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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

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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)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:

http://www.escapeintolife.com/poetry/mia-avramut/

http://www.thricefiction.com/

http://www.menacinghedge.com/spring2013/entry-avramut.php

http://thebookendsreview.com/2013/07/29/mia-avramut-postcard-from-kettwig/

http://lucidplaypublishing.weebly.com/glass-eye-chandelier.html

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.

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

Tollbooth 

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.

2013 In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,100 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

An Embarrassment of Riches

Books

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!

It’s Not Too Late To Get Real!

My Story “Fly the Friendly Skies” is in “real” the anthology of nonfiction from “Pure Slush.” Thank you editor and publisher Matt Potter for including my work in this wonderful collection from so many terrific writers!

http://www.lulu.com/shop/pure-slush/real-pure-slush-vol-3/paperback/product-20465619.htmlReal

Book Journal ~ FINAL NOTES J P Reese

FINAL NOTES

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: jpreesetoo.wordpress.com

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