Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#86 Jen Michalski: Unchanging and So New

Jen Michalski’s twin brother, Scott, came out first, but his nose and ear were all bent up. His nose still looks a little smashed. Of course, this early struggle just made Jen even more ambitious. When Jen and Scott were toddlers, their mom used to dress them up in matching outfits even though they were fraternal twins, one a boy and one a girl. Their mother would take them shopping to department stores and they would sit on the mannequin stands and sing songs from Sesame Street (today, Jen has a mannequin in her house). Their mother always knew where they were. When Jen was 4, she learned to say Fuck You from her father. But all the fighting in the family made her reserved in some ways. Jen’s filter became quite thick and sometimes she'd rather say nothing than risk what the response might be. Around this same time, Jen decided that she wanted to be an elephant when she grew up. She thought it was a viable career choice. She thought that elephants looked peaceful and that they must be brave (there aren't many hiding places for an elephant). Over the years, Jen wanted to be an elephant, then a writer, then a policewoman, then a writer, then a doctor, then a writer. She wrote her first short story when she was 5 and she read everything she could find--to try to find out how other people lived. She assumed that everybody else was happier than she was. By the time she started college, Jen had written six novels. In college, she wrote poetry. After college, she wrote short stories and two more novels, but she never tried to publish them. Also after college, she was in a relationship for eleven years, which was difficult to end. Jen doesn't like change. She doesn't even like going on vacation because then she has to get used to a new routine. She has lived in the same city for most of her life (B’more!). Now, Jen’s much much happier with her life and especially with her new partner, the wonderful Phuong. And Jen still reads all the time and runs an online e-zine, jmww, where she publishes other people's stories. She’s fascinated by what people write and why. And last year, Jen published her first collection of stories, Close Encounters (So New Media). Now she’s writing another novel and this one she’s going to publish.

[Note: Jen and I co-host The 510 Readings (see article, below). Plus, the new issue of her online journal JMWW just went live.]
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The 510 Readings in Baltimore Magazine

There's a really nice article in January's Baltimore Magazine about The 510 Readings, which I host with the wonderful Jen Michalski. Thank you, Jason Tinney. Thank you, Peggy and Minas.

#54 The Short Life of Red Delicious Apple

The first thing that Red Delicious Apple remembered was being a flower and the way the birds sounded in the trees. Later, Apple remembered the wind and losing his petals. Apple wanted to jump down after them, but stayed on the branch, in the tree. Apple grew up, got wider, filled out, and began changing colors. He hung on by the stem even as the others began falling to the ground. He was afraid until the hand reached up, pulled him off the branch, and piled him in a bushel basket. Apple said goodbye to tree and brought his stem with him, a few small leaves, but he didn’t know where they were taking him. He bumped against the others and was afraid. The next thing that Apple remembered was the bright lights, another hand, and a plastic bag. He thought that maybe he was being suffocated, but he still trusted the hand, which eventually placed him in a small basket with others he didn’t recognize. There was a green and fat-bottomed couple, a small gang of long and spotted yellows. It wasn’t long after that, though, that the hand delivered Apple to the teeth. Apple could feel the teeth cutting through his skin and into his meat, what was left of his insides turning brown, sickening, softening. The last thing Apple remembered was the trashcan, the lid, the rotting darkness.
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There is a wonderful writer and editor, J. A. Tyler, doing wonderful things over at Mud Luscious Press where a chapbook called SOME OF THE LETTERS THAT WERE CUT, BUT THAT TELL EVEN MORE OF THE STORY OF JONATHON BENDER, WEATHERMAN (b. 1967-d.1999) is now available for pre-order ($2, including shipping). The press run is limited and each chapbook always sells out.

There have also been, are, or will be chapbooks from Kim Chinquee, Blake Butler, Shane Jones, Brandi Wells, Brian Evenson, Peter Markus, David Ohle, and a bunch more great writers.
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New Year's Day Marathon at Creative Alliance

I'm reading at the New Year's Day Marathon at Creative Alliance with 50+ other writers, performers, musicians. Everybody gets 7 minutes. I'm on 2:45-2:52.

