Philadelphia Stories Winter 2016

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Cultivating a community of writers,

artists, and readers across the Delaware Valley

WINTER / 2016 / FREE


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Publisher/Editorial Director Carla Spataro Publisher/Executive Director Christine Weiser Fiction Editor Mitchell Sommers Assistant Fiction Editor Amy Luginbuhl Nonfiction Editor Julia MacDonnell Chang


CORSETS (fiction) ...............................................................................................................................................VERA LIMETT


BACK PAIN (fiction)............................................................................................................................................BILLY THOMPSON



Poetry Editor Courtney Bambrick

20 NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK (excerpt) 24 WHERE BREASTS SO RECENTLY BLOSSOMED (essay) ......................................................SUSAN COUSINS BREEN 27 GETTING TO KNOW YOU: LETTING CHARACTER DETERMINE PLOT (column)................................................................AIMEE $BRIE

Contest Coordinator & Assistant Poetry Editor Nicole Mancuso Art Editor Pam Mclean-Parker Editorial/Program Assistant Lena Van


Contest Coordinator Nicole Pasquarello

I ASK THE MECHANIC TO FIX ME ....................................................................................................GIANNI GAUDINO

14 MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE .........................................................................................................JOSEPH A. CILLUFFO 26 CLOSE CUT .........................................................................................................................................................KAY PETERS

Art Director Derek Carnegie Assistant Production Manager Jon Busch

28 KEEPING THINGS ALIVE...........................................................................................................................KATIE BUDRIS

Web Design Loic Duros


Board of Directors Sharon Sood Mitchell Sommers Alison Hicks Alex Husted Polia Tzvetanova

Stella by Kathleen Spicer


Kathleen Spicer creates painted wood sculptures and reliefs such as “Stella”. She has shown extensively across the country and has been awarded six public art commissions and several awards including the New York Foundation for the Arts. Upcoming solo exhibitions include the Leonard Bazemore Gallery (Philadelphia, PA), Rosemont College (Rosemont, PA) and Rydal Park (Jenkintown, PA). To see more, go to

Peacock by Rinal Parikh


Looking Up II by John A. Benigno

Vanishing Zone by Sandi Neiman Lovitz


Sandi Neiman Lovitz graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor's degree in Art Education. She is involved in ARTsisters, Tri-State Artist Equity, and The Da Vinci Art Alliance. Sandi teaches at Main Line Art Center and paints full time in her studio in Havertown, Pa.


“I was a little girl when I became excited about art. The colors around me, from the blue of the sky to the first robin’s egg that I saw, to this day, provide me with a huge vocabulary to express myself.”

Stiletto by Sandi Neiman Lovitz

John A. Benigno’s interest in photography dates to the mid1950’s when his father brought home a Polaroid camera. He’s been making photographs ever since. John’s work is held in many collections including the State Museum of Pennsylvania and his work has appeared in numerous exhibits throughout the Tri-State area. He teaches at the Main Line Art Center in Haverford, PA. Visit: www.

Free Derry, October 30, 1969 (2013) by Sarah Barr



Rinal Parikh’s art reflects the heritage and vibrant culture of her native India. A self-taught artist, she draws on a childhood fascination with color and composition, portraying spontaneity and energy with saturated color in various media. Rinal is involved with many Philadelphia area arts organizations including Swarthmore Friends of the Arts, PWS, Da Vinci Art Alliance, CAC, GNAL, and MCGOPA.


Sarah Barr is an artist living and working in the Philadelphia area. She earned her BFA from Rosemont College and her MFA in Visual Arts from Lesley University’s School of Art and Design in Boston. Her work has been exhibited in such venues as the Griffin Museum of Photography, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, The Biggs Museum of American Art, and the New Orleans Photo Alliance. Visit her website at

Alwyn Flight 7th Avenue Angels by Pam McLean-Parker


Pam McLean-Parker began exhibiting her photographs in 1988 while working towards a BFA degree at Rosemont College. Her work has appeared on exhibit in galleries and art centers for over two decades and has received numerous awards. Pam is the director of the Montgomery County Guild of Professional Artists and serves on the board of directors for Philadelphia/Tri-States Artists Equity Association.


Solidarity Wall, Falls Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland (2015) by Sarah Barr

Philadelphia Stories, founded in 2004, is a non-profit literary magazine that publishes the finest literary fiction, poetry, and art from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware and distributes free of charge to a wide demographic throughout the region. The mission of Philadelphia Stories is to cultivate a community of writers, artists, and readers in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Philadelphia Stories is a 501c3. To support Philadelphia Stories and the local arts, please visit to become a member today!

Fiction Board Clare Haggerty Lena Van Darrah Hewlett Elizabeth Green Owen Hamill Nichole Liccio Aimee LaBrie Walt Maguire Tiara DeGuzman Addison Namnoum Alyssa Persons Ilene Rush Elizabeth Ollero Nathan Long Kathleen Furin Ally Evans Chelsea Covington Maass Jon Busch Robert Kerbeck Poetry Board Peter Baroth Liz Chang Blythe Davenport Margo Douaihy Pat Green Vernita Hall Ed Krizek Aimee Penna Thomas Jay Rush John Shea Donna Wolf-Palacio


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Corsets Vera Limett

“Put that horror back in the armoire.” Julien held up the painting and looked at his mother, Josephine, standing in the doorway of his room. “I was thinking you could auction it off at the Bazaar.” His mother was chairing the spring charity picnic at Notre Dame on Sunday after Mass. “No one wants that vulgar thing. All that garish color. And it’s a park scene. Real art depicts our Lord and Savior. Or His Mother.” It was a painting Julien had done as a secondary school student at St. Thomas Aquinas, a street scene at the Place des Innocents, riotous with hues of greens and blues. His mother loathed it from the moment he brought it through the patisserie door. He had to admit he’d bungled the sky. There was a certain shade of blue, Parisian blue, in the early evening just before twilight that was impossible to capture. He stuffed it back in its place behind his woolen trousers. She’d derided it so many times he’d been forced to remove it from his wall. But a painter by the name of Henri Matisse had debuted a similar painting, Woman in a Hat, the previous fall at the 1905 Salon Automne at the Petit Palais. It sold for a shocking four thousand francs. “Perhaps Paris is ready for such work now,” he said. He tied his apron and hurried down. His father, Ansell, stood near the door, a large ring of brass keys in his hand. Julien placed his fingers on the unfamiliar knob and turned it with a click. The Patisserie Bellerose & Son was now wired for electricity. Soft light fell from the chandelier. Rows of crystal beads hung from the brass curvatures like a lady’s necklace. His father, Ansell, glared and unlocked the door. “I warned your Maman it’s above our means. Only the patisseries on the Champs Elysees have electricity. It will be our ruin.” It had cost a fortune. They’d be eating the inferior wheels of chalky camembert hawked at the market at Les Halles and have to watch for adulterated cuts stuffed with the limestone they dug out of the side of the Butte. The shop was located on the busy Rue du Dragon on the left bank. The sea shell shaped pink madeleines, flaky lemon tarts, dark chocolate éclairs, pistachio macaroons, and rosewater cream puff pastries were laid out in tantalizing rows, but it was the slender batons of sweet bread that kept the family in business. A father and son pair had been turning out the bread side by side since their ancestor, Alain, left the employ of King Louis XVI to open his own establishment a few years before the Parisians stormed the Bastille. Ansell joked that Bellerose boys were born with a dusting of flour on the tips of their noses. Julien took his place next to Ansell, and together they kneaded the famous dough, elbows bent at precisely the same angle. Ansell cut several gashes on each loaf and took the tray to the ovens. Eugenie, the shop girl, ambled over to Julien’s station, her wide hips swaying, and executed an ungainly pirouette.

