Thursday, April 30, 2009

Human Relationships

In Spring It Is Dawn wasn't on the UK blog tour, but Tanabata gives DEAR EVERYBODY a very nice review, saying that 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" -- among other nice things.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#167 Ken Baumann Was Discovered

Ken Baumann’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and given 3 weeks to live before he ever existed. Luckily, his mother recovered and Ken was born some time after that, though extremely prematurely. Ken was supposed to be dead and blind, and he does have horrible vision, but his hearing is intact. For all these reasons, Ken was a miracle baby. For many other reasons, Ken’s parents have always known he is special. Ken had a great childhood growing up in Abilene, Texas, but didn’t play football. He was always skinny and read a lot, mostly fantasy books. When he was 10, wrote a book about a boy wizard who is recruited to a wizardry school so he can fight the evil wizard (Ken was incredibly pissed when Harry Potter came out). When he was 15, Ken wrote his first full-length novel and it felt like a huge accomplishment to finish something so large. Through these years, Ken continued to read and write fantasy books—until he read Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat's Cradle, which changed the way he thought and read for good. Ken’s acting career began after he was discovered at a Model/Actor Search and later was signed by a talent agent in NYC, where he moved for 3 months. After that, Ken was set up with another agent in Dallas and started auditioning for commercials and modeling for area department stores. But it wasn't until Ken played Nick in A Thousand Clowns at a local theatre that he felt passionate about acting. He gave up the modeling thing and went to Los Angeles for pilot season. The second year he went for pilot season he booked the lead in a pilot for Fox called Don't Ask, and he has been working ever since. Even though he was just 14, Ken wanted to take care of the family and find enough work to convince his dad to move out with his mom and his little sister. Ken wanted the family together and thought it was his responsibility. Recently though, Ken realized that his parents are incredible and smart and ten times more capable to withstand life's difficulties than he is. He loves how supportive they have always been. There was never any stage mom or stage dad from them and they never put any expectations on him. Ken met his girlfriend while working on a film called Spring Break '83. He felt the most joy, the most innocence, in the 6 weeks that they were together on set. She is an intelligent, generous, talented, loving person—and he loves her purely. She has inspired him to do so much. His second novel, Interim, and the feature film that he’s working on now are both dedicated to her. Last year, Ken started work on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, bought a house, and is now living by himself. Ken feels powerful and alive, and Ken is.

More Ken Baumann

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Red Cedar Review #44

The new issue of Michigan State University's literary magazine, the Red Cedar Review (#44), is just out. It's edited by Lindsey Kate Sloan and Jill Kolongowski, and an interview we did last fall (when I was there for my literary homecoming with DEAR EVERYBODY) appears in the issue. I'm particularly happy about this one because the Red Cedar Review is where I had my very first publication, back in 1990. There is also work by Sean McCarthy, Dan Moreau, Gavin Craig, Richard Fellinger, Natalie Johnson, and many others.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Unreliable Narrators

There is a really nice interview of DEAR EVERYBODY up at Just William's Luck. William Rycroft asked smart questions about how the book took shape, unreliable narrators, and writing about mental illness -- and I did my best to answer them. Plus, the interview includes a six-word story and a couple of other publishing exclusives.