Here's the promo paragraph: Celebrate the New Year with a wildly diverse day of spoken word and music. Join Baltimore son and writer for The Wire Rafael Alvarez, Charm City Kitty Club star Rahne Alexander, Underground Poetry Godfather Blaster Al Ackerman, Yao, Aware and Outraged (Ron Kipling Williams and Moziah), and local literary luminaries Chezia Thompson Cager, Mary Azrael, Kendra Kopelke, and Michael Kimball. Other musical guests include Liz Downing, John Berndt, Cliff and Rocky, and award-winning classical guitarist Zane Forshee. Throw in Maryland's Poetry Out Loud Champion Will Poxon, the Baltimore Improv Group, poetry animations (and many more fabulous people/acts we can't list them here) and you've got one awesome creative community all gathered under the Patterson's roof for an epic day of poetry, in the spirit of the annual marathon festival at St. Mark's Church in NYC. PLUS: write a verse on our poetry wall, put your New Years Resolutions in the hat to be read from the stage! Special thanks to Laurie Flannery for bringing us this cool idea! Hot, delicious Southern Style Brunch buffet (Black Eyed Peas!) and full cash bar (bloodies and mimosas!) Benefits CA’s Open Minds kids art ed. programs.

New Year's Day, 11am-5pm. $5.

Seven Things

The wonderful Gena Mohwish tagged me and I am glad to have been chosen. I am supposed to say 7 things about myself and then tag 7 other people to do the same thing.

1. I was born in 1967 in the days after the Great Midwest Blizzard.
2. Once, when I was looking up at the ceiling, a piece of plaster fell in my eye (it really hurts).
3. I don’t have a favorite color.
4. One of my nephews told me that I still hold the record for the 600-yard run at Meryl S. Colt Elementary School, which I probably set in 1978. It was part of the Presidential Physical Fitness program, but I never got the patch because I could never do enough pull-ups.
5. I like it when old classmates get in touch through Facebook.
6. Sometimes I am afraid to tell people what my favorite movies are.
7. I know that none of these things actually says much about me.

I'm going to tag 7 people who recently left me blog comments: Shane Jones, Anonymous, Peter Cole, Katrina Denza, Shanti Perez, Karen Lillis, Jen Michalski.
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I'm Guest Editing Lamination Colony

I'm guest editing Blake Butler's online journal Lamination Colony and thought you might want to send something for it. I'm looking for the dark, the beautiful, the strange, the formally inventive, etc. Also, since it's online, and reading is different online than offline, I'm looking for the very short. There are guidelines here.
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#50 The Farsightedness of Peter Cole

When Peter Cole was in the womb, his early-teens mother and 20-something father were on the run from the FBI, presumably because of statutory rape charges, and escaped to Mexico, which has often made Peter feel special but wrong. As an infant, Peter often stared at light sources, especially lamps, and his first spoken word was light, which his mother (who can hear the voice of God) believed to be a sign of his enlightenment. This also may have been the source of his crooked eyes and the reason he needed glasses early in life. Peter grew up in the church, watched The 700 Club, and prayed for his eyes to be healed. But his eyes didn’t heal and he couldn’t hear the voice that his mother heard either, which made him feel evil. In school, Peter was a chunky loner, so he started a punk band. He played music for years, but now that part of his life is over. Peter didn’t think that he would ever get married until he met the woman who would become his wife. Her name was Annie Dillard and they met, in part, because a mutual friend saw him reading a book by an author named Annie Dillard who is a different Annie Dillard. Peter doesn’t know much about cars, but he is the parts manager at an auto shop, a job he keeps because he hates shaving and cutting his hair. Recently, he stopped wearing regular clothes and only wears his work uniforms. He doesn’t know if he will ever go back to Mexico, but through his farsightedness Peter knows he will have a great, domesticated life with Annie, their beautiful beagle, Lilly, and their kids who are not yet born.

Keyhole Magazine, which Peter edits

[Note: Peter lives in Nashville and I live in Baltimore, but we're having dinner tonight, so I'm reposting his postcard life story.]
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The Bookgeeks Interview

There is a nice interview over @ BOOKGEEKS where one of my answers is: "I am surprised by how many people die in my novels."

There is also 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 or the link with the interview.

119 Rejections @ Lucy Magazine

There's a nice little interview about Dear Everybody and other other things over at Lucy Magazine where I talk a little bit about the difficulty of publishing. Thank you, Susan Gray.