“I love the ballet,” she said. “You never go.” She grasped the counter to catch her balance. “The way you knead this dough, you touch yourself this way, yes?” The sour scent of her sweat turned his stomach. “Go back to your counter.” Ansell returned from the kitchen, and Eugenie rushed back to her register. Julien glared at the back of her head. Ansell followed his gaze. “Perhaps this is the year you will make your mother happy, eh?” Julien shook his head almost imperceptibly, afraid his father would notice, but unable to let the comment go unchallenged. An elderly regular entered the store, her black knit shawl held tight against her frail torso. “Bonjour Madame Le Clerc. How is Monsieur Auguste? Is his condition improving?” Ansell asked. “He hasn’t even the strength to go to Mass. The priest is too busy to stop in and give us communion. And us parishioners for fifty years.” “Perhaps Julien can bring the wafers to you after Mass on Sunday.” Julien scowled and opened his mouth to speak, but Ansell held up his hand. “That would be ever so kind. Are you sure it won’t be too much trouble?” “He’ll be there,” Ansell said. “Sunday after Mass. Don’t you worry.” “You know where I live. On the butte. 19 Rue Lepic.” She went out, clutching her bread. “It isn’t proper,” Julien insisted. “Only the priest can give the wafer and only in the mouth. You know this.” “She’s been a loyal customer for forty years. Your mother can convince Father Denis.” “But it’s wrong.” “Enough,” Ansell said. In the evening, after the last customer exited the store, Julien followed Ansell into the kitchen. They wiped the crumbs from the ovens with fresh rags. “Papa, I don’t want to marry Eugenie.” “Nonsense, your Maman has been planning this since you were still in the bassinet. She’ll accept no other into the house. And she brings a good dowry. We can update the kitchen.” “But I don’t like her. She’s clumsy. And mean. She used to torment the watchmaker’s daughter because she’s pretty.” Ansell snapped the oven door shut. “It’s been decided.” The next morning Julien joined his father at the breakfast table. His mother fetched the bread basket and set a small jar next to his plate. “I got your marmalade.” “I thought Les Halles was out of it,” Julien said.

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His father looked up from behind his newspaper. “Your mother went all the way to the Neuilly. She spoils you.” “That’s a long way to go for marmalade.” “And she took the omnibus,” Ansell said. “The Metro is faster,” Julien said. She sat down, unfolded her napkin, and placed it in her plump lap. “I have no intention of riding that sewer train.” Julien dipped his teaspoon into the jar. “It’s not a sewer. It’s clean and well-lit.” “Only tombs and hell belong underground,” she replied. Julien looked at this father. “I’ve decided to take up painting again.” “There’s no time for frivolities and toys. A new boulangerie is opening on the quays. I’ve heard rumors they’ll be undercutting our prices.” “I wouldn’t be away from the shop that much.” “They’re employing ten workers. Ten. They’ll make enough to feed the entire first arrondisement. If we’re going to keep up I need you to work more than you are now. The electric lights drained our savings to nearly nothing.” “I don’t mind helping, Papa, of course. But I also want to paint.” “How many in France would trade places with you? Young people today don’t want respectable lives. You want no children, no families. You want fetes and playthings.” Julien caught Ansell’s eye. “Painting is not a frivolity and my brushes are not toys.” “Paint is expensive. We have no spare money.” “I can save.” “No,” Ansell said. “I won’t allow it.” “I don’t want to be a baker. “Every Bellerose is a baker.” Josephine stood and removed the marmalade from the table. “You’ll obey your father.” “You have no talent for it,” Ansell said. “Your paintings were tasteless and silly. Master Laurent said so himself.” “I was only fifteen, and Laurent is only a secondary school teacher. He knows nothing.” Ansell pushed the chair from the table. “I don’t want to hear any more of it. Let’s hurry. We’ll be late to Mass. Your mother and I will meet you there.”

favors notwithstanding if the family was going to participate in the sacraments the least they could do was follow the rules. The choir chanted and Julien shut his eyes. He wanted the mass to end and was grateful when the worshippers were called to the altar for the sacrament. He waited in line and upon reaching the altar crossed himself and locked eyes with Father Denis. Father Denis lifted the host. “The body of Christ.” “Amen,” Julien said and opened his mouth. Father Denis set the host on his tongue and discreetly handed him the two extra wafers. Julien made his way to the pew and after pocketing the sacred contraband pushed himself on to the kneeler to beg for forgiveness. After Mass, he strapped the satchel across his torso and rode off on his bicycle toward Montmartre. The streets teemed with revelers sauntering home from a night of debauchery in the bal musettes in Montparnasse, accordion music still ringing in their ears. He heard the clopping of horses as he dodged the manure piled like banks of snow near the curb. When he reached the crowded Place des Victoires a familiar figure stood near the gilt bronze horseman in the center of the plaza, a woman at his side. The young man’s upswept wavy hair enhanced the triangular shape of his head. A thick moustache protruded from his nostrils. “Marcel!” He’d known Marcel since the first day at St. Thomas Aquinas. Marcel had been a full six inches shorter than any other boy in the school and was nearly swallowed up on the staircase. Julien had taken hold of his elbow and ushered him to safety. “Julien! It’s been ages.” Julien shifted his satchel so the wafers pointed in the other direction. “You should wax that moustache.” “You’re still making bread with Ansell?” “I have no other choice.” Marcel introduced the young woman with him as a friend. Germaine Rinaud wore her chocolate brown hair in curls piled on top of her head. Thick strands escaped over her shoulders and down her back. Her breasts exploded from a tightly corseted, but thick waist. “We’re heading to the Cafe Blanche across from the Moulin Rouge. Her friend is a poseus there,” Marcel said. “You should come.” Julien’s cheeks flushed pink. He’d heard of these scandalous poseurs, girls who sang in the cafes for money. “I’m expected at a church bazaar.” “I wait tables at Chez Marbeuf near the Opera,” Marcel said. “Come see me some night after my shift. I get off at eleven. We’ll go to a cabaret.” “I will,” Julien said, knowing he couldn’t without causing a scene with Josephine. “The night is the devil’s playground,” she said with such frequency one would think it was a phrase she had coined herself. He waved goodbye as he headed toward the busy Rue du Fauborg Montmartre. When he reached Madame Le Clerc’s residence, she received him with enthusiasm, grasping at the wafers with her yellow fingernails, but Julien left abruptly and snatched up his bicycle. She meant no harm, but Josephine had tormented the priest on her behalf. He thought of petty Eugenie and gripped the handlebars until his knuckles were red. Rather than riding toward the bazaar he headed for Pigalle and turned onto the Boulevard Clichy. The windmill atop the Moulin Rouge twirled in a flash of red neon. The greasy odor of pomme-frites emanated from the Cafe Blanche, and laughter echoed from the crowd. Marcel and Germaine sipped café cremes at the table farthest from the entrance. “Fiorella will be out in a minute to sing,” Germaine said as Julien approached. She affixed a cigarette into a holder and held it to her lips. Marcel produced a lighter and set the circular end aflame. She inhaled and allowed the smoke to trail out through her mouth and nose. Julien looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. Marcel chuckled. “Relax. This is Montmartre. All the girls smoke. Germaine works across the street as a cigarette girl. The can-can dancers are her best customers.”

Eugenie and her parents, the Guillards, were waiting at the northern most entrance at Notre Dame when Julien rode up on his bicycle. He leaned it against a lamppost and adjusted the leather satchel he wore crossways over his coat. He avoided Eugenie by letting his gaze sweep across the Cathedral, beginning with the circular rose window. His eyes fell upon the two soaring rectangular bell towers and then the two-horned gargoyles that drained rainwater from the eaves. A breeze blew off the gray waters of the Seine, at one with the gong of the church bell. His parents appeared from the direction of the Quai St. Michel, and Eugenie’s mother, Lucille, immediately took Josephine by the arm to discuss preparations for the charity bazaar following Mass. Ansell pulled Julien aside. “It’s arranged. Father Denis refused but your mother threatened to stop bringing him the bread. Take the wafers to Madame Le Clerc after Mass, but don’t dawdle. Come right back for the bazaar. Your mother wants you to spend time with Eugenie’s parents.” “Papa,” he urged. “It’s not right for me to take the wafers to the Le Clercs. Why is it even your concern?” “Listen. I’ve never told you this before. You need to know. My father had some financial trouble the year you were born. We almost lost the business. It was a loan from Monsieur Le Clerc’s father that saved us. You won’t disappoint them. Not another word about it.” He cringed and followed his father to their pew. His parents had insisted he attend religious schools. The wafer embodied Christ, to be handled only by the priests, and any leftovers they had to consume. Old

