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Writing by Michael Backus, Author




Distant Smoke

Channel Magazine

 Crows. They’re crows! I thought at first it was a plume of smoke rising out of a distant field, which was the initial fascination. It’s one week before Christmas, and I’m standing on the balcony of my mother’s assisted living facility in La Porte, Indiana, where I grew up, and I have the thought that much of my life here was spent in sight of a ribbon of dark smoke: a pile of burning wood or leaves, a dumping of old Christmas trees, a dilapidated barn on fire. Continue Reading 

Falling at Fallingwater

Jellyfish Review

It happened mid-autumn, the trees right on the cusp of turning over, giving the deep woods “a layered, quilted quality, the greens bubbling beneath the yellows, browns and reds”, all the observations hers, made on the spot in the woods on our way to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous house in Pennsylvania, and while they were smart and vivid and appropriate both in scale and in size of her awe, it annoyed me she insisted on saying that which should remain unsaid. Maybe, by this point, there was nothing about her that didn’t rankle. Continue Reading

Act of Love

Oyster River Pages

“These are pit toilets,” she says, standing outside his car window, tapping her foot, drumming her fingers on the roof, and waiting like she expected a solution. Right now, this second, chop chop, was how she said it and maybe how she meant it.

He takes a deep breath. That’s how things have been between them for six weeks now, she says something and he finds any way he can to avoid saying what only two months before he would’ve said without a second thought. Continue Reading

Hoosier Hysteria

Prime Number

There I was in the opulent, spacious lobby of Harrison Hall at Purdue University on a Sunday afternoon in July, a chest high stack of soggy pizza boxes on the floor next to me, the room swarming with young boys ages 10 to 13 here for a week of basketball camp. In that week, they stayed in the dorms, bussed back and forth to Mackey Arena for drills and scrimmages, and ate dorm food morning, noon and night except for Sunday evenings when they were expected to get their own dinner, though since they were not allowed to wander, four West Lafayette area pizza places including the one I worked for were invited to set up and sell our food. - Continue reading

What Exactly Does She Think Happens?

Electric Lit / Okey Panky

Karl is cold. His blanket slid off onto the floor and he’s not wearing pants or a shirt, only underwear. Sammy the cat is curled up on the far arm of the davenport, within striking distance of Karl’s feet. Sammy sometimes attacks feet. Karl is pleased to see he’s wearing boots, Red Wing Irish Setters from the looks of them, laces tied in big loopy bows, though he’s less sure why he has no pants or shirt. Continue reading

Peter Peter’s Family Album

Parhelion Literary Review

Shit, he says to me, this guy from the playground – goofy smile, beanpole thin with floppy Maravich hair – you can play a little, but I already knew that and I have other things to worry about. Like keeping things civil between David and Dad. And scoring. It isn’t my father’s first priority. He dreams of the bone-bruising hip check, of the shivering elbow. He wants to block David’s shot, steal the ball, send him reeling into the concrete, skewer him with a swivel of his butt. He wants to cut and gouge and puncture, to dominate and humiliate. Continue Reading

Every Day With Her
(New York City 1982) 

New York City 1982 / Cleaver

Speed-free for two days now and stuck waiting on the 116th Street A train southbound platform with a hard two-train hour down to my job at the Gansevoort Meatpacking District, I have this packet I got at the bodega at 113th and Broadway, this over-the-counter Ephedrine bullshit in its bright blue waterproof packaging, and this is what I’m reduced to, trying to pound two little pills to dust without splitting the plastic, using my fist against the greasy wooden subway bench, and though there are five or six other people waiting, no one is going to say anything to me…

Continue Reading

About My Bad

SOLD OUT - One Story

Isn’t this weird, she says, my wife says. Isn’t this strange, bizarre, unsettling being back here after all these years, and I say, no, this is your high school. Mine was nothing like this small-town split-level thing of bricks and no windows, nothing at all, but she says, no, no, the experience. I’m talking about the experience; sitting out here smoking a joint in the parking lot, you with a big hard-on, and I say, well, I wouldn’t call it big exactly.

Santa Fe Cab

Exquisite Corpse

I’m parked on the edge of the city, right where it turns to scrub brush and red sand hills stretching 25 miles to the Jemez Mountains, a landscape crossed with dozens of dry river beds and a series of Anasazi canyons, my eyes closed, seat back, Patsy Cline on tape lulling me to a sweet sleep and a voice I don’t recognize blares over the radio, a new guy no doubt, yelling into his mic asking for a location for, can it be, he wants to know where the ski basin is?

“See that big mountain at the edge of town? The one with snow on top?” says Davy, the dispatcher, playing it as cool as he can. The owners had a talk with him recently, told him he had to rein it in a little. - Continue Reading

Life is Full of Brain Dead Fools and Emotional Cripples and Then You Die

Stunt Casting and Narrative Gimmickry in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts

From the frankly beautiful opening shot of helicopters in staggered formation low over the city of Los Angeles, the agents of a man-made disaster (med-fly spraying) to the natural disaster earthquake (conveniently located at the end of the film), Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), adapted from nine Raymond Carver short stories (plus one poem and one wholly invented storyline), is a convoluted jumble of stunt casting, gimmick connections between storylines, disinterested adaptation of the source material, casual misanthropy and misogyny, along with some startling moments of genuine originality. Continue Reading



The Trick of Reading the Right Thing While Writing

The Writer

A few weeks into writing my first novel, I began to have second thoughts about the book I’d chosen to read while writing. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s 1,000-plus-page novel, was starting to produce unforeseen consequences. Neck problems for one, from carrying it on the subway. And more seriously, Wallace’s run-on style and repeated footnoting was producing page-long sentences and parentheses (within parentheses (within parentheses)). I’d picked the book in the hope it would provoke the kind of literary ambition my own work sometimes lacked. And I liked it – I was 700 pages in and cruising. - Continue Reading

Finding A Stronger Ending

The Writer

How a writer’s rigorous rethinking of his story solved a stubborn problem.

Writing the first draft of “My Bad,” a short story of mine about a marriage in crisis, was as free and easy as any story first draft I’ve ever written. I was done in under a month. At that time, I couldn’t have known that I was about to face a year of torturous revision before I found an ending that worked. - Continue Reading 



Warm Red Wine

Film directed by Gary Mairs
Written by Gary Mairs and Michael Backus

Tom, middle aged and feeling it, stops for a drink in a small town bar. As George Jones croons on the jukebox, Tom meets two women: Sally, a 22 year old bartender, and Hannah, middle aged and with a lot in common with him. They both have his number. - Watch the film, Password: Wine

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