#45 The Awesome Adam Robinson: A New and Improved Version

Adam Robinson has lived in a bunch of different cities, but that probably doesn’t matter. His childhood was not notable except for the fact that he often ate lunch in a bathroom stall during his junior year of high school and except for all of the God stuff that he grew up with. He went to a Christian college, but only because his brother, his Irish twin, did. The Christian college was awesome for Adam (though it must be noted that this word often accompanies descriptions of religious experiences) and it was there that he learned that life is really terrible unless everybody forgives each other. Adam continues to be a Christian in spite of the fact that Martin Luther consummated his marriage to Katherine von Bora in front of his friends (or, possibly, because of this fact; it isn’t clear). Said another way, Adam is a dark and sad Christian like St. Paul. Now Adam works as a technology buyer for an asset management company, but that doesn’t really describe him. It isn’t who he is. He is a guitar player for Sweatpants and the publisher of Publishing Genius and a writer of poems and stories and songs, but he cannot be fully understood in these terms either. It is better to think of Adam in terms of the time he jumped out of a speeding boat (that he was driving) and crashed it. The boat didn’t sink and Adam didn’t drown. The boat got stuck in some seaweed and Adam swam back to shore. Adam made a similar jump the time that he left behind his life in Milwaukee and ran away to Baltimore with Stephanie Barber, who is awesome (like Christianity, but in a different way). The experience was panicked and great. Another time, Adam was attacked while waiting for the bus and hit over the head with a bottle, but the attackers escaped with nothing of Adam's and Adam ended up with a bloody story to tell. One thing that should be learned from this: You cannot stop Adam Robinson. Also, it should be noted that the farthest Adam has walked at one time is 28 miles and
the farthest he has ridden a bicycle is 34 miles. He could go farther, though. He will go farther. In fact, there he goes now.

Adam Robinson is the genius behind Publishing Genius Press

A great piece of Adam's writing.

Also, it's his birthday today, so tell him happy birthday if you see him.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Writing Neuroses

There's a nice interview at Writing Neuroses about DEAR EVERYBODY. Kay Sexton asks some really smart questions about structure, the great American novel (and its antithesis), and ghastly characters.

This is stop #9 on my UK blog tour. Thank you, Kay.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some Letters Concerning Michael Kimball and Dear Everybody

Elizabeth Baines has written a beautiful and thoughtful review of DEAR EVERYBODY called Some letters concerning Michael Kimball and Dear Everybody in which she calls the novel "striking, witty, and above all moving." And she says, "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." She also thanks Alma Books (thank you, Alma Books) and then calls out the publishing industry in general. Plus, she says that I have "kind eyes." Thank you, Elizabeth Baines.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pratt Friday Forum, NYC

I'm going to be reading from DEAR EVERYBODY and doing Q&A about anything at the Pratt Friday Forum. It's been months since I've been to NYC and I miss it.

#165 Renée E. D’Aoust: One of the Most Difficult Things that a Human Can Do

Renée E. D’Aoust was raised on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound, where it was so much fun growing up around her mother and her two older brothers. At school, Renée refused to play any sports and was sometimes called into the counselor’s office because of it. But Renée always wanted to be a ballet dancer, and, at 8, she signed herself up for ballet lessons, then studied ballet every day after that until she was 16. Renée regrets not attending the Royal Winnipeg School of Ballet summer school when she was 16, but is glad that she went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts summer session in New York City instead—a precursor to her living there. At 21, Renée packed up her little car and moved from the Puget Sound area to Missoula, Montana, but it did not go well. She moved 8 times in 2 years and also broke her jaw in a terrible bicycle accident. But she also got a dance scholarship from the Montana Dance Arts Association and that’s how she moved to New York City to be a dancer, which was awesome. Renée spent most of her money on dance lessons and was mostly broke, so she walked everywhere to save money. She performed in little black box spaces and was almost always sore, exhausted. It was a blast, though, and the best part was knowing so many people doing so many incredible things. There was a great sense of possibility. After that, Renée went back to college, at Columbia University, and studied literature and writing (eventually getting an MFA in creative writing from Notre Dame). She wanted to create something that would last longer than dance. Years later, Renée went through one of the most difficult times in her life—when her brother, Ian (who had a Ph.D. in American history from Yale) died from multiple sclerosis. During this time, Renée lived with her parents again and helped them however she could. Renée still misses Ian so much. To face grief is one of the most difficult things that a human can do. The other thing you should know about Renée is that she is really nutty about dogs. Renée’s dog Truffle is a hound dog and she is writing a book about him. In fact, about 3 years ago, Renée swore off men and decided that she would live with a series of dogs, Truffle being the first, but then her graduate school roommate suggested that Renée meet a man named Daniele because he was unique, but in a different way than Renée was unique. But Renée did not want to meet Daniele because he was an electrical engineer who rode a bicycle and she had spent 5 years off-and-on with another electrical engineer who rode a bicycle. Now Renée and Daniele live part-time in Switzerland (his post-doctorate at a university there) and part-time in Idaho (where Renée teaches; she loves the returning adult students at North Idaho College). Renée loves that Daniele holds her hand when she gets scared on top of mountains and reminds her that her feet are on the ground. She thinks Truffle understands. Now Renée writes every day and she will keep writing no matter what. Also, often, Renée plants seedlings on her family’s forestland in Idaho, over 2,000 so far, and she wishes for every one of her trees to grow.

