is what strikes me when I go look at that pile.
The short story I can’t wait to read again is …
"What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank" by Nathan Englander. I thought it would be a shoddy Carver imitation, but the story blew my mind.
The book I really should have read by now is …
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Hunter S. Thompson.
Does The Great American Novel exist (yet)? If so, what is it?
I thought it was RABBIT, RUN by John Updike. I now think it is REVOLUTIONARY ROAD.
What creative work might we be surprised to find on your shelf, iPod, or TiVo?
I'm listening to Skrillex and Public Enemy these days.
Facebook and Twitter: friend or foe to a creative?
I see these both as being the water cooler for those who work at home. Sometimes, I play on these when I should be writing, so that is bad. But I have become friends with other writers and creative folks through FB and Twitter too, so the connections are awesome.
In addition to writing, how do you express your creativity?
I wish I could say I'm a drummer in a punk band but I have no rhythm. I would say storytelling is my cross-training for my writing. I tell stories almost every month at West Chester Story Slam and Delco Story Slam. I've also told stories at Scranton Story Slam and on the Liberation Stage.
The most difficult thing about the life of a creative is …
When the writing is good, getting inside your head for several hours is great, but it is often difficult to return to the real world. When the writing is good, sometimes the real world becomes a fog.
Three beers (or bars or restaurants) people have to try when they visit Chester County.
Only three? Side Bar has the best beer selection in West Chester. The Whip Tavern is a British style pub in the middle of nowhere and it is awesome, but you want a designated driver. Square Bar in West Chester is just a classic neighborhood bar with a good tap selection. And then there's Jake's, and there's Station Taproom, and ...