The making of a TWINS comic: from idea to finished panel

A few weeks ago, on Facebook, someone reposted a screenshot of a tweet from politician Lauren Boebert, apparently in response to an alleged incident where school-aged children were taken to a “drag bar.”

A Facebook friend of mine who worked for a while in the adult entertainment biz (he didn’t “do porn” but worked in the business) posted this in response, and asked “Maybe THIS was what she meant:”

Immediately I realized that Boebert’s utterly clueless double entendre would be great fodder for a TWINS comic. I wasn’t sure exactly what form it would take, but part of the basis of the humor I use in those panels is the contrast between Rebecca’s clueless boldness and Christy’s clueless naivete. So I knew that Rebecca shouting out “TAKE ME TO CHURCH” and Christy misunderstanding it was the basis for a gag. I just had to create the comic itself…

… unfortunately, as writer Edward Abbey pointed out, the problem with being a writer is that one must actually sit down (or stand up) and WRITE. It wasn’t enough to have the idea; I had to flesh it out.

But another thing I learned as an MFA student and have applied repeatedly is the phrase “trust the process.” I knew I had something, but I needed to let it sit for a bit until it germinated.

Yesterday, after a few weeks, I finally sat down to create the comic.

My comics are digitally altered Bitstrips/Bitmoji comics superimposed onto photo backdrops, so the first thing I always do is find a photo backdrop for the drawings. I originally thought “OK, so Christy is in the kitchen; she’s either having coffee with a friend and telling that friend how she’s so happy that her sister is finally getting ‘straightened out’ because the night before she heard Rebecca with her date screaming out ‘TAKE ME TO CHURCH, BABY!’ OR she’s sitting there alone having coffee or tea and she hears Rebecca crying out those words from the bedroom-the couch in the living room-the basement- wherever she and her lover are ‘going to church.'”

I settled on the second approach. More direct and more comic potential, I decided.

So Christy was going to be in the kitchen late at night having a cup of tea, overhearing her sister screwing… so… I needed a photo backdrop of a kitchen. Fortunately, in a couple previous comics, I’d shown “their” kitchen in a couple different versions, so I had a kitchen photo saved in my REBECCA PORNSTRIPS folder already…

Next, the characters. I have a folder of several hundred different “Christy and Rebecca” poses that I digitally alter. Aside from altering the clothing or the outfits, I make changes to their bodies as well. “Christy” is pretty close to the bitstrips originals, but I make Rebecca’s boobs bigger, and bleach her hair so that it’s even more “blonde,” and darken her tan so that it’s tanning bed/spray tan brown, and add purple mascara, and, finally, put her in clothing that, for anyone dwelling outside of a strip club or a People Of Walmart video, would be embarrassingly revealing.

Here’s a side by side of an original Bitstrips and an altered “Rebecca” pornstrips pose.

But for this comic, there was no Rebecca; just Christy… so no need to perform cartoon breast augmentation, spray tanning, hair bleaching, etc.

Christy is easy: I browsed the original unaltered Bitstrips emojis and found one pose that I liked, and one expression that I kind of liked…

… and I combined the facial expressions so that Christy had the “listening with curiosity” expression that I wanted, and then changed the bikini to a nightgown…

I’ve superimposed the drawing on a blue backdrop here for contrast, but the Bitstrips/Bitmoji originals are PNG files, which, whatever that means technically, means that when I alter and manipulate them digitally, if I save them in PNG, the drawings are on a blank background. They can therefore be copied and pasted onto another photo. That’s how I “make” these comics.

So I superimposed “Christy with cup of tea in nightgown” onto the kitchen backdrop photo that I’d selected, and…

So Christy’s listening to (or inadvertently overhearing) something… what is she hearing? Rebecca, of course. This is one of the few TWINS comics where Rebecca doesn’t appear directly in the panel. So… insert a comic balloon…

Of course, just like with Lauren Boebert not getting that “taking someone to church” can mean not only literally going to church, but making your lover cum wildly, the gag here is not just what Rebecca is crying out from the bedroom above; it’s what Christy thinks she’s actually saying. So the next step was to write a caption…

…and if you want to see the finished version of this comic with that caption, I’m sorry. It’s going to be in the next issue of my ‘zine METANOIA, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who reads my ‘zine. If you want to get a copy of the ‘zine (usually a two- or four-page newsletter, actually), it’s PRINT ONLY. I’ll be happy to send you the issue via US Mail if you send me return postage or a self-addressed stamped envelope (Max Shenk; Hotel Coolidge rm 138; 39 South Main Street; White River Junction, VT 05001) OR donate to my ko-fi page.

