16 November 2009

Spotlight on . . . Mitch Sommers

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight on . . . Mitch Sommers. Today's feature offers a double treat: not only do you get to learn something about how a lawyer can use his professional insight to create fiction but you are also introduced to a local literary magazine, Philadelphia Stories, and its newest anthology of featured authors.

So let's see how Mitch's story "Bando" came into being.

Using Fiction to Tell the Truth

It is the most basic of writer's commandments: Write what you know. And what I know, and know all too well being a bankruptcy lawyer in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is debt.

The short story "Bando", which is part of the anthology The Best of Philadelphia Stories 2, was my attempt to tell the story--or at least one of the stories--of the recession. By now lots of people heard of terms such as "subprime lending," "liars' loans," and the like. And it's not as if there's no human face to the hard times--with unemployment at 8.8% in Pennsylvania as I write this, most of us know someone who is in financial distress right now. But even with that, there are things I wanted to say about this recession that can't be said just by throwing around statistics. Sometimes fiction is the only way to get inside, to tell, if you will, at least one part of a recession's tale.

I've got a law degree and an MFA. I don't claim any special training in economics. But what I do gives me a grunt's eye view of what the lending practices of the last 10 years have done, even in Lancaster County, which has always been considered to be, if not recession proof, at least more resistant to the worst of bad times than other places in Pennsylvania. And what I saw developing over the last few years was not just unsophisticated borrowers victimized by predatory lending practices (though I've seen, and still see, plenty of that), but intelligent people also buying into the premise that you could borrow anything, for any amount, and it didn't matter what the terms were, it didn't matter because housing values always went up and nobody would ever really call the bill due.

My protagonist in "Bando" is himself a commercial loan officer. He knows what he's doing, and he does it anyway. Here's the segment I think best shows that.
I could have had a conversation with her back then. I could have pointed out that we’d purchased a whole lot of house. That we needed her money to afford it. That what she wanted to do didn’t make sense unless we sold the house, took the equity we had, and put a really big down payment on a smaller place. It’s what the lending officer in me would have done. Here’s the thing, though. The socially unacceptable secret. There aren’t many ways to randomly display testosterone when you’re a middle-aged loan officer with bad knees and a receding hairline. But they do exist. In my case, those ways involved home equity loans. And credit cards. And refinances. And credit cards again. Debt was great. Debt was wonderful. Debt allowed me to be both stoic and supportive.

Debt rocked.
The actual scenario in "Bando"--namely squatters moving into abandoned, foreclosed-on homes--hasn't happened much in Pennsylvania, but in other, harder hit places like southern California, Las Vegas, and south Florida, those things have started happening. And it was the idea of that, the squatter as a symbol of the crumbling of middle-class existence, that intrigued me and led me to write this short story.

I am enormously grateful to Christine Weiser, Carla Spataro, Marc Schuster, and Philadelphia Stories for publishing my story, both in the magazine itself and in the anthology. It is an amazing book, and they are all amazing, talented people.

Thanks so much, Mitch. I find it fascinating to see how an author can turn to fiction to reveal the larger truth behind the statistics. It's always interesting to see the story from an insider's perspective.

More information about Philadelphia Stories, Volume 2, can be found in an article by Christine Weiser and on the literary journal's website. The magazine Philadelphia Stories is published quarterly and features "Fiction/Art/Poetry of the Delaware Valley." The magazine also has a blog, which features reviews, advice for authors, industry news, and more. You can even follow them on Twitter!

If you are a reader interested in a diverse range of literature or are an author looking for community, Philadelphia Stories is a great place to start.

Here's a video of Mitch reading from his story "Bando."

Mitchell Sommers is an attorney in Ephrata and Lancaster, practicing in the fields of bankruptcy and debtor/creditor rights. He received his law degree from Penn State Dickinson and his MFA from University of New Orleans. He is currently co-editor of Tatanacho and on the editorial board of Philadelphia Stories. His short story, "Bando," is currently in the anthology The Best of Philadelphia Stories 2.

Philadelphia Stories at Powell's
Philadelphia Stories at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

EDIT: Mitch Sommers was recently interviewed and spotlighted on Lancaster Online. Be sure to check out the article.

For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project. If you are an author, publisher, or publicist interested in the Pennsylvania edition of the Literary Road Trip, feel free to contact me.


Julie P. 11/16/09, 9:08 AM  

Very interesting. I wasn't aware of Philadelphia Stories! Thanks!

Jen - devourer of books 11/16/09, 11:20 AM  

This sounds really interesting, I'm glad you got Philadelphia Stories!

bermudaonion 11/16/09, 2:14 PM  

Boy, does that sound like a story for the times!

Margot 11/17/09, 8:32 AM  

I'm enjoying your trip through Pennsylvania. This one sounds well-written and on an interesting topic.

Michelle 11/22/09, 2:32 PM  

Such an interesting way to educate people on really important issues. Even I might be able to get into economics if the right story is written, haha.

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