A Dance Review of Nicole Seiler

Theatrical Release

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How I Made Fiona Robyn Cry

On her blog, Planting Words, Fiona Robyn posts a photo of me and then writes: "This is Michael Kimball. ... He 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."

After that, there is an email conversation about DEAR EVERYBODY how novels begin, how to present difficult material, and what it's like to be an author.

This is stop #7 on my UK blog tour.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Digital Fiction Show

Adrian Graham from Digital Fiction Show has posted a nice and thoughtful review of 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, the introduction from Robert Bender, who has never really liked his brother, the main character, Jonathon Bender.

Plus, there's the trailer for DEAR EVERYBODY.

This is stop #6 on my UK blog tour.

#106 Leslie F. Miller: The Cake Lady

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.

Update: Leslie's cake memoir, Let Me Eat Cake is now out.

More Leslie F. Miller

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Top 5: Novels You May Not Have Heard Of

I wrote a Top 5 (novels that you may not have heard of) for 3:AM Magazine. Plus, there's a bonus Top 5 for people who have heard of the first Top 5.

This is stop #4 on my UK blog tour.

Cream Tea with Lizzy Siddal

Lizzy Siddal gave DEAR EVERYBODY an amazing review at Lizzy's Literary Life in which she says: "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 nice interview in which we have cream tea and discuss the unspoken.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dear Everybody @ CityLit Festival

I'm reading from DEAR EVERYBODY at the CityLit Festival on Saturday, 1pm-2pm in the Poe Room (at the Enoch Pratt Library). There will be a ton of other readers and writers throughout the day--Christian Bauman, Jessica Anya Blau, Leslie Miller, Warren Brown, Mark Doty, Junot Diaz. There will be a panel on Michelle Obama.

349 Pieces

I wrote a short article about the writing of DEAR EVERYBODY for The View from Here, where I talk about how "I try to let a novel tell me what it is going to be." It's called "349 Pieces" because that's how many pieces make up the novel.

This is stop #3 on my UK blog tour.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

#163 The Fighting Poems of Paul Long

Paul Long was born in Cleveland, OH, and had a hectic childhood. The family moved often and Paul has lived in 10 different states including OH, MI, CT, MD, TN, MA, NC, VA, NY, and RI. It was difficult to keep moving and keep losing friends. It was difficult to keep trying to make new friends. A lot of times, Paul ate lunch alone. Writing became a release for him, creating a new world inside the one he lived in (when Paul was 8, somebody told him that he couldn’t write, as if it was illegal, and that’s when he decided to keep writing). In high school, Paul was the captain of the swim team and now he misses swimming, the discipline of getting up early in the morning and jumping into the water when it was cold, the back and forth of it. In college, Paul studied English and started writing stories with/for his best friend. They would sit in the library and create crazy stories that were often inspired by Grateful Dead songs. In graduate school, Paul met his wife, Kris, at Brown University, where they both received their MFAs. Kris is a playwright. Paul loves her stories and her smile. For now, Paul and Kris are living in MD, with their two Shitz Tsus (Annabel Lee and Conrad) and their two cats (Nickolai and Puchento), so Kris can pursue her PhD at the University of Maryland. Paul is teaching at BCCC and MICA and loves it. Working with inner city students in Baltimore has changed his life. Also, he is proud of the books of poetry that he has written so far and hopes to one day publish one. In the future, he will work on less abstraction and more physicality. He hopes that his poems will eventually bruise and pummel readers. Strange things happen to Paul a daily basis, but he tries to lead a normal life.