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Fiorella lifted her dress and stepped out from inside the café. She smiled, revealing a front tooth that slightly overlapped the other. A severe black bob complimented her delicate egg shaped face, and underneath her ivory dress, she wore no corset. “Some of the dressmakers are selling dresses without corsets,” Germaine said. “You should wear one,” Marcel said. Germaine scoffed. “Some women love the freedom. I couldn’t.” Fiorella closed her eyes, and from her lungs sprang a lilting sound:

Josephine raised her eyebrows nearly to her hairline. “The twentieth? A Spanish peasant, and a harlot? You can’t be serious.” “She isn’t a harlot. She has the voice of an angel. And she carries the favor of a saint. We’re friends. I just met her.” Ansell headed for his rooms and shook his head. “I don’t know what’s happening to you.” Julien’s friends waited at the museum entrance. Fiorella held a cardboard box filled with half used tubes of paint and worn brushes. “These are for you. Monsieur Matisse owed me a favor.” Julien opened it. “For me? No one has ever been so kind.” Germaine pulled Marcel away to look at statues. Julien guided Fiorella to the Fragonards hanging in the Grand Galerie. “They’re wonderful,” Fiorella said. “Something in the way he portrays the light.” “Look at this one, The Bathers. The light is almost ethereal. I think the color is called eau de nil.” “I’ve never perceived the sky this way.” “The trees should be royal blue,” he said. She crinkled her nose. “But that would be odd.” “They’re intruding on the sky. Perhaps their color should reflect that.” He put his arm through hers. “Let’s go into the Salon Carre.” They entered the gallery quietly so as not to awaken the elderly guard napping at the entrance. “Which of these speaks to you?” He whispered. She walked toward a canvas at eye level. “This one.” “Corregio, Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine. What is it that draws you?” “It’s classic. It reflects the skill of the painter and the story is clear.” “But it doesn’t emit much feeling does it? Don’t you think the work should reflect the feelings of the painter?” She tilted her head to one side. “Perhaps. But there’s nothing wrong with tradition, is there?” “Tradition has its place. It’s the building block. But the world is always moving forward.” “I sometimes would rather it stand still.” They perused as many rooms as they could before the museum closed and then found Marcel and Germaine examining the Victory of Samothrace near the entrance. “She’s a goddess. Her form is a bit like yours,” Marcel said to Germaine. “I look nothing like her,” Germaine replied. Marcel twirled his moustache. “No, you look more like the Venus de Milo with arms.” “Nonsense,” she said. They exited the museum and walked along the quays toward Notre Dame. The girls sauntered ahead, their voices low in a mysterious feminine hum. Fiorella stared at the great cathedral. “It’s breathtaking.” Julien quickened his step. “Gothic is an architecture of the sky. The arches are steep, the towers are vertical, reaching toward heaven. Unfortunately the congregation within it often fails to live up to its aspirations. I’d like to capture this chasm with paint.” He held the heavy door and they entered the cathedral. “How would you do that?” Fiorella asked. “By playing with the tint,” he answered, but she ran toward the altar where a statute of the Blessed Mother mourned over her fallen son stretched across her lap. She made the sign of the cross and knelt down. Julien observed in silence. On this night he couldn’t summon the nerve to ask her for an outing alone.

Give us, give us the air of Paris, Where the winds of heaven blow. Give us, give us the waters of the Seine. Where the tears of angels flow She continued through three refrains, and the diners exploded into an ovation as the waiter passed a hat. She curtsied and sat down. “Fiorella’s only been here a month. She’s from Lisieux,” Germaine said. “Pretty name,” Julien ventured. “In Spanish it means little flower,” Fiorella replied, Germaine exhaled a plume of smoke. “Is your mother Spanish?” “Yes,” Fiorella said. “ It’s my father who’s French. There was a nun in the convent in Lisieux also known as the Little Flower. Sister Therese. She died when I was ten. A year later I nearly lost my sight. My mother said a prayer to her, and I was healed. She’ll be a saint one day.” She looked away as a man entered the café. He squinted from behind the gold-rimmed spectacles perched low on his nose and tipped his hat. “Bonjour,” he called out. “I think he fancies you,” Germaine said. “Don’t be silly. Monsieur Matisse is a painter. Married. I introduced him to a customer who bought a painting.” Julien turned and discreetly stared. “That’s Henri Matisse? I want to paint, but I have to work with my papa in our Patisserie.” Fiorella rose to sing another song. “There are many hours in the day. If you want to paint, paint.” After supper, Marcel ordered a round of absinthe. Fiorella cited her voice as a reason to decline while the other three sipped at the fiery green elixir. Julien’s eyes watered and he coughed, but he finished it. They asked for another. Julien was drunk by the time he left just after sunset. Ansell called him into the sitting room where Josephine sat brooding in her favorite chair. “Where were you?” “I ran into Marcel and decided to spend the day with him and his friends.” “We were embarrassed before the Guillards, and poor Eugenie was heartbroken,” Josephine said. “I have no wish to sully her reputation, but she isn’t who you think she is and I won’t marry her. I’ll pick my own wife.” Josephine stood. “They own a good butcher shop, and I’m close to Lucille. It’s been arranged.” “We need the money. The patisserie could go under if we don’t replace the ovens. They won’t last much longer,” Ansell said. “I’m sorry. I can’t sacrifice my life for this.” “I won’t have some strange girl in the house,” Josephine insisted. “Eugenie is a part of the family.” “She’s not part of my family. And I’m going to the Louvre tomorrow with my friends after my work is done. The museum is open late.” “Who are these friends?” Ansell asked. “You know Marcel. Germaine works in Montmartre. The other girl’s name is Fiorella.” “Fiorella? Is she French?” Ansell asked. “Half. Her mother is Spanish.” “Never,” Josephine said. “She’s a poseus from the twentieth arrondissement,” Julien continued.

On Sunday Julien and his parents attended mass, but Eugenie and her family sat on the opposite side of the cathedral, as stiff as the statuary. Julien studied the colored light stealing its way through the stained glass into the chilly aisles of the nave. After cleansing his soul through the act of communion, he sullied it once again by concealing the two extra wafers. He left the Cathedral without bidding his parents goodbye.

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The chestnut trees along the banks of the Seine had lost some of their fiery yellow leaves in a storm. They had dried in the fickle sun and their brittle remnants crunched beneath his feet. The swirling gray water created mesmerizing patterns in the sunlight. He reached into his satchel and recovered the wafers. He envisioned Jesus himself, emerging from the river Jordan. Visions detonated. His mother, creped hands pushing Eugenie at him, smoke pouring from her nose. The silver sliver of compromise in Father Denis’ eyes. Blue trees, cerulean rivers, horses the color of the sun. Fiorella’s face cloaked in a robe of the softest white fleece, almond eyes lit by the soft glow of candles with long wicks. Germaine’s angular limbs turning green, and her lush, soft body exploding from her corset. The wafers were body of Christ. Better to throw them into the baptismal water than to deliver them to sad Madame Le Clerc. It was better for her own salvation. He crossed himself and threw the wafers into the Seine. His bicycle had fallen from its perch against the post. He retrieved it and headed toward Pigalle. Perhaps he’d summon the nerve to ask Fiorella to accompany him for a stroll in the Neuilly along its river banks.

Second Annual LitLife Poetry Festival April 30, 9-5

Rosemont College Campus Join Philadelphia Stories editors and top-name poets for the LitLife Poetry Festival 2016 (#litlife2016) a day of master classes, discussions, readings, a Literary Death Match, and more–including a celebration of the Sandy Crimmins Poetry Prize and Montgomery County Poet Laureate.

