From the writer of "Shrek" comes "The Man Who Came and Went," a magically realistic novel about a grill cook who can mind read orders, and a small town diner that changes lives. 


My first paying job on a movie was working on George Romero’s “Creepshow”. 

Here are my top 10 memories:


1.   I started off as a van driver, taking the actors from their motel to the set for the beach episode. That story was about a couple buried in the sand by a jealous husband. The couple was played by Ted Danson and Gaylen Ross. I had a crush on Gaylen Ross. If I had known that Ted Danson would become Ted Danson, I would have paid him more attention. BTW, the actors weren’t buried “straight” or “standing”, but were kneeling, so the holes in the sand only needed to be half as deep. I hope that doesn’t ruin the illusion of movies for you forever.

2.  The beach episode was shot in Toms River, NJ. The cast and crew stayed in a motel with a typical beach sounding name, like The Sandpiper. It was off season. The motel was otherwise empty. One morning while waiting to pick up the actors, I found myself sitting in the lobby next to George Romero, the director of this movie and, as you may know, the director of “Night of the Living Dead.” Though I was fresh out of college, he talked to me like I was actual human being. George had this way of smiling with his eyes. He was truly one of the sweetest human beings I’d ever met; ironic for the father of the Zombie Genre.

3.  My first boss, Michael Spolan, was a trailer editor who got a job cutting two of the segments on “Creepshow”. I eventually followed him to Pittsburgh to work as an assistant editor. On my drive out from New York, passing over the Verrazano Bridge, flames leapt over the railing next to me as I drove over. I took this as an ominous sign for my time on “Creepshow”, or perhaps for the rest of my life.

4.  My boss and the rest of us who came from New York to work on the movie were put up at the Hotel Bigalow in downtown Pittsburgh. I was 22 years old, living in a one bedroom hotel apartment with a full kitchen, and I had it all to myself. I felt like the richest person on earth. BTW, in those days when you were college age and went anywhere to live for any period of time, you bought along your music essentials: receiver, turntable, two big speakers and every record you owned. Half your car was for your music.

5.  As I mentioned, my boss cut two segments: Father’s Day and the one about cockroaches. Father’s Day was the first episode shot and a mess to deal with in editing. It was almost impossible to salvage. The roach episode with E.G. Marshall was like confection; it went down sweet and easy.

6.  Weekends in downtown Pittsburgh were amazing. No one lived in the city in the early 80s, they all were in the burbs. So we pretty much had the downtown to ourselves. Only we weren’t allowed to call it downtown. The official Pittsburgh pronunciation was DunTun.

7.  If you ever work on a movie and go on a location, remember these two words: per diem. It’s Latin for “Cash is going directly into your pocket and you’ll be hard pressed to ever figure out how to spend it all.” I was already making much more money than I ever had working in trailers. I think it was something like $300 per week. And then on top of that, per diem. Got bless Latin.

8.  When it came time to prepare for the sound mix, it was all hands on deck. Back before you could post produce an entire movie on your $600 laptop, preparing the sound tracks for the mix of your movie involved dozens or hundreds of tracks, each of them assembled on 35mm reels. It took a small army to prep for a mix and we had one crammed into George’s office building in Pittsburgh.

9.  Two movies before “Creepshow”, George had directed “Dawn of the Dead”. His Pittsburgh offices was zombie central and for some reason or another you would often hear the moaning shrills of zombies echoing from speakers around you. I believe therapy has finally cured me of that trauma.

10. Steven King, who starred as Jordy in one of the segments, came to Pittsburgh to see the cut. I’m pretty sure we were all busy prepping the tracks for the mix when he arrived. He immediately took to an office on the same floor, closed the door and proceeded to sit and write for two hours. It was one of the most impressive feats of discipline I had ever seen. I’d kill for a tenth of that. Or, if not kill, then at least bury someone in the sand up their neck.

The Man Who Came and Went 
Joe Stillman

Genre: Magical Realism / Mature YA / Literary Fiction
Publisher: City Point Press
Date of Publication: 3/1/22
ISBN: 9781947951389
Number of pages: 240
Word Count: 64,000
Cover Artist:  Barbara Aronica-Buck and Susan Stillman

A grill cook who mind-reads orders.  
A diner that changes lives.
Tips appreciated. 

Book Description:

Fifteen year old Belutha Mariah, our storyteller, is the oldest of three kids from three different fathers. Her life’s goal is to keep her dysfunctional mom, Maybell, from procreating yet again and then to leave the coffin-sized town of Hadley, Arizona the second she graduates high school. 

Along comes the new grill cook at Maybell’s Diner, Bill Bill, a mysterious drifter with the ability to mind-read orders. As word spreads, the curious and desperate pour into this small desert town to eat at Maybell's. Some believe Bill knows the secrets of the universe. Belutha figures he’s probably nuts. 

But his cooking starts to transform the lives of locals and visitors, and Belutha finds her angry heart opening as Bill begins to show her the porous boundary between this life and what comes after.

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            That day, the day Bill arrived, my mom was serving up eggs and complaints.

            “Dammit, that daughter a mine,” she yelled to Dolene, across the diner. Shes like walking birth control. Does she think Im trying to have babies? Scuse me, Darlin’” Maybell gave Clovers bubble walker a little kick, sending it between tables 4 and 6 so she could get by and dump a load of dishes behind the counter.

            Dolene was homegrown, like the tumbleweed, with eyes like a golden retriever that never quite looked at you directly. She was smart enough to add up a check, but you could tell she was never getting out of Hadley. I take it you didnt get laid last night.”

            Maybell pointed to her sour puss. Does this say laidto you?”

            There was a harrumphfrom booth 5 by the window. That was Rose. Rose was an old woman by the time she was 30. Now she was in her late 60s, a widow since before I was born—in other words, forever. She liked to spend her afternoons at Maybells Diner, reading her book and keeping an eye on the goings on around her, as if she was the towns homeroom teacher.

            “Look at Saint Rose,” Maybell said, stuffing dirty plates into the plastic tub under the counter. Thinks she smells better than Mentos. I aint running a library here, Rose. Next time bring Readers Digest!

            There was another sound from Rose, something between a welland a pfffft.She never took her eyes off her book.

            The door opened with a DING from the bell that hung on it. No one noticed Bill entering. He was about average in height, but his skinny frame made him look taller. You could tell from his face that he was in his mid-20s, but those were hard years he had lived, and his body looked frail and geriatric. His clothes were old and clung to him like an extra layer of skin, with a smell that would never wash out.

The angles of his face were sharp and careworn. But his eyes, those were different. His face was hard and weathered, but his eyes were soft. They seemed brand new.

No one in the diner even looked. If they did they would have seen those eyes taking in every little detail: the people talking, forks carrying food, the string lights behind the counter, Dolene ringing up a check. But what drew Bill more than anything else was the grill. Harley, the grill cook, must have had four meals going at once, each with its own set of sounds and smells. Most of those meals involved eggs. His spatula made a metal-on-metal scrape as he turned them. Bill was riveted. He went to sit at the counter to watch.

            Down the counter, a porkish-looking man named Earle—probably one of three men in town who had never slept with my mom—raised his empty cup. Can I get a refill, Maybell?”

            Maybell stopped and faced him. Seriously, Earle? Is it so goddam much trouble for you to get up off your ass and get it yourself? Cant you see Im working here?”

            “Well…” he stammered. I just—was I—I was—”

            Maybell pointed to the coffee pot. How far away is that? Two feet?”

            “Sure, I guess…”

            “Am I your personal slave, Earle? Is that why God put me on earth?”

            “No, I dont think youre—”

            Maybell grabbed the pot and sloshed coffee in his Earles cup. There. You happy now?”

He nodded meekly.

            While she had the pot in her hand, Maybell filled the cup sitting in front of Bill. Ill be by to take your order in a minute, hon.”

            Maybell walked on. Bill just sat there and stared at the coffee. For him, there was no diner anymore, no Maybell, no clanking dishes or dumb conversation. He leaned closer to that cup like it was the only thing in the world. And there he was, smelling coffee for the first time. And it smelled like life. Like a whole world. Like this is how a planet smells if youre up in space and could take a deep breath. Bill was motionless for who knows how long. And then, when he was good and ready, he took his first sip.

            Those eyes, the ones that didnt belong on his head, they closed as if he was praying. No, more like he was hearing a prayer. The coffee was praying to be heard, and Bill heard it.


About the Author:

Joe Stillman co-wrote “Shrek” for Dreamworks which earned him an Academy Award® nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and the Annie and BAFTA Awards.  Other produced features are “Beavis & Butthead Do America”, “Shrek 2”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, “Planet 51” and “Joseph King Of Dreams”. 

In television, he was co-producer and writer on “King of the Hill,” for which he received two Emmy Award® nominations. He was a writer and story editor for Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” and a writer on MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead”. More recently he worked on Nickelodeon’s “Sanjay And Craig” and “Kirby Buckets” for Disney. Other TV credits include “Albert” for Nickelodeon, “The War Next Door” for the USA Network, “Clueless”, “Doug” and “Danger And Eggs” for Amazon.

Joe is currently working on “Curious George” and “Half-Baked 2” for streaming on Peacock.

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