[Note #1: This postcard life story is part of a series of postcard life stories that appear in Keyhole #6 (guest edited by William Walsh), where all the contributor bios will be postcard life stories--the idea being to make every possible aspect of the magazine literature.]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Time Out NY on NY Tyrant

There is a nice article by Michael Miller in this week's Time Out New York about great literary magazines -- New York Tyrant, Agricultural Reader, Noon -- thriving while so much of publishing is crumbling all around us.

Dear Michael Kimball

I did an interview with the wonderful Susan Tomaselli -- she asked really smart questions -- for the wonderful Dogmatika. And then Susan Tomaselli did something amazing with the questions and answers. In the spirit of DEAR EVERYBODY, she spliced that interview with photos and reviews and postcards and trailers and her own notes. Plus, she mentions a connection to Oulipo, the first person to make that true obversation. Plus, the piece mentions that HTMLGIANT named me the International King of Postcards. Thank you, Susan Tomaselli.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

#160 Particularly Michael Martone

Michael Martone was born in 1955 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is one of the things that made Michael Martone particularly Michael Martone. Michael Martone’s childhood was like many childhoods at the end of the baby boom—happy, rich, optimistic. His mother was a high school English teacher and Michael Martone loved reading mythology—in part because the translator (Edith Hamilton) was from his hometown, in part because she made the mythology new. Growing up, Michael Martone loved to make model airplanes (each with its own nose mascot or variation of camo paint) and 54mm soldiers (the uniformity of uniforms, the slight variation in the details of the dress and how those details can be read)—theme and variation. In junior high school, Michael Martone wore black-and-white saddle shoes (for their black-and-white-ness). In high school, Michael Martone was mostly speech and debate, reading and writing, government and politics; he also wore black-and-white saddle shoes (because they were the first gym shoe). At Butler University and then at Indiana University, Michael Martone continued to wear black-and-white saddle shoes (for their iconic nature). Michael Martone graduated with a degree in English, and, for a while, worked in a bookstore. In graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, Michael met the poet Theresa Pappas. The first thing he noticed about her was the brightly colored socks she wore, and, after that, they got married. For all these years, Michael has admired her strength and her intensity, her devotion and her intelligence. The strangest thing Michael Martone ever did was become a father—two sons, Sam and Nick—but he loves the rewiring that takes place when one has children. For the past 30 years, Michael Martone has taught creative writing—at four different universities (now at the University of Alabama). At one university, at a party, a drunk colleague threw a drink at a woman student. The fallout from that gesture changed Michael Martone’s life in profound ways. It made him rethink and reimagine what it means to be a teacher, a writer, a man; his notions of what art is, what fiction is, what power is; what a family is and whether that should that be a model for a program, a department, or any job. Over the past 25 years, Michael Martone has published 12 books of fiction and nonfiction—including The Flatness and Other Landscapes (2000), Michael Martone (2005), Unconventions (2005), Double-Wide (collected fiction; 2007), and, most recently, Racing in Place (2008). Right now, Michael Martone is on a semester leave and hopes to finish up 3 or 4 books he’s been working on. He also wants to keep running, to start a compost heap, and to redesign his garden to include more vegetables. He wants to work harder to care and to not care. He wants to learn how to sit still. He stays in touch the best he can.

[Note #1: This postcard life story is part of a series of postcard life stories that appear in Keyhole #6 (guest edited by William Walsh), where all the contributor bios will be postcard life stories--the idea being to make every possible aspect of the magazine literature.]

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Hug or a Slap?

There's a nice interview at Me and My Big Mouth about DEAR EVERYBODY where Scott Packs asks me, among other things, whether I would hug or slap Jonathon Bender if he took corporeal form.