Shelley J. Schenk, Esq. publishes under the anagram and Nom De Plume, Vera Limett. She’s previously been published as Elizabeth Swann Lewis. Corsets is adapted from her recently completed novel, Parisian Blue. She’s a freelance attorney and lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with her spectacular husband, Mark. A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, she also earned a Fiction Writing Certificate from Gotham Writers Workshop in Manhattan. Reach her at

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I ask the mechanic to fix me Poem by Gianni Gaudino

He says, “I cannot, son, I’m just a mechanic,” so I lean against him, getting close to his face and try again, “Please, fix me.” Holding a wrench the mechanic assures me there’s nothing he can do, so I squeeze his body and we hold each other, his oily residue smearing onto my shirt and skin as I scream, “My heart, sir, needs to be repaired!” While he begins thwacking me in the hip with his wrench and on my head and I keep screaming, “My heart, mechanic, my heart!” I position my chest so that his wrench hits it and now he’s beating me like a gong and all the cars’ alarms sound and the lights tremble and the fire sprinklers begin to cry too.“You can’t be fixed,” he screams and continues hitting my chest until it breaks open, bones and sinew spray like confetti throughout the shop and inside me a tiny man is weeping. “Don’t cry little guy,” my mechanic says, “I got something for you, in my office. I’ll go get it,” and when the mechanic leaves I don’t know what to do, so I give the crying man my finger and he holds it, his body bouncing, his heels clicking, and he beats and bumps to a soundless rhythm.

Gianni Gaudino has happily published once before with Philadelphia Stories. He is an instructor of English at Atlantic Cape Community College, living in Philadelphia, PA, and hoping to soon attend grad school for an MFA in Creative Writing.

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Marriage of Convenience Poem by Joseph A. Cilluffo

Oh, America, you are my false teeth – not quite the real thing anymore, but how else can I eat?

Joe Cilluffo was the featured poet in the Fall, 2014 edition of the Schuylkill Valley Journal, and his poem, Light, was nominated by the SVJ for the Pushcart Prize. His poems also have appeared in journals such as Philadelphia Poets, Apiary, and Adanna Literary Journal. Joe has read his work in venues across the Philadelphia area, including the Manayunk-Roxborough Arts Center’s Ekphrastic poetry exhibit, Philadelphia Poets’ Ethnic Voices reading series, the Moveable Beats series in Center City, and the Mad Poet’s Spring Madness event.

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Back Pain Billy Thompson

Look, I know I don’t cut the most sympathetic figure here, what with the kidnapped baby and all. But still, that doesn’t change the fact that my back is killing me right now. I’m dying here. I can barely turn my head. But I’m powering through, and that should count for something, right? I just popped a couple pills for the pain, the ones from that commercial where the light courses through the body and then flashes at the pressure points. You know it? Well, my back feels like that, like flashing lights. And sirens, too. The pills really just make it feel like only flashing lights, which I’ll take, I guess. I have to. And anyway, who isn’t battling through something, right? Just to make it through the day. We’ve all been here before. But for the kidnapped baby, sure. That’s a new one for me, too. The baby’s crying now. That one’s not new for me; I have two of my own. Or had two. They’re teenagers now. And they don’t really talk to me, although I pin that mostly on their mother. But then, she had her reasons. I can’t really blame her. My drug habit got me in all kinds of trouble, with all kinds of people. Which led to my trouble with her, or really her trouble with me. But regardless, all that past trouble is why I’m here in this car with this kidnapped baby now. This baby I kidnapped. I’m clean now, and have been for two years, almost two and a half, which I’m proud of, but, you know, things happen. People are seldom who they want to be. Look, I would never do this by choice. You think they said Roy, steal a kid, and I wasn’t like, nah I’m good? C’mon, man. I had to do it. Why? Because even though they’re teenagers now and they don’t really talk to me, Kenny and RJ are still the only way to threaten me into kidnapping a baby. Which, I know, how could I do that to another father? Look, things don’t just happen. I got myself into this. So did he.

we’re not nice to each other to be nice to each other. But whatever, that’s just to name a few. Don’t even get me started on Marketing. Marketing’s so prevalent we don’t even notice it anymore. But it’s everywhere, and it’s insidious. It’s why I popped these pills I popped for my back, because that commercial got stuck in my head. To be honest, I don’t even know if it’s actually the pills that make me feel better or if there is some kind of numbing agent just in the simple process of shopping for pain relief at the drugstore, you know, like a sort of pitch and purchase placebo effect. They said these ones will make me feel better, so they will, because they must. It’s not always in an addict’s arsenal to be skeptical. At least these drugs are legal. And I wouldn’t know about them unless I was told about them. So, we just accept it. And not even as a necessary evil, but simply as necessary. Well fine, okay, but you know what, what I’m doing is necessary, too. That’s my reality. The baby’s a girl. I didn’t know beforehand, I was just told: Roy, get the baby. I know she’s a girl now because she was wrapped in pink when I found her, in her sparkly, princessy nursery. It’s Marketing, man. It’s separating boys and girls because that makes us easier to sell to. But you know what, I don’t even call it necessary evil myself. Because I don’t believe in evil. Not anymore. And not because what I’m doing is, you might say, a pretty evil thing. No, I’m saying there’s no such thing as evil. There’s just weights and counterweights. Look, the closest thing to pure evil that I’ve seen would have to be the two guys, and their guns, who have put me up to kidnapping a baby by threatening my own sons. But not even because of that. No, what was really, conventionally evil was introducing someone as young as I was to the idea of escape. I didn’t need it; but once I had it, I did. And the ramifications of that… well, let me just say the shadow of that time and those decisions is long. Everything in my life is darker now because of it. Did they have to do that, introduce me to it at such a young age? I say no, but maybe yes. Maybe to them it was necessary. Maybe they needed to escape and knew no better way. But either way, now I have this baby, and she’s crying, and I feel bad but I can’t look at her because I can’t turn my head to the right because of this pain in my back. Something inside me wants to touch her toes or rub her head just to soothe her, but it’s just as well that I can’t, because I have to concentrate on driving to get as far away as possible before they realize she’s gone and put out an Amber Alert. Time, as per usual, is of the essence.

I was young when I started using. I don’t know why I started, because I was young and things were easy. I just did. Maybe I was bored, I guess, like all kids are bored, but life hadn’t come at me yet with its claws out. So, I have no excuse. I know this. Show me a guy who’s my age and using, even without an ex-wife and two estranged kids and back pain like this, and I’ll be like, yeah, I get it. Shit’s hard, man. But, back then, nah. No excuse. Now, though, I got real shit to escape. Like we all do. That’s just the reality of things. I mean seriously, look around; all you see are attempts to escape reality. Am I wrong? You got music, movies. Drugs and alcohol. Cell phones and airplanes. Religion. Capitalism. Well, maybe not capitalism. Capitalism is reality. We’re not nice to each other. We’re mean. We’re going to do whatever we have to, just to survive and to be comfortable, and being comfortable means not thinking about people who aren’t comfortable. I mean, really, look at some of the worst ways capitalism manifests itself: Wall Street, privatized jails, corporate-financed political lobbyists. Goddamn, you know. But nobody even flinches. And how about tax deductible charitable giving? I mean, c’mon, philanthropic tax shelters? Even when we’re nice to each other,

Did you know the Amber in Amber Alert is an acronym? I thought it was named for a girl, and it was, a little girl, Amber Hagerman, a 9-yearold who was abducted and murdered in Texas back in 1996, but it’s officially an acronym: America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.

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persuasive evidence against the existence of a benevolent God, you also tend to find the most persistent calls to one. I’m not above the urge to solicit divine intervention. I’m not above appreciating a well-executed Amber Alert either. Because that’s community action right there, Amber Alert is all of us looking out for each other, creating a system for when one of our young has been taken and needs to be returned. But, it’s only so because with kids we can all put ourselves in that situation. We shouldn’t have to be able to put ourselves in a bad situation to know it’s bad, to find the right amount of empathy for it, to feel the need to try and do something, you know what I mean. We should just do it. Because if it’s another person, it’s another life, and life’s too hard to be going at it alone. I don’t know, I guess what I’m saying is this: you see an Amber Alert and you’re automatically feeling for “Amber,” or Rory in this case, and you should, absolutely, because I’m a dangerous man, and Rory’s just a baby, but I’m also just a man, and there are reasons, man, there are always reasons. This is life, plain and simple, life in the world as we know it, and the world as we know it is a world that includes cancer and slavery, SIDS and pedophilia, enlarged hearts and black ones. That includes back pain that makes walking upright practically unbearable, and yet still I managed to go through a window into a stranger’s house, reach down into a crib, carry the baby’s dead weight back to the car and then drive for hours, and… look, like I said, I’m not asking for your sympathy, but tell me this world isn’t a crazy place to try and make your way in. However you have to make your way.

