Saturday, May 30, 2009

A List of Terms; Or, Things that You Can Do with Language

As some of you know, I love The Wire, Anna Ditkoff's brilliant Murder Ink, and follow crime in Baltimore. Here are some terms that come to us as part of the fallout or a series or recent raids:

•a "birthday boy" is a person who is to be robbed
• a "birthday party" refers to a robbery, assault, or other act of violence to be committed
• if a person is "on the menu" or labeled "food," that person has been designated as someone who is going to be "eaten," meaning seriously beaten or killed

SOURCE: Indictment filed in Baltimore U.S. District Court via the Baltimore Sun

Here is the original news story.

Friday, May 29, 2009


The only reason I write books, really, is so that I get a cake each time I publish one -- or each time time one comes out in a new edition or translation.

Here's the cake for the UK edition of the paperback, which we ate in one day.

And here's the cake for How Much of Us There Was.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#177 Brian Oliu: He Loves the Kaplunk

Brian Oliu was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was an only child and his childhood was great. He spent a lot of times in piles of leaves. He played a lot of video games and ate a lot of cookies. Growing up, Brian learned a lot of useless trivia, including an absurd amount about fragrances (because he is larger than most people and was always afraid of smelling terrible when he was a kid, so he did his research). In high school, he played football (tight end) and basketball (power forward). In college, Brian studied English at Loyola in Baltimore, in part, because his friends were all English majors. He started writing essays and memoir—after he realized that he was awful at making things up. Another thing that you should know about Brian is that his ex-girlfriends all move away immediately after or close to the end of their relationship. His first kiss moved a few miles away and out of his elementary school district. His first girlfriend moved to Rhode Island in the fourth grade. His high school girlfriend moved to Los Angeles. His college girlfriend moved to San Diego. The girlfriend after that moved to the United Kingdom. So Brian moved Tuscaloosa, Alabama to terminate the loop. He also moved there to work on his MFA and currently runs the flag football league for the University of Alabama English Department; its mantra: athlete's mind, poet's body. Once, Brian spent an entire year in Belgium drinking beer, eating beef stew with fries, and hanging out with his Italian roommate Danny Apples (this name isn’t made up), a male model from Milan. Brian wears a lot of brightly colored track jackets. Also, he beat Contra and Super C without the Konami 30 Lives code. He really loves his computer and the internet a lot (but doesn’t like that he now has a very short attention span for anything that isn't sitting in front of his computer). When Brian isn’t designing of websites, he’s viewing of ephemera on the web. Plus, he loves the kaplunk of the GChat new message. Right now, Brian is wrapping up his MFA at the University of Alabama and teaching composition and creative writing there. He has a bad tendency to count down the time he has to do something, even if he’s having a great time or his on vacation. He wishes he didn’t do that. Also, he’s going to Romania to do a reading tour with his friend, the poet Jeremy Allan Hawkins. Next year, he’s going to become an instructor at the University of Alabama. And Brian just finished a memoir called i/o—it's going out to publishers as soon as he becomes less afraid of sending it out.

More Brian Oliu

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Quiet Tour de Force

There's a great review of Dear Everybody up at The View From Here. Charlie Wykes calls Dear Everybody "a quiet tour de force" and also says this: "Writing a novel with a moral centre without being ‘preachy’ is not easy. Michael Kimball deserves great praise." And Charlie also says some other nice things that nobody else has said yet. Thanks, Charlie.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Taking the Epistolary Form to a Special Place

M. T. Fallon put a super thoughtful review of Dear Everybody up at Trestle. He says: "In Kimball's careful hands the epistolary form really gets to a special place. The assemblage of textual evidence of Jonathan's dissolution feels like a personal discovery. You don't feel as if there is a story being told, it's as if you are uncovering the story and telling it to yourself. I think that's where Kimball really succeeds, he pieces this novel together in just the right way so you don't really know that he pieced together this novel in just the right way." Plus, he has a bunch of other really smart observations about "transparent prose."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

#182 The Myth of Scott McClanahan

Scott McClanahan was born in West Virginia and regularly used the bathroom in a johnny house (johnny houses have been a seminal event in many writers lives, including Jean Genet). Scott’s childhood was spent in Rainelle, West Virginia—a town full of lumberjacks, severed arms, coal miners, and old mountains. The town specializes in teenage pregnancy and prescription drug abuse. When Scott was five, he watched some older boys set a forest on fire, which the West Virginia National Guard had to put out. When Scott was 7, his grandmother Ruby had her gallstones removed, then brought all 15 of them home and asked Scott to put them in her flowerbed. During the blizzard of ’93, Scott started writing. Scott’s teenage years were spent reading Isak Dinesen and watching professional wrestling. He will not rest until Ric Flair is recognized as a great artist by this culture. In high school, he played quarterback, which is how he ended up with a compound fracture of his left arm. In college, Scott’s roommate was a great friend from Rainelle who suffered from OCD, which meant that he also always kept the room clean. Scott worked at the same grocery store his father did and was a substitute teacher at the same school where his mother taught. It was for 7 years that Scott chased a woman named Sarah before she went out on a real date with him, but now they are married. Sarah is a nurse and each night he sits and listens to her talk about patients dying, the way eyes look when the last moment of oxygen is escaping from a brain. Sarah has a magnificent heart and Scott will fight the man who doesn’t believe in true love (seriously, send him your address and he’ll come fight you). Scott cries every other day over something, which he considers a good thing. A couple of months ago, Sarah brought home a 13-year-old blind dog. Now Scott goes home each day and watches it bump from wall to wall. The blind dog has become a metaphor for Scott’s life and Scott is training his other dog to become a seeing-eye dog. Now Scott lives in southern West Virginia, an hour from where he grew up. He has stayed because it's one of the last places with myths (John Henry is from there). Scott does not plan for the future if it can be avoided—he understands that within 3 months the shroud could be his garment—but he knows that he will be buried on Backus Mountain. And he wants “I regret” written on his tombstone—along with “I told you I was sick.”

Scott’s Stories
Scott’s movies

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Kind of World

I have a short poem up at Everyday Genius. It's at least 15 years old and a little bit about my early days in NYC.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#175 Michael Hemmingson: He Is Not That Person

Michael Hemmingson was born in Los Angeles and his childhood was like a bad young adult novel—teen parents, his father missing the first 5 years before returning to marry his mother. When Michael was 11, he wrote a Star Wars novel, 300 pages in pencil. At 14, he had his first poem published. As a freshman, he was editor of the high school literary magazine. When he was a sophomore, he discovered drugs—LSD, pot. By 17, Michael had published 200 poems, a dozen stories, and his own zine, Another Fucken Review. By 18, he had published three chapbooks of poetry and flash fiction. Michael has had many painful relationships end badly. When he was 23, his girlfriend Trudi died in a car accident. She was 10-weeks pregnant and Michael fell apart after that. He couldn't get out of bed, couldn’t work, and found himself homeless. He lived in his car or in shelters. He did not care what happened to him. The person he was died with her. Michael is not that person. When he was 27, Michael published his first book (The Naughty Yard, Permeable Press). It changed his life and people in the literary community took him more seriously. Another thing that changed Michael’s life was leaving Los Angeles and then again going back home to chase Hollywood, which he wishes he hadn’t done. He was in love with a woman, though, an actress. He wishes that he would have realized the heartache there would be in that. He has been lied to, cheated, and screwed over by producers in Hollywood. Still, one of the best things in Michael’s life was making a feature film (The Watermelon, LightSong Films) in Los Angeles, having that experience that few get. Michael has left L.A. many times and returned many times. One time, Michael was a journalist in Rwanda, but he wishes that he hadn’t taken that assignment. He is still haunted by the thousands of dead bodies and the smell in summer heat. One particular image that sticks in his mind is a hungry albino black child sitting alone in the dirt and crying, and no one paying attention. People should pay attention. Michael has accomplished so much—screenplays, movies, journalism, editing books, ghost-writing books, writing his own books (all kinds—literary, erotica, biographies, ethnographies, etc.). Through 2008, Michael had published 48 books under his name, plus a dozen more under various pen names. In the next few years, Michael will publish many more books— some under new pen names and some under his own name (particularly his first collection of literary fiction and academic books on Carver, Hemingway, and Vollmann). Michael also plans to finish his biography of Carver, write a big literary novel, make a studio-budget movie, and write for a TV series that will last no fewer than 3 seasons. Further, he will buy a house and move into it with his two cats, Worf and Poe (who are the reincarnated cats he had 12 years ago, Surfette and ArtBell) and the family he has always wanted to have.

More Michael Hemmingson

Thursday, May 7, 2009

#171 Hayley West: The Build Up

Hayley Jolene West was born in Melbourne, Australia to English-immigrant parents. Her last name, West, is new; her middle name, Jolene, she took from her sister. Hayley has some horse-whispering heritage, has broken wild horses, and loves the feeling of galloping on a horse. When she has 5, Hayley’s little sister died in a friend's swimming pool—after which, Hayley and her brother were forced to learn to swim like fish. But most of her childhood was fantastic. Her parents used to party at their friends’ houses, so she often got to stay up late with other kids. At first, Hayley was a rat-bag in primary school, cheated a lot, ran away every other weekend. Then she was sent to a different high school and became a straight-A student, at least for a while. Hayley’s first two years of University were spent drinking, seeing bands, and protesting. After that, she changed her major from languages and did an associate degree in furniture technology. At the same time, she was working three part-time jobs and saving, saving, saving. At 21, Hayley traveled Europe for a year with a friend and ran riot. Hayley’s loud laugh makes Hayley particularly Hayley. At 22, Hayley returned to Australia and lived in Hobart, Tasmania where she studied furniture design for a year—before moving back to Melbourne to be with her father who was dying of cancer. After he died, Hayley didn’t do much for a year. Eventually, she went back to school and studied sculpture at RMIT. Over the years, Hayley has worked lots of different jobs, including a few in the adult industry—a dodgy dating agency, a chat-line operator, a sex shop assistant. It is fascinating. After all that, Hayley left a boyfriend and left Melbourne. She moved far away to Darwin where she had never lived before and then things really changed for her. It is one of the best decisions she has ever made. She began to flourish as an artist and she met a man named Tobias at an art gallery where she worked. He is also an artist and would visit the gallery once a week. Hayley was always excited when he showed up. Over 2 years ago, Hayley’s mother died, also of cancer, and becoming an orphan as an adult changed how she feels about her self and family. In 2007, Tobias proposed to Hayley in Venice. In 2008, they got married on leap day and then honeymooned at an arts residency. They've been together 4 years now and Tobias calms Hayley down, especially in the build-up—a humid, grey-sky part of the year with no rain—when she can go a bit troppo (everybody goes slightly mad during this time—more suicides, more babies conceived, more angry emails). Hayley is so happy to have found Tobias and can’t wait to spend the rest of their lives being artists together.

More Hayley West

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Huge Chunk of His Heart on the Page

Katrina Denza has a very nice write-up of my Dear Everybody and Paul Lisicky's Lawnboy at Illuminate; Ruminate; Create. She calls Dear Everybody a "brilliantly designed novel ... It left me feeling as if the author left a huge chunk of his heart on the page and it is this generosity and depth that left me stunned."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I had a great time on my UK blog tour for the paperback of DEAR EVERYBODY that Alma Books just put out (US paperback coming in September). Here’s the wrap up with links to everything:

Me & My Big Mouth: DEAR EVERYBODY is “a wonderful, clever, imaginative and moving book. It really is quite something ... a fucking marvelous book." There’s also a nice interview.

Dogmatika: A fantastic interview that is assembled in the spirit of DEAR EVERYBODY, many different pieces.

The View From Here: An article about the writing of DEAR EVERYBODY that’s called "349 Pieces" because that's how many pieces make up the novel.

3:AM Magazine: Top 5 (novels that you may not have heard of).

Lizzy’s Literary Life: DEAR EVERYBODY is "unputdownable ... the most searingly honest and authentic sentiments I have ever read ... I had to pick myself up off the floor at the end ... easily the best read of 2009 thus far." Plus, there's a smart interview.

