TWINS comic caption contest!

I always include an original TWINS comic in each issue of my print-only ‘zine METANOIA, featuring my character Christy and her “evil twin sister” Rebecca…

…but after twenty issues, I’ve hit a caption dry spell!! HELP!

WRITE A CAPTION FOR THIS COMIC and submit it via email to
Deadline for online entries – March 15, 2021

All entries will be published in issue 22, and the winning entrant will receive a signed 5×7 color print of the comic with their caption!

METANOIA – A print only ‘zine

IMG_20200328_133037_hdrMetanoia is my new print only ‘zine. It contains original work which hasn’t appeared and won’t appear online in any form.

The range of topics I’ll cover runs the gamut from metaphysics to music, from Neville Goddard to Mr. Spock, writing process to prayer method, nature, record collecting… all the things that I’m interested in.

For as long as I’ve considered myself a writer, I’ve not only always had my work in print (school newspapers and literary magazines, then, later, writing for local and regional newspapers, and, of course, my books); I’ve also always self-published newsletters and ‘zines of some kind, going way back to my Beatles/music newsletter Revolver and in college with my Temple Free Paper, and then the revival of Revolver in the 90s.

I enjoy writing online and enjoy blogging, but I missed the physical process of producing a print ‘zine/newsletter: setting a deadline, hashing through rough drafts, laying it out, editing it for style and space, then, finally, printing out copies and distributing them. I also lamented the fact that so much online writing is ephemeral.

So I decided to create a new ‘zine: Metanoia. The word, which I learned from Neville Goddard’s teachings, is a Greek word meaning a radical change of attitude.

Metanoia will be published roughly every two weeks (I’m aiming for every other Friday), one page, four columns, with a little bit of everything that interests me, plus a cartoon and some very short fiction (pieces from my Facebook Flash Fiction project).

I decided to make it print only, so I still didn’t quite solve the ephemeral problem. But I think you’ll understand.

Metanoia is a dollar per issue in the USA and two dollars per issue everywhere else, and, yes, you can subscribe!

Click here to get info on how to get Metanoia sent to you!


Job: Your Biography

An email to a friend:

Howdy! Hope all is well! I’m sorry I haven’t seen you… I’ve been STRICTLY adhering to my overnight schedule even during a week when we don’t have groups, like this one. It just makes it so much easier. The downside is, I get up between noon and 2 and it’s too late to catch you, darn it. But I can usually make it to PK Coffee by 2:30, which is where I am right now. It’s PACKED.

Subject line = not “Job” as in work, but “Job” as in “the book of the bible.” I’ve been delving into it recently: over the fall, I discovered a Neville Goddard lecture called JOB: YOUR BIOGRAPHY which really hit home and has become my favorite, and that spurred me to delve into it and read it, which blew me away so much that I bought a used copy of this EXHAUSTIVE study bible called THE INTERPRETER’S BIBLE, which is absolutely thick with commentary and expository/explanatory material. (See the photo of a typical page.)  

I think that right now, if I was teaching a writing class, I would do a unit on the Book of Job. By all accounts, it’s one of the great pieces of literature ever written, first of all. (Having not read all of them, and being someone who considers many episodes of STAR TREK to be “great literature,” I feel ill-suited to comment on that assertion.) Second of all, it has been parsed and misinterpreted and mistranslated and misunderstood almost since the day it was set to paper, so that would be fodder for research and discussion. (example: Neville talks about how “the patience of Job” is a complete misrepresentation of the work, “because Job was the most IMPATIENT person on the planet.”) Third, its provenance and history as a manuscript (two manuscripts, apparently written by two or more different authors: the prose prologue and epilogue, and the middle verse “dialogue”) is fascinating. Fourth, the use of language and symbols, and how so much in the manuscript is deliberate in ways that aren’t immediately evident on the surface. Numbers, for instance: all numbers in scripture had significance of some kind, so when, for instance, we’re told that something numbers seven, it may have a surface meaning, but the deeper spiritual meaning was one of “completion.” 

Those just for starters. Just delving into this work on my own has shown me how woefully inadequate a lot of my education has been. Or maybe not… if I hadn’t done what I’d done, I wouldn’t KNOW TO look at this work in the way that I am.

