My sincere gratitude to the editors and publishers who have featured my work in their publications. I appreciate your commitment to the literary community.
Blot Lit Reviews Interview ~ Michael Gillan Maxwell
Blotterature has a strong connection to our place – industrialized Northwest Indiana – and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.
I am blessed to live on Seneca Lake in the absolutely gorgeous Finger Lakes Region of New York. The raw beauty of this place with her lakes, gorges, vineyards and forests has been a huge influence on my art. So there’s a sense of this place, but other places, as well. I grew up in Wisconsin and Iowa and I’ve lived in Colorado and Germany and those places manifest in my writing all the time. I made an artist’s book called 17 Syllables in direct response to my experiences in Japan. There are 17 syllables in a classic haiku poem, and the book consists of 17 poems paired with images.
Many of the poems in Bone Dry and Burning (in progress) are about this area but also about other very specific places ~ New York City, Berkeley, San Francisco, Gloucester, the California coast, the Jersey shore, Iowa and Wisconsin. However, The Part Time Shaman Handbook features visual art and writing that’s not as reflective of such a specific sense of place but is more universal, with internal dialogue and interior landscapes.
Who/What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?
My parents instilled a lifelong connection to the most important influences ~ family, friends, travel, music, art, nature and animals. We didn’t have much money when I was a kid, but we had a rich family life filled with books, art, sports, music, pets and laughter. My parents also made it OK to do something creative and artistic with our lives. Mom was a really talented visual artist and a voracious reader. Her copies of On The Road and Tropic of Cancer turned me onto Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller. Dad brought home piles of records from his job with Capitol Records during a period when the cultural landscape was shifting. The Vietnam War was ramping up, folk singers were singing protest songs and the Beatles and Bob Dylan were just coming onto the scene. My parents bought me a guitar around that time; a red sunburst Harmony for 25 bucks that weighed a ton. A real knuckle buster, that could end a fight or start a party, but it changed my life forever and helped shape who I would become as an artist. I’m a Boomer who came of age in the 60’s and I still subversively push back against the established order, which comes out in my work in ironic ways.
How do you generate new ideas for your work?
I riff off of contemporary culture a lot and most of my flash fiction is a satirical and ironic response to the insanity in this crazy world. I guess Part Time Shaman actually has a fair bit of that going on. Some of my favorite flash stories are still unpublished. Zeus Takes a Day Job is about a down-on-his-luck Greek God who now works as a barista in a coffee shop full of hipsters. Go Hard Or Go Home is about over-the-hill Superman with erectile dysfunction. The Fashion Police is a send up of a dystopian, Orwellian future where tragic fashion choices are crimes. Welcome to Walmart depicts Walmart as the astral plane where the protagonist is a spirit guide in the guise of a Walmart greeter for the newly deceased. I dabble with a farcical fake dog interview series called Dog Talk Radio and goof around with an absurdly cliché detective noir serial called The Last of the Hardboiled Dicks. The Lunch Lady Cookbook is tongue-in-cheek mainstay on my website. That’s the kind of stuff I have the most fun with.
I also write a lot of straight-up memoir; which includes stories about hitch hiking, mountaineering, factory and construction work, drinking in bars, and playing in bands. Fly The Friendly Skies is an actual account of a couple behind me joining the “Mile High Club” on a flight from New York to San Francisco. My narrative poetry is a direct response to experience. Ideas and inspiration also come from reading the work of other writers and listening to the lyrics of singer/ songwriters. I get a lot of ideas from traveling, and reflecting on current and historical events. I’ve also generated lots of stuff from prompts in writing circles, workshops and online forums.
When have you been most satisfied with your work?
It’s a pretty heady buzz when work is accepted for publication and somebody actually reads it and reacts in a positive way. That’s still a huge thrill, although I seem to be much less obsessed about that now and that’s OK. The burning sense of urgency to “get published” has eased up and I’ve settled into a more relaxed pace that allows me to savor the writing process itself. Even so, I have no desire to write in a vacuum. I want my work to be read, but I’m just not as anxious and driven about getting it “out there” immediately. I’m OK with taking the time to find it a good home. I guess this is as good a place as any to thank Bud Smith for publishing my book with Unknown Press.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Tough call with creative writing. Flash fiction and narrative poems can be especially challenging. I’ve thought a piece was finished only to find that it was not. Sometimes I think I just need someone to hit me over the head with a 2X4 to let me know when a piece is finished. It’s a little more clear cut if I’m writing a recipe for The Lunch Lady Cookbook on my website or a story song with a very deliberate form and strict structure. A memoir is also usually more straight forward, although I think actually more difficult to write than fiction.
What has been your biggest failure and what − if any − lessons were learned?