Digital Fiction Show: DEAR EVERYBODY "lives in the head of the reader after we have read it ... The letters combine to create a wonderful resonance that feels immensely vivid and real ... a lot of writers will read DEAR EVERYBODY wishing they had thought of something like this themselves." Plus, there's an excerpt and the trailer.

Planting Words: Michael Kimball "made me cry by creating a character called Jonathon, and making me care about him as if he were a member of my own family." Plus, there is a nice conversation.

Elizabeth Baines: DEAR EVERYBODY is "striking, witty, and above all moving … And here’s the most impressive thing to me – what Michael Kimball has done is to portray formally the fragmentation of a life (yet in a holistic and wholly satisfying way) – something which the form of a traditional novel would belie." Plus, Elizabeth calls out the publishing industry for its culturally disgraceful ways.

Writing Neuroses: A smart interview about the antithesis of the great American novel and ghastly characters.

Just William's Luck: DEAR EVERYBODY is "... the perfect way to tell the story of a man who has fallen through the net ... remembering that he has taken his own life gives a forensic importance to the documents. As you go through the evidence you may find yourself caring more with each page not only about his sad, short life but the continuing narrative of those other voices around him." Plus, there’s a thoughtful interview about unreliable narrators.

In Spring It Is Dawn: DEAR EVERYBODY is "a touching story of human relationships and how they can go wrong, and a story which made me stop to ponder the long-lasting effects our actions can have on others."

Thank you, Daniel, Scott, Susan, Mike, Marcia, Adrian, Fiona, Elizabeth, Kay, William, and Tanabata.

Monday, May 4, 2009

#140 The Happy Life of Amelia Gray

Amelia Gray was born in Tucson, AZ, and had a safe and happy childhood. What Amelia mostly remembers is laughing a lot and the funny things her sister and parents did. For a childhood, it was just about as good as anybody could hope for. Around 10, Amelia started playing the violin. In 4th grade, Amelia wrote a science fiction story where everyone wore clothes that changed colors according to their moods, which was the beginning of the inventive fiction writer she has turned into today. Amelia went to Arizona State University for her BA in literature, and, when she was 20, she rode Greyhound buses everywhere. She’s afraid of flying, partly because of the way things rattle around inside an airplane. She thinks she might feel better if she could sit on the wing and hear how strongly everything is constructed. Amelia went to Texas State University for her MFA, and now she holds four jobs (transcribing a WWII veteran's journal, freelance writing, and teaching at two universities), which allows her to work all day while also avoiding work all day, depending on which project she focuses on. It's weirdly motivating. Amelia has night terrors that make her do funny things in her sleep like stand on the bed and run down the stairs. Once, she kicked out a window. Also, Amelia has two cats (Republic, who got his name because she found him in the dumpster behind the Banana Republic where she used to work, and Turkish, who got her name from the fact that she is big like an ottoman), but no boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, or dog. She wants a boyfriend like she wants 180 pounds of cotton candy. She has been the cotton candy in many relationships and she has been the person with the cotton candy on her hands in other relationships. It might make her sick, but she could fit either thing (a boyfriend or 180 pounds of cotton candy) into her lovely two-bedroom apartment in Austin (of which, by some small-world logic, MK’s brother-in-law is the landlord, and, she says, the best landlord ever). Besides that, Amelia has written a screenplay and a flash fiction collection in the past year. Right now, she’s working on a novel. She’s trying to figure out what type of writing is the most fun, which, right now, is flash fiction, which she’s trying to figure out how to accumulate into a novel, which she will.

[Note: I loved Amelia's first collection, AM/PM. Amelia's second collection, Museum of the Weird, just won the 2008 Ronald Sukenick American Book Review Prize for Innovative Fiction (FC2). Judge Lidia Yuknavitch chose Museum of the Weird for a Spring/Summer 2010 release. A complex and piercing collection, as poetic as it is poignant, Museum of the Weird features twenty four short stories that collectively expose both the hilarity and heartbreak of life in the twenty first century.]

More Amelia Gray