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Local Authors Share 'Chester County Fiction'

Phoenixville Public Library hosted a panel discussion on a collection of locally-centered short stories.

Ten area authors gathered at the  on Monday night to read from and talk about their stories in the new short story collection Chester County Fiction, edited by Sue Gregson and Christine Yurick.

Local writer Jim Breslin spearheaded the project, collecting 19 stories from 14 Chester County authors. All of the stories are either set in or connected with Chester County.

Jason Hafer, owner of the former Wolfgang Books store, moderated the panel and asked questions of all the authors.

"We live in an active literary community," Hafer said.

Breslin said that the past five years have seen more interest in the arts, especially with events like the West Chester Story Slam.

Breslin considers the book more of a "sampler than a collection," he said.

Hafer questioned Breslin about the path to getting the book published.

Breslin collected the stories, and then had them edited over the last year. The book was released in November.

"It's easier to start publishing now with print on demand," Breslin said. "Anyone who's tried to get a book published knows that even if you do get accepted [by a publisher], it's often a year, year and a half before the book actually comes out. Now, you can print 150 books as a first print run instead of a thousand."

Robb Cadigan said that the "dinosaur of traditional publishing is going away."

However, Cadigan said, "the death of the book is wrong."

"There are just new avenues [to getting published]," Cadigan said.

The panel also talked about some of the processes of writing.

Hafer offered up the question, "Does the story come before the setting?"

Author Nicole Valentine said her short story focuses on a 300-year-old tree in West Goshen so the setting was the basis for the story.

Ginny Beards, author of three stories in the book, said her stories all focus on fox hunting, which is popular in Chester County.

"My stories wouldn't exist without the setting," she said.

Breslin's story was inspired by a Jamie Wyeth painting called "Lester" that currently hangs in the Brandywine River Museum.

"The painting haunted me," Breslin said.

Michael Dolan said that his story began with the phrase "the river runs red" and the final scene is set on the Brandywine River. He had to work backward to find out how his story got to that final scene.

Cadigan and fellow authors Terry Heyman and Ron Giles said their stories came first and were transplanted to Chester County.

Cadigan said he had the image of a man walking along a road, but he "didn't know where the road was."

"When Jim [Breslin] and I talked, I knew that the road was Route 30," Cadigan said.

Another writing question that came up during the discussion was why Chester County fosters such a creative environment.

"Chester County has these wide open spaces, picturesque landscapes, and so many libraries and arts," author Joan Hill said.

Valentine believes that the county attracts people who can fall in love with the area but who retain an "outsider perspective."

"The idea of a stranger in a strange land, it appeals to people," she said.

Several of the authors published in the book are primarily novelists and found the short story format to be difficult.

"What was hard was what to leave out," Cadigan said. "At the end of my story, we still don't know what he's [the main character] been through or where he's going to end up. Novels explain everything."

Wayne Anthony Conaway, author of two of the book's stories, said that for writers, "whatever's wrong with your writing will be apparent in a short story."

When asked about why people still write, Cadigan said "We're writing because we still want to be heard."

Valentine agreed. "We're raising a generation of readers and writers," she said.

Beards, a former English professor, said, "Writing is important to formulate and refine your thoughts."

"We have to start them [children] early, turn them on to fiction," Cadigan said.

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The book Chester County Fiction is available at local book stores as well as at Amazon.com and includes the following stories:

  • "The Weeping Beech" by Nicole Valentine
  • "Baptism" by Robb Cadigan
  • "Real Gentlemen" by Jim Breslin
  • "The Acceptance Letter" by Joan Hill
  • "A Hunt Tea," "Fall Out And Frock Coats" and "No Good Deed..." by Virginia Beards
  • "The Prey" by Ron Giles
  • "Sam's Brother" by Christine Yurick
  • "As Clouds Will Always Do" by Jacob Asher Michael
  • "An Incident Near Paoli" by Peter Cunniffe
  • "Formerly Fearsome" and "Fit For A King" by Wayne Anthony Conaway
  • "The Ocean's Breath" by Terry Heyman
  • "The River Runs Red" by Michael Dolan
  • "The Great Neck Nazi Killer" by Eli Silberman

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