It’s stoking me in a lot of ways, but mainly, unexpectedly, as a writer, and that’s why I’d present it to writers. Right now I’m trying to figure out what direction I’m going to take with a lot of disparate works that are in embryonic stages. I can see at least three books coming out of a nebulous mass of very rough drafts and ideas that I’ve been toying with, and with one of them, anyway, JOB has given me the idea that I should try to write the book in blank verse, and be very deliberate, dreamlike, mystical, with the structure of the book. Without, you know, being full of shit.

All this is what I’d toss at you if I saw you in person, but since I’m sitting here at the cafe, I’m typing it.

Hope to see you and catch up soon! 🙂 m

On the 104th anniversary of Orson Welles’ birth…

Orson 1

2018 was a good year for Orson Welles, even if he wasn’t around to enjoy it. His final, unfinished film The Other Side Of The Wind was finally completed by a coterie of friends and admirers and colleagues, fulfilling Peter Bogdanovich’s promise to Welles in the 1970s: “If anything happens to me, I want you to finish this film.”

Here on the anniversary of Welles’ birth, to celebrate perhaps his best posthumous year yet, I present fifteen quotes from and about Welles, from various books, articles, and interviews in print, audio and video.

*  *  *

Orson 2
“I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you.” ~ Orson Welles

*  *  *

“The content should be more important than the ingenuity of the director.” ~ Orson Welles

*  *  *

“Somebody said that Touch of Evil seemed ‘very unreal, but real,’ and I corrected that statement, and said that what I was trying to do was to make something that was unreal but true, and I think that’s the definition of the highest kind of theatricality, the best kind… and that’s the kind of theatricality that can exist in films, too.” ~ Orson Welles

*  *  *

Orson 3From the book Orson Welles’ Last Movie: The Making of “The Other Side of the Wind” by Josh Karp:

“‘For any given scene, the actor and director each have a responsibility to get it correct,’ (Welles) told the cast one day. ‘Takes one through three are on me. Takes five and after are on the actor.’ “When someone asked, ‘But what about take four?’ Orson replied, ‘Exactly.'”

*  *  *

“…You can get as dirty as you want but not also excite people, because exciting people during the course of a story –exciting them sexually– is changing the subject so completely that you have no more narrative form.” – Orson Welles, on the Dick Cavett Show, 1970

*  *  *

From the book My Lunches With Orson by Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles:

Welles ~ I believe that there is no law, and should be no law under the heavens that tells an artist what he ought to be. But my point of view, my idea of art –which I do not propose to be universal– is that it must be affirmative.
Jaglom ~ Really?
Welles ~ Life-affirming. I reject everything that is negative. You know, I just don’t like Dostoevsky. Tolstoy is my writer…
Jaglom ~ But, wait a minute, Orson, what are you talking about? This is a stupid conversation. Touch of Evil is not affirmative.
Welles ~ Listen, none of my reactions about art have anything to do with what I do. I’m the exception!
Jaglom ~ Oh my God.
Welles ~ It doesn’t bother me, because it comes out of me. I’m dark as hell. My films are as black as the black hole. (The Magnificent) Ambersons. Oh, boy, was that dark. I break all my rules.

*  *  *

“If the film is ever financed and finished, the title isn’t going to be Don Quixote; the title will be When Are You Going To Finish ‘Don Quixote’?” ~ Orson Welles

*  *  *

From Orson Welles at Work by Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas:

“In his later period Welles made the editing stage the crucial phase of his creative process. His liking for fragmented cutting and rejection of the literal synchronization of dialogue and sound make it impossible to imagine how he might have linked pieces of film between which no link is apparent, inserted dialogue that he would have rewritten during post-synchronization, or mixed atmosphere, sound effects and music that had never been recorded. No finished version, however scrupulously made, can ever offer more than a distant approximation of a vision that we can only know in fragments. F For Fake and Filming ‘Othello’ eloquently prove the efficacy of Welles’ late working methods, in situations where he was able to complete the last details. In other cases he did all he could to ensure that no one could finish his projects without him, preferring the risk of incompletion to that of completion by someone else.”

