Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

A Book Trailer for Adam Robison and Other Poems

Adam Robison and Other Poems will be published by Narrow House Books in June 2009.
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I Will Smash You @ Baltimore's Literary Cabaret

I will be previewing 10 minutes of I Will Smash You, the documentary film I'm making with Luca Dipierro, at Baltimore's Literary Cabaret. My time slot is some time between 7:30 and 8:00. Here's the trailer:

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#149 Christopher Bowles: Getting On With It

Christopher Bowles’ biological mother and father had an affair in 1964 (she was single; he was married; he told her to have an abortion and they never saw each other again; years later, Christopher found and became friends with both of them). That was how Christopher Douglas Bowles was born with the name Christopher Sean Snoad. Christopher’s adoptive parents kept the name Christopher because his adopted father’s life had been saved by a guy named Christopher during WWII. Christopher was born just west of London, a place called Isleworth, and then the family lived in Richmond. When Christopher was 4, his adoptive father died. For days after, all sorts of different women looked after Christopher, taking him to the zoo or the movies or anywhere. One afternoon, Christopher arrived home from one of these outings to a kind of party and found out it was his father’s funeral. After that, Christopher and his mother moved to a village on the outskirts of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire to find work and a place to live. When Christopher was 16, his mother died, which was awful; she'd been sick for a long time and Christopher went a little off the rails. After that, his stepfather (who Christopher acquired when he was 8), kicked him out of the house so he could sell up and move to Essex to marry some woman he'd known before he knew Christopher’s mother. The day after Christopher’s 18th birthday, he packed a bag, walked out of his life in Gloucestershire, and climbed on a coach. Eventually, he arrived in London in the summer of 1983 with 40 pence in his pocket. He slept rough for a week or so, then found some friends who let him sleep on their floor. Eventually, he got a bedsit in East Sheen, which was just a ½ mile from Richmond, where he'd left at 4. He got a job in a record shop and then a boyfriend. They moved to and around East London for years. In 1993, Christopher went to University, where he studied communication and visual theory, though he wishes he’d studied English literature. In 1998, with no job, and no home, Christopher split from his boyfriend and went to stay in a friend’s spare room in Kensington, a brief stay that turned into 5 years. He worked at an art gallery and, eventually, bought a house with the ex-boyfriend, but only as friends this time. Last year, the art gallery sacked him based on a false accusation of theft, which was pretty devastating, especially since it wasn’t true. At 43, Christopher is a single, gay man, with no steady job. He feels he should be more uncertain or depressed about his future, but he isn’t. Christopher is going to start all over again and get on with it.

More Christopher Bowles

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#127 Samuel Ligon Cannot Be Beaten

When Sam Ligon was growing up, his family moved every 3-4 years (his father was transferred or offered a better job somewhere else). This never seemed strange, but Sam is unusually close to his three siblings as a result. After his childhood, Sam moved away to Urbana-Champaign to attend the University of Illinois, which turned out to be a great place to be because that’s where Kim was too. Back then, at first, they were both in these toxic relationships and friends with each other's toxic boyfriend/girlfriend, but they got together before their senior year. Everybody loves Kim (for example, she's never applied for a job and not gotten it). Sam knew that he wanted to marry Kim the minute they got together and she felt the same way, so they did that when they were 22. A week later, they left the country to teach English in Japan. Sam wanted to be a writer and he thought writers should leave the country. In Japan, they found a dead body, a guy who had hung himself up in the mountains east of Kyoto. The dead man was blue and they called him Blueboy and he was exactly what Sam had been looking for. They left Japan and Sam wrote a story called “Blueboy”—about some expatriates in Japan who find a dead body. It was published in The Quarterly—Sam’s first published story (1988). During three weeks in 2001, 9/11 happened 50 miles upwind from Sam and Kim, his first book was accepted for publication (Safe in Heaven Dead, 2003), and his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer treatment sucked, and it was hard with a Paul and Jane (at the time, just 3 and 5, respectively), but their friends came from all over the country to help. Sam lived on Long Island for over 10 years—by far the longest he has ever lived anywhere. (Sam has lived in most states north of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi.) Then he moved the family to Spokane 4 years ago, for his teaching job at Eastern Washington University. In the West, people think Sam is a New Yorker, and, most oddly to Sam, Jewish, which he’s happy to let them think. Now that the family has settled in Spokane, he doesn't want to move them again. Sam wants to raise Jane and Paul in one place, even though he claims to like the fact that he’s from everywhere. Jane is an incredible artist and Paul is the funniest person Sam knows. What else? Both of the kids are really nice people, probably because they have such nice parents. What else? Sam’s first story collection, Drift and Swerve, was just published. More? Sam doesn't play golf or have a boat, but he does edit Willow Springs. The last bit that recurs through the whole life? Kim is fine now, and Sam and Kim have been married 23 years. They're happy. They think their kids are happy. None of them has ever been beaten.

