Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#99 Jessica Anya Blau and The Summer of Naked Swim Parties

At 4, Jessica Anya Blau thought that kids were strange and had no friends her own age; she didn’t want to play Butts and Vaginas with them. Her best friend was a 70-year-old widow who let Jessica play with her sock monkey. At 5, Jessica fell in love with the 5-year-old boy who lived across the street after he told her that he was 25 years old. At 7, Jessica’s father’s job moved the family from Ann Arbor to Santa Barbara and they lived in a lemon orchard. This turned Jessica into a sunny California girl and she made lots of friends. As got older, she wore a bathing suit everywhere she went and had a deep tan that made her look like one giant freckle. Jessica studied French at Berkeley and gained a lot of weight without realizing it (she thought that the Laundromat was shrinking her clothes). She met her good-looking first husband at the college pub and they lived in a mansion that he was housesitting. They got married in a park in Berkeley and Jessica bought clothes for a department store. They moved to Toronto and Jessica couldn’t work in Canada (though she did some, illegally), so she started writing. She sent one story out to one place and it was accepted. Jessica kept writing. They got a dog, but Jessica had always wanted to be a mother. Jessica felt her body change and knew that she was pregnant. Her body kept changing until she felt huge, uncomfortable, ridiculous—and then her first daughter was born. There were marriage problems and Jessica applied to graduate school. She was accepted into the writing program at Johns Hopkins University and moved to Baltimore. Her first husband stayed in Toronto and that was how their marriage ended. Jessica loved Hopkins and writing and felt liberated. She met her second husband, the unbelievably wonderful David Grossbach, at Sam’s Bagels. He looked her up in the phone book after he got home and then they got married and then Jessica’s second daughter was born. After that, Jessica wrote and then published The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and felt, after all those years of writing, that she had finally made it. And she had. And everybody was happy that she had.

Jessica Anya Blau and The Summer of Naked Swim Parties
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#97 Lynn Alexander: Witness to the Suppressed Narrative

Lynn Alexander’s childhood was kind of strange because her father got custody of her and her siblings when her parents got divorced. Her father is amazing. He supported her mother even after the divorce and sometimes she lived in the house with the rest of the family. One of Lynn’s favorite childhood memories is watching the Sunday news shows with her father, which is probably why she’s still a news junkie. Lynn went to Stony Brook University and then to New York University, which changed her life. She became interested in social work because of a job she had working nights in a rough neighborhood. She mostly served coffee and let people linger when they had very few places where they could be. There were all kinds off people—runaway kids, prostitutes, crack addicts, seniors with limited money who took their spouses out to share a coffee. Once, she found a dead man frozen outside. Another time, she found a baby left in a car while its mother turned a trick. After this, she applied to social work school, and then worked at a psychiatric hospital. During this time, Lynn learned what it was like to be a single parent, broke, trying to go to college, working nights. She learned about exhaustion and about living in survival mode. She learned how to make things without art supplies, using things around the house—magazines, junk mail, packages—making collages, “rock women” out of Rolling Stone magazines, strong vibrant women who resembled the opposite of how she felt at the time. She made things with her daughter, who needed to know about such women. These collages were both escapist and celebratory. They were symbolic and they were triumphant. She learned about the way art can change lives. This combined with the study of social issues broadened her awareness and re-affirmed her commitment to combining work with making a difference in people’s lives. Now Lynn is a social worker, policy researcher, activist, writer, and poet. She’s a mother and a wife and married to a supportive, caring person. She’s an artist and it is the artist who is the witness to the suppressed narrative.

More Lynn Alexander

Even More Lynn Alexander
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You Can Go Home Again

It was kind of great to go back home to Michigan and to MSU. I talked with writing classes and gave readings and did Q&As and it was all different and all good because I had never done any of those things in the place where I grew up. It was a kind of passage and I loved that my mother and my sister came to each of the readings in Lansing, East Lansing, and Detroit. I loved that some of my childhood neighbors showed up and that some of my cousins did and and that my niece and nephew who go to MSU did and that some of my high school friends did--and that this was the first reading that a lot of them had ever been to. I got to meet Josh Maday, who has done a ton to help get the word out on Dear Everybody with a review and an interview. I got to meet Matt Bell who wrote a grew review for the LA Times and then blogged about the reading at MOCA in Detroit. Gina Myers also came out to MOCAD and it's always nice to see her and I loved that she blogged about my mom and my sister. For the record, I never tried to burn the house down.
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#96 Jamie Lin Is Perfect

Jamie Lin’s grandmother was sold to her grandfather’s family when she was 8 and she worked until she was old enough to be a bride (16yo). Jamie was born in China and her family moved to NYC when she was 8. The biggest difference was the snow. Jamie did not see her dad much and her mom worked at the sweat factory—where Jamie used to play, thinking it a magical place. Once, her dad told her to do the dishes, but she didn’t because she didn’t know him that well. Sometimes, she still feels bad about that. Her dad is the sweetest person. At first, Jamie was oblivious to American culture and she didn’t have friends outside of her ESL class. At 10, Jamie’s family relocated to the suburbs of New York. The first apartment they lived in had one bedroom, a storage room where Jamie slept, and a living room where her brother slept. She read lots of books and her favorites were The Boxcar Children where the kids controlled their own lives. After middle school, her English got a lot better and she joined the high school newspaper and literary magazine (she started out writing supernatural novels). At the time, she was infatuated with a Russian boy with a mischievous smile, but he was shorter than her so she never expressed her feelings. Jamie had body image issues. For two years, she wore the same two vests over and over again to cover her bulge. Her mom would tell her that she needed to lose weight and she would tell herself that her nose was too big for her face. Jamie did not feel invincible when she was a teenager. During high school, her two closest friends were white and Jamie learned to become more American from them. Now people can hardy distinguish her from other Americans, just a slight Chinese accent. In 2005, Jamie was introduced to Zoetrope and the online literary community—and everything changed. She learned about flash fiction and how to write stories that didn’t suck. Jamie thought she would become a completely different person once she got to college, but she didn’t. She was quite depressed during her first year, but was comforted by the idea of starting over. Now at almost 20, Jamie has found her two passions—writing and promoting social justice. She is deliriously happy, for once in her life, to be different from everybody else. She weighs more than she did in high school, but she has never felt so perfect and so proud to be exactly who she is.

More Jamie Lin
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Human Destiny Starkly Illuminated

There's a profile on all three of my novels in this week's City Paper, in which human destiny is starkly illuminated and and I am compared to a small woodland creature and it is revealed that I have miles-deep brown eyes.
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#94: Tim Hall: Bohemian Rat + Yuppie Queen = Bohemian Prince

Tim Hall has born into a family of English majors and has always loved reading. Besides this, though, his home life was often difficult. His father was a neglectful alcoholic and his mother hated his father. The family was repeatedly evicted from houses. When Tim was 10 years old, his parents divorced and he read The Hobbit—both of which led to Tim creating his own world. He began writing fantasy novels and serialized them for his classmates, though he sometimes got into trouble with his teachers for doing this. Tim continued writing and saw his father sporadically after the divorce. Through junior high, it became more difficult to keep the real world at bay. Tim’s mother often used him as a little soldier in the war against his dad. He developed ADD and couldn’t concentrate enough to write anymore. London Calling came out and he became a punk rocker. Tim often fought with his father and then his father died. Tim was still in high school and his last words to his father were, Fuck you. Tim doesn’t feel badly about this. It seems fitting. Tim went to college and dropped out. He drank a lot and played in hard rock bands. This was most of Tim’s 20’s. Then Tim realized the bad effects that alcohol had had on his family and he quit drinking. He quit music and quit a bad relationship and he returned to writing--founding Typism, co-founding Blacksmiths For Literary Progress, writing the novel Half Empty, and writing the story collection Triumph Of The Won't. These good changes in his life led a friend to set him up on a blind date with the woman who became his wife. Tim was stunned by her when he first saw her and has been living under her dazzling beauty and genuine kindness ever since. He was the bohemian rat and she was the yuppie queen and their little boy George is now the bohemian prince.

More Tim Hall

Buy Tim's new book Full of It
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DEAR EVERYBODY, So Far

DEAR EVERYBODY has been out for one good month+ and it’s been great. There was an early review in the Greenpoint Gazette that says DEAR EVERYBODY is "inventive and often extremely funny, but it will also break your heart. Michael Kimball is one of the most talented and original writers in America today. You should read his books."

Then there was a rave in Time Out New York's Fall Preview: "Michael Kimball Reinvents the Suicide Letter" where Michael Miller calls the writing “stunning” while also saying other nice things.

There was an a big excerpt of DEAR EVERYBODY in the September Urbanite and then they also ran an interview online that covers a lot of ground—everything from my first novel to DEAR EVERYBODY to what I eat for breakfast. Thank you, Hannah Spangler, for asking the questions (it was her first interview). And thank you, Marianne Amoss, for making it happen.

Rafael Alvarez (one of the writers who made The Wire great) wrote a profile in the Sunday edition of The Examiner. It's about the cross-country trip I took to revise the first draft of THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY.

And then there was a really nice review by the wonderful Josh Maday at New Pages. I tried to figure out how to just quote a tease line, but I couldn't. Here's the whole last paragraph: "Kimball writes with such deep emotion and crafts his sentences with such mastery that he sweeps away his own footprints and allows the reader unhindered access to the story. The fragmented nature of the book makes it an addictive read, giving the reader regular breaks while at the same time drawing them along. I often found myself thinking, 'Just one more letter. One more diary entry. One more interview,' until it was time to go back to the beginning and start over. With Dear Everybody, Michael Kimball achieves the perfect balance of form and content, comedy and tragedy – all without sliding into melodrama or sentimentality, instead evoking genuine emotion that will remain with readers far beyond the last page."

The playlist for DEAR EVERYBODY is up at Largehearted Boy's Book Notes (an author creates and discusses a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published book). Largehearted Boy's David Gutowski says: "Dear Everybody is a cleverly constructed book that balances pathos and humor exquisitely, and proves Michael Kimball to be a master storyteller."

Gregg Wilhelm gave a very nice plug to DEAR EVERYBODY on WYPR's Maryland Morning: “quite a literary feat … the character of Jonathon Bender is stripped down to his emotional core.”

There's a great new literary magazine: No Colony, edited by Ken Baumann and Blake Butler, and it had two excerpts from DEAR EVERYBODY--the Chronology and a To-Do List.

And then the great first week+ for DEAR EVERYBODY closed out with a wonderful review in the Sunday LA Times. Matt Bell closes the review with this line: "There is a whole life contained in this slim novel, a life as funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking as any other, rendered with honest complexity and freshness by Kimball's sharp writing." I'm really happy for DEAR EVERYBODY.

The wonderful people of Keyhole Magazine made me a featured author. What does that mean? Well, that means there's a interview where Jonathan Bergey and his voice ask me excellent questions and then I try to answer them; it comes in two forms, podcast and words that you can read. Then there's a review of DEAR EVERYBODY by the amazing Blake Butler that put me in a state in which I could not describe what it said to my wife. Plus, there's a brief conversation that the good Karen Lillis and I had about a subject that is close to both of us, feeling in fiction. Plus, plus, there are excerpts from DEAR EVERYBODY. Thank you, Peter Cole, for pulling all of this together.

There was an interview that I did with Managing Editor Dave Rosenthal in Sunday's Baltimore Sun. Now the interview is up on their books blog, Read Street. Because of space the paper doesn't include the questions, just the topic and the answers. I say things like this: "I had about 400 fragments on different pieces of paper spread out in my dining room."

Also, I love this. I love Brandi Wells.

Then there was an interview at Word Riot that I did with Josh Maday. We talk a lot about DEAR EVERYBODY, but also Faulkner, Beckett, and Andre the Giant. The interview was the very first interview I did about DEAR EVERYBODY, though it appeared after other interviews. And Josh was also the very first person to ask for a review copy way back when, which I want to thank him for here, because that early support, well, honestly, it's a huge relief to get that. Thanks, Josh.

There is also photographic evidence of people reading DEAR EVERYBODY.

This next one made me really happy. I've been reading Bookslut for at least 5 years and now I'm an Indie Heartthrob.

After that, I was reading our copy of Baltimore Magazine (we have a subscription) and was surprised when I turned the page and saw the cover of DEAR EVERYBODY on Page 56. It's a really nice review by John Lewis in his Read It column. I couldn't find it online, but here are my favorite bits: "Lightning has struck again with this Baltimorean's book ... Kimball's protagonist possesses an emotional clarity that makes his eventual suicide all the more believable and tragic. ... You feel his pain."

Then the good Joseph Young wrote a very nice review of DEAR EVERYBODY that just went up at JMWW. Here are my favorite bits: "entirely unique ... Kimball has written a book of beauty. It's a sad book and a wonderful one."

And the last thing, so far—I grew up in Michigan and went to school at Michigan State University. I've never gone back to Michigan as a writer, so I'm looking forward to this trip back home. I'll be talking to classes at MSU and giving a bunch of readings: October 7, MSU Library; October 8, Schuler Books in Lansing; October 9, MOCA in Detroit. In support of that, Bill Castanier at City Pulse wrote a nice profile/review of DEAR EVERYBODY. You can go home again?
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#52 Josh Maday: Satisfaction in the Things He Makes

Josh Maday was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and grew up near there in an almost childless subdivision. He has wonderful parents, but has struggled with depression since the second grade. Eventually, he learned to push those feelings down, but, directed inward, he grew to hate himself—for not fitting in, for not being a better athlete (even though he was a three-sport athlete), for not being good enough for anyone (even though his father attended every game he played and his mother loved him very much and Sarah eventually would too). Josh grew up stoic, stone-faced, and after high school he worked as a mason’s laborer, which he hated. Around the same time, he fell in love with Sarah, which was easy to do, and he began to have other feelings inside him. He kept laying blocks and bricks so that he could marry Sarah. He continued to build things up and his debilitating low periods were no longer so low. Sarah’s tireless positive outlook began to change Josh’s self-image. He began to understand that people didn’t actually despise him, that that was just a function of clinical depression. The chemical situation that often derailed his life was being corrected. The other thing that changed the way that Josh felt inside was reading. Josh found consolation in big ideas, unanswerable questions, and reading books. As his personal library grew to over 5K books, Josh began to turn his complex interior life into his own stories, which are often strange in content and/or form. He does not see the point of writing a traditional realist story. Anybody could do that and Josh is not just anybody, a fact that he now accepts, along with his tendency toward the dark, grotesque, heavy, weird, and satirical. And Josh now finds satisfaction in the things he makes—whether with bricks, with words, or with love. Sarah has taught Josh to care about someone else and their first child is due in September. He is excited. There are so many good things that are going to happen in his life.

Disseminating Josh Maday
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Going Home to Michigan

I grew up in Michigan and went to school at Michigan State University. I've never gone back to Michigan as a writer, so I'm looking forward to this trip back home. I'll be talking to classes at MSU and giving a bunch of readings: October 7, MSU Library; October 8, Schuler Books in Lansing; October 9, MOCA in Detroit. In support of that, Bill Castanier at City Pulse wrote a nice profile/review of DEAR EVERYBODY.
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Life-Changing Art

John Lewis of Baltimore Magazine asked me to write a short piece about a piece of life-changing art. I chose Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-1951).
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#93 Myfanwy Collins: Terrifying and Exhilarating


Myfanwy Collins was born in Montreal, Canada during the 1967 World’s Fair. By 5, she had a crush on James Garner from the Rockford Files. She wrote her first short story in first grade—about a girl and her dog who run away from home but actually live under the porch. At 10, her parents separated and then her father died unexpectedly in his sleep, which may explain Myfanwy’s lifelong insomnia. Her mother remarried 5 months later and her new step-dad moved the family to a small town in upstate New York. Myfanwy liked her new step-dad at first; he was nice, but then he became an abusive alcoholic just like her biological father had been. Myfanwy loved going to school—because it got her away from home—and she was glad when her step-dad died of cancer of when she was 16. In college, she took a full load of classes, worked full-time, and dated an older guy who worked as a prison guard. Myfanwy could have been a high school English teacher when she graduated, but after one of her students asked her to go to the prom with him she decided to go to graduate school instead. That was when her boyfriend cheated on her and broke up with her. She didn’t expect to be so glad that that happened, but she started to have a lot of fun. She stopped writing her thesis (she wanted to write fiction anyway—and did) and went on the road with Cirque du Soleil. After that, there were some other jobs and other boyfriends, but all that matters is that she met Allen. They have always had a chemical connection and she loves how open and how funny he is. They got married and tried for years to have a baby, but couldn’t. In 2001, her mother died from lung cancer and that was a huge heartbreak. Myfanwy quit everything and she traveled with Allen from national park to national park throughout the US and Canada. Eventually, they went home. In 2006, Myfanwy unexpectedly became pregnant. It was terrifying and exhilarating. She knew that she was carrying her whole family inside her--a new life was beginning and then Henry was born and everybody is pretty happy about that.
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Joseph Young on DEAR EVERYBODY

The good Joseph Young wrote a very nice review of DEAR EVERYBODY that just went up at JMWW. Here are my favorite bits: "entirely unique ... Kimball has written a book of beauty. It's a sad book and a wonderful one."
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