I don’t know, I guess what I’m saying is this: you see an Amber Alert and you’re automatically feeling for “Amber,” or Rory in this case, and you should, absolutely, because I’m a dangerous man, and Rory’s just a baby, but I’m also just a man, and there are reasons, man, there are always reasons. This is life, plain and simple, life in the world as we know it, and the world as we know it is a world that includes cancer and slavery, SIDS and pedophilia, enlarged hearts and black ones.

Rory’s still crying, my back is still screaming, and all I can think about right now, at this moment, even as the Amber Alert messages flash, is maybe getting some drugs, like I used to, to numb the pain, to escape all this. That’s where my head is as I drive as fast as I’ve ever driven before. And maybe, I think, that’s the point of my back pain: to remind me of my body, to pull me back into it, to see I am, as we all are, just bodies moving through an oftentimes cruel, always indifferent world. Because the body knows. And it never forgets. Goddamn, what a world to bring these babies into. In fact, why do you think sex, our means for reproducing the species, to keeping this thing going, feels so good? Like SO good? Why is it such an unmatched sensation? I’m thinking that’s why. Because anything that needs that much incentive must be lacking something in its own constitution, in its own argument for being. Think about it. We are subject to our bodies, and our bodies are subject to the world. I try to look back at Rory, but I can’t. My back. Which makes me think, maybe, actually that’s the point of my back pain: maybe the fact that I can’t turn my head to look behind me is so I don’t see – not the flashing lights and sirens – but the mess I’ve left behind me, and the future I’ve altered, drastically, by bringing it, her - Rory and her future - into my own present, and by making it a part of my own life, my own history. Because to consider that is to be stopped in your tracks. And maybe the only way to keep moving forward is to keep moving forward. Of course, maybe this is just a long way of saying I need to give Rory back. Or maybe I’m saying we’re too far into this to give Rory back. There is no going back; which is fine, I think, more than fine: back is always where the pain is. Her life starts now. And if I don’t look back, mine starts now, too. With each mile it starts anew. She didn’t choose this. But, I didn’t either. Not really. It was inevitable. The lights and sirens are getting closer. I accelerate until I can’t anymore. It’s inevitable. Something’s going to happen. Good or bad, something’s going to happen. Don’t look now.

I only know that because I looked it up after I was told I had to abduct a kid myself. Amber is not only an acronym and a girl’s name, but it’s also a gemstone that is used in all types of decorative ways, including jewelry of course, and as an ingredient in perfumes, too. I found that out as well when I was looking up Amber Alert, and I thought it was interesting, just about amber’s natural beauty, and how we’ve used it to make it into something different. But anyway. The crying baby in my backseat is named Rory. I found that out when I saw those four pink letters – R O R Y - taped to the wall in her nursery. It struck me how close her name was to mine. I wished I didn’t know her name at all. It’d make it easier to not soothe her, to not want to. Her name, her having a name – of course she has a name, but I could make myself forget that if not for the glittery wall art – makes her a person, with a family history. Which makes it easier for me to put myself in her situation. Or more, her family’s. I didn’t need that layer added to all this. “Shhh. It’s okay, Rory. You’re okay. You’re going to be fine.” If I could just reach back there, but gaaaaaaaaawd almighty. It’s all I can do to just do the job at hand. I haven’t the capacity right now for flourishes, tender or otherwise. Still I tell her, “I’m sorry,” and I am because she’s so young and she has no business being wrapped up in all this. This mess that’s mine and her dad’s and the two guys with the drugs and the guns. But, I guess we’re all born into someone else’s mess, though, aren’t we? We’re a highpoint in someone’s life, but soon enough, immediately really, we’re also a responsibility, a weight. And now I’m into some bad dudes for a favor, and he’s into those same bad dudes for some money, and it’s my kids or his. And that’s capitalism, isn’t it? Regardless it’s how Rory ends up in my car, and is why Rory’s dad ends up calling in an Amber Alert. I see the Alert flashing on the electronic sign to the side of the highway, and now I know the chase is officially on. I push down on the gas, and as I do I say a quick prayer for me and for Rory. I’ve always found it interesting how wherever you find the most

Billy Thompson is a graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School, Villanova University and the University of Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in various online and print publications, including The Schuylkill Valley Journal and The Louisville Review. He lives in Media with his wife Abby and their two young sons, Joey and Declan.

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This fall, Philadelphia Stories celebrated Marguerite McGlinn short story prizewinner Bob Johnson at a special dinner celebration, and then hosted their annual writing conference, Push to Publish. Thanks to the many friends who came out to enjoy these events! Left to right: Push to Publish volunteers Donna Keegan, Yalonda Rice, Ayesha Hamid, and Maria Ceferatti.

Left to right: First place winner Bob Johnson with judge Bonnie Jo Campbell and third place winner, Larry Loebell.

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Left to right: PS intern Raven Eckman shows panelist/author Helen Mallon the book selections.

Left to right: The genre panel: Jordy Albert, Sam Starnes, Eric Smith, Gregory Frost, and Merry Jones. with a sketchnote by Terry LaBan.

Left to right: Attendees get 10 minutes to “speed date� with editors and agents.

Left to right: Contest supporting family members John McGlinn & Tom Mcglinn; winners Bob Johnson & Larry Loebel, PS co-founders Christine Weiser & Carla Spataro.

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Naked Came the Cheesesteak an excerpt

One of these people will die from that most Philadelphian of traditions: A poisoned cheesesteak. Who will it be? Could it be Vincent “Pants “ DeLeon, wannabe journalist? Here’s a little bit about him, from writer Gregory Frost.

false face could disguise the fact there was a true monster out there. The Cheesesteak Killer, the TV reporters and news bloggers were calling him—and that monstrous mo-fo was proving bad for Arshad’s business. Ergo no time, no reason, to stop on Kelly Drive today to sell weed to the rollerbladers, skate rats and college scullers who hung out by the fancy, gingerbread houses along Boat House Row. Nobody was buying much lately, and Arshad knew enough to lay low. Too many of his clients had been tangled up in that mess over the past nine days. First that asshole Hodge, then Joey DeLuca’s idiot roommate and the chick he’d been messing with. A bunch of others, including Hodge’s friend Pants, who’d bought it in some dingy writers’ club in Center City. Spoiled college kids were pushing up daisies all over the goddamn city, and nobody knew what to make of it. He’d followed the story on The Daily Traversty blog, how the cops were hauling in people for questioning left and right, only to let them go when the connections fizzled.

Pants closed his browser. Wow. Where in hell did Travers get all of his information? Pants wanted to meet him, get the inside scoop from him, and more than that, shake him up in return. He would have considered dropping in at the Pen & Pencil Club to see if Travers turned up there. The trouble was, he couldn’t show his face in the journalists’ club right at the moment. When he’d first arrived in the city, Pants had spent a lot of evenings in the Pen & Pencil Club, cadging free drinks and even a few meals from the clientelle by claiming to be the nephew of respected journalist Clark DeLeon, until the night that Clark had turned up there himself. It was inevitable, he supposed, that they would encounter each other sooner or later, but he’d been banking on later. Pants had been right in the middle of telling a couple of cigar smokers at the bar about “Uncle Clark” when somebody tapped him on the shoulder. He’d turned around to find himself facing an older guy with glasses and a short beard. Intuitively he knew something was wrong. Tom Purdom, a music critic who wrote for the Broad Street Review, was standing beside the guy and said, “Look, Vincent, your uncle’s here.” In his memory, the entire club had already fallen silent right, waiting. They knew. They all knew. Pants had barely made it out of the place alive.