More Sam Ligon

[Note: 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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Elegantly and Eloquently Written

There is a really nice and thoughtful review in The Star-Democrat that calls DEAR EVERYBODY "elegantly and eloquently written" and says, "It's an unforgettable book ... I highly recommend it." Thank you, Anne Stinson.

There's lots more good press here.
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#148: Even If Lesley Clark Isn’t Smiling, She Is Happy

Lesley Clark’s dad was French and black, her mom French and Norwegian. Growing up in San Antonio, most people thought she was Mexican (and so began her love affair with Mexico). At 2 months, Lesley escaped the tornado of 1976. At 4 years, Lesley already knew she wanted to be a writer and started writing stories about a little girl running away from home. At 5, her parents divorced, which Lesley always felt bad about because she got the mail the day that her mom received a letter that led to an argument with her dad (and probably contained the reason for the divorce). Lesley remembers her mom telling her dad that she didn't want anything—not the house, the car, or any furniture—except Lesley. Lesley’s mom was selfless and creative; she gave her an enriching childhood, always told her stories, introduced her to different cultures. They had theme nights and there were daily words to learn. In middle school and high school, Lesley’s dark wardrobe and depressing stories got her sent to the counselor’s office (luckily, the guidance counselor understood). For a time, Lesley wanted to be an auto mechanic, but wasn’t allowed to take auto classes. She dropped out of high school, briefly, because she was incredibly bored, and was going to get her GED and go directly to college, but went back for the diploma and finished high school with many honors. At college, she studied social psychology. At 21, Lesley dropped of a master’s program in creative writing at Antioch after a stalker followed her to Venice Beach. In her early 20’s, Lesley fell in love with a Mexican national named Fernando Hernandez Degollado. They always felt each other through music. It was a passionate and tumultuous 2 years that ended disastrously when he was deported (and Lesley felt like she stopped breathing). Lesley went to live with him in Mexico, but things got wild there, and she couldn’t handle any of it. Lesley came back to the states and her book of poems, The Absence of Colour, was published by Pecan Grove Press. After this, Lesley quit writing poetry. After leaving Fernando, she couldn't see things in poetic forms anymore. For 8 years after that, Lesley was involved with a musician named Jason Hernandez until they ended it amicably. At 29, Lesley rescued a kitten from an abandoned Nissan’s radio compartment; she had never had a pet before so she thought the kitten had a heart murmur when it purred the first time. In 2005, Lesley’s father passed away and it was difficult to lose him to an unexpected death (which may have been a cleverly concealed murder). It tore apart her father’s side of the family. Around this same time, Lesley was diagnosed with Celiac and really sick all the time. It was rough. Eventually, Lesley received her master's degree in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson. Recently, Fernando came back into Lesley’s life and she started writing poetry again. It all came rushing back. It might be a second chance at true love and now Lesley has to decide whether to follow him back to Mexico again. She doesn’t know what will happen next, but she will be happy no matter what it is.
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#59 Shaindel Beers and Her Writing Behavior

When Shaindel Beers was 4 years old, her mother kidnapped her and they fled cross-country. For a year, they lived with strangers. Because of this, in part, Shaindel has never been afraid of anybody or anything. During this time, and before she could write, Shaindel told her mother stories, which her mother wrote down with crayons. This storytelling instinct and the fact that she observed adults often writing things led her to believe that this is what adults did, a behavior that she would later emulate as an English professor and a writer of poems (when she starts with a feeling) and fiction (when she starts with a character). Eventually, Shaindel and her mother drove back to her father, but the family was still dysfunctional—in part because of her mother’s OCD, which manifested itself, partly, as a hoarding instinct. In fact, growing up, Shaindel always thought of her friends’ houses as strangely neat, oddly empty. Her mother’s hoarding led to the family house being condemned and her mother going to jail for pulling a gun on two people who were trying to clean out the house. This might not have happened, but Shaindel’s father was at Subway getting a sandwich. Another thing that almost didn’t happen was Shaindel meeting her husband, Lee. Two hippies who live in a trailer on a reservation had fixed them up on a blind date—because they both read all the time and they both are hermits—but the hippies told them each a different meeting time. When Shaindel got there, Lee had left. Shaindel found out where Lee lived and went to his house. He answered the door in a wife beater that showed off his skull tattoos, but Shaindel was not afraid. They got married, and—oh, wait, did I tell you that Shaindel means pretty in Yiddish? It does. She is. Ask Lee. He’ll tell you.

