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Anthology Philly ImageHello fellow Philadelphians! WragsInk is preparing the next anthology in our Anthology, Philly series, and it could include a story from YOU!

If you live in the Philadelphia area (including nearby New Jersey and Delaware) we are looking for submissions to the next anthology. It will include everything from poetry to short stories to flash fiction. Do you want to be a part of it? Then you have to SUBMIT.

Send your best work to phillyfictioncontest[at]gmail[dot]com. The submissions will be open until filled, so it’s best you get us your work now. For more information on what we look for, feel free to order volume one and check it out.

Please only send us 3-5 poems or 1-2 short stories. We don’t want to be overwhelmed!

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By Kathryn Ombam

I was very fortunate to have a conversation with author Eric McKinley about his debut novel, Blessed Sons this week. Blessed Sons follows an ensemble of characters through the complicated scenario leading up to and following the shooting death of a star high school athlete. The characters seem simple enough: the boy and his family, the shopkeeper, and the lawyer who is assigned to the case. But the emotional relationships that McKinley creates for each character are fascinating and nuanced – and the characters are forced to examine some of the most difficult things that life holds – race, class, violence, death, and the consequences that go along with each. When I sat down with McKinley, I tried to ask him some meaningful questions. Often I was reduced to just gushing about my favorite parts of the book, but here are the highlights of the interview:

Mrs.O: In this book, the protagonist is a lawyer named Jon, you happen to be a lawyer, how often do people ask you about the lawyer component of this book?

McKinley: Sure, even people that don’t know I am a lawyer ask me about the detail of the trial
and want to know if I have personal experience with the plot line. But I don’t want people to get
bogged down in making comparisons. I don’t want people to think this is the only thing I write
about – or that I will write about in the future.

Mrs. O: You do convey a great bit of detail – like how the lawyers talk to the judge and how the
whole legal process goes, even down to the details of the rooms they are meeting in and how they
differ from one another.

McKinley: Yes, but being a lawyer is not a monolithic experience. Some judges are casual; some
lawyers are too, stylistically. Some are more talented than others. Not everyone will be the same.

Mrs. O: At the reading you did today, you spoke of intentionally making the city of Philadelphia a
character in the novel. You did so beautifully. Even though I live here, I felt that I was really getting
an insider’s view of the city – and was transported to each locale with you, in the same way that I
am in books that take place in far-away locales.

McKinley: First of all, thank you for the kind words. Yes, I was very intentional in making the
city part of the ensemble. Places like Bob and Barbara’s and Cookum’s are real places, although
Cookum’s has closed down now. I wanted to include the detail of the city because this story might
be different in a different city.

Mrs. O: You acknowledge that this story has an eerily similar context to the Trayvon Martin case, do
you think that would have been a different scenario, had that tragedy happened in Philadelphia?

McKinley: I think it might. Philly is different. We have an African American Mayor and an African
American Police Chief, and obviously a large population of African American residents, so I think
the reaction would have been different. George Zimmerman wasn’t even arrested until some of his
bizarre post-shooting behavior happened. And his bail was set rather low. I don’t know that that
would have happened here because our public leadership contains so many people of color.

Mrs. O: What about Music? You use music in a very theatrical way in this novel – I could so easily
see it translated into a screenplay – but did you intend for Music to be another character?

McKinley: Music is not meant to be a character in the same way that Philadelphia is an intentional
character, but I did imagine the scene and what kind of music would be playing, because that is part
of the experience of being in Philadelphia. Most places would have a jukebox or a band, so I did
think as I was writing about what would have been playing.

Mrs. O: Yes! I was so happy to see a mention of one of my favorite artists – Mos Def – in a
description of Jon. I immediately thought – oh now I can get an idea of this person – he is probably
my age, and is thinking about music in a way that is not necessarily following trends.

McKinley: He is not a trendy guy. And the song choices were very intentional. Part of my desire
for this novel to be an ensemble piece was to include things like music in that way. Food is another
component that was meant to augment the story.

