Interview with Jim Breslin of West Chester Story Slam

Today’s interview is with writer Jim Breslin who has an imaginative storytelling venture, West Chester Story Slam.  The West Chester Story Slam has developed a loyal following in the Philadelphia area over the past four years. Jim has just launched Delco Story Slam in January, 2013.

About Jim: He is a short story writer, editor and publisher. His first collection, Elephant: Short Stories and Flash Fiction came out in 2010. He also published Chester County Fiction, an anthology featuring sixteen stories. For seventeen years, Jim was a TV producer at QVC, the world’s largest shopping network. He’s also has written food and beer reviews for print and online publications.

SARETT: Describe how the West Chester Story works?  Can anyone go and tell a story?  
BRESLIN: Yes, they can! Before the show, anyone who wants to tell a story signs a release and we put their name in a hat. Stories should be true as you remember it, be about five minutes long and fit the theme of the night. We post the themes on the website.

West Chester Story Slam is the second Tuesday of the month, 8 p.m.,  at Side Bar in WC borough. Reserved seats are recommended since these shows do sell out. Tickets are $8 and can be ordered through West Chester Story Slam by clicking here.

Delco Story Slam is the fourth Wednesday of the month, 7 p.m., at Burlap and Bean, an awesome coffee house in Newtown Square. Tickets and tables can be reserved through their events page, and we usually have seats available the night of the show.

SARETT: There are a lot of comedy clubs, but few “storytelling” venues.  How did you come up with this idea?
BRESLIN: I’m a fan of The Moth storytelling podcast and urban story slams such as Windy City Story Slam and First Person Arts Story Slam in Philadelphia. One day I tweeted “Is there anything like The Moth out in West Chester?” and a friend replied, “No, but you should start one. We’d come.” So I did.

SARETT: Lots of us came from families with great storytellers.  Was yours one of them?  
BRESLIN: I’m the oldest of eight kids from an Irish Catholic family, so yes! It’s common to get a call from a sibling and the first thing they say is “I got a story for ya...”

SARETT: You’ve been doing the slam for a while. By now, you’ve seen a lot of winners and losers?  In your mind, what’s the great secret to a successful “story” for the slam?
BRESLIN: I think the best stories are surprising and reveal something about the storyteller. Often, a person shows up just to watch, but at at intermission they put their name in the hat, basically on a lark, and they win. Everyone has great stories.

SARETT: I see lots of fun topics for the slams -- where do you get the ideas for them?  Do audience members supply them?  What was your favorite topic?
BRESLIN: I lay out the entire following season in December. I have solicited ideas from story slam fans through Facebook, I’ve gone through my iPod playlist, books, and I keep an eye on what others slams throughout the world are doing. One of my favorites was "Celebrity Sightings.” We heard amazing stories about people such as Lee Marvin, Johnny Weismuller, Bill Murray, and the Queen of England.

SARETT: Are there other ventures in the area that are similar to yours (and do you see catching on?)  
BRESLIN: First Person Arts in Philadelphia holds two slams a month. Bradley Beck just came to our Delco Story Slam and told a great story. He is starting a Storytelling event in Philly called Liberation and they have a Facebook page.

SARETT: Are the stories recorded so that others can buy them?  Do you produce books?
BRESLIN: People sign a release so the stories can be recorded and put on Youtube. I choose three stories from each story slam and produce a free monthly podcast that is available for MP3 players and iTunes. Next year is our fifth anniversary, so I have ideas in the works for something special. We’ll see.

SARETT: I enjoy stories when I can read them aloud.  As a writer, I always read aloud, too.  But do you think there’s a basic difference between the oral story and the written one?
BRESLIN: This is an interesting question. I think Norman Mailer said something about how he thought his stories should not be read aloud. I’m not a fan of author readings, where their head is down reading. Story Slams work because they are totally different - they are more akin to the bar stories that people tell - there’s no notes allowed.

SARETT: Tell us about other projects that you’re working on.
BRESLIN: I’m on the final push for my latest book, a collection of stories where the characters work at a fictional home shopping channel. It has been a long process but I poured my heart into these stories.

Thanks to Jim for stopping by. Jim’s writing website can be found here. He is on Twitter at @jimbrez.

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