*  *  *

“Every man who is any kind of artist has a great deal of female in him. I act and give of myself as a man, but I register and receive with the soul of a woman. The only really good artists are feminine. I can’t admit the existence of an artist whose dominant personality is masculine.” ~ Welles to Jaglom in My Lunches with Orson

*  *  *

“I don’t read books on film at all, or theater. I’m not very interested in movies. I keep telling people that, and they don’t believe me. I genuinely am not very interested! For me, it’s only interesting to do… I just like to make movies, you know? And that’s the truth! … There is something in me that turns off once I start to do it myself. It’s some weakness. In other words, I read everything about the theater before I became a theater director. After that, I never went to plays or read anything. Same thing with movies. I believe that I was threatened, personally threatened, by every other movie, and by every criticism– that it would affect the purity of my vision. And I think the younger generation of filmmakers has seen too many movies.” ~ Welles to Jaglom, from My Lunches with Orson 

*  *  *

Orson 4From the book This Is Orson Welles, by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, which is transcripts of extensive interviews Welles did with Bogdanovich to “finally set the record straight” regarding his career:

PB – This is from an interview with you in France in 1958. (reading) “J’admire beaucoup…”
OW – Move those papers around nearer to the microphone. I want your readers to appreciate the full inquisitorial pressure…
PB – The tape won’t do our readers any good.
OW – That’s a little technical problem you ought to work out, Peter.
PB – (reading again) “J’admire beaucoup…”
OW – Just the French accent alone…
PB – (continuing) “…Mizoguchi.”
PB – Mizoguchi.
OW – What language are you speaking now?
PB – You know perfectly well who Mizoguchi is. I’m quoting you.
OW – I doubt it. What’s that name again?
PB – Mizoguchi. (OW roars with laughter) Come on, Orson– he’s a great director.
OW – I don’t know what I told ’em. They put down what they wanted to hear. I know just how it went: “Qu’est-ce que vous pensez de Meezagooochee?” “Ah!” I’d reply. “Ah!” The big, approving “Ah,” you understand, because I’d be getting too tired by then to compose anything more complicated by way of a sentence in cinematic French. “Mizzagoochi… Ah!” (more laughter)
PB – And the truth is, I suppose, you’re never even seen one of his pictures!
OW – You don’t realize what these interviews do to a man. You experts with tape recorders– just give you enough time, and there’s nobody you can’t break… I guess maybe I’d been belting into (one of Welles’ least favorite directors) Antonioni at the time, and thought I’d better say something good about somebody. In fact, all I did say was “Ah!”…
You have some comment to make? Please feel free to do so.
PB – Well, you’re shameless, but I think basically your taste is pretty–
OW – — low! The truth is, Peter, I really am one of those I-don’t-know-anything-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like people. If there’s no pleasure for me in it, I feel no obligation to a work of art. I cherish certain paintings, books, and films for the pleasure of their company. When I get no pleasure from an author, I feel no duty to consult him. My interests and enthusiasms are pretty wide, and I do keep trying to stretch them wider. But no strain. No. I am, indeed, quite shameless, as you say, about not straining to encompass what truly doesn’t speak to me.
PB – Well, there’s nothing shameless about that…
OW – You say that without much conviction.
PB – You’re just making out a case for the straightforward, philistine simplicity of your tastes. But here in the files–
OW – Oh, God, Mr. Hoover…! Please don’t quote me anymore. I didn’t mean a word of it.
PB – That’s just what I’m afraid of… You change your mind according to your mood, is that it?
OW – I change my answers according to who’s asking me the questions. Anyway, what do these opinions really matter? Why should I upset a strong Fellini man by telling him I think Satyricon was frightened at birth by Vogue magazine?
PB – Just a few minutes ago you told me–
OW – –that I love Fellini? Well, I do. My point is that, in an interview, if I like the guy, I like to keep him happy. But if he’s very irritating…
PB – What’s my category?
OW – Unendurable– but only for your tenacity. No, I agreed to this so we could get the record straight, so I’m playing it straight… No, you really want to break me, don’t you? You want me to admit I’ve given out some pretty large opinions on films which I have never seen. I got hooked on the habit at those film festivals. All those endless interviews with dim aesthetes from Albania. “What do you think,” they ask you, “of our Albanian motion pictures?” You tell them, of course, that you’re mad for them. But then you’re stuck. “Ah,” they say, “which one do you like best?” So what do you do? You can’t just say, “The one with the blonde in it.”…

*  *  *

Chaplin 1From My Lunches With Orson, in conversation with Henry Jaglom:

“What Chaplin did is– there are two basic types of clowns. In the classic circus, there’s the clown who is whitefaced, with a white cap, short trousers, and silk stockings. He has beautiful legs, and is very elegant. Every move he makes is perfect. The other clown, who works with him, is called an ‘auguste,’ and he has baggy pants and big feet. What Chaplin did was to marry them, these two classic clowns, and create a new clown. That was his secret — that’s my theory… (His films) don’t date because they were dated then. They were period pieces when they were made. The silent pictures always look as though they happened in a world earlier than they did when they were shot. They all derive from the nineteenth century…
“(Chaplin was) totally female as a performer. There was no masculine element there. And he was like that as a man, too, terribly female as a man. It’s that smile, that little female smile. He was so beautiful when he was young. And he didn’t want any of us not to notice it. He beaded his eyebrows. You know how long that takes? He made himself up to be the most beautiful fellow in the world, and then put that little mustache on. Vanity is very much part of that character. He didn’t think he made himself look prissy. He thought he looked beautiful, and delicate and sensitive, and so did all the world. They took it on his terms. I never thought he was funny. I thought he was wonderful– wonderful– but not funny. I thought he was sinister. That’s why I thought of him for Monsieur Verdoux.”

*  *  *

Keaton 1


“I think The General is almost the greatest movie ever made. The most poetic movie I’ve ever seen.” ~ Orson Welles



*  *  *

Henry Jaglom: “I got a call from (Orson) at 2, 3, 4 in the morning. He said ‘I want you to write this down… I know what I want to be on my gravestone.’ I said, ‘Orson, don’t be morbid; what are you doing? It’s three in the morning.’ He said, ‘Write this down: HE NEVER DID ‘LOVE BOAT!’ 

Where to get my books….

All seven books - bestIf you want to support my writing in the way I like best– by buying and reading my work– here’s where you start.

What you’re supporting I’m a writer with (as I type this it’s too early in the morning to count) at least a dozen different fiction and nonfiction titles that are available in both print and e-book editions, so if you want to read my work, it’s AVAILABLE!!! You can start by reading excerpts of both my published works and works in progress here

…and here’s where you can buy it!!! (All links open in a new browser window.)

Selz – I sell my books direct-to-the-reader on The ebooks here are PDF editions; I opted for that format because whatever the limitations might be compared to other ebook formats, a PDF will look the same on any device. It’s also printable. I also sell signed copies of the print editions of my books on Selz. 

Amazon – If you have a Kindle reader, all of my titles are available for Kindle reader on Amazon, the home of Kindle. You can get the print editions, too…

Brick and Mortar bookshops – ….although why not order the print editions from your local bookseller (like Whistlestop Books in my hometown, Carlisle, PA) or request them from your local library (like Bosler Memorial Library in my hometown, Carlisle PA)? All titles are available for order from Ingram and other book distributors.

What should you read first? – Where to start reading is up to you. As I explain in this blog post, my fiction follows a core group of characters  from their childhood years in the 1960s up through the present day, and it’s always nice to read a unified set of works in “timeline order.” So here’s the timeline. 

Facebook – Of course, I post liberally on my Facebook page, on my characters’ Facebook pages, and on a Neville Goddard page– Neville From My Notebook— and group–Neville Goddard Lecture Discussion Group— that I admin.

Buy me a cuppo coffee – If you read my work or see my videos on YouTube, there will always be a link to my Kofi page, which enables you to “buy me a cup of coffee” via Paypal. Three bucks, as many times as you want, just to pitch in for the time and energy and expense I put out in creating otherwise “free” work (like the Neville Facebook posts, the character Facebook posts, my Youtube videos, etc).

Other venues – I’m in the process of investigating other social media and online artist/writerly venues like Patreon, MeWe, etc, and I’ll certainly update here on my blog as I delve in and create. But for now…

…if you want to support me in the way I like best– by buying and reading my work– this post gives you the GPS.

Thank you! –Max

On Barry Levinson’s PATERNO…

Sometimes I don’t realize what a movie or a story is MISSING until after I’ve read a good critique of it. That was the case with Paterno, Barry Levinson’s movie about the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

paterno002The movie was pretty tightly focused on the last couple weeks of Joe Paterno’s coaching tenure at Penn State: his 409th career win as a Division I coach, and then, less than two weeks later, his firing.

The main criticism of the movie seemed to be that it “didn’t draw any conclusions.” 