Anyway, that’s how I make the comic sausage.

And maybe THAT turn of phrase is another TWINS comic.

“The Twins Turn 21” – ebook collection of adult comics

The first e-book of my TWINS comics, The Twins Turn 21, is a 61-page collection of full-color uncensored adult comics, some of them published originally in tamer black and white versions in my ‘zine Metanoia, and some of them never before published. It’s a full-color PDF e-book, readable on any device without loss of formatting.

Click here to see some sample comics!

THE TWINS TURN 21 will be available for purchase again in spring 2023.

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.)

Ko-fi – I’ve had a “tip jar” on for a while, which enables readers/ radio show listeners/ viewers on my Youtube channel/ others to “buy me a cup of coffee” via donations in three dollar increments. Ko-fi has recently added the capability to sell both physical and digital products, and I’ve started to list my work in my shop there. These are PDF e-books, mainly; 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. Keep checking back, as I plan to add more titles going forward, as well as signed copies of physical editions.

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

“I don’t want anyone I know to see this…”

COLLOQUIUMIn this excerpt from my short work “Colloquium,” former porn actress Christy Kelly (aka “Rebecca Christy”) describes the first time she saw her face on a magazine cover.

“Colloquium” is written in the form of a question-and-answer session in front of a university audience at a lunchtime sociology colloquium (hence the title). For more information on “Colloquium” and to order, click here. 

Moderator (Ross) – (Tell us about) the first time you saw your face on a magazine cover.

Rebecca – Yeah. Well, like Ross said… OK. First of all, I think we all know the mindset and attitude that kind of goes along with being up here (Penn State) as a student, right? It’s what my husband calls the Happy Valley syndrome. You know… they say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” but here it’s kind of the opposite of that… that you feel that what happens outside of Happy Valley can’t touch you in here. You know? And I was kind of traveling outside of the gravity of the college to do these shoots and so it always felt like, when I’d get in that car to go do a shoot, that I was kind of driving away from Christy and driving toward Rebecca. So that when I’d get to Gerry’s or down to Harrisburg to do the shoots there–

M – Just to interrupt: Gerry being one of the photographers you worked with.

R – Right. Yeah. Sorry. So anyway, when I’d get away from here, as I was driving I kind of felt Rebecca brain taking over. So that when I got there I’d kind of… I don’t know if “steeled myself” is the right term, but I did feel like I had made a kind of mental shift and sort of psyched myself up for doing this. Right? It’s like I couldn’t have done the shoots in my dorm room (audience laughter) and if college girl Christy had shown up at the shoots, that would have been weird, but Rebecca was totally fine with it.
I have a split personality, don’t I? (audience laughter) 
So what was the question again?

M – The first time you saw your face on a magazine cover.

R – OK. Yeah. So there’d always been that very clear division– Christy and Rebecca. Happy Valley and Adult World. You know? And one of the biggest fears I had when I was doing this stuff at first… I mean, I wasn’t just a student here, but I was a student trainer for the football team. And I was horrified that Coach Paterno would find out somehow, or Jesus Mary Joseph, one of the players would see something or hear something and I would… my cover would be blown, I guess. Right? But I kind of told myself that, again, driving away from campus to do the shoots, Rebecca was out there. Christy was in Happy Valley. Right? And I think only… that first magazine was published, the one that I’d done the first shoot for… it was one of those “College Girls” magazines, called “University Girls USA,” and I had one picture in it. So it’s not like I was the cover girl, and it didn’t give my real name. It said “Rebecca Christy.” And when you looked at the picture, it didn’t look a LOT like the way I looked going out around campus. For one thing, I wasn’t naked… (audience laughter) …but also, the whole look, makeup and hair, all that. Anyway. Even when that magazine came out and it was sold in town and on campus at the bookstores, I felt… I may have gotten a feeling a couple times like “That guy recognizes me from the magazine.” But I still felt pretty anonymous and hidden. And like I said, like that was “out there” and here I was, in Happy Valley. Right? And that was really the only magazine that was published while I was a student.
But… OK. So a couple years go by. I had graduated as an undergrad, I was still living in town. I hadn’t done any work, you know, any shoots, in three or four years, and I was a single mom. And I was leaving town with my daughter to go to Bloomsburg to see my big sister, who, ironically, was one of the few people in my circle who knew what I’d been doing, what I was up to.