--------------------------------------------------------Or could it be one of Philadelphia’s Finest, Detective Chelsea Simon, by Victoria Janssen. Their Rittenhouse condo was quiet when she let herself in; the cat, Mozzarella, was curled asleep on the back of the leather couch. Chelsea stripped off her suit jacket and locked her gun and its holster in the gun safe, placing her badge in with them. Only then did she lay her phone, keys, and wallet on the marble kitchen island. Arturo sat in the cozy breakfast nook with his nightly espresso, examining the evening’s receipts from his restaurant empire as they rolled in. Chelsea laid her hands on his shoulders and kissed the top of his bald head. “Sell any deconstructed Wagyu cheesesteaks?” “I’m waiting to find out if Craig LeBan is impressed before I give up on it.” He reached up to caress her hand with his. “I missed the news—any breaks in the case?” Chelsea slid onto the padded banquette next to him, throwing one leg over his lap. She laid her head on his shoulder. It wouldn’t be difficult to fall asleep right here. “More leads, but leads are a dime a dozen, any idiot can drop one. Today an idiot did.” “It’s following the leads that counts,” Arturo said solemnly. “You know my rants too well,” Chelsea said. “Want to hear about some more idiots on Yelp?” Arturo grinned and kissed her. “The case will still be there in the morning.” “It’s already morning.” Chelsea yawned. “I sent Olive and Laurel home at a reasonable hour, so they can follow up on an interview for me, decide whether to bring the lady in to the precinct.”

--------------------------------------------------------Or could it be skateboarder/weed dealer Arshad Mirou? Here’s a little more about him, from Kelly McQuain. A crisp, fall Monday morning, and already Arshad Mirou had missed his psychology class, no thanks to SEPTA and the 61 line, the bus always late if it ever came at all. Arshad pushed through traffic on his skateboard instead, dodging pedestrians and the rush of cars, blasting through red lights and swerving past car bumpers with only inches to spare. Arshad felt free, moments like this. Didn’t matter that he was from the mean streets of Strawberry Mansion, where the cracked sidewalks and squat row houses made the world seem composed of anything but strawberries or mansions. Syringes and squats were more like it. Grit and dirt and plastic bags, all of it blowing now like fall leaves in Arshad’s wake. In the last few weeks, Halloween decorations had sprung up in store fronts and windows. Grinning green witches, cartoony vampires. But no

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“And the mayor? Has he had anything to say to you?” “Not to me. The Chief, I’m sure. I’m keeping my head down as much as I can. I don’t need politicking along with all the other crap I have to deal with. God help me if I ever make Lieutenant.” “Don’t worry, I would hire you as a dishwasher in a hot minute,” Arturo said, nuzzling her neck. “I’m imagining you wearing soapsuds right now.” “Anything besides the soapsuds?” “That would be telling,” he murmured. “I—“ Chelsea’s cell rang. “Crap,” Arturo said. “Detective Simon here.”

Thirteen Philly area writers each contributed a chapter. Nobody (well, nobody but the final writer) will know how the whole thing ends. And it’s a murder mystery. Written collectively by writers of all genres, each bringing something different to the project. Which brings us back to the title. In the mid 90’s, a group of South Florida writers, led by Elmore Leonard and Dave Barry, wrote a serial novel called Naked Came the Manatee (the title being itself a riff on another serial novel from the late ‘60s, Naked Came the Stranger). The book was serialized in the Miami Herald, then went to a print edition.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------What happens next? Find out at to read our new serial novel, Naked Came the Cheesesteak. So, why Naked Came the Cheesesteak, anyway? Here at Philadelphia Stories, we do all kinds of great stuff. Our regular magazine, featuring writers and artists from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware comes out four times a year. Philadelphia Stories Jr., features some amazingly talented kids comes out twice a year. The Crimmins Award for Poetry. The McGlinn award for fiction. Push to Publish, our one-day writers’ conference. PS Books, our book division. Our readings. Our master classes.

We thought we could do that here. A book that made just as much use of the quirkiness that makes up this city as the other book did with South Florida. And we, unlike South Florida, have cheesesteaks. (Well, maybe they have them, but they suck.) We’re posting one chapter on the Philadelphia Stories website each Monday for thirteen weeks. We started on November 2, 2015. We’ll be publishing an e-book as well, due out Spring 2016. We’d like to thank our assistant editors, Jon Busch, Emi London, Tiffany Sumner for their help on this project, Ryan McElroy for his great cover art, and Lena Van, our intern, for her help with promotion.

We want even more people to know what we do. To participate. To read. To write. (And yes, to donate. Always, we’re looking for that.) We wanted to come up with something fun that we’d never done before.

We hope you’ll check out for more to come. — Mitchell Sommers and Tori Bond Co-editors, Naked Came the Cheesesteak

What we came up with was a serial novel.















Read their full bios, interviews, chapters, and more at

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What Have We Been Up To? A Philadelphia Stories 2015–2017 Strategic Plan Update


One year ago, in the Winter 2014 issue, we published the draft of our three-year strategic plan developed by a committee comprised of members of the Philadelphia Stories community, board, and volunteers who came together with a vision to create a short- and long-term plan for the growth and sustainability of Philadelphia Stories. This plan divided these goals into what we dubbed, “The 3 Ps.” Below, we offer an update on our progress in these areas to you, a vital member of our community, as a member, writer, reader, and partner. As always, we welcome your feedback and support as we work together to meet our goals and objectives to create a thriving writing community. This plan for the future is based on desired results as articulated in our vision and mission statements.

Vision Statement

Philadelphia Stories seeks to enhance the lives of writers, artists, readers, and supporters throughout the region by encouraging participation in the literary community, increasing the reach of our publications, and enhancing professional development opportunities for writers. To achieve this vision, Philadelphia Stories must strengthen itself as an organization through planning, budgeting, marketing, fundraising, and professional leadership.

Mission Statement

The mission of Philadelphia Stories is to cultivate a community of writers, artists, and readers in the region by mobilizing the spirit and energy of volunteers and supporters throughout the Delaware Valley.

The 3 Ps

PROMOTION: Philadelphia Stories promotes regional writers through marketing efforts, including events, partnerships, readings, panels, press coverage, ads, and more. In 2015, we fulfilled this goal in the following ways: • Free issue release parties that included readings from authors featured in Philadelphia Stories, Philadelphia Stories Junior, and PS Books. • Two national contests: In 2015, Philadelphia Stories hosted the 7th annual Marguerite McGlinn Short Story Contest and the 4th annual Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest, which drew hundreds of submissions from across the country. The winners were celebrated at free public awards ceremonies at Rosemont College. • Promotion of local literary and arts events through social media and a calendar of events on our website.

PUBLICATION: Our publications are the vehicles through which we specifically connect Philadelphia-area writers with more than 25,000 readers each year. In 2015, we fulfilled this goal in the following ways: • We published 5,000 copies of Philadelphia Stories each quarter and made these free magazines available to every branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and many other independent bookstores, cafes, and galleries throughout the Delaware Valley.

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• We launched the premiere issue of PS Teen in the Fall of 2015 at a release party with our partner, Mighty Writers West. PS Teen is an annual magazine that will be published each Fall featuring local writers and artists aged 13-18. This launch received a feature article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. We published 2,000 copies of PS Teen and made these free magazines available to every branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, schools, and other libraries in the area. • Philadelphia Stories will continue to publish the annual magazine, PS Junior, for local writers and artists aged 12 and younger, each Spring. We published 2,000 copies of PS Junior and made these free magazines available to every branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and other schools and libraries in the area. • PS Books, our book division, launched its first serial novel: Naked Came the Cheesesteak, a 13-chapter serial novel written by Philadelphia area writers Diane Ayres, Randall Brown, Mary Anna Evans, Gregory Frost, Shaun Haurin, Victoria Janssen, Merry Jones, Tony Knighton, Don Lafferty, Warren Longmire, Kelly McQuain, Nathaniel Popkin, and Kelly Simmons. Each chapter is written by a different author, and was posted on the website every Monday for 13 weeks. This launch received a feature article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Our specific objectives for 2015-2017 are to increase the number of magazine publications printed so we can expand our outreach to more libraries in surrounding counties like Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Camden.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Philadelphia Stories will continue its efforts to offer affordable workshops and other professional development opportunities for writers. In 2015, we fulfilled this goal in the following ways: • We hosted the 7th annual Push to Publish conference on Saturday, October 10, featuring keynote speaker, Bonnie Jo Campbell. • We hosted two master classes the day before the Push to Publish conference; one facilitated by award-winning author, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and the other by literary agent, Katharine Sands. • We hosted the first “LitLife Poetry Festival,” which offered a day of master classes, discussions, readings, a Literary Death Match, and we celebrated of the Sandy Crimmins Poetry Prize and Montgomery County Poet Laureate winners. • We hosted the first “Writers at Work: Managing the Business of Being An Author” conference featuring keynote speaker, literary agent Eric Smith. This one-day conference will provide invaluable advice you can use not just to sell more books, but to find the work-life balance that can be especially challenging for writers. • We hosted our first write-a-thons—one over the summer as part of the Chestnut Hill Book Festival, and another in November at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Attendees spent the day writing together using prompts (or not), enjoying refreshments, and sharing their work at an open reading.


