Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

Juniper Summer Writing Institute

Next week, I'm going to be at the Juniper Summer Writing Institute at the University of Massachusetts. I'll be reading on Wednesday night with Matthew Zapruder and Lisa Olstein. Thursday morning, I'll be giving a craft talk, The One-Hour MFA. The readings are free and open to the public. Here's the rest of the reading schedule: June 20, James Tate & Joy Williams; June 21, Stephen Graham Jones & Heather Christle; June 22, Mark Doty & Noy Holland; June 24, Thomas Sayers Ellis & Leni Zumas; June 25, Charles D’Ambrosio & Dara Wier; June 26, Paul Lisicky & Alex Phillips.

Elizabeth Ellen Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #250 Andrea Kneeland

Andrea Kneeland was born in Hayward, California in January of 1980, which means she just turned thirty. Andrea grew up without siblings and her childhood was difficult and isolating. She didn’t do things most other kids did, like go to slumber parties or high school or prom. When she was thirteen, her first real boyfriend held a loaded gun to her head. At the time, she didn’t think this was strange and didn’t break up with him. She thinks this says a lot about how she viewed relationships the first twenty-five years of her life. When she was fifteen, she enrolled in community college. When she was eighteen she met her first husband, whom she married two years later. She doesn’t like to talk about either her childhood or her first marriage publicly. Her second husband told her when he left that he’d kill himself if he had to stay married to her. He had been abusive for a while at this point, and her friends no longer liked to be around them. Andrea believed she was being patient, waiting for things to go back to how they were in the beginning. She would try to hug her husband and he would push her to the ground. She didn’t understand this was an unacceptable way to be treated. These sorts of relationships were all she knew, and thus what she preferred. It wasn’t until she got out into the world and saw how other people lived that she understood what it means to be treated with kindness and respect. She had to learn to value herself, which is something she still struggles with today. When she was in her mid-twenties, Andrea went back to school and got her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. She had intended to study Creative Writing, but didn’t find the classes particularly interesting or useful. She preferred Anthropology, which was similar to Creative Writing in that in Creative Writing you take things that are not real and make them seem real and in Anthropology you take things that are real and make them seem not real. Since then, Andrea has published many stories online and in print, but the one she is most proud of and which she feels is most representative of her is “Pinocchio Discovers Jealousy,” as it touches on the themes she finds herself most obsessing over: birds, fairy tales, misogyny, technology, memory, sex, torn apart relationships, and anatomy. Mostly, Andrea just wants to write stories and poems that are beautiful but accessible, so that when people read them they say, “Oh, that’s beautiful because it’s so strange, but it’s even more beautiful because the strangeness is so familiar.” Andrea feels similarly about birds. She thinks there is very little difference between reading a poem and watching a bird in flight. Andrea currently lives in San Francisco and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area her whole life. She can’t imagine living anywhere else. Five months ago, Andrea met a man through an online dating service and she loves him like crazy and thinks it’s one of the luckiest things that’s ever happened to her. Together they plan on making a trip to Spain later this year. It will be the first time Andrea has left the country. She is excited to see what Spanish birds look like and is happy her boyfriend speaks Spanish so she won’t have to learn another language.

[Update: Andrea Kneeland has a new collection, The Birds and the Beasts, forthcoming from Willows Wept Press in 2011. Besides that, Andrea is an editor at the great Hobart and here is her chapbook in Fox Force 5.]

[Note: You can read Elizabeth Ellen's postcard life story here.]

Dear Everybody @ The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog ... Period