M – Or at least whom you’d told.


R – Right. We’ll get to that. So I stopped at this 7-11 near the exit on I80, so I still felt like I was kind of here, and I grabbed some coffee, some gum, you know, and there I am, in my sweats, no sunglasses or any disguise or anything, and as I’m standing there at the counter waiting to check out, I happen to glance at the rack of porn behind the counter and right there on the top shelf was the new issue of “Coed” Magazine with my face big right on the cover. And I mean, my body was behind a wrapper and they had a modesty shield over most of the cover, but there was my face, staring right out at me from the porn rack at the 7-11. I think that… if it wasn’t the first time I’d ever gotten a cover, it was at least the first time I’d ever SEEN myself on a cover. And I just… I felt a little weak-kneed at first, and like “Holy… CRAP!” And I felt my face turning bright red, and then looking at the clerk, the guy in line in front of me, the guy in line behind me, thinking not only did they see it too and they had to recognize me, but almost like I was standing there naked in line right there in front of them. You know? And really… it was all I could do to pay for my stuff and get the heck out of there. And the whole way to my sister’s I was, like, “Oh my God. It’s OUT THERE. What am I going to do?” As if it had never really occurred to me that from all those shoots I’d done, one of them might actually get published and printed on the front of a magazine that I might see for sale.

M – Well, and what you did next was the amazing thing.

R – By amazing you mean “ridiculous”?

M – Well…

R – But it was. I mean… I should say. What I did next was… I thought, “OK. I don’t want anyone I know to see this.” And so I got this… big redhead wig… and big Jackie O sunglasses… (audience laughter) …serious… and I took almost my whole next paycheck, because I was working as a grad assistant at the college, and I went around to all these newsstands, convenience stores, in and around State College, and I bought up that issue of “Coed.” Parked the car out front and let it idle with my daughter in the back seat, and I’d go in, scope out their porn… if they had my issue of “Coed,” I’d buy every copy they had. I think I had thirty seven copies of that magazine in the back seat before I finally thought, “OK, this is really… frickin’ stupid. You know? Obviously I’m going to run out of money before I get every magazine. And I can’t take the time and waste the gas doing this. And what happens if child welfare comes by and finds Maura in the back seat of my idling car with a stack of porn next to her?” (audience laughter) 
This business is great for worst-case scenario thinking.
Anyway, I gave up after 37 copies. And I took them out to a barbecue grill at Bald Eagle and I stuck them in a grocery bag and torched the whole stack.
And now Marty says, “You know, I’ve seen copies of that issue of ‘Coed’ on eBay for thirty bucks a pop.” (audience laughter) Thanks, honey.
But see, that just goes to show–

M – Did you?

R – What?

M – No. Go on ahead. “That just goes to show…”

R – Yeah, well, I was just going to say, that that just goes to show how insulated I felt up here, and how I felt like that activity couldn’t possibly intrude into my little single mom life in Happy Valley. And when it did, it was a shock. It shouldn’t have been, but it was.
And then the thing that followed was: OK, if it’s out there HERE, then it’s out there where my FAMILY is. So THEY might see it. I think that was what really upset me and also made me realize that it was pretty retarded– sorry… some of us still use that word without thinking… pretty ridiculous to think I could actually safely buy up those magazines so that nobody I knew would see it. I mean, where would it end? You know?
That’s all.

For more information on “Colloquium” and to order, click here. 

Meeting Dennis Wilson (serialized novel, 2013)

All seven books - bestMeeting Dennis Wilson was my first published novel and is the third book in my story timeline. It’s available as seven serialized volumes and in an omnibus edition. Here’s how you can order copies.

PDF e-book editions (readable or printable on any device without loss of formatting, an important consideration for an epistolary/documentary work) are being made available through the fall (2022) from my shop at Click here for more information on the  PDF e-books.

Print editions are available from any online or brick-and-mortar bookshop. Here are the ISBNs to order. Books 1-4 each contain a “bonus track” extra story.