Scott also gave DEAR EVERYBODY a really great review last week where he says that DEAR EVERYBODY is "a wonderful, clever, imaginative and moving book. It really is quite something ... a fucking marvelous book." This is all part of my UK blog tour.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Only Thing Holding Me Together: A UK Review of DEAR EVERYBODY

There is a really nice review of DEAR EVERYBODY and it's up at Just William's Luck. William Rycroft wraps up the review with this: "... 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."

William and I also did an interview about DEAR EVERYBODY and that will be up at Just William's Luck on April 26th as part of my UK blog tour.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Me and My Big Mouth

There is a really great review of DEAR EVERYBODY and it's up at Me and My Big Mouth. Scott Pack says: "A wonderful, clever, imaginative and moving book. It really is quite something ... a fucking marvelous book."

Scott and I also did an interview about DEAR EVERYBODY and that will be up at Me and My Big Mouth on April 13th as part of my UK blog tour.

#159 The Great Imagination of Cooper Esteban

Cooper Esteban was born in 1953 in Dallas, TX. Growing up, he loved reading genre fiction—first mysteries, then science fiction, then (with Tolkien) fantasy. He also read lots of ancient history, Biblical history, mythology, and these bodies of knowledge began working their way into Cooper’s poems fairly early—when he started writing poetry in high school. Gerard Manley Hopkins was one of Cooper’s early idols, which may have something to do with his affinity for the sonnet and a vigorous syntax. In college, he studied English literature and history, and ancient (mostly Roman) history. After college, he worked for several thousand years in public education (both a teacher and a librarian, though generally not at the same time), during which time he continued to write poetry. Mostly, Cooper was a school librarian (where he also wrote reviews for School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Criticas), though he also taught junior high and high school and even a bit of college. He was almost totally unknown and barely published when The Quarterly’s Gordon Lish pulled him out of the slush pile in the late '80s--interested, presumably, in the fact that some of his poems were quite formal, and perhaps in the way Cooper approached subject matter and didn't much write solipsism. Cooper claims to have lived a very mundane daily life, but his poems are the product of a great imagination. Of course, we can only presume Cooper’s tremendous interior life. In 2006, Cooper’s translation of Mario Bellatin's Chinese Checkers: Three Fictions was published. Later that year, Cooper retired to a life of reading, writing, drawing, and traveling. In 2007, his beautiful collection of poems Mosefolket was published. He continues to review books and edit the wonderful (one of the first and best online literary magazines). Cooper is currently trying to place a couple of oddball literary thrillers and has just moved to Alamo, TX on the Mexican border.

Cooper’s collection of poems, Mosefolket.
Cooper is the great editor behind
One of Cooper’s drawings.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The UK Paperback of DEAR EVERYBODY

I have loved my UK publishers ever since 4th Estate took on my first novel, The Way the Family Got Away, after 119 other publishers had rejected it. Now Alma Books has just put out the UK paperback of Dear Everybody (US paperback coming in September) and I’m excited to be doing a two-week tour of the vibrant UK blogosphere starting next week.

April 13th *Me & My Big Mouth*
April 15th *Dogmatika*
April 17th *The View From Here*
April 18th *3am Magazine*
April 19th *Lizzy’s Literary Life*
April 20th *Digital Fiction Show*
April 21st *Planting Words*
April 23rd *Elizabeth Baines*
April 25th *Writing Neuroses*
April 26th *Just William's Luck*

If any other UK bloggers or reviewers would like a review copy, please leave a comment here and I’ll ask the good Daniel Seton of Alma Books to post one to you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

#158 The Adventures of Patrick King

Patrick King was born in San Antonio, Texas, where his dad was getting military training, and the family kept moving for his dad’s Army job until Pat was 6--New Jersey, Germany, then Frederick, Maryland, where he spent kindergarten. On the first day of school, he remembers holding hands with Mandy Devis as they got on the school bus. After that, the family moved to Upstate NY, a small town outside of Ithaca while his dad finished his PhD in biology at Cornell, after which the family moved to Thailand for his research. Pat spent one semester of 4th grade in Bangkok, Thailand. Then his mom left his dad that summer and his dad sent Pat and his two brothers back to the states to be with her in Upstate NY. His parents divorced soon afterward, which, secretly, Pat liked. It was something that the other kids didn't have, but he did miss seeing his dad. After his 12th birthday, Pat turned inward, got shy and depressed, cut himself off from his friends. His only friend for 2 years was his brother Dave. It was a horrible time, but it was also when Pat started writing in notebooks. Just before his 15th birthday, Pat’s mother moved the family to Birmingham (where her family was) and he was insanely glad to be leaving Ithaca. He decided he would start over with a new life and make new friends. He threw away his notebooks and decided to make up stories about his past. Pat always hated the structure, and, in 7th grade, he almost flunked out. In high school, Pat’s grades always ranged from terrible to decent. He never got an A in anything until college, but, eventually, he dropped out. Pat has nightmares where he flunks out of college—though that isn’t what happened. He thought he had learned all he needed to learn and could do the rest on his own. In early 2006, Pat left his wife. Their lives were going in different directions—she wanted the bourgeois and he wanted the bohemian. So one night around 1am, he packed his stuff up in his brother Mike's car and they took off for Philadelphia. Pat left her with all the bills and the cats and an empty apartment. It was probably the cruelest thing he’s ever done. He didn't care then because he was going on a crazy adventure (and he wouldn’t be his dad's son if he wasn't an adventure-seeking, book-loving, half-mad artist), but he’s ashamed of it now. By 2007, Pat was divorced, living with his dad, and back in Maryland to start over again. He met Katie online and liked how smart she is and what a great artist she is. Also, she doesn't mind his vices. Right now, Pat works in a grocery store and is also working on a book of essays about his travels and the women in his life. Pat would like to marry Katie (there is something special about being legally bound to somebody else) and produce weird offspring and go on adventures together.

Outsider Writers

Monday, April 6, 2009

#157 The Happy-Go-Lucky Life of Jill Cary

Jill Cary (Jillian to her parents) was born in Pembury, Kent, UK. Her parents split up when she was 5 and, after that, she lived with her mother and her sister, Fiona, which made them very close. Jill used to visit her father, stepmother, Eve, and three half-sisters (Jen, Carol and Sarah) every other Sunday. She still wonders how her life would have been different if her parents hadn’t divorced, but is glad she gained three more sisters. Her mother found a new partner, David, when Jill was about 8 and they moved to a new house when she was 13. Jill had a happy childhood living in Matfield and the memories get happier the older she gets. She went to Brenchley and Matfield Primary School where she met friends who she is still really close to some 20-odd years later. Not knowing what to do after school, Jill applied for lots of different jobs and got hired at El Parido because they knew she had print in her blood. Her father was a printer and Jill is a graphic designer (like her sister) and does a little web design. In 1998, Jill met Tom in a Cornwall nightclub called Berties. She was 18 and working; Tom was 17 and still in school. They had a holiday romance, swapped addresses, and then both went to their different homes. They had a long distance romance for about a year—letters and phone calls, visiting each other once or twice a month—until Tom moved to live nearby Jill. Later, they moved in together, and, in 2002, they bought their first house. In 2003, they got engaged, and then, in 2006, they got married, at Salomons—a lovely day that even the rain couldn’t ruin. They honeymooned in Australia and New Zealand—a dream of Jill’s that Tom surprised her with on the Valentine’s Day before their wedding. One of the strangest things that has happened to Jill happened one night when she woke bolt upright at 3am and felt as if she should say goodbye to her grandfather. Later, she found out that 3am was the time he died. There were so many wonderful people at her grandfather’s funeral who had such nice things to say about him that it inspires Jill to be just like him—kind and funny, which she very much is. Now it’s 2 years later and Jill and Tom are even more in love than they were when they got married. At work, Blaze, she’s very happy with her promotion to assistant studio manager. At home, she’s looking forward to starting a family with Tom, though it's really not happening as fast as they'd like. Still, Jillian is smiley, which matches her happy-go-lucky life.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Blake Butler Asked Me to Guest Edit Lamination Colony and I Said Yes

