Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#66 We're Lucky There's Blake Butler

Blake Butler’s two older brothers were miscarriages. Blake was almost a miscarriage too. He was blue and not breathing. He scored 1 out of 10 on the Apgar scale, which is almost not alive, and lived under the lights in the ICU for days. When he went home, he was his mother’s miracle. Understandably, she was overprotective with Blake when he was an infant, but that turned into permissiveness as he grew older, which gave him a sense of freedom that continues to inform his writing today. By 4 years old, Blake was performing considered monologues, crazy dances, music videos, and both sides of talk shows. It’s all on video (his mother will show you, if you want). Despite these performances, Blake was a fat child by the 4th grade. He liked comic books and video games. By 10th grade, he weighed 250 pounds and felt disregarded. His bedroom walls were covered with pictures of women that he tore out of magazines at the grocery store. He started playing bass in a band and started to feel better. By 11th grade, he weighed 170 pounds and people were nicer to him. He lost all the weight for a girl named Jen. He thought his weight was the only thing keeping her from him. It wasn’t, but Blake stopped being shy and started talking to girls. He played in lots of different rock bands—15, eventually. The first time Blake was on stage, under the lights, it reminded him of when he was in the ICU. Eventually, writing replaced music, though Blake brought the rhythm of the bass with him to the page. Blake still thinks of himself as the fat kid and he writes to find out what is inside him. This is one explanation for his tremendous written output. Another explanation is his insomnia, which allows him more conscious hours than most people are allowed. Blake is never fully awake or fully asleep, though, and the normal often becomes strange. But Blake keeps giving us everything that is inside him. It’s not pounds, but it’s a different kind of weight.

[New Update: Today is the official release date of Blake Butler's second book, Scorch Atlas, which is an obliteration. There are links to reviews and lots of other stuff at Blake's blog.

[Old Update: Blake Butler's first book has just been released. I've already bought my copy and you can buy your copy of EVER by clicking on EVER. There are blurbs from Brian Evenson and Gary Lutz. There are excerpts. There is an official trailer. There is an unofficial trailer.]
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Dear Everybody, One of the Incredibles

Nik Perring has a category for books that he loves beyond other books, The Incredibles. I love that he has that category and I love that he added Dear Everybody to that list with books like Slaughterhouse 5 and Frankenstein. Nik says Dear Everybody "is right up there with the best I've read. Ever. It's clever, sensitive, heartbreaking, moving, funny and many, many other wonderful things." And then we did an interview where we talk about what is essential to great fiction and sympathy for those suffering from mental illness.
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#51 Gina Myers: Ice Skating on the Page

Gina Myers was born, grew up, and went to school in and around Saginaw, Michigan. Despite its cold winters and depressed economy, she is a warm and happy person. As a young girl, Gina was a tomboy who followed her older brother around and did the things that he did. This is why she played hockey for three years before her parents switched her to ice skating lessons. (It should be noted that Gina might have won a gold medal with the first USA Olympics women’s hockey team if she had kept playing hockey.) She doesn’t talk much about figure skating anymore, though this was the focus of her life through high school and college. During this time, Gina was also a photographer and a poet, but she stopped shooting photos after her camera’s battery went dead and she never bought a new one. After college, she took a road trip to NYC with a friend and visited the New School. After returning to Michigan, she dreamed of NYC and knew that she had to move there. She couldn’t stop thinking about all those pairs of feet walking on the sidewalks. Gina took her ice skates to NYC, but only skated once in Central Park. She attended the New School and became a poet with a natural, playful style (think of the ice rink as the page). Unfortunately, she became unhappy in NYC. She tried to fix the unhappiness by changing parts of her life—her job, her apartment, certain people—but she eventually had to change cities and moved back home. In a few years, she will leave Saginaw for another city where she will continue to write poems. She is feeling optimistic.

Gina Myer's first full-length collection of poetry, A Model Year, was just published by Coconut Books. David Shapiro says, "The poetry seems to have taken a polygraph test and has the truthfulness of an injured voice."

Here is Gina's blog, A Sad Day for Sad Birds.
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The Faster Times: Writers on Writing

The Faster Times has been laying down a ton of nice coverage of books and everything and I've just started an interview column there called Writers on Writing. The first interview is with Gary Lutz and it's called I Am Not a Camera. It's pretty incredible.
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Little Burn Films: I Will Smash You


Luca Dipierro and I have been working on I WILL SMASH YOU for a while now and it's finally ready to show. We previewed part of it at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore (which was followed by a smashing). And we have screenings set up for September 24th at the PPOW Gallery in New York City and October 3 at the Windup Space in Baltimore. We also have a new website for Little Burn Films with stills and trailers and other stuff, plus a second film, 60 Writers/60 Places in the works.
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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.

[UPDATE: Christopher is now working for the local government and the last year has taught him the importance of real friendships and how a person can overcome so much with the love and support of true friends. Also, having his postcard life story written inspired Christopher to start writing again, after a very long gap, which you can see at Bowlesy Online.]

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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.

[Update: Lynn has two new website--(1) Full of Crow, which is poetry, fiction, flash, reviews, interviews, zines, all kinds of stuff; and, (2) Blink|Ink, which is really short fiction.]