But my problem with it was that it left the big question unanswered: how did someone like Sandusky get away with what he did for over two decades before he was finally formally charged? It was a lot more nuanced than just Joe Paterno “looking the other way.”

Sandusky was the founder of a children’s charity which helped disadvantaged and troubled boys. That was where he found his victims. How was it possible that he was affiliated with that charity for over two decades without someone NOTICING that something was “off”?

The uneasy answer is that most of the people who knew him professionally– including licensed psychologists, childcare professionals, and law enforcement officials– didn’t know exactly what they were seeing when they looked at Jerry Sandusky. He was considered not just a noble person, but a hero of sorts as a protector and advocate of the very children he was abusing in private. The idea that he was doing what he did was shockingly at odds with his image.

That is part of the way that child molesters work.

A friend of mine whose parents live in Lock Haven PA told me that after Sandusky left Penn State but a few years before he was formally charged, he was a volunteer coach at a local high school up there. One afternoon, another coach caught him in a compromising position with a teen boy in the gym. Sandusky jumped up and stammered that he was showing the boy “wrestling moves.” No charges were filed, but Sandusky was let go as a volunteer.

My friend said that when the story hit the local paper, residents were outraged, but not in the way you’d think now.

“How dare someone try to besmirch the character of this fine upstanding gentleman who has done so much to help children in this community” was the tone of the outrage.

It seems to me, therefore, that as a writer, if someone REALLY wanted to tell this story, they’d take the following tack: show Sandusky as he appeared to almost everyone around him before there was any hint of this. 

33E2823100000578-3575517-image-m-45_1462503827937Show the seemingly benign, “goofy and childlike” (the words of a former player) children’s advocate as he appeared to his players, family, church members, the college community, and the people at his charity.

Make him look like the saint everyone thought he was, and then proceed from there.

The audience has to be sympathetic to Sandusky and manipulated into dismissing anything that looks the slightest bit unseemly.

Just like most of the people around him were for almost 30 years.

“My publisher, falsely so called…”

thoreauThis is one of my favorites of Henry David Thoreau’s journal entries for many reasons: it’s darkly funny, first of all. I think most writers can relate to the mixed feelings of pride and frustration he must have felt at having “a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.” If anyone doubts that Thoreau never found the audience he wished for his work, those doubts should be dispelled by this passage.

Another thing I keep in mind: if I ever luck into a first edition of A Week On The Concord and Merrimack Rivers, there is a 70.6% chance that it is one of the ones he had on his shelves in his Concord room.

This journal entry was written almost 164 years ago to the date I’m writing this blog post: October 28, 1853.

Rain in the night and this morning, preparing for winter.

For a year or two past, my publisher, falsely so called, has been writing from time to time to ask what disposition should be made of the copies of “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” still on hand, and at last suggesting that he had use for the room they occupied in his cellar. So I had them all sent to me here, and they have arrived to-day by express, filling the man’s wagon, — 706 copies out of an edition of 1000 which I bought of Munroe four years ago and have been ever since paying for, and have not quite paid for yet. The wares are sent to me at last, and I have an opportunity to examine my purchase. They are something more substantial than fame, as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin. Of the remaining two hundred and ninety and odd, seventy-five were given away, the rest sold. I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor? My works are piled up on one side of my chamber half as high as my head, my opera omnia [complete works]. This is authorship; these are the work of my brain. There was just one piece of good luck in the venture. The unbound were tied up by the printer four years ago in stout paper wrappers, and inscribed, —

H.D. Thoreau’s
Concord River
50 cops.

So Munroe had only to cross out “River” and write “Mass.” and deliver them to the expressman at once. I can see now what I write for, the result of my labors.

Nevertheless, in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night to record what thought or experience I may have had, with as much satisfaction as ever. Indeed, I believe that this result is more inspiring and better for me than if a thousand had bought my wares. It affects my privacy less and leaves me freer.

Cover“A Basket of a Delicate Weave:” Thoreau and Walden

I’ve published my Goddard College MFA long critical paper about Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as a Kindle short, entitled A Basket of a Delicate Weave: Thoreau and Walden. It’s available for download now from the Amazon Kindle store for 99 cents.

The image that many have of Henry David Thoreau, based largely on Walden, is that he was a nature-loving misanthrope who built his cabin in the woods to escape a society with which he felt at odds, who eschewed contact with his fellow man, and who wanted nothing but to be left alone in the woods. While Walden is, on its surface, a record of that sojourn, it is, as Thoreau scholar Walter Harding wrote, “a book that impels its reader to action.”