Book One (ISBN 978-1484950029)
Book Two  (ISBN 978-1490303116)
Book Three (ISBN 978-1490581859)
Book Four (ISBN 978-1490904733)
Book Five (ISBN 978-1491241332)
Book Six (ISBN 978-1492243137)
Book Seven (ISBN 978-1493520206)
Omnibus edition (contains all seven books minus bonus stories)(ISBN 978-1494325695)

Kindle Editions are available directly from the Kindle store at

“Chicken soup that somebody peed in…”


This excerpt from my novel You Don’t Think She Is (chapter 37) was also published, with some slight modification, as a stand-alone story entitled “Planet Of The Brians,” first in the Vermont newspaper Green Mountain Trading Post, and then in my short story collection What’s With Her? For more info on those books, click the titles… or… scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Setting: Summer 1972; Quaker Valley, Adams County, PA (“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here.” ~ Margo LeDoux)


I got back too late on Saturday to see Margo, and unfortunately, two weeks at church camp did not earn me a free pass, so on Sunday morning at 10 am, there I was, sitting in a pew, dressed in a “light cotton” blazer, white shirt, and clip-on tie (perfect outfit for 90 degree weather), sitting tight between my parents, sweat rolling down between my shoulder blades and from my armpits down the insides of my arms.

“Wish they’d crack open a stained-glass window…” Dad whispered to me midway through the sermon.

Still, for as hot and as humid as it was, I didn’t take a shower when I got home. I’d already taken one before church. From this point on, the day was about doing something that would make me need another one… even though, judging from Margo’s note, we were probably going to do Something Cool.

So: no shower.

When I went over to meet Margo after Sunday lunch so we could go to the movie, she looked a little different to me. Not a lot different; just a little… nothing I could really put a finger on… maybe it was just the tan. In the summer, Margo’s skin got dark tanned and her hair light, almost platinum like Christy’s. Plus a detail I suddenly remembered when she opened her back door: “Up at the lake,” she told me a few summers before, “we skinnydip! So no tanlines!”

Skinnydipping… didn’t really want to think about that… so of course when I saw how dark her skin was, what was the first thing I thought of?

(Did they even have topless native girls in Canada?)

Margo brushed her hair out of her face. “Hey, Bri… wait… wait just a sec,” and she ducked back inside. “Dad?” she yelled. “My allowance…” and a few seconds later she was coming back out the door, five dollars in her tanned hand. “Late again,” she said. “I’m supposed to get it on Saturday after Mom and me clean. He always makes me ask for it.” And she zipped open her purse (!) and then caught my eye. “What?” she tittered.

I felt like Margo could see herself and the bevy of Topless Native Girls frolicking on my mental movie screen… but, fortunately, I had an out:

“When did you start carrying a purse?” I said.

Margo stuffed her money down into the neat red leather pouch. “Since Grandma got it for me in Kingston. Tres chic, huh?” and she pulled out a pack of Juicy Fruit. “Gum?” I took a stick and she unwrapped one for herself, and we walked downtown to the theater for the matinee.

battle for the planet of the apes - cinema quad movie poster (1)
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

I told Margo about Jean (“So you asked her to dance? Yay! Good work, Bri!”) and Ginny (“Awwww… she wanted you to ask her. Well, what can you do about that?”) and she told me about Canada (“No skinny dippin’ anymore. Aside from Jompaw, there is now a family from New York in the cottage next door. Who stare like Steve Kelly.”), and by 1:45 we were buying our tickets, the only two people in line. “Don’t people know this might be the last one?” I said as I held the door open for Margo.

“It’s like mom says, Bri,” Margo said. “People don’t care about art.”

As soon as we stepped inside, I knew we’d made the right choice. After the moist church service, and the sticky walk downtown, the dark, air-conditioned theater felt like a walk-in freezer… better than the pool. We followed my Seat Selection Formula (middle of the theater, width of the screen back) and we picked our seats, but as Margo reached for her purse so she could give me money toward popcorn (I always bought the tickets; she always bought the snacks), she got a sick look on her face.

“Yeesh…” she said.


“What’s that smell?” She screwed her nose up funny as she checked the air.

“What smell?”

Margo zipped open her purse. “Come on… you smell it. You don’t smell that?” I shook my head no. “It’s gamey… like a zoo.” She handed me two dollars. “What, do they pump monkey odor into the theater to make the movie more real?” Margo always called the apes in the Planet of the Apes movies “monkeys.”

I took her money. “I don’t smell anything,” I said.

“Well, you must be… smell-blind,” she said as she zipped her purse shut, and then she slouched down in her seat, knees up on the seatback in front of her.

I walked back to the lobby to get us our cokes and corn (making sure they buttered and salted Margo’s popcorn halfway up, then buttered and salted it again when it was all the way full), and when I got back (“Did they butter and salt it halfway up and then butter and salt it again when it was all the way full?”), she was settled in her seat.

