Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

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Book Review: Diptychs +Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits by Robert Vaughan 2013

Cover DTDL Robert Vaughan

Diptychs +Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits

Stories/ Robert Vaughan 2013

Published by Deadly Chaps ~ Joseph A. W. Quintella, Publisher

Robert Vaughan is a busy man with a lot on his mind, and an incredibly prolific writer. I don’t know how or when he even finds time to sleep. Author of hundreds of published stories and poems, Diptychs +Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits is his second release in 2013, with more on the way. Don’t take your eye off the ball or you’re likely to miss the next pitch altogether. This chap book contains many of his best known pieces and is a little like a greatest hits album, in all the best possible ways. Notable pieces include “10,000 Dollar Pyramid” which was a finalist in the Micro Fiction awards 2012, “Ten Notes To The Guy Studying Jujitsu,”finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award 2013 and “Gauze, a Medical Dressing, a Scrim” 2nd Place in the Flash Fiction Chronicles String-Of-10 Contest 2013. It also contains some of my personal favorites which include “Seven Shades of James”, “Going to Reseda On The 405” and “Mother/Father/Clown.”

Diptychs +Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits is a marvelously crafted collection with moving parts that work beautifully together. At times deep and dark, then light, playful and mischievous; the pieces are written in beautiful prose that moves the reader through surprising and unexpected journeys. Robert Vaughan’s work is characterized by his playful use of alliteration and eye winking references to icons, titles and phrases in the lexicon of popular culture. His capricious imagery and surprising, cleverly placed internal rhymes create pieces that are at once rambunctious, mischievous and somehow, gently subversive.

Diptychs +Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits is crafted from lush poetic prose. On one hand some pieces are abstract, cryptic and disturbing; while on the other hand, others are humorous and totally straight forward, without any artifice, tricks or distractions that might dull the edge or detract from their power. Vaughan’s stories are often poignant, tender and compassionate without being too sweetly sentimental. In almost every case, any one of the segments of a diptych or triptych could easily serve as the foundation for its own expanded story.

Hats off to publisher Joseph A. W. Quintella for a beautifully designed and produced book. It’s a wonderful chap book and a piece of visual art in and of itself.  Diptychs +Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits is an enduring body of work. Woven from gorgeous, rich, lyrical language and imagery, it’s right up there with the very best. Available from the publisher, and from Amazon. It’s also listed on Goodreads. If you are not yet familiar with the writing of Robert Vaughan, then this is the perfect place to start.

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.

Nomination for 2013 Pushcart Prize

author pic

I am humbled, honored, nearly speechless and totally thrilled to be amongst the six writers whose work has been nominated by Metazen for the 2013 Pushcart Prize.
My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Metazen editors ~Frank HintonChristopher AllenLen KuntzCaitlin Laura Galway, Diana Cole, Jamie Smith and Belinda Bilonda Kalala for this huge honor! Congratulations to the other Metazen Pushcart nominees Charlotte Seley, Karen Stefano, L.S. Johnson, Oliver Daltrey and Daniel Shurley.

Follow this link for more information on The Pushcart Prize.

An Embarrassment of Riches


An Embarrassment of Riches

 Back in June I experienced the surprise of my life when my piece “Funky Little Blaze Orange Pork Pie Hats” was selected as the first place winner in the FLASH MOB 2013 Flash Fiction Day Competition.

LIke I said then, I’ve won stuff. Lottsa stuff. A bike at a school blacktop carnival. A pie at St. Anthony’s parish festival. A bag of groceries. A two dollar lottery ticket. A karaoke contest in Tokyo. A bonus round on the slots at a casino in Cleveland. An arm wrestling contest.  Yeah, I’ve won stuff. Lottsa stuff.

But I never expected to win that kind of honor in FLASH MOB 2013. That was overwhelming enough. Then, unexpectedly, surprises began to arrive in the mail. The surprises were the 1st place prize in the form of the latest books authored by so many of the writers whose work I admire. It is an honor of the highest sort.

Included in this unexpected bounty is a copy of Gears ~ A Collection by Alex Pruteanu, Thank You For Your Sperm by Marcus Speh, Three Squares a Day With Occasional Torture by Julie Innis, The Merrill Diaries by Susan Tepper, and The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons by Vivienne Plumb.

It is with a sense of deep gratitude and appreciation that I welcome these works to my library and accept the responsibility for their care and feeding, but most importantly, for their reading and appreciation! I only hope that some of the genius of these authors might rub off on my work!

Once again, my gratitude and appreciation goes out to the participants, organizers and judges of FLASH MOB 2013, including Christopher Allen, Michelle Elvy, Marcus Speh, Robert Vaughan, Leah McMenamin and Nuala Ní Chonchúir and Linda Simoni-Wastila, and to the aforementioned authors for their work ~ Alex Pruteanu, Marcus Speh, Julie Innis, Susan Tepper and Vivienne Plumb. Thank you one and all. I look forward to paying it forward if I am ever presented with the opportunity to do so!

Remembering “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac

I was in one of those warehouse sized discount stores the other day when I came across a table stacked with books. One of my old favorites jumped right out at me and I picked it up. I was surprised to see a brand new printing of the Jack Kerouac classic On the Road. That book had a major influence on me as a teenager and young man. I remember finding that and copies of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in a box of my Mom’s books that was stashed in our basement. These books had all been controversial for different reasons and I remember feeling like I had come across a secret cache of some kind of forbidden fruit.

