Inspiration and the learning curve: Max Booth III and TOXICITY

Max Booth III’s book, Toxicity contains a hallucinated fly that behaves like God, well-punctuated violence, and a delicate portrayal of a young abused woman. There are also rich seams of humour, often conveyed by acidic observational wit liberally applied by the author.Max Booth III His bittersweet gaze strips down the characters to their lowest common denominator – that of being horrible – and reveals their different-hued innards to all who venture through his pages.


Inspiration is everywhere

‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’ is an obvious question for an author, and Max’s initial answer would be glib if it wasn’t for his brutal treatment of the characters. He says, of course, that the family was heavily based off his own family. What writer hasn’t drawn on the often ridiculous tics and antics of brothers and parents and other relatives and their friends?

He had something else to add, however: “Life is inspiration. Anything and everything. Little things you experience build up and grow and multiply until they resemble something coherent, then you have to play around with it until something worthwhile emerges.”

And play around, he did. Toxicity is far more than the sum of all its characters.

An ode to homage

Toxicity is also a series of related events that – like its characters – are unexpected, ridiculous, and realistic. Yes, all three at once. What does this characteristic remind you of?

“I like to consider Toxicity a love-letter to Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie’s two masterpieces, Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. I would also say that the criminals in books by Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen played a big, big influence over the characters in my novel.”

Max’s confidence as he mentions the names of his gods smacks of his assuredness that the book emulates them accurately.

And it does. With a startling inventiveness with bizarre mouth-sprayed recreational drugs, visions, rape, ghastly murder and idiotic disaster, the book rides on a feeling – almost a reminder – of something else; the movies mentioned above certainly rise to mind as you read. It also reminded me of Pulp Fiction, not in structure, but in the vibrant, fast-talking strong characters and the endless supply of well-imagined violence. In attitude, actually.


Direct film references are laid deep within Toxicity’s plot, and there are shades of Trainspotting, Reservoir Dogs, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, as well as various Coen Brothers movies. The homage is complete; the book’s style and genre match the films, but they are skilfully stitched into original characters, circumstances, premise, and events.

Similar to Trainspotting, Toxicity deals with drug abuse by systematically deglamorising Johnny’s addiction. It shows events from both his drug-induced point of view, and in the harsh glare of real life. The depths to which humanity can fall are well lit in Max Booth III’s world; he writes hard descriptions of awful situations but with the benefits of a fresher, sardonic tone. His youth may have something to do with that.

Eight years of editing on the learning curve

Think about this: at twenty years old, Max Booth III has worked on this novel for a good eight years. Let that soak in for a moment.

“I started it when I was twelve. I wrote the first draft in the span of a few days. It had nothing at all to do with drugs or robbery. It was simply about a trailer trash dysfunctional family (the Desperations) who one day randomly wins the lottery.”

The writing process can be a heart-wrenching series of decisions, where one edit leads to another, and the writer begins to feel as though they’d have been better suited to butchery. Over the ensuing years, Max sharpened his knife on over nine different edit rounds, but he used them as opportunities to shape his novel.

It started out as a straightforward, ongoing story, about the “amusing misadventures Johnny and his brother got themselves in with the surrounding ‘prude’ neighbors.” But then something happened.

“I realized I didn’t know where I was going in it, so I decided to shake things up. I had the doorbell suddenly go off, and when Johnny’s brother (who is heavily based off one of my own brothers) opened the door, Maddox Kane (then a professional hit-man) was standing there on the porch with a shotgun, and blew the brother away. The story then took a pause and rewound back to the beginning of the book, but through Maddox’s point of view.”

From there, Max’s tale took on a new life, as he “sprinkled more layers into the story – drugs, robberies, hallucinations, Harry Potter-themed rock bands, etc.” through multiple drafts. His experience of the creative arc is an extreme illustration of the edit process all writers go through.

Originally, it was told in three parts, going through an entire point of view and then rewinding to the beginning to the next character’s perspective. I scrapped this idea and started switching POVs throughout each chapter. I deleted characters and added them. I gave them wizard capes and made them accidentally do embarrassing things to their dogs. I was their God and I was a cruel one. “

Part of the reason why Max was able to spend the time he needed on Toxicity was due to his personal circumstances.

“When I was thirteen, my life also changed drastically. Our family lost the house and we (my parents and I) moved into a hotel. Over the course of two and a half years we lived in various hotels and motels around Northern Indiana. During this time I did not attend schooling of any kind, and I was basically left to do three things: watch TV, read, or write. TV gets awfully boring after a while, so I spent the majority of my time reading and writing, which were two hobbies I was already obsessed over anyway. I used this time to write more drafts of Toxicity, along with other short stories and half-assed books that will never see the light of day.”

Max also used the Internet to his advantage, connecting with other writers across a now defunct forum, He posted his novel as a serial, and took notes on the feedback he received.

Finally, he was ready, or so he thought.

The final phase

“I finished it again and immediately began sending it off to agents. I expected to be rich by the end of the month.

“Goddamn I was dumb.

“So, so dumb.

“It was rejected multiple times, and later I realized only a con artist would have accepted it as it was. So I rewrote it again. Then I rewrote it another time. I submitted it to a few small presses, and it was rejected every time. So I rewrote it again and changed the title to Black Cadillacs as I feared Jerichowould get confused with the TV show, then I hired Richard Thomas to do a professional edit. At this time, the novel was 110,000 words.”

Richard and Max brought the word count down by 15,000 words and Max changed the name to Toxicity. It just seemed to fit better.

Max submitted the manuscript to Post Mortem Press, and it was accepted a month later, despite being previously rejected by them. And so the final edit loomed, with “the editing god, Paul Anderson”, and the novel was cut yet again, down to 78,000 words.

The editing process and the search for a publisher can be intricately connected. Feedback may both hinder and help and an author’s prowess at editing – and ability to take risks with his work – should probably be as strong as his writing. The knife must be wielded confidently, and without fear, because what has been undone can always be made better and reinserted.

Max's second book

Learn everything once

Although he doesn’t directly say it, Max’s lesson for us all is this: learn everything once. When you know how to plan and shape and edit and write, you know how to write a novel. You know which mistakes you don’t have to repeat. The first book is always the steepest learning curve.

Max’s next book is called The Mind is a Razorblade, and it already has a release date with Kraken Press: September 2014.

“… [The Mind is a Razorblade]is completely different. Although there’s a lot of dark comedy throughout the book, it’s more horror and neo-noir than anything. It’s also first person, one perspective, which is totally opposite of Toxicity’s multiple third person POVs. This new novel is about a man who wakes up without any memory, and the journey he goes through trying to recover it. There are cults and ghosts and funny bunny slippers, all types of cool stuff. It’s basically a weird, supernatural version of The Bourne Identity.

That’s what you call learning everything once.


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