My performance in the Catholic School 7th Grade Basketball Free Throw Contest was an epic disaster. But, joking aside, I recently allowed myself to be drawn into an all consuming writing project that wasn’t a good fit and it crashed and burned in an awkward and kind of ugly way. Sometimes you don’t know whether or not you’re on the right path until you’ve tried. Lessons learned? I didn’t realize it until I answered this question, but The Part Time Shaman Handbook actually attempts to take that issue on in a humorous, light hearted way. Don’t look for somebody else to tell you your own personal truth. Trust your inner voice. Don’t give away your personal power. Keep your own counsel. Be your own shaman.
Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?
Connection to community is really important. I participate in literary events and readings when I can, although I’d like to do a whole lot more of that. I live out in the boonies and readings close to home are few and far between. I interact with other writers through social media and online forums, participate in writers’ conferences and workshops, buy books, listen to radio interviews, read blog posts, and make comments. I think it’s really important to support and encourage each other. I’ve read flash fiction submissions and written book reviews for three different publications. Writing book reviews really hones skills as a careful, supportive reader and analytical writer. What else is going on? I noodle around with visual art and music and whack away at various home improvement projects wondering what a real carpenter would do. I’m an environmental activist and love to be out in the wilderness. I’m trying to connect more with the literary community in this region, and open to a collaborative creative project that’s the right fit.
What is your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?
I’m uncomfortable when social networks and online forums get snarky and gossipy. I’m really turned off by over-the-top self promotion and trolls who tear down the work of others just to be mean. I’m also not a fan of extremely transgressive literature and art where the sole aim is to just be deeply disturbing, gross, outrageous or attention seeking. The world is already scary and violent enough, so I don’t really seek that out in my art experience.
What are you working on right now?
A full length collection of narrative poetry called Bone Dry and Burning. I’m shopping the manuscript around but still tweaking it. Kinda waiting for that person with the 2X4 to show up to let me know when it’s finished. I’m also putting together a collection of flash fiction with the working title The Wind Was Caused By Their Leavin’
What are you reading right now?
I tend to read several things simultaneously. It’s kind of an ADD thing. The books in current rotation include Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler, Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames, Frantic Transmissions To and From Los Angeles by Kate Braverman, Doll Palace by Sara Lippmann, The Happiest People In The World by Brock Clarke, Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels, and Donkey Gospel by Tony Hoagland. Thank you for these thought provoking and evocative questions. I enjoyed answering them. I could go on and on, but I don’t want to grow tedious.
(Published in Blotturature)
Michael Gillan Maxwell answers The Hue Questionnaire from Pure Slush
What is your favourite colour? Why?
I don’t have one, single favorite color. I think color is the most “relative” of all the elements of art, and my “favorite” color depends on my mood and what the color is related to. I like red cars and black guitars, Navy blue blazers and khaki chinos. If I had to choose one “favorite” color, I suppose I would have to go with “teal” which is a deep, blue-green. I like it because it is evocative of nature and I see it in water, sky and plants. (and certain kinds of birds and lizards!)
Do you wear this colour? How often and when?
I DO wear this color, but sparingly. I’m actually more of a winter palette, but I’ve had several shirts in various shades of teal. I guess I wear teal for parties, playful, festive occasions and golf, sailing and drinking margaritas at a summer cook out more than anything else.
What does the colour suggest to you?
Teal suggests nature, water, sky, forest, mystery, dreams, restfulness, relaxation, peace and qualities like deep, dark and ephemeral. It’s almost like turquoise, but darker, with more green. The paintings of Rousseau, the cool jazz of Miles Davis.
What does it not suggest to you?
I don’t think it’s a good color for food or houses or dogs. I don’t think it really works for power tools, firearms or legal documents either. It’s not a healthy skin tone and I wouldn’t want my teeth to be that color.
How long has it been your favourite color?
I remember buying a shirt that was a gorgeous shade of teal for the Holidays about 25 years ago. Around that same time we painted the walls of our living room in a color that might best be described as teal. It was a room with very high ceilings, beautiful wood trim and great light from 3 very large windows. The effect was very cozy and intimate and rich and was a wonderful back drop for much of our art.
When does it work best?
With the proper lighting and in relation to other colors it contrasts or harmonizes with. It doesn’t work if everything next to it or around it is too dark. In the case of our living room walls, the woodwork was kind of an ivory white, the lighting was indirect and art work framed in gold just JUMPED off the walls. I’ve worn gold ties with teal shirts. As an article of clothing, teal is informal and works with black, white or khaki pants or shorts. It’s a good color for golf shirts, sailing shirts and playing out with the band.
When does it not work for you?
I actually use it and wear it very sparingly. It can be nauseating in the wrong context and easily over done. I would never wear teal colored business or formal attire. I wouldn’t wear it to a job interview or a funeral or if I was being tried for a crime. I’m not a big fan of teal as a hair color, and I wouldn’t paint my nails in teal. (But then again, I wouldn’t paint my nails at all.)