Philadelphia Stories will continue to share its annual results with our community. We welcome your feedback! You can send comments and questions to Special thanks to our Strategic Planning Committee for their hard work on putting this plan together: Barbara Bloom Stephanie Boudwin Alison Hicks Alex Husted Kerri Schuster Sharon Sood Mitch Sommers Louise Turan Polia Tzvetanova

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Where Breasts So Recently Blossomed Susan Cousins Breen

Wounded flesh is forever engraved upon my chest. Forty-two years now. Strangers’ eyes are drawn downward to this, unexpected, shocking. “What is that on her chest?” I imagine them thinking. Again and again, they struggle to pull their eyes away, to meet mine. So pronounced with its half-inch wide emblem of invasion, of repair—reddened, raised. Don’t be embarrassed—I want to say—that your eyes keep returning to the scar peeking out from my v-neck sweater. Many have been jarred by the sight; curious about its origin. When the scar was fresh from open heart surgery, stares were more frequent, more intense, burning a hole through my skin or so I imagined. Perhaps because, in 1971, heart surgery was uncommon, and I was a young college student on leave from classes so the hole in my heart—an atrial septal defect they called it—could be repaired with a Teflon patch.

In the years that followed, I imagined the scar—still fresh and red as a neon sign or so it seemed to me—calling attention to itself and me. From the base of my neck, the scar creeps downward 12 inches, ending with two small perpendicular incisions where drainage tubes rested in the days after surgery. Beneath the skin, sternum and ribs—broken so surgeons could access my heart and, then, wired back together—emitted messages of pain as they struggled to mend. Some people were more openly curious and blunt in their reactions. Home from the hospital recovering, clothes hanging loosely from my body, I stopped by the ice cream parlor—where I had created spiraling pyramids of whipped cream atop sundaes—to visit co-workers. Perhaps shaken by my pallor and seeing the incision for the first time, my boss blurted out, “Are you going to have plastic surgery?”


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From the base of my neck, the scar creeps downward 12 inches, ending with two small perpendicular incisions where drainage tubes rested in the days after surgery. Beneath the skin, sternum and ribs—broken so surgeons could access my heart and, then, wired back together— emitted messages of pain as they struggled to mend.

March 13

Writers at Work Conference: Managing the Business of Being An Author, featuring Andy Kahan, Director, Author Events, Free Library of Philadelphia.

Another time, a salesclerk, as she handed me dresses in a fitting room, said, “Oh, my. Did you have gall bladder surgery?” Worst was when, conducting an interview with a state politician for my college newspaper, he interrupted my questions to ask, “Did someone stab you?” What teenage girl wants flesh—where so recently breasts blossomed—sliced in half, even when dead by 30 is the alternative? Still, over the decades, I have adapted to this imprint of survival. As the redness has faded and the tissue has softened, the grip of self consciousness has loosened. I embrace inquiries about this scar of mine and, sometimes, when I notice furtive glances at my chest, will even volunteer: “It was heart surgery.”

This one-day conference will provide invaluable advice you can use not just to sell more books, but to find the work-life balance that can be especially challenging for writers. WHEN: Sunday, March 13, 2016, 9am-5pm WHERE: The Manor House at Whitman Farm

Susan Cousins Breen’s literary interest is creative nonfiction. She also writes profiles for regional and college magazines. She is a New Jersey native, who grew up in the northwestern part of the state, and now lives in Gloucester County not far from the Commodore Barry Bridge.

Suburban Philadelphia fe ust be more to l i ere m “Th

ing everything n hav .” tha

Simplicity Most is the glory I shall try to people won't of expression. tell the truth, realize that writing is a craft.

but the result will be fiction.

MFA in Creative Writing MA in Publishing Double Degree in Creative Writing and Publishing

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Close Cut Poem by Kay Peters

They say it will grow. Like grass, I think, a little care, sun, water. Wisps litter the floor. Too many Sorry, I’m running late calls. Scissors’ snick, snick At the sound of the tone leave your name. He traced the curve of my throat. He said love. I don’t want to look.

Kay Peters’ poems have appeared in Apiary, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Philadelphia Poets, Mad Poets Review and the on-line journal, Word Gathering. A registered nurse, she is also a wannabe gardener who spends more time pulling weeds than raising flowers and herbs.

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Getting to know you: letting character determine plot Aimee LaBrie I recently taught a Saturday writing workshop at Rosemont College, and the topic I chose to discuss came from the Sylvia Plath quote I love, “Character is fate.” In getting to the workshop, my own character dictated how I arrived. As someone who hates highway driving, I decided to take two trains---one from Trenton to Philadelphia and another from 30th Street Station to Rosemont. A journey that would have taken me 51 minutes by car, instead took two hours. I am the worst type of driver; insecure, aggressive, and directionally-challenged, which means I never know where I’m going, and am prone to quick lane changes. The train seemed the safer option. However, the train was delayed. Then, once I arrived at the Rosemont station, I got lost, and found myself wandering campus before finally being rescued by a student (whom I forced to walk me directly to Lawrence Hall). In this particular example, nothing untoward happened to me. The train didn’t derail, no weirdly talkative man sat next to me, and my late arrival did not cause Carla, the workshop leader, to scream at me in dismay (her character is one of acceptance and calm. Instead of being miffed, she offered me a doughnut). However, if I were writing about a character with my specific driving hang-up, this particular phobia could have proved a turning point for the plot. I am again taking a slightly circuitous route to return to the first sentence; in your own writing, your character should be what moves your plot forward. Her hang-ups, her fears, her proclivities mean she will react to a situation in a particular manner, setting in motion the action of the story in a way no other character would. As a fiction writer, you need to know what your character fears and what she loves, what makes her feel safe, and the lengths she would go


rs and g write of youn are Valley unity law a comm from the De ar tists

to in order to maintain her sense of comfort. Is she the type of person who would rather wake up at 7 a.m. to catch an early train, or sleep in and speed in her red Maserati toward her destination? (For the record, I don’t own a Maserati, I just like the way the word sounds). Give yourself a character writing check list to figure out some of the details that might not be coming through in your writing. You can find many of them online (Google “character check list”). In this way, you accomplish two things: you flesh out your character and you get a pass on struggling with your story for a day. Here are some questions to consider: how does he dress? What’s the last item he bought? What is his most striking physical feature? What kind of words does she use? What does she want more than anything? What was she doing five months from the start of the story? What will she be doing five months from now? Where was she born? What’s his astrological sign? What’s her full name? Are her parents alive or dead? Brothers or sisters? Where is she in the family pecking order? In a fire, what five objects would he risk his life for? What does her bedroom look like? What’s the highest level of education he reached and what was his favorite subject in school? What has she been praised for her whole life? What keeps him up at night? Does she believe in God or Buddha or fairies or does she believe that when you put your head in the oven, you are simply dead? You may figure out all of these details and none of them end up in your story. However, you will most certainly have created a clearer picture of your protagonist. You may also find that one or two of these questions will open a door in your story, one that leads you somewhere you had not previously imagined.

PS Teen is an annual magazine published each Fall featuring local writers and artists aged 13-18.