“Can’t believe you don’t smell that,” she said as the lights went down and the movie started, but all I could smell was the sweet buttered popcorn in my lap.

As the previews rolled, I could hear Margo munching away next to me, and just as I was about to say “Jeez, it sounds like a zoo,” she leaned over, right up against me, and sniffed.

“Ewwww…” she said as she sat back.

“Ewwwww what?” I said.

“It’s you.” She shrunk back into the far corner of her seat.

“What do you mean, ‘it’s me?’”

“I mean‑‑” and Margo pinched her nostrils shut with her fingers and sang “BEEEEEEEEE-OHHHHHHHHH!”

I laughed. “Shut up.”

“Brian, I’m serious… you smell!” She shriveled back into her corner. “Battle… for the Planet… of the Brians!”

I laughed. “It is not me…”

The movie started, and as I leaned forward to pick my coke off the floor, I caught a whiff of something that smelled like someone had peed into a cup of chicken broth.

I sat back… very subtly bent my head down… lifted my left arm… inhaled… and…

Margo, God bless her, didn’t say another word about it the whole rest of the movie. I was braced for insults, questions, wisecracks ‑‑maybe even a lecture‑‑ but she was silent all the way through the closing credits, right up until we started out of the theater.

“No, Bri,” she said as we started walking into the breeze. “Me in front.”

We walked up Dartmouth Street toward home, but she detoured across the street to Holbert’s Apothecary. “Wait here,” she said as she opened the front door, and I sat on the stoop in the heat, sweat dripping down my face, my back… every part of me sticky and damp.

O.K…. so maybe I shouldn’t have skipped the shower.

Less than two minutes later, Margo came back out, a small brown paper bag in her hand. “Did you even take a shower today?” she said as she removed a wax pack of baseball cards and some Juicy Fruit from the bag.

“I thought we were gonna go swim…”

“‑‑Pff! ‘Swim.’ O.K.” She handed the bag to me. “Here. Use this.”

I was kind of afraid to open the bag. What if it was Snakes In A Can (“BOY-YOY-YOY-YOY-YOING!”)?

Don-Rickles-Right-Guard-Commercial-1974-493x400Nope… no springloaded snakes… just a wax pack of baseball cards… and… an opened-front cardboard package with a bottle in it.

Right Guard. Extra Dry Roll-on.

I looked up at Margo. “You really think I need this?”

Margo tsked. “Brian, seriously… you smell like… chicken soup that somebody peed in.”

I laughed. “I do not‑‑”

“‑‑Brian!” Margo put her hand on my wrist and looked me in the eye, and I noticed she was wearing eye shadow: lightly applied turquoise powder that flashed when she blinked.

“Use it,” she said softly. “Trust me.”

I nodded. “O.K.”

She let go of my wrist. “Now let’s go home so I can hose you off…”

 YDTSI booksYou Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…

“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and e-book editions.
Click here to order.


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!

The customer is always…

A couple years ago, I got the idea that I’d self-syndicate a newspaper column. I’d 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.

I recently re-read these pieces and I realized that, while the column might not have caught hold, the writing itself was good, and so I’m assembling these pieces into a short e-book, which I intend to publish in early October in both Kindle and PDF editions.


Here is a sample column from that forthcoming book, inspired by a customer service nightmare that I witnessed at Helena’s Cafe and Creperie in my hometown of Carlisle, PA, in summer 2013. 

Keep an eye on my Facebook page for more information about the e-book! Enjoy!


“What’s your coffee like?”

The woman’s loaded question, addressed to the counterperson at the bakery/cafe where I was writing, not only made me appreciate my own cup of coffee– rich, strong but not overwhelming, and (best part for a writer planted at a table doing his work) abundant free refills– but it also made me pay attention.

Maybe this was because she was loud, but maybe it was also because I’d just read a blog post entitled something like “Maybe You’re Getting Bad Customer Service Because You’re A Bad Customer.”

In any case, I was now rudely not minding my own business. Of course, given her voice, it was tough for anyone in the little shop to not eavesdrop.

But I also needed a story idea, so…

I couldn’t see the counterperson, but she sounded wary, like she’d never really been asked to describe their coffee before. She took a breath. “Well, it’s, uhhh–”

“–I mean, is it strong or weak, or kind of in between? Is it like Starbucks?”

