Category Archives: MGM


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:

Research: Two Wars, Three Romances in A Touch of Stardust

Just finished listening to A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott.  I snapped it from the library shelf because of the picture of Carole Lombard on the cover and was delighted to find out that it centers on the making of Gone With the Wind.
Although the novel is a romance (well, three romances actually: Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, and that of the heroine, Julie Crawford and Andy Weinstein), it also anchors the reader in the late 1930s with some history.  
  • General History: Two wars, the Civil War and the Second World War as well as the US and Hollywood’s attitude toward Jews and African-Americans, Hitler’s build-up of arms and campaign against non-Aryans and Jews, and America’s general attitude toward women
  •  Specific History: The movie industry, popular music, clothing, slang, social mores including attitudes toward premarital sex.

This is all good stuff for me as I try to get my mind into the late 1940s. Yes, they’re different eras – a world war of difference – but reading the novel has brought up some questions I need to investigate further.  How much did Hollywood and American change in their attitudes toward Jews, African-Americans, and women in those ten years?  
I think I know the answer, at least for women.  Rosie the Riveter proved to men and women alike that females were capable of doing much of the work that was traditionally done by men.  The Civil Rights Movement gained strength slowly after the war, but eventually grew into a powerful lobby against Jim Crow laws and inequality. To quote Sam Cook, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”  As for Jewish refugees, their lot during the war and just after war, revealed the high level of Anti-Semitism in America and other western countries. However, awareness of the Holocaust began to influence younger generations and some of that prejudice lessened. 
My characters, Billy Eastlake, Ambie, Alma, who are key to the prequel lived in the world when change was on the cusp but still far into the future.  Reading Alcott’s book has suggested to me that, as she revealed the prejudices of the time in A Touch of Stardust –  I need to consider adding new characters who will do just that.  I’ll need to do more than this little bit of research.
As for the specific history gleaned from this book I’ve taken notes.  I have no intention of copying any of this – clothing, music, slang of the forties is just a Google away.  Rather it is  the feel of the era of the 30’s I’ve come away with and it is this same experience  of time and place that I want to create for my readers. And yes, I’m aware that it is fictionalized history.
About A Touch of Stardust as posted on Amazon:
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker comes a blockbuster novel that takes you behind the scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind, while turning the spotlight on the passionate romance between its dashing leading man, Clark Gable, and the blithe, free-spirited actress Carole Lombard. 

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Hollywood, she never imagines she’ll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie’s provincial Midwestern hometown. 

The young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, but the only job Julie’s able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick, who is busy burning through directors, writers, and money as he films Gone with the Wind.

Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie’s access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable, who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler. 

In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and offscreen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance her career aspirations and her own budding romance with the outsized personalities and overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight.