Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Wonderful Review of DEAR EVERYBODY that Appropriates the Epistolary Form

There is a wonderful review of DEAR EVERYBODY @ BOOKGEEKS that appropriates the epistolary form and ends like this: "Thank you, Jonathon, for taking the trouble to write to everyone before you left a world in which you never felt truly at home. Thank you, Michael, for this wonderful book."

Thank you, Simon Appleby.

P.S. BOOKGEEKS is giving away a free copy of DEAR EVERYBODY; see the link with the review.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

German Review of DEAR EVERYBODY

The Junction, a German magazine for contemporary culture, gave DEAR EVERYBODY a really nice review--5/5 stars and they call it "beautifully heartbreaking" (though they say it in German, not English, so the actual words are actually different words). Regardless, it's nice, and I'm thankful, in any language. Danke, Kathleen Wächter.

#85 The Many Parts of Mike Marcellino

Mike Marcellino was born in Baltimore and, like Baltimore (in part), he is part English, part Scottish, part Irish, part French, part German--and he was raised Italian. When he was 3 years old, his parents split up—and he stayed in a hotel in Miami Beach with his mother. There is a family story that he fell off the hotel’s three-story balcony and landed on his head, but Mike doesn’t remember that. What he remembers is meeting Tony from Cleveland who was impressed with his Superman act (think bathing suit and pool towel for a cape). Tony was also impressed with Mike’s mother, later marrying her, becoming Mike’s step-dad, and moving the family to Cleveland. Mike also remembers his great uncle Buddy, a Hall of Fame jockey, which may explain Mike’s great affinity for riding his bike. Many years later, Mike joined the Army and became a combat correspondent in Vietnam. Mike continued as a journalist after he came home and brought good attention to difficult issues concerning the wellbeing of veterans. Mike is proud to have served and misses his veteran brothers, both the living and the dead. In the early 1980s, Mike jumped from journalism to politics. He worked as a political aide to former Cleveland Mayor Michael White and to former Congressman Louis Stoke, where he did more good work on human rights and veterans rights issues. The other thing to know about Mike is that he has always lived by the water. He met Joan Baez near the banks of the Cuyahoga River. And while there is no surf in Cleveland, one of his life’s greatest moments was surfing alone in a perfect thunderstorm in St. Augustine. Along the way, Mike had three great kids. He loves them dearly and loves how they each grew up into their own uniquely independent free spirits. Mike has always been out of the box too and he likes it that way. Now he’s a poet and the front man for the band Split Pea/ce—making music out of poems he wrote in a bunker during mortar and rocket attacks in Vietnam.


More Mike Marcellino
Listen to Split Pea/ce

what Is the outside of the moose made of?

If you Google this -- what is the outside of the moose made of? -- this blog is the first hit.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

#118 Nate Jackson Loves His Life So Far


Nate Jackson was born in Mishawaka, Indiana on January 17th, 1981 (less than 24 hours after his wife was born). School bored Nate and he was often sent to the principal's office. In 5th grade, he got caught hiding under his teacher’s desk, which resulted in him spending a week’s worth of recesses under the principal’s desk. Disliking school led to poor grades, which led school counselors to think him simple-minded, which led to 3 days of intense scrutiny and testing by a child psychologist, which led to the discovery that Nate could perform at an 11th-grade level. That was when he was in 7th grade, the same year Nate’s parents got divorced and he lashed out even more in school. He was always a kid who loved to blow things up. Nate skipped 8th grade and was sent to a yeshiva in Chicago. He would never live with his parents again, only seeing them for brief summer visits and school vacations. But Nate hated living in a dorm and 9th grade was a disaster. After a couple suspensions, he was asked to not return and went to live in Cleveland with his uncle. He attended a smaller yeshiva where he could get more personal attention, but, after a year, his uncle moved away. Nate lived his last two years of high school with the Falk family, where Mr. Falk taught him how to play guitar, which Nate learned, along with how to write songs. It became his art. After high school, Nate moved to Israel to study at a rabbinical college, but quit after 1 ½ years, and became a sniper for the Israeli army. Of course, given previous discipline problems, Nate hated the army. He stopped being religious based on his newly-heightened self-awareness. After he got out of the army, he denounced violence and became a peace protester in the West Bank and Gaza. After a year of that, Nate returned to the US to attend Indiana University. His last semester at IU, Nate met his future wife, Micah Ling, and, after a few months of her asking him for a ride on his motorcycle, he said yes. It's been love ever since. Last year, they moved to Nashville so Nate could play music, but they missed the easy Indiana life and moved back to Bloomington. As an adult, Nate has grown close to his parents again and he loves them dearly. He also loves his life so far. Nate still plays music every single day, usually after he wakes up—because his voice is raw and his fingers are calm. His time with Micah and their bashful dog Bourbon has sugarcoated his sour memories and rounded his rough edges. They've been together for 4 years and got married on October 5th in a park near their house. Nate loves Micah more than anything and he will live every adventure with her for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

#117 Baby Charlotte @ 4 Months

Laura and Mike met at an improv class, one of the results of which was Baby Charlotte, who was born June 13, 2008, which was 3 weeks early. Also, she was face-up, which meant that she was delivered in a c-section, which meant that Charlotte was kind of perfect when she was born. Shortly after this, Charlotte’s father introduced himself and she immediately became calm. She already had that much confidence in her mother and her father. At first, Charlotte could only focus on objects that were within 6 inches of her face, but now she can see much farther than that. In fact, she prefers to face out when she is being held. She wants to see everything. Charlotte started smiling very early in her life, an early sign of her happy temperament. She doesn’t cry much and one of the few ways she shows discomfort is by pushing out her lower lip. Charlotte is good at drooling, blowing spit bubbles, and laughing. She has the brightest face and slatest blue eyes. Charlotte is currently obsessed with her hands. Her bedroom is filled with animals and books. She loves the Belly Button Book and Pat the Bunny, which is also a book. Over her crib, there is a mobile that has a monkey, a bird, and a frog. It will be years before she believes that only one of them actually flies. She loves to lie on her back, kicking and talking. She loves to sit up in her red chair and to stand up if you hold her up. She loves being swaddled. She loves it when her mother holds her in her arms and swings her around. She loves being tickled. She loves her orange friend, which is maybe a cat or maybe a rabbit. Nobody really knows. Charlotte likes to wear hats, but she often kicks the booties off her feet. She mostly wears hand-me-downs from their friends' children. Over the first 4 months of her life, Charlotte has had a wide range of nicknames—everything from Tater Tot (in utero) to Charlotte O-town to Charlotte Poo Poo, which later turned into Charlotte Popovich, to Char-Char Binx, which later became Binx. She doesn’t find any of this confusing. In fact, she is quite proficient at her own gibberish. Recently, she has been imitating a lot of facial expressions. Recently, there has been a lot of tummy time and Charlotte has been working on rolling over. Charlotte is loved so much that she can’t wait to grow old enough to start talking with words that her mother and her father understand so that she can tell them how much she can feel it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

#116 Michelle McGrane Will Love and Be Loved

Michelle McGrane was born on August 23rd 1974 in Mutare, Zimbabwe. When she was 1, her family moved from Zimbabwe to Malawi, the warm heart of Africa, where Michelle spent an idyllic childhood—until 1989, when it was interrupted by a 6-month period in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada in 1982/83, during which she was 9 and fell in love with autumn leaves, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and snow. As a toddler, one afternoon Michelle was left alone to sleep but didn’t; instead, she painstakingly smeared everything in her bedroom—the walls, her bed, her teddy bear, herself—with Vaseline petroleum jelly from the giant pot on her changing table. She loved that slick, smooth feeling. When Michelle was 7, she wrote, illustrated, and covered with glitter her first book, a Christmas story. As a girl, Michelle idolized Princess Diana and thought she might become a princess or, maybe, a ballerina. Michelle would also take care of elephant hawk caterpillars, which have large false eyes and a single soft horn on their backs, until they would wander off into the garden to transform into moths. When she was 14, the family moved to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, which was difficult—leaving childhood friends and family pets behind, going to a racially segregated high school, having to learn a new language, Afrikaans. In 1993/94, Michelle spent a year living and working in London where she survived on toast and never had enough sleep. Now, Michelle is a poet with two collections—Fireflies & Blazing Stars (2002) and Hybrid (2003). She reads so much that she can't imagine a world without books. Since the beginning of 2007, Michelle has lived in Johannesburg, and, for the rest of her life, she will read and write poetry. She will love and be loved. She will grow old gracefully. Michelle is doing everything in her life that she wants to do with her life.

More Michelle McGrane

Saturday, November 8, 2008

#114 Sammy the Dog

Anne wanted to surprise her son, Will, with a dog. Will didn’t have any brothers or sisters, and what boy wouldn't want a dog? At the breeder, there was only one puppy, and nobody wanted him because he was too big for a Bichon Frise, but Anne was so excited that she took him home. They named him Sampson, after the Bible story, but the reference became irrelevant. They always called him Sammy or Sam. On his first day at home, Sammy learned his name and would come when called, so they knew he was really smart. When Sammy was a puppy, he was like a live q-tip—a cottony-white fluff of dog. He loved to pounce on balloons, but would cry and run away when they burst. At first, they tried to put Sammy in the bathroom at night, but he would cry and cry, so Anne would sleep on the couch with Sammy on her chest and that made him happy. When Sammy was 3, they got Francine, another Bichon Frise puppy. Sammy realized that he was a dog and was pretty depressed for a few days. Luckily, Francine adored Sammy and accepted his status as the alpha dog. Before long, Sammy and Francine became friends. Sammy loved to swim, to go for boat rides on Keuka Lake, to run in the snow in Vermont, and to go for rides in the car. Sammy was originally meant to be Will's dog, but he eventually became Anne’s dog—in the way that dogs will choose whose dog they are. Sammy’s favorite song was "I've Been Working on the Railroad," and Anne would sing it to him, changing a few of the words to put his name in it: "Sammy's been working on the railroad." Sammy loved that so much he would roll over on his back and moan with pleasure. Sammy also had a great long-term memory. He loved it when Anne retold stories of good times he'd had: "Remember that time at Susan's house when you and Woody and Aspen all ran in the grass? Remember that time?" Sammy would roll around and moan. He remembered. He was a very verbal dog. Once, Sammy almost got killed when an airport luggage truck ran over him. At the emergency hospital, they were happy to find out that Sammy didn't have any broken bones, which was miraculous. Toward the end of his 106-year life, Sammy lost weight and his hair started to fall out. He became incontinent and had to wear diapers, which Anne called jammies to preserve his pride. Sammy still loved his walks and eating. He still had good quality of life. He could still jump up on the couch to sit with Anne, and, every night, Anne would say to Sammy: "If something ever hurts, you just tell Mommy, because Mommy will make it all better." Sammy would look at Anne and understand. One day, Sammy started vomiting and stopped eating. The vet did some tests and, suddenly, Sammy only had a few days to live. The vet came to the apartment and Sammy died in Anne’s arms, where he spent so much of his happy life.

#112 The Difficulties of Being Giancarlo DiTrapano


Giancarlo DiTrapano (Gian to his friends) was born in West Virginia, which is beautiful and where there is lots of drinking and lots of drug-taking and underage sex, where there are lots of mountains and rivers and the music is usually classic rock and roll--Van Halen, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, which is also beautiful. When Gian was little, he was stung in the eye by a wasp. When Gian was 9, his older brother, Lidano, died in a car crash when a couple out for prom night pulled onto the highway and hit the car Gian’s brother was in, which then struck a utility pole at 60 mph. Everybody except for one passenger died. Gian’s brother was the first person close to Gian who died and it started a chain of deaths throughout his young life that he thought would never end. Luckily, Gian had his sister, Lia, who he loves more than anybody in the world. Plus, his parents are miracles. And, fortunately, after a while, people stopped dying so much. Gian moved to New Orleans for college and studied philosophy there, mostly because his cousin Meredith did. At some point, Gian moved to Rome and learned how to speak Italian in Sezze. At another point, Gian moved to New York City. After this, he broke up with his girlfriend of 10 years, which was difficult, but he had fallen in love with something else. Another difficult time was Gian’s other older brother, Dante, going to prison. Also difficult, Gian suffers from cluster headaches that can last for a month. Once, Gian saw somebody on a TV show, walked to his computer, googled the person, emailed the person, and then walked out of his apartment. A few hours later, the person had emailed Gian back. They met for a drink and have been dating ever since. Now Gian works as a bartender and as the publisher of New York Tyrant. The rest of his life, Gian would like to get to the end of it without too much more suffering and pain.

New York Tyrant

Guardian Profile

Kate Salter wrote a very nice profile of Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) in the Guardian's weekend magazine.

You can only see the text at the link. The print magazine also has scans of the postcard life stories and photos of Blake Butler, Karen Lillis, Nate Jackson, and Moose the Cat.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

#111 Aaron Goolsby: He Can Go Anywhere

Aaron Goolsby was born in Oklahoma City, OK and then adopted into a Mormon family where he grew up with all the love in the world. He was a sick child, though. His mother was often sick too. They spent the first 5 years of his life mostly together, mostly in bed, the both of them sick. When he was 6, he wrote a book about a bird and a bee being friends. For the first 9 years of his life, he went to the same church as his biological family, though he never knew it. Then Aaron’s adopted family moved to Witchita Falls, TX for his dad’s job as a special agent for the railroad. That year and the rest of 4th grade were difficult—the OK schools were behind the TX schools. Also, he was always a big kid and sometimes he got picked on because of it. That spring he fought back for the first time and got kicked out of the school system (and ended up going to a private Catholic school). As a Mormon, Aaron read a lot, both scripture and literature; Aaron loved reading science fiction and fantasy; the other worlds were a perfect fit for him. When he was 15, Aaron met his biological mother, who is Hispanic, and this created identity issues for him. He didn’t really know who he was anymore. This was compounded by his weight. Sometimes he would act in ways that were not him, act the class clown, the stereotypical fat kid, just so that other people would like him. It worked. They did. When he was 19, Aaron went on a Mormon mission to California to preach the gospel. After 9 months, he was hit by a truck, and, even though he was OK, he used that as an excuse to go home and see his mother, who was very sick. His mother was always his savior and he was grateful for being adopted by her. She died when Aaron was 20, which was terrible and confusing. Aaron left the Mormon Church and started spending more time at the bowling alley (he had grown up a bowler). Within a couple of years, Aaron was drinking and doing whatever drugs were available—mostly psychedelics like acid, mushrooms, LSD, but also lots of cocaine, plus prescription pills, especially anti-anxiety pills. During these 10 years of drugs, Aaron worked at a Pizza Hut, worked as a security guard, and wrote three bad novels. He has always been a writer—a tell-all person. After a couple of near-death episodes, especially a bad LSD trip that he almost didn’t make it back from, and visions of Chris Farley, Aaron got clean. He didn’t want to end like that. Now he’s living back in Oklahoma City and working for Southwest Airlines. He loves the free travel. He can go nearly anywhere. He just has to decide where that is.

On Book Tour

The reading last night with Jessica Anya Blau in DC was great. And tonight I'm reading at Myopic Books with Darcie Dennigan in Providence. And tomorrow, I'm reading in Boston/Cambridge with Kim Chinquee and Timothy Gager, at the Dire Reading Series. There's more information, with links here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hobart Interview: "Each letter is its own story"

The very fine Hobart has a new issue up. There's new fiction from Ravi Mangla, Lindsay Hunter, V. Ulea, and Sara O'Leary. And there's an nice interview where Matthew Simmons and I talk about how DEAR EVERYBODY was written, my aesthetic grandparents, and suicide.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

#108 Kate Salter: Wide Landscapes and Bright Light

Kate Salter was born to Colonial parents in 1980 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Everybody calls her Kate, except her mother who calls her Kath, George, Georgina, Harold, Lucy, Tribelet, or any of a number of other names. Kate moved to Cape Town when she was 2. Her parents divorced when she was 9 and her mother mostly raised her after that (though she was always in close contact with her father). Growing up white in Africa left her with no real sense of home. Her identity feels like it is hers, but she says it isn’t. Kate had a very happy childhood, but after moving to the UK when she was 11, it felt utterly gone—not just temporally, but also spatially. Kate found herself seeking wide landscapes and bright light, but that was hard to do in England. Her teenage years were spent in rural semi-isolation in Sussex, at a terribly sweet and innocent school for girls, with ponies and cream teas and green gym knickers. She doesn't think she has quite recovered from that. After her degree, Kate taught English in Japan, then temped in the charity sector, but office work was disenchanting. So she pursued acting, which she still loves, and then journalism. Kate met her first proper boyfriend when she was 19 and they were together for 6-7 years. She got pregnant as they were breaking up. Kate’s son, Jem, just turned 3 and she still tries to co-parent with his father. Jem is the deepest emotion that Kate has ever had or could ever imagine. It is a wonderful life sentence. Also, it helps that she made him and that Jem is really clever, good looking, and funny. One day, Kate wants to learn how to drive and how to fly on the trapeze. She might get a tattoo, but only a really good one. She might sing some and act more. She will travel by couch surfing with her son and she will visit her parents in South Africa. She might have another kid, maybe. For now, Kate and Jem live in the lively seaside town of Brighton, where it is so beautiful that it’s difficult to not be happy there.

Monday, November 3, 2008

#106 Leslie F. Miller: Let Her Eat Cake

Leslie F. Miller was born in Baltimore on the eve of Yom Kippur, the day one is supposed to do no labor. By 7, she was a great swimmer. She was also one of the early latch-key kids. Growing up, she sometimes ate frosting out of a can for dessert, which is a partial explanation for why Leslie can’t control herself around cake. Leslie liked to sing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush for a microphone. She wrote poems that got passed around the school because everybody could relate to Leslie’s poems. On her Sweet 16 birthday, her three best friends stopped talking to her, though years later they apologized. After this, Leslie remembers sitting in the dark in her walk-in closet listening to Patti Smith and writing death poetry. She knows what it is like to be without friends. Around this time, she started going to see bands and she once met the Ramones after she was thrown out for standing around backstage. In the early 1980s, she was one of the first people to rollerblade. In college, Leslie joined a band that once opened for the Thompson Twins, but her bandmates did too much cocaine and the band broke up. It was around this time that Leslie met her husband and they have been together ever since even though he wasn’t her type—a hippie with long hair and a beard. He was nice and funny and smart and she loved the way that he played guitar. After over 10 years together, they got married so that they could go on a honeymoon. Years after that, their daughter Serena Joy was born (so named because her mother thinks of herself as Neurotic Misery). Serena is psychic and can read Leslie’s mind at the strangest times. Once, Leslie chopped off the tip of her thumb. Also, her hands fall asleep when she raises them over her head. What else? She’s a writer and a mosaic artist and a photographer and she’s good at being each of them. What else? She used to teach college, but doesn’t anymore and she feels pretty good about that. One more thing? Sure. Leslie’s one goal in life was to have a book published: Let Me Eat Cake—which is a kind of history of cake, including cake folklore and lots of interviews with people who love cake—will come out Spring 2009.

More Leslie F. Miller