In this paper, I argue that Walden is, in many ways, a book about action: not just an account of Thoreau’s own action against a society he felt at odds with, but a call for his neighbors to wake up and do something themselves.

A Basket of a Delicate Weave will give students and  lovers of Thoreau’s work new insights into the book, its author, and its still-relevant message.

Click here to download the book from the Kindle Store.

New e-book: “Roughly Six Hundred Words”

CoverHere’s a sample piece from my new ebook, Roughly Six Hundred Words, which is a collection of seven unpublished newspaper columns from 2013 and which you can get FREE as a PDF between now and October 16. (The collection will be published by Amazon Kindle on the 16th.)

A couple years ago, after reading a book called The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication, I got the idea that I’d self-syndicate a newspaper column. I’d e-submit a 600-or-so-word general interest column article weekly to a list of newspapers in the US, and, hopefully, get enough bites to sustain me as a writer while I worked on my fiction.

For a lot of different reasons, the idea didn’t work, and after writing and submitting fewer than ten articles to my list, I gave up on it.

But I recently rediscovered the pieces, and thought that they were too good to just gather dust on the cloud (now there’s a figure of speech that would have been meaningless ten years ago!).

I always felt like these pieces deserved readers, and now, with Roughly Six Hundred Words, they get a second chance.

A sample column from the book is below.

If you want to order the PDF ebook from my e-store at, click here.

After October 16, “Roughly Six Hundred Words” will be priced at 99 cents, but the first weekend that this PDF ebook is available, I am pricing it as a FREE pay-what-you-want item. If you want to read it free, then just enter $0.00 as the price when you check out. If you want to pay more, it’s up to you. 

Being Vermonted

What does it mean to be “Vermonted”?

IMG_20171012_114409Right now, the trees here are “being Vermonted:” ablaze, as Garrison Keillor once said, with colors so bright that Crayola doesn’t make them for fear kids would color outside the lines.

When I first moved to Vermont, though, I discovered another definition of “being Vermonted.”

A couple years ago, my old Plymouth Reliant needed major repairs to pass inspection. I didn’t know any local mechanics, so I settled on a local Chrysler dealer. A dealer would know the car and get parts quickly and cheaply, right?

“I’m going to Pennsylvania for a week,” I said, “and I’d like to pick it up when I get back.”

O.K., they replied.

I rented a car and drove to Pennsylvania for a week. When I came back to Vermont, my inspection not only wasn’t done; it hadn’t even been started. It was another week of their excuses and my prodding before I had  my car.

When I told a friend about this, she said, “Congratulations! You’ve just been Vermonted.”

I’d never heard the term, but somehow, I knew exactly what she meant.

Vermont is a lot different than Flatland (any state south of Vermont). In Flatland, there’s a level of stress and anxiety that many people accept as a given. To me, the quintessential Flatland attitude was reflected in a road sign I once saw at the entrance to the Washington DC beltway:


Vermonters reject that stress level. Vermont has a reputation of being a little slower, a little more deliberate, and a lot of that has to do with the seasons. You can’t force many of the things that come with seasonal change, nor can you resist them. You do what needs done when the seasons dictate. When winter approaches, you put snow tires on the car. When the sap flows, it’s time for maple sugaring. When the leaves start to change, you welcome tourists.

That’s the Vermont attitude. Roll with the changes.

Some Vermonters, though, use this “roll with it” attitude as an excuse for negligence or irresponsibility. It’s not that delays and problems don’t happen; it’s that they pretend that they can blame those delays and problems on Vermont.

An example: a couple days ago, I took my usual 15-mile commute down an unpaved back road. It’s a lovely drive, but about halfway to work, I got stuck behind a road grader. The dumptruck had dumped loose rock and dirt on the roadbed, and it had to be smoothed down.

On my way to work, with no other route available, I was now driving 15 miles per hour.

Fortunately, from experience, I knew that I need to allot time for these things. In cases where there’s only one way to travel, I figure in a minute per two miles traveled for road work, tieups, accidents, and those times that you get stuck in a line of traffic behind a leafpeeper who needs to drive 32 in a 50 mph zone so they can keep an eye opened for moose.

Having allotted that extra time, I knew I’d make it to work early, and I did.