I guest edited Blake Butler’s Lamination Colony and the issue looks amazing. Blake asked me what I wanted it to look like and then he made it look like that. It’s all different-colored boxes that you have to scroll over until a name pops up and then you click on that some-colored box and there is something for you to love there. There are 100 boxes and 38 writers and over 60 pieces.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shaindel Beers: On the Hood of a Cutlass Supreme Tour

I met Shaindel Beers through my life story project. She was one of the first people to step up and I have admired her fearlessness ever since. So I was happy to participate in her blog tour, On the Hood of a Cutlass Supreme Tour.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME is Shaindel Beers’ first collection of poetry. It is at once an exploration of what it is to grow up in rural America and a treatise for social justice. These poems, many of them award-winning, span a wide range of styles—from plainsong free verse to sestinas to nearly epic works.

Michael Kimball: When you signed up with Salt Publishing, it was a two-book deal. Could you talk a little about that and a little about how you decided which poems would go into A Brief History of Time and which poems would go in the second book?

Shaindel Beers: Sure. I think what I’m learning more and more as a writer is just to go with those crazy ideas that you’re not sure of because they seem too crazy. After all, my two-book deal came out of a crazy idea. Basically, A Brief History of Time is made up of poems I wrote and crafted during graduate school (my MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts—I also have a Master’s degree in Humanities split between British literature and Philosophy from the University of Chicago, but that’s sort of a different world), and a few poems written since then. It’s a collection I was sending out in minorly different variations since 2005 or so. And it’s definitely a separate body of work from my second collection I’m working on.

My second collection, The Children’s War, came to me as an idea when did a story on children’s drawings in Darfur illustrating the atrocities there. I became obsessed with the drawings and started writing a poem on each one. Then, I learned that child psychologists have been using art therapy in war-torn areas since the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, so I started looking at those drawings and drawings done by children living through nearly every war since then. This was an obsession during summer break last year, where I hardly left the couch for a week once I got the idea; I was just poring over children’s drawings and writing. I got a little worried about myself, so I asked Lee (my husband) if he thought it was a good idea and showed him what I was working on and sent a few of the poems to friends. I read a few of them on a radio interview I did, and when I was sending my manuscript to Salt, I was a bit short of their page requirement for a manuscript, so I sent the seven or eight Children’s War poems I had at the time. I was really honest that they didn’t feel like they belonged in the same book, but that I knew they were something and that I was trying to meet their page requirement for a full book. I couldn’t believe it when Chris Hamilton-Emery from Salt called and offered me a two-book deal for A Brief History of Time, my completed manuscript, and for The Children’s War, if I thought I could come up with enough poems on children’s war drawings. I was elated.

Kimball: Publishing can be so difficult, so I love to hear stories like that. I want to ask you more about The Children’s War, but I’ll save that for next time. There’s a poem early in A Brief History of Time that’s titled “Elegy for a Past Life” and that title, that idea, animates a lot of the poems in the collection.

Beers: I guess I’m a big believer in the notion that “you can’t go home again.” Either home will have changed since you left it or you will have changed since you’ve been there, and you’ll see it differently. There was something really idyllic about growing up somewhere so rural that if you didn’t want to see anybody all day, you didn’t have to. I could just get on my bike or take off walking and be in my own head for as long as I needed to be, and I think it helped me to grow up, being alone with my thoughts like that. I hate to sound biased, but I almost feel like it made some of the people in my little town some of the deepest thinkers I’ve ever met. My high school friends and I would just walk (or ride bikes or horses) for miles outside of town and talk about any topic you could imagine. My high school boyfriend who “Elegy for a Past Life” is about got a word processor when we were together (yes, this was before computers), and we would write stories together, taking turns sentence by sentence, for hours.