Kerouac had the idea for On The Road in the late 40’s and finished his first draft on one continuous scroll in 1951, although it wasn’t published until 1957. As I held this new edition in my hand I couldn’t stifle my ironic amusement at seeing the latest edition of On The Road being marketed in a discount store with the phrase “NOW! A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE!” plastered all over the cover, along with glossy photos of the 20-something actors smiling with perfect teeth and stylishly coiffed hair who are presumably playing the roles of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady who were, in fact, unwashed, speed addled, pot smoking, besotted, penniless, rag tag vagabonds and not Barbie and Ken Dolls.

I admit to feeling some consternation that one of my own most revered icons from my wayward youth was NOW! A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE! Sacrilege, I say! Not really, but it’s a little like the way I felt when I figured out there was no Santa Claus, or that my Davy Crockett toys had been sold in a garage sale. The death of the 60’s was hard enough to take back then, but do you have to keep rubbing it in in 2012 by making On The Road into Beverly Hills 90210?

So, they finally came out with a film version of On The Road. Well, it took ’em long enough. Kerouac wrote the thing 61 years ago. By the way, what kind of advertising genius still calls films “motion pictures”? The Golden Age of Hollywood is long gone, my friend. A friend of mine told me today that Allen Ginsberg bobbleheads are part of the marketing campaign. Seriously? Must you? That’s just like pouring salt in the wound. If you’re going to do that, then it seems like a Walt Whitman teddy bear would be huge. Or how about a Charles Bukowski doll that smokes, drinks and curses?

I must admit, I am kind of curious about this “major motion picture.” However, I know I’ll be watching this one at home on Movies on Demand, amongst the trappings of my bourgeois lifestyle as I lay draped in velvet and sipping an insouciant cabernet that doesn’t bite back.

“Awesome” Alert!

“Awesome” Alert!

My short, nonfiction piece “Fly the Friendly Skies” was accepted for inclusion in the forthcoming anthology real.

I am SO excited to be included in this group of writers, and most humbled and honored by all of it. Thank you so much Editor/Publisher Matt Potter!
For a peek, click on the link below.

Book Journal ~ FINAL NOTES J P Reese


FINAL NOTES poems ~ J P Reese ~ Naked Mannequin, 2011

 I’m sitting in the midday sun on my deck, dogs at my feet, taking in the balmy spring air and listening to bird calls on what, technically, is the last day of winter. We are captivated by watching a group of birds noisily banish a red tailed hawk from their territory. After much flapping of wings and dueling from tree to tree, the hawk has retreated. Mourning doves call from the tumble down woods across the road. Spring breezes whoosh through the branches of tall pines. It’s a perfect day for quiet contemplation and reading the poetry of J P Reese. The book I have in my hand is Reese’s new chapbook entitled Final Notes. 

I’m not a literary critic nor do I aspire to be one. The Alice B. Toklas Book Journal doesn’t even have book reviews, as such. In fact, I prefer to call them Book Reports. I know it may sound juvenile, but I don’t care. It’s a way for me to share reflections about books I’ve read that have moved me in a positive way.

I grew up listening to albums, first on vinyl, then tapes and CDs and now as digital downloads. No matter what the format, they’re still specific collections of songs, often thematically linked and arranged by the artist to be played in a specific order. I grew up with this structure and I have become hard wired to it. Perhaps I find the chap book format so appealing because it operates on so many of these same principles. For me, J P Reese’s chap book, Final Notes has that kind of album vibe. To carry that metaphor just a bit further, many of my favorite albums were a collection of 12-15 songs, each one only a little over two minutes long. Final Notes is a collection of 16 poems, each one of them short, compact, stripped down to bare essentials and almost Zen-like in its simplicity. However, this is not to say that economy of motion, brevity and simplicity are traits that are necessarily synonymous with shallow or superficial, because, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Reese’s poems are full of of the kind of heart and soul that is reached only by plumbing the depths and mysteries of the human spirit. Reese draws the reader into the theme of any given piece with clear language and vivid imagery, but the depth of meaning comes from reading the poems again and again. To return to my music metaphor, it’s the same way a song grows on me. I really need to hear it over and over again.

Final Notes is a collection of poems about what it’s like to be alive in America in the 21st century. The poems are quiet meditations on the passage of time, relationships with domestic partners, love, loss, strength, and perseverance. Reese contemplates caring for aging parents “at the end of your life”, the shattering of the American dream against “the blind windows of Wall Street”, hopes and dreams for her children, a poignant profile of a psychically scarred soldier home from the war in Iraq which, for him, will never end, and a chilling, but beautiful refection on the day the Twin Towers fell that somehow reminds me of paper cranes of Hiroshima. For me, the shortest poem in the collection is the most cryptic, while at the same time, written in the most beautiful and lyrical language. Final Notes is a wonderful chap book of sparkling poems and I will return to it time and time again.

About the Author 

JP Reese is associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: an Online Artifact and Poetry Editor for THIS Literary Magazine. She teaches English at a small college on the North Texas prairie. Reese’s published works can be found at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty:

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