Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary



Tagged: “My Writing Process”

Lunch Laddy at the Dirt Track Races
Writing at the Dirt Track Races

Tagged: “My Writing Process”

“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) Bud Smith ( 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

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

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.

Bound by Blue: Stories by Meg Tuite 2014 Sententia Books

Book Review: “Bound by Blue: Stories” by Meg Tuite 2014 Sententia Books

Bound by Blue Cover

I know it’s been said before, but it took courage to write this book and it takes courage to read it. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s rough, tough and in your face, unflinching yet poignant and compassionate, but certainly not without humor and redemption. Meg Tuite’s stories are inhabited by wanderers, wonderers and seekers, lost and broken souls, parents and children estranged and searching for connection, people looking for meaning and characters dancing on the fringes of society and the edges of reality.

Each story, from the opening “The F Word” through the keystone in the arch, “Bound By Blue”, that leaves you stunned and reeling, to the final (and my favorite) piece “The Healer” bristles with fulminating energy that simmers just beneath the surface before exploding in your face. These stories are written in prose that is rendered with the sensibilities of a visual artist and the soul of a poet.

The 13 stories in this brilliant collection are dark, tough, beautifully written and skillfully wrought by an author who can look right through you and immediately tell if you are bullshitting or not.

Meg Tuite’s writing is raw boned and edgy and her voice is all her own and totally original and unique. Bound By Blue is unlike anything you’ve ever read. It’s a beautifully designed book, published by Sententia Books, and the cover art alone, a reproduction of a painting by Goro Endow, would be reason enough for me to buy it. You should buy Bound By Blue, read it, talk about it and try, just try, to write something as unique and powerful as this. Go ahead. I dare ya!

Book Review Tollbooth Bud Smith Piscataway House Publications 2013

Book Review


Bud Smith

Piscataway House Publications 2013

Tollbooth Cover

Bud Smith’s 2013 release Tollbooth is one of the most entertaining, refreshing and compelling novels I’ve read in a long time. The protagonist, Jimmy Saare is a toll collector on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. It opens with Jimmy saving the lives of a mother and daughter by pulling them to safety from the flaming wreckage of their vehicle after a horrific accident. It’s Jimmy’s second day on the job.  Although this is a real event in the life of Jimmy Saare, toll collector, it’s also an important piece of metaphorical foreshadowing.

The story takes off from there like a bull exploding out of the chute at a rodeo, twisting, turning, bucking wildly and it doesn’t stop until it’s over. Tollbooth takes the reader on a wild ride through the interior psychological landscape of Jimmy, his hallucinatory break with reality, a marriage in the midst of crashing and burning, an impossible obsession with a nineteen year old sales clerk and his involvement with a bizarre cult and the exterior physical landscape of the Garden State Parkway, coastal New Jersey, strip malls, Iceland, and a commercial fishing trawler all the way to the gates of Hell and back again on an unexpected path to redemption.

I think Tollbooth is a wonderful book. The voice and writing set the stage for an effortless and compelling read. It’s also totally original and just plain brilliant. There’s humor, mystery, eroticism, the good, bad and ugly of human nature, mysticism, magic realism, characters I care about and “diamonds in the rough” passages of absolutely gorgeous, lyrical, poetic prose.

Although the book is an acrobatic mash-up of different genres including realism, magic realism, absurdist black humor and surrealism, none of those labels really do justice in accurately describing Tollbooth. For all of the twists and turns and forays into other worldly realities, it’s also a classic love story and solid, old school storytelling. But don’t just take my word for it. You really should see for yourself.

My story “Elegy for the Old Republic” is up on Red Fez.

My story “Elegy for the Old Republic” is up on Red Fez.

Thank you editor Andy Meisenheimer for including my work with pieces from so many wonderful writers!


Book Report TIMBUKTU by Paul Auster

Timbuktu by Paul Auster

TIMBUKTU  by Paul Auster

I finished reading Paul Auster’s 1999 novella, Timbuktu a couple of days ago, and I have to say, it’s one of the most beautifully written and haunting books I’ve read in a long time. You might say it really got inside my head and under my skin. However, I think it’s more accurate to say that I really got inside the head and skin of the protagonist, a dog named Mr. Bones; through whom the story is told. Wait, I know what you’re thinking. You’re ready to hang it up right here and bail out, writing this all off as demented drivel from a sentimental dog lover rhapsodizing about one more tear jerking tale of an anthropomorphized mutt on a Homeric odyssey. Well, if that’s what you think, you’re wrong. It’s not Benji or Bobby the Wonder Dog or Lassie Come Home. It’s not that at all. I do admit that I am sentimental and I am a dog lover; and there is a dog and there is an odyssey. However, there is more to this story than that.

First of all, I think Paul Auster is a genius. His command of language and his ability to tell a story as a meditation on some of the major philosophical quandaries of life ranks right up there in the upper echelon of the Gods of Literature pantheon. I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy! Auster’s narrative prose alone is worth reading just to hear the music created by the lyrical flow of language. Timbuktu is thought provoking, emotionally engaging, sometimes cerebral, often visceral and always full of humor and pathos. It awakens all of your senses with descriptive passages that are tightly woven with lush imagery.

The story is told through the eyes of a dog named Mr. Bones, the loyal companion and soul mate of Willy G. Christmas, a homeless man who is also a brilliant, but deeply troubled poet-savant.  Mr. Bones conveys the story  through an internal monologue, describing their travails on a quixotic quest while recounting their earlier lives through a series of flashbacks. Auster’s ability to depict Mr. Bones as an intelligent sentient being, and his development of the various human characters in the book through clear prose are nothing short of breathtaking. The title of the book, Timbuktu,  comes from Willie’s concept of afterlife, which evolves into one of the over arching themes of the story.

To all of you professional literary critics out there, (if there are any) take it easy, this is kind of like open mike night and I’m just spit ballin’ here. In many ways, Timbuktu reminds me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy as it explores many of the same themes, and depicts a dark journey through gorgeously rendered cinematic imagery and lyrical descriptive narrative. For those of you who just can’t live without genre labels, here we go. I’m having difficulty assigning this to a single genre, but Timbuktu uses many of the devices of both “slip stream” and “magic realism” to tell the story. It contains many of the central themes of Auster’s writing, including constructing an understanding of the world through language, depiction of daily life, a writer as a central character, and a sense of imminent disaster. Throughout it all, the influences of  existentialism and transcendentalism are clearly apparent.

I don’t really want to say much more about the actual story because I think you should read this book, and I don’t want to give too much away and ruin it for you. I will say that I loved this book and that  it resonated with me on the heart level. I think it might have even made me a little smarter, and I’ll take all the help I can get. Let’s not forget that DOG is GOD spelled backwards. Paws & Claws Forever!

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