I never realized how different a lot of the outside world was until I was somewhere else. I went to college in Montgomery, Alabama, which was a different universe in a lot of ways than Indiana. I think the biggest culture shock was the amount of money everyone seemed to have. It’s not fair to say “everyone” because there were other students at my college on scholarship, but it seemed like almost everyone had been living in an entirely different world than the one I grew up in. I still remember things I said during some college classes, and, looking back, I think, “Wow…I must have sounded like such a hick.”

I even did have a boyfriend later in college who re-taught me how to say certain words. It was very My Fair Lady. I used to say cement as “See-Ment” and vehicle as “vee-hick-al” and a bunch of other things that would have been embarrassing to have kept saying my entire life. On the one hand, it’s very sad and classist and patriarchal that he did that, but on the other hand, I’m sure it’s helped in the very real, prejudiced world in which we live.

I think of stories that some of my friends who grew up in really different lifestyles have told me, and when I was younger, I might have envied them, but I don’t now. It doesn’t sound interesting to have gone to concerts or movies every weekend or to have had crazy parties at someone’s house where there were more people at the party than in my entire high school. I think the quiet life I grew up with was training me to be a writer all along.

Kimball: I grew up in an ungrammatical family and I often think that that way of talking made me into the kind of fiction writer I am today. Are there other parts of your biography that were formative for you as a poet?

Beers: I’ve tried and tried to come up with a different answer than what I’m going to write, but I can’t. I think growing up around a lot of chaos made me realize that anything could happen. By chaos, I think I mean “mental illness,” but that sounds a lot sadder and less poetic than I wanted to sound. You’ve already written about my kidnapping when I was four on life story blog, and I talk about it in my poem, “Flashback.” Basically, one day, my mom just told my little sister and me to put our favorite toys in a laundry basket, and she put us in the car, and we drove from Indiana to Texas. I think I learned early on that life is unpredictable. I don’t know if my mom had a plan at all, but we stayed with the most amazing array of people. We stayed with her friend Vangie (short for Evangelina). One of my memories of that is that Vangie’s family would speak Spanish when it was just them together, and I woke up and heard a lot of Spanish, then the word “burritos,” which I recognized. I woke my mother up, “They’re having burritos!” She tried to tell me I was dreaming and to go back to sleep, but when we got up, there were breakfast burritos.

We also stayed with a friend of my mother’s named Nancy. She was blind and had a little Pomeranian I was obsessed with, but the dog did not like children and always snapped at me. I was still always crawling under the kitchen table to try to pet him. I remember loving to touch Nancy’s Braille newspapers and being fascinated that she could read that way, when I couldn’t read at all yet.

Another person we stayed with was Mrs. Thompson. I remember that she was a complete stranger, just an old lady sitting on the porch with a border collie, and my mom stopped the car, told Mrs. Thompson her story, and asked if we could stay there.
We stayed with a lot of other people, but this is just the abbreviated version. And this was all when I was four.

My dad also had great stories about his brother (my Uncle Jack) who had been Bobby Fischer’s best friend and was mentioned on the first page of Brad Darrach’s Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World. I only met Jack once. He came to visit when I was in, maybe, eighth or ninth grade, and he had a paranoid delusion that we had had him injected with the AIDS virus (he had gotten a booster shot while he visited us since he hadn’t been to a doctor in forever) and that our whole town was in on it. When he got back to New York, he would call my dad crying, begging him for the antidote and asking why we would do that to him. I don’t know how long that went on, but I’m sure it was at least a year.

There are many, many other family stories like this, but it made me realize that life is unpredictable. Sometimes my students will write works (fiction and poetry), which aren’t at all surprising, and I think, “Wow. They must have had boring lives if they think this is exciting.” Growing up with a lot of mental illness around meant that anything could happen, or at least people could believe that anything could happen. I had a cousin take her kids and her brother’s kids out into a field with a jar full of change to wait for Jesus, and it was so cold they all could have frozen to death; a relative from my grandmother’s generation shot all of her kids, and it was the truancy officer who discovered the crime scene when he came to see why the kids hadn’t come to school. Anything can happen, and that’s, perhaps, the most important ingredient in creative writing.