#129 Matt Bell Is One of the Coolest Things Ever

Matt Bell mostly grew up in a house outside of Hemlock, MI, where there was enough isolation to grow up odd, but not too odd. In 3rd grade, Matt won a certificate for writing the best pirate story set in outerspace, which is part of how he became the writer he is today. For the longest time, he wore Velcro shoes because he thought they were the coolest things ever and because that is what the astronauts did. That’s how he was 12 before he learned how to tie his shoes. That is, Matt was a nerdy kid. He read D&D rulebooks on the school bus, played lots of computer games, and read tons of science fiction and fantasy books. In 7th or 8th grade, Matt wrote a 200-page fantasy novel, but then he stopped writing in high school. After that, Matt went to Saginaw Valley State University and dropped out. After all, he had only been tying his shoes for 6 years and he didn’t know what he wanted to do yet. He went to Delta Community College, a 2-year school, where he had the distinction of placing 3 years in a row in a writing contest. Then Matt went to Oakland University, which was the closest university he could drive to, and received his English degree. Over this time, Matt worked as a bartender (he may have gotten the first internet-posted job anybody got) and then as a restaurant manager. These jobs were good for him personality-wise. He lost his shyness. He met characters and had experiences that he wouldn’t have met or had otherwise. Then Matt met Jessica on Valentine’s Day, which was a kind of sign. She was the roommate of two women he worked with at the restaurant, and, as soon as they started dating, Matt wanted to spend all his time with her. Instead, Matt went on a camping trip by himself. He drove across the country, which gave him a sense of scale and changed his perspective. After that, Matt and Jessica were engaged within a year, got married on the beach in Port Austin, and had one of the best weddings ever. It was amazing to stand up in front of all those family and friends, and for everybody to be so happy for them. Then everybody cried. By the time Matt finishes his MFA at Bowling Green State University (2010), he will have finished writing a short story collection and a novel. He will also have an even happier marriage and remember even less of what his life was like before he met Jessica.

More Matt Bell

[Note #2: This postcard life story is part of a series of postcard life stories that will 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.]
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#128 Michael Kimball Feels Like He Can Do Anything

Michael Kimball was born two weeks late, during the Great Midwest Blizzard of 1967. His father was huge, weighing as much as 450 pounds, and could be very scary—he had fast hands and nobody ever knew when he would go into a rage. But Michael’s mother was incredibly giving, often doing without so that her three children could have clothes for school, shoes for the basketball team. The family didn't have much money, but Michael didn’t realize this until later. For a long time, he was the shortest, skinniest kid in class or on the basketball team. Sometimes he still feels this way, even though he’s 6'2'', 200 pounds. He hit .853 one year in little league, and holds the Meryl S. Colt Elementary School record for the 600-yard dash. But he gave up all other sports for running—was all-state cross-country in high school—until he had a stress fracture in his left foot and never competed again. After that, he didn't have anything he felt great at anymore. He floundered through his early years at Michigan State, changing majors, flunking classes. Then he started reading a lot and became serious about writing. He can't believe he grew up identifying as an athlete and that now he’s a novelist. Some people think he channels voices in his novels, which is unsettling because of his family history concerning spiritualism. His great-great-great uncle was a noted medium in the early 20th century, conducting popular readings and séances. A dead Irishman was his connection to the other side. Michael learned from his grandfather little ways to supposedly communicate with the other side—knocks, slips of paper one carries until an answer is received, that kind of thing. After college, Michael moved to Chicago and then New York to attend graduate school. It wasn't until he arrived in NYC that he felt he belonged somewhere. If he had stayed in the Midwest, he probably wouldn't have become a writer. He’d probably be a high school teacher and unhappy. Dropping out of NYU was just as important, because he’d realized he wanted to write fiction, not anything academic. The other great thing about NYU is that Michael met his wife there, Tita Chico, who is smart and beautiful and kind and supportive in all the right ways. They’ve been together over 15 years, and have four cats and no children, and they like it that way. Michael had a huge struggle with his second novel, How Much of Us There Was, and almost gave up writing. The same thing happened with his third novel, Dear Everybody, but he somehow reached a point where he stopped caring what anybody else thought about his writing and that released him to finish Dear Everybody and to write Friday, Saturday, Sunday, which he recently finished. He never would have started Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) without that feeling. Even though he loves Baltimore, he sometimes misses NYC. But he’s glad he left. He likes who he is now better than who he was then. He feels like he can do anything.

[Note #1: This postcard life story was written by Sam Ligon after he interviewed me as I have interviewed so many others for this project. Thanks, Sam.]

[Note #2: This postcard life story is part of a series of postcard life stories that will 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.]
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