Category Archives: Kathy Fish


by Michael Gillan Maxwell

My journey to Planet Write started in a most inauspicious manner. When my first grade teacher told us to turn in our writing workbooks, I panicked, grabbed another kid’s workbook, and turned hers in as my own. My plagiarism was discovered, and I was shamed in front of the class.

It was an important moment of awakening and personal growth. At the age of nine, I wrote my first and only novel: a work of fiction about the Korean War. My research consisted of watching Pork Chop Hill, starring Gregory peck. Handwritten in pencil, the novel filled a composition book. My mother was my only reader. That was the first baby step on my journey to Planet Write.

Flash forward to high school. My favorite courses were English Composition, Drama, and Speech where we created short stories recited to the class without the aid of written notes. It was challenging and scary, but also a rush. I landed a couple of poems in the high school literary magazine. They were laden with the usual teenage angst and apocalyptic existential dread, but they weren’t all that bad. My football teammates teased me mercilessly, thinking the only reason I wrote poetry was to suck up to our young, super hot teacher. It was one reason. Not the only reason.

I learned something about the relationship between writing and rebellion after discovering books by Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and Ayn Rand squirrelled away in boxes in the basement. Their writing bristled with subversive energy and danger, and carried the whiff of forbidden fruit. Around that time, I got my first guitar, a $25 Harmony with a sunburst finish. It was heavier than a box of rocks and a real knuckle buster, but I managed to hang with it long enough to learn some basic chords and a few folk songs. It was also a great way to impress girls. I saved money and bought a better guitar, and even though I didn’t have the life experience to really sing the blues, I started writing my own original story songs.

Onto the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It was an exciting and turbulent time for soul searching, ecstatic exploration, and pushing back against the status quo. As a student, I was a train wreck; undisciplined and distracted by social upheaval and a heady concoction of sex, drugs, rock & roll, the anti-war movement and the birth of the counter culture. 

My real education happened outside the classroom. There was a rich and vibrant indie literary and art movement, with underground newspapers, street artists, musicians, and guerilla theater performance artists. Poets handed out mimeographed, self-published broadsides. There were great bands, happenings and regular visits by political poets like Allen Ginsberg. I soaked it all up. During this idyllic time, I backpacked around Europe and lived in Germany, fell hopelessly in love, wrote some pretty awful poetry and some pretty decent songs, and discovered Leonard Cohen and Herman Hesse.

After Madison, I landed in Colorado, working construction before entering the University of Colorado to study Fine Art. The Boulder writing scene exploded as the Naropa Institute was getting off the ground. There were readings, poetry workshops, and opportunities to meet writers who came to town to get the whole thing started. Hunter S. Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Michael Burroughs, and Anais Nin were some of the writers who came and went. It all made an indelible impression on me, even as I was heading off in another direction.

From that point on, I focused on visual art and education.

I moved to New York state where I established Old Mill Pottery and eventually became a teacher of Visual Art in public schools, community art centers, and at the college level. I went to Japan on a Fulbright and produced an artist’s book, 17 Syllables: Haiku and Images. I also played in rock bands throughout those years, writing songs and coming to realize that my heart truly resides in the 4-minute story song, a novel in three verses and a chorus.

I went on to work as a school principal, program coordinator, educational leader, and consultant. Through it all, I wrote constantly, but it was an entirely different type of writing. It was a world of academic papers, Masters theses, student and faculty evaluations, and professional reports. Though the writing was often dry, boring, and tedious, that time was a critical stage of the journey. While not “creative writing” per se, it trained me to work to a deadline, organize my thoughts, and concisely articulate them. That kind of writing has its own strict rules and constraints, but it taught me discipline. The real trick was shaking off those shackles when I came out the other side so I could make my way back to Planet Write.

As my education career wound down, I started blogging and wrote prose poetry, flash fiction, and memoir. I found my tribe on the internet, workshopped in writing circles and attended writing conferences. In 2015, The Part Time Shaman Handbook: An Introduction For Beginners was published by Bud Smith’s Unknown Press. A hybrid mix of prose poetry and images, it feels like my true path and my own authentic voice. 

I’d love to take this opportunity to close with a shout out to my colleagues in the writing community and to the editors who have published my work, but especially to fellow writers and friends Robert Vaughan, Meg Tuite, Bud Smith, Kathy Fish, and Lawrence Kessenich. You all helped me find my voice and showed me ways to make my writing my own. Your patience, professional insight, collegial support, and friendship have helped me find my way back to Planet Write. For that I will remain eternally grateful.

Good Help Is Hard To Find

Some of them are notorious tweakers. Nobody epitomizes the cowboy-outlaw biker more than the ironworkers, who are wired on Black Beauties they sell on breaks. 

Bulldozers rumble over loose red soil, kicking up dust and spewing acrid exhaust. Machinery clamors and clanks in pandemonium. Heavy metal blasts from a boom box with such fury that it overpowers the machine gun roar of jackhammers.

The ironworkers sing along at the top of their lungs as they climb the latticework, and Dave leans on his shovel, staring in disbelief at the pink slip in his hand.