Mrs. O: I find myself very drawn to the psychology of Jon – he is so apathetic in so many ways – and
particularly to the women in his life – in his relationships with his wife and his mother, he is so stuck.

McKinley: I think of him not so much as a protagonist but as an anti-hero. So much of what he is
doing is just trying to survive. He is not a white knight swooping in to save anything. In some ways
he is just a guy trying to keep his job, trying to keep his marriage together. But he does have a
baseline competitive streak and at a certain point he gets interested in winning; in winning his cases,
in trying to ‘win’ his marriage. He is trying to do the right thing. But, he has a definitive threshold
for how much he is willing to give a shit. At a certain point the effort becomes too much of a
struggle and turns into a blockage. He loves his people, but there is a limit to his emotional reserve.
He loves, but not unconditionally and not without limits. Jon’s relationship with his mother is the
best illustration of this.

Mrs. O: Tell me about the great bartender character – Cook – he seems to be such as great father-
figure character. Was he intended to be?

McKinley: That is an interesting question and a characterization that I had not thought of before.
He certainly represents a refuge for Jon. Cy (the best friend) and Cook (the bartender) both fulfill
that role of providing a safe place for him to go amidst the madness. Look, there is a lot of judgment
coming at him from all angles. Judgment of whether he is living up to his potential or not. Men
don’t get that kind of judgment from other men. The idea is, “Okay, fine, my boy is going to cheat
on his wife, or he drinks too much, but he is still my boy.”

Mrs. O: But the relationships with women are more judgmental?

McKinley: Yes, for Jon, the women in his life don’t need to do anything. They have been accepted
by him. They are already at the standard needed for his engagement. And of course this is vast
generalizing, but women have a more project-based attitude toward men. They want men to be
more, to be what they think is better. The men are fine – saying: “That’s it, this is my guy, whatever
happens.” Conversely, men become apathetic or compartmentalize because they have already
made the decision to commit to the relationship and they are in it for whatever it is.

For instance, there is a scene in the book where Jon is looking around his marital house and he is
seeing that the décor is fundamentally his wife’s. He accepts it and is comfortable within it, but it
would be different if it was just him. It is clearly her house. But he is okay with that. He knows he
will stay and try to make it work. She is going to have to be the one that leaves him – even though
it is obvious that they have evolved away from one another. He would stay forever. Just like he
would never leave his job until he reaches a true breaking point.

Mrs. O: I guess women have more rules than men do about their close relationships – a code of
conduct maybe? But I feel like there is such a strong male tone to the book. Even the narrator has a
male tone and an urban tone.

McKinley: Interesting, I meant for the narrator to be omniscient, but you might be right. Men –
and again I am generalizing – don’t have the same rules toward their close relationships. They can
have conflict without analysis – they just accept whatever happens – with or without explanation or
resolution. They just keep going.

This is true with Jon’s marriage – he’s in it. He is at a point where he doesn’t feel like he has a
choice, so then he honors his commitment. He is not intentionally trying to push Cheryl away. He
doesn’t want to be an island but he doesn’t want to be domesticated either.

Mrs. O: I want to be sure I’m not providing any major spoilers, but there is a moment when Jon
finally breaks down. Can you tell me more about what is going on to finally bring out this emotion
from a character that has been so stoic up to this point.

McKinley: He is not a guy that feels like his life belongs to him. It’s not his house, it’s his wife’s. It’s
not his marriage, it’s on her terms. It’s not his job; his colleagues take much more ownership of the
firm. It’s not even really his case, it’s Saul’s and Jerrel’s. So when something that he really owns and
loves is finally touched by this situation, he reacts. Because he has so little stake in the rest of his
life, this becomes an even greater violation.

And I think it important to note that there is a lot of pressure coming from his community. They
know him and they know the implications of him defending this person. He had been able to remain
detached, but then all of a sudden, it’s all there in his face. He’s there in the maelstrom of crap.

Mrs. O: Right, that is a great part of the story – this all hits very close to home for him on so many
levels.

McKinley: His role provides even greater scrutiny because he is from the same community where
the pivotal action occurs. He has considerable talent and good intentions, but he is in a difficult
situation.