The counterperson was now being asked either to describe the bakery’s coffee as one of two potentially negative adjectives, or to describe it in comparison to a competitor’s.

Was this woman a mystery shopper?

I should point out that while this bakery has good coffee, it’s a bakery, not a coffeeshop. There aren’t multiple carafes of artisan roasts. There’s regular and decaf. Period. Both of them are bold but not weak.

But for some reason, the counterperson couldn’t find the words she wanted.

“It’s, you know… it’s not WEAK, but it’s not… it’s not TOO strong.”

The woman thought. “‘Not too strong.’ Well… is it Starbucks strong or is it, you know, strong strong?”

The counterperson was trying to answer. “It’s not Starbucks strong,” she said.

“So… not Starbucks strong, but HOW strong?”

As my friend Chantal pointed out, there were six words that the counterperson could have uttered which would have ended this exchange immediately:

Would you like to try it?

Simple. Just offer the woman a sample. She’ll then TASTE whether it’s what she wants or likes or expects, and maybe even buy a full cup along with a cinnamon roll or Danish or crepe.

Instead, the questions went on for another two minutes:

“So not Starbucks strong? Would you say it’s more bold or roasty? Is it roasted locally? Who roasts it? Is more like a Starbucks medium or more like an espresso? You make espresso? Is it good? Is it like Starbucks espresso?”

By this point my eyes had rolled so far into the back of my head that they were blocking my eardrums, so I didn’t hear all of her questions. I wasn’t really sure that the counterperson was hearing them, either, until the customer finally asked: “Is there another coffeeshop nearby?”

“Well,” the counterperson said, razor sharp edge on her tone, “there’s a STARBUCKS about a mile away.”

Long, long silence.

“O.K.,” the woman said at last, “I’ll take a cup of coffee, and put a shot of espresso in it. With skim. And one splenda.”

No “please.” Just “I’ll take.”

Meanwhile, a woman in line behind her was browsing the display of macarons (French sandwich cookies, baked on premises), and, when it was her turn, she asked how much they cost.

“Two dollars each,” the counterwoman said, gratified at a simple question.

“I’ll take a dozen,” the woman replied.

She selected two each of six different flavors, which the counterperson boxed up and rang into the register. “Twenty-four dollars,” she said.

At this point, everyone in the shop learned that this second customer was apparently from an alternate reality where twelve times two does NOT equal twenty-four.

“TWENTY FOUR DOLLARS?” she cried out. “FOR A DOZEN COOKIES? THAT’S TERRIBLE! THAT’S TERRIBLE!” Sigh! “Give… give me ONE of each. That’s TERRIBLE!”

Terrible, I thought as I got another free refill of coffee and left a couple dollar bills in the tip jar to cover my freebies.

“Thanks,” the counterperson said, a sigh in her voice.

I smiled at her. “The customer’s always right!”


“Would you believe in a love at first sight? Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.”

Here’s the opening passage of my novella Meeting Margo, where narrator Brian Pressley describes his (their) moment of First Sight…

h-armstrong-roberts-1960s-elementary-classroom-children-at-desks-writing-studyingI love Margo LeDoux. I always have and I always will. I loved her, really, from the moment I set eyes on her: Tuesday morning, August 28, 1967, in Miss Peterson’s second grade class, General John F. Reynolds Elementary School, Quaker Valley, PA.

Miss Peterson sat us all down in her horseshoe-shaped desk arrangement, and as she read the roll, I could feel someone watching me… and I felt like I knew who it was –who she was– but every time I looked at her, she looked away: down at her desktop, or up at Miss Peterson, or beyond her at the blackboard. She was cute: full pink lips and high cheekbones that seemed to suggest a perpetual smile; a round nose; a shimmering sheet of straight, honey-blonde hair that fell over her shoulders and onto her chest; and sparkling turquoise eyes that didn’t tell me she was up to something as much as they seemed to say that she knew what was going on.

MARGUERITE LE DOUX, the pink-for-girls-construction-paper nameplate on her desktop read.

I didn’t recognize the name, but I could’ve sworn I knew her from someplace. She looked familiar, and as I tried to remember where I’d met her before (The pool? Church? Day camp? The playground?) our eyes finally met, and in that instant of meeting, I felt a rush of familiarity and knowing from the top of my head in a jolt down to the center of my chest. I never felt anything like it before, and I haven’t felt anything that strong, certain or pure since.

I had to look down, and so did she, both of us smiling.