Shaindel Beers' Blog Tour starts in March--in support of A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, which is just out.
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Michael Kimball Asks Blake Butler Some Questions and Then Blake Butler Answers Them

I interviewed Blake Butler @ elimae about his first book, Ever, which is just out. I ask him about the brackets, about nesting bits of story, and about whether it might have been a different book if he hadn’t put his underwear on. The interview is @ elimae: Michael Kimball Asks Blake Butler Some Questions and Then Blake Butler Answers Them.
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#29 David Kendall: What Surrounds Us

David Kendall grew up in Baltimore, left, and came back. From an early age, he wrote children’s stories for his brothers and sisters, which led to him being a painter and a poet as an adult. It was also as an adult that David first left his body, this after he was in a car accident. He didn’t want to feel the pain, so he floated up above the intersection. His floating body was outlined in white ink and he carried a briefcase. He still leaves his body when he is feeling at ease and secure, and sometimes he encounters his mother this way. In fact, it was his mother who introduced him to reincarnation and David was, among other people, a healer for the Czar’s family in the 18th century. He has also seen ghosts and a UFO with blue-skinned aliens. David knows things about the world that most people will never recognize.

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#42 The Possibilities of E

E grew up in a creative family in Teaneck, NJ, and had a good childhood, except at school where she was picked on for being the smart kid. Being the smart kid, she planned to attend Harvard University and then become a heart surgeon, but after working as an EMT in high school she decided that making art was her only option. Her parents were disappointed in this decision and told E that they wouldn’t consider her a quitter if she dropped out of art school at MICA and studied pre-med at Hopkins instead. She continued with her printmaking studies at MICA, but found the medium limiting and switched to oil paint. Around this same time, E contracted HPV and developed cervical cancer. She underwent a series of painful surgeries and treatments. The most painful aspect of this, however, was when her mother told her that it was her fault. Their close relationship changed after that, but E is healthy again, and the difficult experience made her more responsible, more independent, and more self-sufficient. E recently switched from oil paint to acrylic paint and has mostly stopped using paintbrushes in favor of paint scrapers, which, of course, are usually used to remove paint. E’s new paintings exhibit her personal alphabet of abstract symbols that are full of implication. The possibilities for these new paintings—and the new E who creates them—are limitless.
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The Fictionaut Five

There is a nice little interview with Jürgen Fauth that is up at Fictionaut (a literary community for adventurous readers and writers) in which I talk about a few books that I wish I had written and what I would do if I weren't a writer.

#143 Candy Tothill Lives in Hope

Candy Tothill was born in 1973 in Parktown, South Africa, the last of four children, her siblings older by a decade and more. She grew up in a house with her 2 parents, 3 of her grandparents, her nanny, a housekeeper, a gardener, 15 cats, 3 dogs, and 1 guinea pig. Despite all the people and animals, Candy was a lonely child and shadowed people so that she was never in a room by herself (most often her Gran, a dressmaker and the homemaker for the family). She was more of an observer than a participant, though, and, as a result, she remembers much of her childhood as if it were a long movie that she watched. Reading books became a way to escape from her own thoughts. In 1986, Candy represented her school in gymnastics in the South African Games. Gran’s death, when Candy was 15, was quite difficult, and Candy’s life changed after that. It became clear that Gran had been holding the family together. Candy lost her sense of structure and began to rebel. She became anorexic and lost interest in school too. Candy married her first husband just before her 18th birthday, separated from him when she was 19, and divorced just before she turned 22. During this time period, they produced 2 extraordinary children. A few years later, Candy hurtled herself into another marriage, which resulted in the birth of her third child, her baby girl, who entered the world a mere 12 days after the suicide death of her oldest brother, which was another setback. Her brother had always been such a shining example for her and his suicide left her with nothing to believe in anymore. Life became unreal. And then Candy’s second marriage was more complicated than she ever could have anticipated. It became torturously drawn-out, in and out of court for nearly 2 years, and Candy wasn't sure that she would live long enough to see the end of it. In 2004, Candy’s dad had a brain aneurysm and died. Her father was the smile that never failed to greet her, the touch of reassurance that made everything seem okay. Candy regrets that she didn’t speak at his funeral. She wanted to, but couldn’t. She wrote an un-given eulogy for him instead. In 2007, Candy married an American who she thought was perfect for her, but he couldn’t relocate to South Africa. He lasted 175 days in the country. The marriage itself lasted 55 days. Candy still lives in hope. She still believes in fairy tales. She is so proud of raising her three children on her own. Each of them brings so much happiness and meaning to her life. Through all of this, Candy has been writing—poetry, articles, annual reports, social reports. She runs a consulting business that specializes in triple bottom line accounting, social accountability management, and black economic empowerment verification audits. Her book, Losing People, will be published as soon as she finishes writing it. Candy’s life, when she is done with it, will remind the world that she was here.

Inside Candy
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