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PS Junior is by local writers and artists aged 12 and younger, which will be published each Spring.


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Submissions open year-round:



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Keeping Things Alive Poem by Katie Budris

It is December, and our window ledge is lined with plants— bamboo shoots, devil’s ivy, an elephant bush, two cacti, one orange, one yellow, and a large rhododendron shadowing two, new sprouts. We’ve collected these over two-and-a-half years, purchased new pots and soil, tried different windows and porches to identify the right combination of direct and ambient light. We thought we had the balance figured out. But as I put away the watering can just before bed on an unusually cold night, I notice the fishbowl beside the plants appears still and vacant. Our deep blue Betta, hidden from view, takes minutes to find, motionless, belly up inside his toy castle. I pause. My eyes fill gently like the trays beneath the pots, like the fishbowl itself. I am alone in this moment— you have been asleep for hours. I set down the watering can, leave the dead fish, write a note on the fridge for you to find in the morning. All I can manage are the heaviest words I’ve ever scribbled— I’m afraid all the plants are dying.

Katie Budris holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She is currently an instructor at Rowan University and Community College of Philadelphia, and serves as Editor in Chief of Glassworks Magazine. Her poems have appeared in over a dozen journals, most recently From the Depths (Haunted Waters Press), Outside In, Temenos, and the anthology, Crossing Lines (Main Street Rag). Her debut chapbook, Prague in Synthetics, is now available from Finishing Line Press. See more of her work at:

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RESOURCES Philadelphia

Great Books

60th Annual Great Books at

Interested in joining a Great Books discussion group?

Colby Summer Institute

at Colby College, Waterville, Maine ~ July 17 - July 23, 2016

There are over 50 groups meeting regularly in PA/NJ/DE using the Shared Inquiry Method for discussing significant works of literature or non-fiction.

The Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl : Man’s Search for Meaning Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain J.L. Carr: A Month in the Country Peter Matthiessen: The Snow Leopard Margaret Edson : Wit: A Play

Contact us to find a Great Books discussion group in your area:

The $610 adult registration includes a dormitory-style room, all meals, books and discussions. There are social activities, swimming, tennis, films, a Maine lobster bake, and the Atlantic Music Festival! Commuter rates and programs for children are available. For more information visit For further information about Great Books events on the East Coast, see


Creative Writing

Workshops Express your unique voice. Find joy in


Evening and daytime workshops Flourtown, PA Center City, PA Havertown, PA

Writers of all levels welcome Fiction Non-fiction Creative non-fiction Memoir Poetry Find out if a workshop is right for you. Sit in on one workshop meeting as a guest, by appointment only.

Alison Hicks, MFA, Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio / / 610-853-0296 Monday evenings in Havertown / Tuesday evenings in Center City Private Consultation for Manuscript Development Rachel Kobin, Philadelphia Writers Workshop / / 610-449-3773 Tuesday evenings in Flourtown / Private Consultation for Manuscript Development

Porches Writing Retreat

overlooking James River Valley in the Virginia Blue Ridge open all year to artists |

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Michener Level ($25 - $40) Alexandra E. Hensinger Ann Maebius Anne & Timothy Hunter Barb & J.J. Cutler Barbara Orlan Barbara East Bernadette Donohue Cara Schneider Carla Harrell Carlo Spataro Carolyn Guss Carolyn Clark Catherine Tafoya Charles Glackin Cheryl Mercier Christina Delia-Weston Christine Obst Christine Weiser Christine Chiosi Christopher Mills Christopher Markopulos Colette Tomeo Constance Garcia Barrio Cynthia Orr Dexter Giglio Diana Krantz Douglas & Peggy Gordon Dr. Charles Wisniewski Ed Kratz Elise Brand Elizabeth Cosgriff Emily Gavin Ernie Quatrani Frances Metzman Frank Tamru Helen Ohlson Herbert Cunitz Jam Gallery James Fratto James Saunders Jamisa Gittings Jeanne Thomson Jeffrey Klemens Jessica Herring Jim & Carol Brill Joanne Green John M. Williams & Marie Davis-Williams Joy Nash Joyce Barbagallo Julie Fowler Karen McLaughlin Karen Elliott Kat Clark Kathye Fetsko Petrie Katie King

Kris Laubscher Kristin & Henry Joy McKeown Laurel Connell Leslie Caruso Lilliam Dodderidge Linda Wisniewski Lisa Reed Liz Dolan Lora Lavin Lori Widmer Marilyn Carrier Mark Weiser Mary Erpel Mary & Owen Gilman Megan Burt Michael Gallo Mo Ganey & Don Kates Nicole & John Monaghan Pam Mclean-Parker Patricia Coyle Peter Campbell Ramona Long Rita Fierro Robyn Smart Roma Kohut Roy Eisenhandler Ruth Littner Sandra Thomas Sheila Fox Shoshana Loeb Stacy Hartung Susan Breen Suzanne Chang Suzanne Comer Teresa Donnelly The Agostini Group LLC Therese Halscheid Thomas Deitman Tom Molinaro Tom Minder Vernita Hall Virginia Moore William Grey

Buck Level ($50 - $99) Aaron Bauman & Leigh Goldenberg Adam & Aimme Schwartz Alison Baer & Jeffery Hirsch Betsy Haase Brandi Megan Granett Charles Holdefer Christine & Tom Barnes Christine Kenn Colton Fenton Concha Alborg Donna Keegan Eileen Cunniffe

Elizabeth Mosier & Christopher Mills Elizabeth Larsson Helen Canavan Helen Mallon Hugh & Tina McCauley Irene Fick James Taylor & Doug Alderfer Janine Pratt John Donovan Julie Cohen & Nigel Blower Karen & Dan Gruen Kay Peters Lawrence O. Spataro Lina Wang Lise Funderburg Marcela Bonilla Marlyn Alkins Martha Bottomley Martha & Martin William Mary Scherf Michael Dufrayne Nathalie Anderson Rachel Simon Richard Mandel Richard Bank Robert & Judy Schachner Stanley Szymanski Suzanne Kimball Tim Kissell Vivek N. Ahya

Whitman Level ($100 - $400) B.G. Firmani & Damian Van Denburg Barbara Bloom Betsy Mckinstry & Joel Edelstein Chad Willenborg David Sanders & Nancy Brokaw Deborah Burnham Geeta N. Ahya Janice Stridick Janice Hayes-Cha & Jang-Ho Cha Jennifer & Erik Streitwieser Jennifer Corey Jessica Conley John & Karen Shea Joseph Wechselberger Joseph Cilluffo Julia Rix Kathleen Furin Laura Ward Margot Douaihy Stefanie Levine Cohen & Steven Cohen Stephanie Scordia Sue Harvey & Scott Jahss Trish Rodriquez Vera Haskins

Walter and Judith Jones

Potok Level ($500- $999) Alex Husted Kerri & Mark Schuster Mitchell Sommers Polia Tzvetanova Thomas Rush & Meriam Zandi In Memory of Dennis Oberholtzer

W.C. Williams Level ($1000+) In Memory of Conrad Weiser Heather McGlinn Hansma & Scott Hansma Joseph A. Sullivan Michael Ritter & Christine Furtek Thomas McGlinn

Sustainer Members Adam Toscani (Buck) Alex Husted (Potak) Bryan Skelly (Buck) Charles McGray (Buck) Courtney Bambrick & Peter Baroth (Buck) Dana & Chris Scott (Whitman) Edwin Krizek (Buck) Erin Cormier (Buck) Erin Kelly (Buck) Julia Arnold (Whitman) Julie Odell (Whitman) Kimberly Ruff (Buck) Lyndon Back (Whitman) Nancy Jackson (Whitman) Robert Vincent Mallouk (Whitman) Tara & Andrew Smith (Buck) Thomas Baroth (Whitman) Virginia Dillon (Buck)

Government Grants & Foundations The Philadelphia Cultural Fund

Matching Gift Partners Merck Partnership for Giving Robert Wood Foundation The Philadelphia Foundation Bergan County United Way

Corporate Sponsors Ernst & Young

Want to become a member of Philadelphia Stories? Please visit

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