In that instant, that flash, I felt not only like I knew her from someplace else, but like we’d been best friends before and we’d agreed to meet up again someday, some time, but we’d forgotten about it, and now, in those two desks in that second grade classroom, there we were.

There she was.

About Meeting Margo

Cover front

A prequel to my coming-of-age novels You Don’t Think She Is and Meeting Dennis Wilson, Meeting Margo tells the story of how seven-year-old Brian Pressley met and became best friends with Quebecoise tomboy Margo LeDoux.

Click here to order the print edition from Amazon.

Click here to buy and download the PDF e-book from my Kofi store. 


“LOOKS new…”

Through the first six books of my serialized novel Meeting Dennis Wilson, sixteen-year-old Beach Boys fan Margo LeDoux keeps hoping and waiting in vain for new music from her favorite group. Finally, toward the end of book seven, spring 1976, she and her best friend (and narrator) Brian Pressley make a Tuesday after-school visit to Murphy’s in their hometown of Quaker Valley, PA (“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here”), and then…

Murphy's 1

As I held the door open for Margo, she swished past me smartly in her red sundress and sandals, and I followed her into the icily air-conditioned store, past the registers and down the aisle past the three-tiered display of candy. Margo almost stopped to examine a big box of Topps 1976 rack pack baseball cards, and then, a few steps later, at the bins of Brach’s penny candy (“Come on… you know you wanna snag a butterscotchy!”), but kept her forward momentum, through the stationery and office supplies, then the men’s socks and underwear.

“You know,” Margo said, eying a display of plastic-wrapped men’s white briefs, “I don’t think I ever heard Christy laugh as hard as she did when we came through here that one time and I saw that display and said ‘Fruit of the Loom JEEE-zus!’ She pretty much almost wet herself. And I said, ‘Woman, it wasn’t that funny,’ and she goes, ‘I know, I know… I’m goin’ to hell.’ And I said, ‘You’re laughing because you’re goin’ to hell?’”  She shook her head. “I just don’t get religion.” She took  a breath. “O.K…

O.K. = We’d made it: back corner of the store, Murphy’s small but serviceable record department: a double-sided row of two-tiered album bins, with a big crate of shrink-wrapped 3-for-$1.00 (39 cents each) cut-out 45s against the rack at the far end, and, at the near end, a tall rack of current 45s…

1487291_432971060164832_1546003961_n“Hey!” Margo said…

…and there, at her eye level, in front of a divider card in the B section of new 45s, were ten copies of what looked like a new Beach Boys single: Brother/Reprise #1354, “Rock and Roll Music” backed with “The TM Song.”

I could tell Margo was excited and trying not to look that way. “’Rock and Roll Music,’” she said, as nonchalantly as she could, but she fumbled a little pulling a copy of the record from the rack. She read the label, her sandaled right foot swinging back and forth over her left. “Looks new…”

Looks new… but…

Margo’d simply been burned too many times by reissued singles of songs she already had. So any time a “new” Beach Boys record appeared, it was the same drill. Two Christmases before, when “Child Of Winter” appeared in the racks (“Why are they releasing a Christmas song after Christmas? Makes no sense”) –ironically,  also at Murphy’s and no other store– Margo took five minutes before deciding it was worth risking a dollar (six percent Pennsylvania sales tax included) on the disc.

Her hesitance?

“This other song–” the b-side of the single, “Susie Cincinnati” “–was definitely on another single. I have it with some other song on the other side, but I can’t remember what the other side was. But it’s definitely a few years old.”

She was right: “Susie Cincinnati” had been released on the flip side of the single “Add Some Music To Your Day” more than four years earlier. But “Child Of Winter” wasn’t familiar to her, so, she said, “I’ll take a chance… I have a feeling…” and so she slapped a dollar down (94 cents plus tax) and bought it, and it turned out that not only was “Child Of Winter” a new song, but “Susie Cincinnati” was a remix, issued only on that single, which reportedly only sold a few thousand copies nationally, so, to this day, it’s one of the rarest singles in her collection.

“Not that I care about any of that rarity stuff,” she insists. “I just like the music.” But it taught her to trust her instincts.

Margo was holding “Rock and Roll Music,” checking the a-side credits, then the b-side credits… then back to the a-side again.

“1976,” she said, reading the copyright date.


So far, so good…

Margo’s eyes darted over the fine print on the cream colored label. “Chuck Berry wrote ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ Bri,” she said at last.