More Lynn Alexander
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Joe Young: Eleven

Randall Brown has a bunch of nice things going on over at flashfiction.net and one of them is this thing where a writer interviews a reader about the writer's writing. Joe Young let me choose one of his micro-fictions (even briefer, flashier, than flash fiction) and asked me some questions and I did my best to answer them without going on and on.
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#209 The Amazing Life Story of Julie Riso

Julie Riso remembers being born, the light and noise. It was her first escape. She grew up in small towns in Michigan, the oldest of 5 kids, and she always knew she was different. For instance, her young artwork had talking flowers, which her Catholic schoolteachers found unacceptable. Also, Julie wanted to be an archeologist and she escaped her loneliness by going on expeditions in her backyard (which turned into Egypt, China, Easter Island). In 3rd grade, her teacher repeatedly verbally abused her, leading to a nervous breakdown, but Julie didn’t tell anybody about it. After that, her dad quit drinking, thinking that was the problem, and her parents bought her a guinea pig. Her dad started going to church again, which made the family happy, but then he turned zealous and thought himself a prophet (and believed God gave him permission to kill people). After that, Julie’s parents separated. Julie’s mom got a job as a waitress and Julie watched her brothers and sisters after school. Julie went to a big public high school, which felt like a do-over after the tiny Catholic school. In 9th grade, Julie started smoking pot, but the stoner girls didn't like her because she was too thin, and they started rumors that she was a slut, so the rest of high school was pretty difficult. After Julie’s mother tried to kill herself, Julie stole sedatives from her mother and did a lot more drugs. She barely remembers her senior year. Julie left home after high school. Then she drove out to Los Angeles alone, but it was overwhelming, so she moved to Palm Springs, worked as a waitress, and went to junior college. Julie was doing great, but began to feel suffocated, and then things got worse and stayed that way for years. She kept moving around Southern California, but could not escape her bad memories. Julie became exhausted from trying and moved back to Michigan, but felt like a failure. Not long after that, her dad died from lymphoma. After that, she had a nervous breakdown and tried to kill herself. Luckily, Julie got herself back together and moved back to LA. At 24, she went back to college to become an anthropologist. She didn’t have any money, so she became a stripper. She was a terrible stripper and mostly hid in the back, but the other strippers accepted her, and that was the first time Julie felt like part of a group of women. Then Julie left college again, worked in Guam a few months, then lived with Stone Age tribes in Papua New Guinea for a few weeks (where few female travelers had been before). That was how Julie realized she mostly liked anthropology in an armchair way. What she really wanted was to travel. At 27, Julie moved back to Michigan, worked in a big travel agency, and traveled the world. But the agency closed and her boyfriend became a copy of her dad, so she left Michigan again. She went back to Guam and this time she met Pascal, a Frenchman from New Caledonia. Julie married Pascal and they lived on the island for 7 years, which was when she wrote her first novel, which is about strippers. Julie still felt claustrophobic, though, so they moved to Poland. After 2 years there, they moved to Hungary. Julie has been to 39 countries so far, and, for the first time, she is content. Now, Julie is writing her memoir and it will be a relief when she can stop writing it.

J.D. Riso @ Goodreads
A piece of travel writing by J.D. Riso
Flash fiction by J.D. Riso
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Five Star Friday for Stacy Muszynski

Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) won a Five Star Friday award for one of the best blog posts of the week, this for the postcard life story of the wonderful Stacy Muszynski.
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Featherproof iPhone App

Featherproof Books has launched an iPhone app with 333-word stories. I'll have a piece out with their September launch, as will Amelia Gray, Blake Butler, Matt Bell, and a bunch of other fine writers.
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#74 Lanie Shanzyra Rebancos: Being Sick Almost All the Time Doesn't Stop Her

Lanie Shanzyra Rebancos was born in the tropical country of the Philippines in 1979. Growing up, she was a hospital kid—diagnosed with different illnesses that doctors didn’t understand or couldn’t treat. Often, all her family could do was pray for her. Luckily, it always worked. In school, Lanie became fascinated with writing and sports. Despite her illnesses, she was named Athelete of the Year in sixth grade—for her excellence in volleyball and swimming. Unfortunately, the health problems continued and when Lanie was 16 years old, her left breast had a discharge. The tests for cancer were negative and Lanie lived on. She met her husband a couple of years later in college and they were just friends at first. They didn’t realize how much they liked each other. Lanie was already pregnant with their first child when she got married. She had to drop out of college and her husband had to get a job to support their new family. It was such a bumpy journey in the beginning and then Lanie had a second child. After this, the doctor found that both of her ovaries were polycystic. The tests were negative for cervical cancer, though. Later, Lanie also had to be tested for colon cancer, which was also negative. Despite these difficulties, Lanie and her family are very happy and her husband can make the whole family laugh. Lanie writes--haiku, free verse poems and short stories--while her kids play. It lifts her up and lets her forget the pain that she lives with every day. Being sick almost all the time doesn't stop her from writing and now she has published a book called On Our Way Home, and two anthologies--Another Morning and Child Cancer: Fighters and Heroes. Lanie’s doctors are currently concerned about her lymph nodes, but the results of these tests will be negative as well.

[Update: Lanie recently found out that she has a blood infection that cannot be cured by any medication. Still, Lanie continues her job as a mom and a wife, plus it inspires her to write more poems. No one knows what will happen next. but the illness will not stop her from doing all the wonderful things she loves to do.]

More Shanzyra
Even More Shanzyra
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