(Published in the Santa Fe Literary Review 2013. Meg Tuite, Editor)


Michael Gillan Maxwell is a writer and visual artist in the Finger Lakes Region of New York state. Maxwell writes short fiction, poetry, songs, essays, lists, recipes and irate letters to his legislators. A teller of tales, and singer of songs, he’s prone to random outbursts, he may spontaneously combust or break into song at any moment.

The Part Time Shaman Handbook: An Introduction For Beginners was published by Unknown Press in 2015. Maxwell can be found ranting and raving on his website:

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Three Mentors and a Lady (Me!)

by Tara Laskowski
Purchase at

Like many writers, I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I’ve got the notebooks and the diaries. I bound my hand-written stories and drew pictures to illustrate them, adding an “About the Author” on the back cover with a photo. I wrote bad poetry when boyfriends broke up with me. Blah blah blah.

For me, the path in writing has really been paved by people. The people who are willing to read my writing and give me an honest assessment. The people who understand when I tell them I can’t go out tonight because I’m in the middle of a draft. The people who didn’t tell me I was insane when I wanted to move to another state and go more in debt to get a graduate degree in creative writing.

I am fortunate that there are a lot of those kinds of people in my life, and that I continue to meet them. Writing is for the most part a solitary act, but you can’t do it in a vacuum.

There are three of those people in particular that encouraged me at times when I most needed it. Folks that I consider mentors, heroes, friends.

The first is Thomas Jones, my English teacher in high school. The guy who taught us that we don’t have to love all the books we read in school—that a critical eye is ok. The man who picked me up at my house one night and drove me to the local college to hear Joyce Carol Oates read. Up until that moment, I’d never met a “real” writer before, let alone one whose stories I adored. Mr. Jones was the faculty advisor for our literary magazine, and when controversy erupted my senior year because of some of the language and content manner in the stories and poems, he was one of the only faculty members who stood up for the students. Who made us realize that our words mattered, that they were powerful, and as long as we used them with care we were justified in defending them. He was the first person of authority who showed me that writing and reading was wonderful, and who took the time to tell me that I might have some talent.

All that led me to become an English major at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, although when I enrolled as a freshman I still had my sights on going to law school. Then I took a writing workshop with Dr. Gary Fincke.

I’ve never had a writing workshop—even in graduate school—better than the workshops I took with Dr. Fincke. He never seemed tired or uninterested. Even with the stories that needed more help than others, he was patient, kind, and had this uncanny ability to find the unique talents and strengths of every writer that came through those doors. Even now as he gets set to retire from SU at the end of 2016, I can still see the passion and enthusiasm and true affection he has for all of his students. The man is a saint. Just ask any writing alumnus from SU and you’ll see. He’s got his own fan club.

So instead of law school, I found myself at George Mason University pursuing an MFA in fiction. I took some great classes there and met some dear friends, but somewhere in the middle of my thesis I had lost my way. I was working on a novel that was too long and too cumbersome. I graduated, and hadn’t published anything in years. I was feeling aimless. I had forgotten what it was like to have fun writing.

On a whim, I sent in an application for the Kathy Fish Fellowship at SmokeLong Quarterly, a flash fiction publication that I’d tried for years to get into and never had any luck. I then forgot I’d applied. In 2009, on Barack Obama’s inauguration day, I got a call from Dave Clapper at SLQ—I’d won!

During that year of my fellowship I wrote dozens of stories. And thanks to Randall Brown, who was the lead editor at the time, I learned how to have fun writing again. His eye and attention to detail is something to be in awe of. At a time when I might’ve given up writing altogether, Randall introduced me to a whole new kind of writing. Which gave me the freedom to play and experiment with words and stories. That year was a pivotal point for me. More like a slingshot kind of year. I went from publishing one thing—one thing—over the course of several years to publishing dozens in one year. But more than that, I was finding my voice and my style.

I think sometimes we get caught up in the misery of the solitary act of writing. The rejection after rejection. The tireless hours editing when we could be watching House of Cards. Those are all valid feelings, of course, but it’s good to step back sometimes and recognize the folks around you who are cheering you on. Whether it’s your husband, who takes the kids one night so you can work on your draft at Starbucks for a few hours, or the editor at the literary magazine who sends you a few lines of feedback on a friendly rejection, or the random fan that sends you an email gushing over a story you published online—these are the real reasons why we do what we do, and why we continue to do it.

So thank you to my mentors, my friends, my heroes. All of you out there who are on this crazy journey with me. You matter more than you know. After all, who are we kidding? I would’ve made a terrible lawyer.


Tara Laskowski‘s short story collection Bystanderswas hailed by Jennifer Egan as “a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills.” She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Since 2010, she has been the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly.

Author photo by Evan Cantrell. 

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: It’s Always Pouring In My Kingdom

By Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber

I remember one of my childhood nuns, Sister Margaret Mary, as very Irish.  She pronounced laughter LAHWt-rr. She was mean, crabby, quick to knuckle-up with the ruler, but man, I loved how she said that word.  She insisted. 

