When reality TV is not the brain-rotting drivel it’s cracked up to be

by Audrey Lentz

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I enjoy terrible reality TV. While my literary tastes are more presentable, I’ll put down a Faulkner novel and flip on Keeping up with the Kardashians in a heartbeat. I’ve also made my way through seasons of Project Runway, The Jersey Shore, and America’s Next Top Model. Is there anything worse for the creative mind than that drivel? According to Steven King in his memoir On Writing, the best thing to do to get ideas is to stop watching TV and be bored for a while. In addition to boredom, he also suggests reading. What he and many fail to realize is that reading is not always inherently better than television. In my opinion, reading bad writing can be even worse for creativity than watching bad TV.

There have been terrible novels I’ve read that have ruined my ability to write until I finished them. Fifty Shades of Grey had me filling my stories with “Oh my’s” for a week.

However, an episode of The Jersey Shore has never caused me to write about people “shmushing.” Not only is bad television not as bad for you as bad writing, but it can actually be an inspiration. Even though scripted, these people are not actors, and they are behaving in a (mostly) genuine way. As writers, our main task is to observe life and reveal truths behind it. Reality shows are a great opportunity to observe the kind of life we might never be able to otherwise. Want to know what happens if you put a recently post-operative transexual in a house with an aspiring actress, a DJ, a party girl, and a Civil War buff? I’m sure there’s a Real World season with something similar.

For me, a novel I’ve been working on was greatly influenced by Miami Ink. I was fascinated by the world of tattoo artistry, which is something I don’t have much experience with in my own life, and ended up choosing a tattoo studio as one of the major settings for my characters. Had I not been such a reality TV junkie, I may never have discovered this great backdrop for my story. Not only was Miami Ink an inspiration, but it was also informative. I can research the mechanics of tattooing and tattoo art on the internet, but I can’t get the feel of the day to day life in an actual studio that way.

I’m not the only writer that has found inspiration from reality TV. Susan Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy, was inspired by reality television competitions. In an interview for News Times, she said, “I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me… on one channel there’s a group of young people competing… and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.”

The great thing about television is how much is left out. Novels are so thought out and complete that often there’s not much room for our own projections on the story. With television – especially reality television – it’s obvious we’re not getting the whole story. Why do two characters hate each other? What were their childhoods like? What would happen if they all went to counseling together? Or better yet, the moon? Creative minds will not sit passively while stories unfold in front of them, even if they are over-dramatized and filled with over-the-top characters. Looking for your next big idea? Just flip on Animal Hoarders.


Audrey Lentz is a writer of fiction and poetry and has a blog at where she discusses literature, current events, and observations of life. She is currently working on her first novel with the working title of Now or Never.



Welcome to The Boiler Blog

Dear Reader,

Nearly a year into the game as a lit mag, we’ve put out seven issues, been reviewed twice, grown a fair amount in fans online and submissions. It’s been such a pleasure to be here in this medium and sharing the work we love.

We truly appreciate every second of it and a kind note here and there and all the stories we see are a testament to the idea the writing is alive and well, boiling our eyes and steaming our conscious with words that are capable of change, albeit small, in our small little worlds. One of our ideas in starting this journal, was getting back to basics and appreciation for the simple. We started the 500 Word Challenge in hopes of achieving and demonstrating again, the beautiful capability of what conciseness in language can do and have large effects. Our 500 Word Challenge contest was a great success and we are proud to announce the winners of the contest to be published in The Boiler summer issue VIII.

FIRST PLACE: “Trigger” by Ann Stewart McBee. Ann has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she teaches literature and creative writing and served as Editor-in-Chief for UWM’s literary journal cream city review. Her work has been published in Spittoon, Blue Earth Review, Ellipsis, At Length, and So to Speak. She now teaches composition at UWM and Concordia University Wisconsin.

Of this piece our editors agreed the story had a sort of quirkiness and strong voice that perfectly reflected the sort of strange and unexpected things that occur in our lives.

SECOND PLACE: “Say Goodnight to All the Ducks” by Abe Guastad. Abe’s fiction and flash fiction have appeared in Camera Obscura, Smokelong Quarterly, New Orleans Review and many other places.

Of this piece, our editors agreed there were many brilliant and quaint moments here. Its quiet and endearing ending really won us over.

HONORABLE MENTION: “Apple Picking” by Gabrielle Korn. Gabrielle is a writer based in New York City. Her writing has been published in The Huffington Post, RH Reality Check, BlogHer, On The Issues Magazine, Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more.

Of this piece, editors enjoyed the lyrical and sometimes poetic images included here of brief encounters experienced by city-dwellers visiting a small town, only to find them seeking the same refuge back in the city.

We hope to continue to use this forum to post other interesting news and updates about us. Also, look forward to us posting on craft. If you have pitches for us to write about writing and craft, let us know!

theboilerjournal AT gmail DOT com.

Keep sending us your stuff and we sincerely appreciate those who are using our tip jar submissions! Every penny counts!

– The Editors