Mrs.O: The book really has such interesting topics for discussion. Race, gender, class, mobility are
all strong themes. I see why you have offered to attend book group discussions because there is so
much fodder for discussion!

I have to thank Eric McKinley for indulging my many questions. You can find the book through
the author’s website http://ericmckinleyfiction.wordpress.com/, the publisher’s website: http://
wragsink.com/#/ericmckinley/, and on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Blessed-Sons-Eric-McKinley/
dp/0983045445

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By Dennis Finocchiaro

Hello authors! Ever wonder what famous author your work might resemble? I was on Facebook today and saw that someone posted a link to a website that does just that, I Write Like. So I went to my blog, copy/pasted my story Albert’s Arc, and got J.K. Rowling! I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books, so I was pretty happy.

So I decided to try another story, an excerpt from my new book Inheritance and got Gertrude Stein, another author I enjoy. Plus, I loved her in Midnight in Paris, wink wink.

Finally, I tried my short story Long Lost William from Coney Island and got James Fenimore Cooper. I’ve never read any of his work, but now I just might have to check it out.

What fun! Now you should try it.

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I really think, sometimes, a great way to break through writer’s block, besides just forcing yourself to write, is to read. But you can’t read just anything, can you? It has to be inspiring. Or at least fun.

In the past week, I have been lucky to read a pile of absolutely inspiring books, starting with Dave Eggers’ new one, A Hologram for the King. If I tried to tell you the plot of this story, you would just think to yourself Why would I want to read that? But it was an excellent read. Anything that guy writes is excellent; he has such a talent.

Neil Gaiman was next with Anansi Boys. Loved it. A few chapters in I was wondering when it would become more Gaiman-like (there was an odd lack of magi or fantasy) and then all of a sudden it appeared. It was nearly impossible to tear me from the book. Even on public transportation, I was glued to the novel.

Then I got to read a few sequels about my favorite characters, Odd Thomas (Dean Koontz) and Thursday Next (Jasper Fforde). I’m halfway through the latter.

I was surprised to find that as soon as I started reading Hologram, my writer’s block just disappeared. So maybe, for me, it’s all tied into what I’m reading.

So I guess what I’m wondering now is, what inspires other writers out there. Here is a poll to find out.

Dennis Finocchiaro is the author of such books as The Z Word, a collection of flash fiction that takes place during the zombie apocalypse, Capturing a Moment, a collection of his flash fiction typed onto vintage photographs using an antique typewriter, and Inheritance, a nonfiction memoir about his grandfather.

He also edited WragsInk‘s Anthology Philly, a collection of the best new short story authors in the Philadelphia Area.

Follow Dennis on Facebook or twitter.

Follow WragsInk Publishing on twitter.

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We at WragsThinks were curious. With so many writers out there, we can’t help but wonder how many people are like our author and editor Dennis Finocchiaro, and find that early morning writing is the easiest. So we created a poll:

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Writing Tip Dialogue

A Writing Tip

by Dennis Finocchiaro

Hello readers! As I sat down the other day to work on a zombie Christmas tale for an anthology, I started really thinking about the compound where the main character finds survivors. When it came time to do a description in the story, I had to really visualize what I would want it to look like. How big is it? How many buildings? And where are they on the compound?  When the main character was giving a tour, I started having a bit of trouble.
That’s when the art major in me took over. Or should I say, the one year of art school I attended. I grabbed a piece of paper, the tools I had for architecture, and got to work drawing what I thought it would look like. It’s not especially detailed, just a basic idea of the property.

And then the tour of the compound flowed quite easily.

What about you? Do you writers out there have any tips or tricks you’d care to share? We would love to hear.

Dennis Finocchiaro is author of The Z Word, a zombie anthology of short stories, Capturing a Moment, a collection of his flash fiction typed onto vintage photographs, and the upcoming nonfiction novella Inheritance. He is also editor of Anthology Philly, a collection of short stories by authors in the Philadelphia Area. Dennis writes children’s ebooks as well, available on Amazon.

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