“I know,” I said. “The Beatles did it.” I had it on Beatles ’65.

Margo raised her eyebrows. “Really? So it’s a Beatles song?” Her face got a little sour. “An oldie?” She studied the label. “But see… I heard that some of the new album was oldies. But does that mean new versions of other peoples’ songs or remakes of theirs? See, if Carl’d come to Tara’s picnic

Everything Beach Boys the last few weeks had come down to either If Carl had come to Tara’s picnic or If Denny’d write back. Never mind that there’s no way that either of them would have been able to answer questions that Margo hadn’t known to ask…

Margo flipped the record back over and read from the b‑side label. ‘The TM Song,'” she said. “What’s TM again?”

“Transcendental meditation.”

“That’s what I thought,” Margo said. “Which is the name of one of their old songs.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But this is called ‘The T.M. Song.’”

“Yeah, but… you know…” She was studying the label. “TM,” she said.Maybe I should try that…”

I laughed lightly and Margo tittered as she said “What?” but she knew exactly what. “O.K…. maybe not.”

(Margo’s chosen form of stress management was more Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale than Maharishi. “And I accept that.”)

She flipped the record back over and brushed her hair back again. “‘Produced by Brian Wilson,'” she read from the label. “You know…” She was tapping her red fingernails against the record: tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. “…there was this ad… in one of those magazines Kathy gets… Rolling Stone or Crawldaddy or one of those… anyway, it just said ‘Brian’s back.’ And we were, like, ‘Brian who?’ I thought maybe it was Brian Wilson because it had the Brother Records thingy at the bottom. So…” She flipped the record back over, biting her lip. “See, but I know they have a song on one of their albums called ‘Transcendental Meditation.’ An old song…”


I was distracted, drifting away, flipping through the Es. There was one remaining copy of “Strange Magic” by Electric Light Orchestra… and it had a picture sleeve…

…but dammit: I’d already bought “Strange Magic” without a picture sleeve.

Also, though…

…Christy’d told me how much she liked this song (funny how that wasn’t technically a hint, and yet…).


No… that wouldn’t be right…

Would it?

“–What do you think, Bri? You think this is new?”

I looked over at the record in Margo’s hand, snapping myself back to reality.

I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s only a buck,” I said.

Margo’s shoulders drooped slightly but dramatically. “I knowwwww,” she semi-whined, “it’s just…” She sighed and then looked up and over to our right, toward the electronics section, and then back at me, and you know… I don’t know why, the other times we’d played this scene out, this simple solution never occurred to us before, but this time, we both were thinking the same thing, and even though Margo hooked me by my t-shirt sleeve, she didn’t even need to pull me, because I was already stepping in the same direction that she was: over toward a Panasonic All In One AM FM Stereo Receiver With Three-Speed Record Changer and Built In 8 Track Tape Player And Recorder (MAKE YOUR OWN TAPE’S FOR THE CAR!).

“I’ll know as soon as I hear it,” Margo said, and she flipped off the radio (“Welcome Back” by John Sebastian) and lifted the hinged, smoke-colored plastic lid to reveal the turntable.

Unfortunately, when Margo turned off the radio, it sent up an aural flare: out of the corner of my eye, I could see Our Favorite Murphy’s Salesman eying us through his thick, black-framed glasses (“Look, Bri! Joe Paterno sells stereos!”), but Margo was oblivious. She carefully removed the staple from the top corner of the cream-colored WARNER/REPRISE paper sleeve and held the shiny black vinyl disc in her hand, thumb in the center hole and fingers along the edge (“None of my records have any fingerprints. Christy’s, on the other hand…”) and then set it down on the turntable platter.

Meanwhile, the salesman was starting over toward us –I could see him out of the corner of my eye– but Margo was gently pushing the tonearm in toward the record; the turntable started spinning automatically.

“Nice,” she said of the auto-play action, and she set the needle down on the record…

…but I could smell the faint smell of Stale Tobacco Breath behind us, and just as soon as the needle touched the disc’s surface, an adult male hand reached around in front of us and lifted the needle up off the record.

“You can’t play records on this equipment, Miss,” he said, and he pushed the tonearm back so that the turntable stopped spinning, exhaling like even that was too much effort.

I was standing between him and Margo, and my face suddenly felt hot.

Now what?

Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

All seven books - best.jpg“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around. Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.” (The Literary Connoisseur)

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

Click here for ordering information. 

To read other excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.