How does the colour relate to you, or you relate to it? Are you this colour or is this colour you?
I think I relate to it. I live in an area with beautiful lakes and forests. As I look out my window in the early evening at the end of May, I see this color in the trees, plants and water. It is calming and restful. I can BE this color if the mood and lighting is right
(Published by Pure Slush)
Tagged: “My Writing Process”
Writing at the Dirt Track Races
“My Writing Process” is an ongoing series in which authors “tag” each other to answer some questions about their work. Robert Vaughan invited me to participate. Initially I declined, but reading Robert Vaughan’s and Bud Smith’s responses to these questions kind of got the wheels turning. I have always been fascinated by the creative process and it seems to be different for each individual.
Robert Vaughan’s most recent book is Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanisms)http://www.amazon.com/Addicts-Basements-Robert-Vaughan/dp/1937865231 Bud Smith (http://budsmithwrites.com) is the author of Tollbooth and Or Something Like That. He just released full length poetry collection, Everything Neon by Marginalia Books. He also is the host of The Unknown Show.
Authors Mia Avramut and Gary Powell have accepted my invitation to participate. Gary Powell is the author of Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons: A Novella in Stories http://www.amazon.com/Speedos-Tattoos-Felons-Novella-Stories/dp/1492820504
Here are links to some of Mia’s work:
Here are my responses to the questions.
1) What am I working on?
I have two chapbooks looking for a home. Although, it seems the longer they are homeless, the more they keep changing. “Long Gone and Never Coming Back” is a poetry chapbook and the other is a flash fiction chapbook called “Between Dusk and Dawn.” If they go much longer before finding a publisher, they will be full length collections and may not contain any of the work that currently comprises them.
I’m also working on a portfolio of altered photographs called “In The Studio” which documents my friend Daniel Hoffman’s work as a luthier making cellos. I’ll be posting that on my website. To view Hoffman’s exquisite work go to http://www.danielhoffmanluthier.com.
I have an ongoing series on my website called The Lunch Lady Cookbook where I post recipes and photographs, music and beverage pairings all carried along by tongue-in-cheek goofy narrative. I also write essays when the spirit moves me and irate letters to my legislators when I’m hot and bothered by environmental issues, which seems to happen more and more frequently.
Oh yeah. Almost forgot to mention. I write songs too. Singer/songwriter/Americana story stuff, blues, ballads and rock and roll. Guitar, harmonica, vocals ~simple chords and simple structures.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think, like everybody else, I try to be authentically “myself” and put my “personal stamp” on it without getting so esoteric that I lose the reader. My best work conveys irony, humor and redemption, no matter how far it may veer into the dark side. From time to time, I’m lucky enough to write a piece that only I could write. However, that’s a slippery and intangible bit of magic that I am at a loss to explain, because I don’t even understand it myself.
3) Why do I write what I do?
It usually comes from a deep emotional response or a reaction to a situation, social condition, event, or nature. Sometimes it’s triggered by a song or a visual image. I also seem to write a lot of stuff that comes from driving my car. I have a lot of fun writing parody and satirical pieces laced with ironic, often self deprecating humor. This shows up a lot in my series The Lunch Lady Cookbook and in my serial detective noir send-up “The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks.”
4) How does my writing process work?
I compose most every thing on my computer or iPad. I think all my years of academic writing rewired my brain. Or maybe “short-circuited” would be a better description! Songwriting is done differently. I usually write songs in long hand and use a guitar or mandolin to play the chords. Although, some of my best songs came to me, unbidden, while doing things like mowing the lawn or walking my dogs. In a couple of cases they came like a “download” ~ fully formed with lyrics, melody, chords all intact ~ and I had to rush into the house to write it all down before it vanished back into the ethers. It was like I “channeled” them. A lot of my poetry starts with a line that has come to me in a near dream state, either just before falling asleep or as I’m awakening. Most of the heavy lifting in my writing is done with a burst of energy using blunt instruments and big, broad strokes. After that, it seems like an endless process of revising, cutting, and rearranging words and phrases. It’s like feng shui. I’m also a recovering adverb and cliche abuser, so ferreting out those buggers is an important part of the process. Quite often, I’ll get ideas for poems while driving my car and I start scribbling madly in a notebook on the passenger seat. Of course, this is even more dangerous than texting, so I’ll pull over if at all possible. I also beg, borrow and steal ideas shamelessly, then hammer it into something that is my own. Don’t we all? Perhaps the secret to transmuting it into something new and original lies in responding in a truly honest, personal and authentic manner. That’s all easier said then done, but it’s worthy of striving toward.