If I was the kind of Vermonter who “Vermonted,” I wouldn’t have allotted the time, and, when I showed up late for work, blamed the grader for getting in my way, and not myself for planning poorly.

Sometimes being Vermonted manifests itself in other ways. When I lived in Stowe, I had another vehicle that needed an inspection, and a coworker suggested a “mechanic” whose “garage” was on a back road about five miles out of town.

“Düde,” he said, “I took my Wagoneer there. I knew it needed some work to pass. I pulled it into his garage, got out. He walked around it once, got in the front seat, scraped the old sticker off the windshield with a paint scraper, stuck a new one on, and said ‘Thirty-five bucks.’

“I paid him, and as I started the engine, a state cop pulled into his driveway. The mechanic knocked on the window and said, ‘If he asks you any questions, tell him you had it here overnight!’”

Now THAT’S being Vermonted!

Get into THAT space…

Garrison Keillor ~ …I don’t have a great eye for detail. I leave blanks in all of my stories. I leave out all detail, which leaves the reader to fill in something better…

Interviewer ~ (But) the (Lake) Wobegon pieces are marvelously full of detail about what’s in a barbershop, what is here, what is there, what are in the store windows. No?

Keillor ~ No. The Lake Wobegon stories are remarkably empty of detail. They are like twenty-minute haiku, they are absolutely formal and without detail. This is what permits people who grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, or Honolulu, Hawaii, or people who grew up in Staten Island for God’s sake, to imagine that I’m talking about their hometown. (from PARIS REVIEW # 136, Fall 1995)

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“I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you.” ~ Orson Welles

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One of my favorite of many lines from MAD MEN concerned detail and mental imagery, and how writing and art can either facilitate or stifle imagination.

1185999_10201453464353954_311877177_nIn this particular episode of MAD MEN, Don Draper (the lead creative man at a fictitious ad agency, in case you never saw the show) and his creative team are trying to sell an ad concept to a Hawaiian resort, and the client is uneasy about the design they’ve come up with: a picture of footsteps mysteriously walking into the surf.

Don’s reply is something like (not exact quote): Look, anyone can buy time or space for an ad that a person will see once and forget about. The key is to get inside their heads.

“You get into THAT space,” he concludes, “and your ad can run all day.”

That is one of my goals with writing: to spur a reader’s imagination… to create places and characters that live in someone’s imagination. A book speaks to you and only you; no one sees the universe created by words on a page in quite the same way. Say “school” or “public swimming pool” or “movie theater lobby” to ten different people and each of those ten people will come up with THEIR OWN mental image of a school or a pool or theater which connects with them. The reader then OWNS the work and is making it live and breathe and grow with their imaginative powers, which equal or surpass that of the writer. The writer, after all, is only providing prompts; the work LIVES with the readers.

Keep the detail at a minimum and trust the reader to fill those details in.

This, by the way, points to a reason why (not to get ahead of myself, because no one’s made the offer yet, but career planning is EVERYTHING) I will not take my characters or my story and sell them for movie or TV adaptation.

Take the following place description from my novel MEETING DENNIS WILSON:

“A two-floor tall lobby in an old school, with stairs on either side of the lobby, a bathroom under each staircase, and a mural of ‘great learners and thinkers’ on the walls above the stairs.”

That’s not really a description or a word picture so much as it is a PROMPT. Each reader will take that prompt and fill in different details– color, light, texture, smell, sound– and make it their own.

But… show them a picture of the lobby, one that visually depicts “exactly how the lobby looks”, and you’ve done the most important work for them. You’ve taken away their capability to see the setting in their own way.

You’ve stifled their imagination, in other words.

I think that this is ESPECIALLY true with characters. When a literary work is co-opted for TV or film, the image of an actor or actress– or, maybe, the actor’s interpretation of that character’s persona– is imposed on the audience, and any readers who see the movie before they read the book will come into the book with an image of what the character looks and sounds and acts like based not on their imaginative powers (which are a projection of the reader’s experiences, etc) but on someone else’s idea of what the character “should” look and act like.

And again, the character is taken away from the reader’s imagination.

I have some great ideas for screenplays which I may work up eventually, but as for the the characters in my written fiction, they are print only and shall remain so.

I’d rather have them play in my readers’ theaters of the imagination than in a movie theater.

As Don Draper said: you get in that space, and your work can run all day.