My favorite teacher as a child was Mme. Pearl Phillippe.  She would let me visit with her after school, and she would teach me French words and phrases.  She made me hand-copy poems into a book and illustrate them.  Not a hugger, she would sometimes touch my hair to move it behind my ear. I still love her for all those things.  

In second grade, I was moved up for being precocious, and soon learned (for self-preservation reasons) to pretend that I could not read.  The third graders didn’t want a baby around, and my old classmates thought, Jersey-style, she thinks who she is.  Publicly, I would stumble over the word ocean: privately, never.  Happily demoted, I read a lot at recess.  My favorite books involved building undersea cities, and Ezra Jack Keats illustrations.  I was glad when my parents transferred my brother, sister, and me to public school for seventh grade. 
Although I was in junior high school with comedienne Janeane Garofalo (a very nice girl from a respectable home on the hill), I got voted class clown.  I remember making Janeane laugh once when, at the lunch table, I wondered aloud who had manhandled my banana.  It was good old LAHWt-rr to the rescue over and over for me.  I wrote a lot of terrible poetry, which I still have in hand-made books with green felt covers.  I still like the drawings my old self did, but not the poetry so much.  

Other things I remember from those years were that one of the teachers in my school was a Playboy centerfold.  Another teacher played pocket pool regularly in his tighty tweeds.  Another teacher dangled a troublemaker outside a second-story window. I had a letter published in the Aerosmith newsletter, Aero Knows.  I continued to write.  When a kind of famous neighbor died, my town paper, The Madison Eagle, published my poetic tribute to him, and I was asked to read it at his memorial service, but I was too shy.  I also remember sentence diagramming fondly.
In high school, I loved the art room.  It was quite the hangout, and it seemed we could help ourselves to any supplies.  India Ink, Speedball linoleum cutters, paper.  I am still friends with Anthony Vitale, art room buddy, who owns a wonderful music school.  We saw Queen and the Police in concert with our thrash-metal friend Eddie Trunk. I tell my sons about high school back then, and they can’t believe it.  

There was a used bookstore in town, The Chatham Bookseller, and when I was thirteen I read my way through the existentialists, 35-cents a pop.  I still have those copies of Huis Clos, Une Saison En Enfer, and Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.  Merci, Mme. Phillippe.  I got an award for creative writing, and was the editor of my school’s literary magazine for my junior and senior year.  Graduated.

In college, I met Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, and the Transcendentalists.  I stayed in touch with just one professor, Bill Doreski (he and I are coincidentally published together this month in Pure Slush FIVE.) I spent most of my creative energy in college DJing at the radio station.  It was a wonderful time for music – Talking Heads, Black Flag, New Order, Grandmaster Flash – and I think I still have the Beastie Boys’ “Cookie Puss” on vinyl somewhere.  I used to draw editorial cartoons for the school newspaper.  I graduated with my degree in English, having written my final paper on King Lear. 

Then, kind of like Matt Potter referenced in his essay for this column, I too distanced myself from writing. I managed creative agencies, ran a telemarketing center, traveled the world, won national sales awards, got an MBA.  My claim to fame was this 1990s thing called the “authorization check.”  I worked for the phone company, and we’d mail these $20 checks to customers who dropped our service for a competitor’s.  When people signed and cashed those checks, it authorized a switch back.  LOL. I was the audacious 1995 sales champ. But it was picking up a palette again, and standing in front of an easel, that reclaimed my creativity. Soon after, I found love. I met my artist husband, Paul (our first date is recounted in “How to Meet Marc Chagall.”) 
My employer offered severance money, so I bought a computer, a printer, and some file cabinets and started freelance writing.  The first feature I wrote won First Prize from the SPJ.  As I look back, I’ve always had a career that touched upon writing.  We have three bright, creative sons.  I gave up work for a few years to be home with the babies.  I continued freelancing, then helped run Ghost Tours in a nearby town.  I’ve interviewed Kissinger.  I won awards. That segued to being a public school teacher, where rereading classics brought me full circle to the path from which I’d strayed. 

Fifteen years later, I turned 50.  For me, this is my imaginary Annie Proulx line.  She did not start writing till later in life, but she did start writing after 50.  I too am coming to the craft later, and I am not rising from nothing.  The stories are pouring out.  My first publication was nominated for Best Small Fiction.  I’m 45K words into my first novel, and have finally discovered, after fretting about it all these years, that the love of my life, the English language, has waited for me, and blushes for me, and welcomes me with open arms to some kingdom I was sworn existed when I was very small.  I am the king of some rainy country, it seems, where stories pour all day and night.  I’m home.

Look for Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber’s stories in New SouthTahoma Literary Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Vignette ReviewRevolution John, andJellyfish Review. She is a freelance fiction editor, and her chapbook reviews appear in Change Seven Magazine; she reads fiction for Pithead Chapel.  She’s studied with Randall Brown, Kathy Fish, and Nancy Stohlman, and loves her writing squads: #fishtankwriters and #storytalk. When not teaching, she’s working on a novel that spans five generations, or looking out the kitchen window at her fascinating goats, Snapdragon and Socrates. Follow her @AEWeisgerber, or visit