The good Cortnee Howard asked me some smart questions and I did my best to answer them @ The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog ... Period. We talk about Dear Everybody, soundtracks, and e-readers.
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Meg Pokrass Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #236 Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan was born in Dublin, Ireland, while the nurse and her mother argued: her mother demanded to be allowed push; the nurse insisted the baby wasn’t coming any time soon. Ethel believes she shot into the world because she wanted her mother to be right. Ethel was her parents’ third child and first girl. Two sisters (twins) and another brother would follow. She remembers a home where there was more fighting than anything. She was a lonely, frightened, desperate-for-attention child, the kind of child that gets into deeper trouble. Amidst trouble and anger, she loved to read, act, and recite poetry. In third grade, she received a prize, a glass ashtray, for one of her poems. She has no idea what the poem was about. Her parents enjoyed the ashtray. She danced daily alone in her living room, pirouetting under the melancholy gaze of the gold-framed Sacred Heart of Jesus. Bless this home … Bless this home … She was wire-skinny and yet felt fat to bursting with so much that she couldn’t say. She excelled at debating and public speaking: all that she could say. Ethel is grateful that she also knew in childhood laughing, playing, sharing, caring, rewards, adventures, friendship, beaches, vacations, Sunday drives, and things as simple and precious as toasting bread in the open flames of her living room fire, dripping-with-butter toast that tasted of ashes and made her feel alive, crackling flames wherein she pictured bright things. She broke away for bright things at age twenty-two and settled in San Francisco. San Francisco is home, a place and people that have been very good to her. Shortly after her arrival to the city, her husband ended her winning run at a pool table in an Irish bar on Geary Boulevard and they’ve been together ever since. They have two daughters. Ethel’s daughters are her joy. Her greatest accomplishment is enjoying a happy home with them. “Circling the Drain” (Keyhole Issue 9) and “Air” (PANK, December 2009) are two stories Ethel wrote that hold deep personal meaning and that she believes are, in many ways, two of her strongest. Ethel’s story, “Circling the Drain,” centers on themes that recur in her work: yearning, fear, isolation, madness, abandonment, and loss. At the story’s end, the protagonist makes a crucial shift out of fear, yes, but also love: to give himself over to his wife’s psychosis. Writing “Air” was a moving and powerful experience for Ethel. In the original version of “Air,” the version Ethel believed was “finished,” the protagonist endured a harrowing rape. Ethel’s instincts told her not to submit the work for publication just yet. She set the work aside, but the story’s protagonist stayed with her and demanded a different fate. Ethel rewrote the story, and got it to where it felt “right-right.” For the first time she truly realized her power as a writer and the power of the characters and stories we create: there was now one less girl in the world raped, one more girl who escaped and survived. Ethel Rohan writes because she still feels fat to bursting with all that she needs to say.

[Update: Pank will be publishing Ethel Rohan's book, Hard to Say, in early 2011.]

[Note: You can read Meg Pokrass' expressive life story here.]

Interview @ The Next Best Book

The good Lori Hettler at The Next Best Book Blog asked me some questions and I did my best to answer them. We talk about Dear Everybody, the 510 Readings, Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard), 60 Writers/60 Places, I Will Smash You, and dog-earring books.

How Much of Us There Was

I finished writing How Much of Us There Was in late 2003. It was first published in 2005 by Fourth Estate in the UK, then in paperback by HarperPerennial the next year, but it was never published in the US and I ended up firing my agent at the time. Now I'm happy to say that How Much of Us There Was will finally get its US release with Tyrant Books this fall. To honor the occasion, I re-read the novel and ending up making over 500 mostly little changes. Plus, I changed the ending.
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#204 Meg Pokrass Expresses Herself

Meg Pokrass was born near Philadelphia and her parents’ marriage was so volatile that Meg’s mother and father divorced when she was just 5 years old. It was a traumatic time and Meg just remembers scraps—like Polaroids called sad dad and mad dad and hiding. The memories are cut off from movement. But Meg’s mother drove Meg and her two teenage sisters 3,000+ miles away from her father and their entire extended family and they started a new life in Santa Barbara California. Her mother became a realtor and raised Meg and her sisters alone. They didn’t have much money and moved from rental to rental. Meg went to four different elementary schools growing up. In the 1970s, one of Meg’s sisters, Sian Barbara Allen, became a beloved actress. Sian was like a mother to Meg (being 14 years older) and she was also a great teacher. Meg studied acting with Sian while also performing in local theater (first time was age 8). One of the things she learned was how to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances. In the mid-1980s, Meg moved to New York City and performed in theater there until her mid-20s. It was during this time when she also started writing poetry, which she did for 16 years, before discovering flash fiction, which is now her passion. Meg loves writing and editing and she is one of the editors for SmokeLong Quarterly. She also has a prompt blog and enjoys coming up with prompt ideas (which goes back to her acting days and using sensory recall). She finds the kernel of a character in what the character needs or wants. It was in New York City that Meg met her husband, who is funny and smart as hell. She loves that about him, and his great empathy, and the fact that he loves that Meg is a kook. Their 12-year-old daughter is a true non-conformist too, and is already a published writer. 6 years ago, Meg contracted a rare pain condition—chronic regional pain syndrome—in her right foot and couldn't really walk for 3 years, which changed her way of being. About a year ago, she fully recovered and, after that, the conditional deep depression eased up. Meg began writing seriously (writing had been in the background of her life before) and found Zoetrope, a community that has helped her tremendously. After being in theater, the communal aspect of creating is huge for Meg. And getting through all that pain has made Meg far more driven to express herself (she’s published 100+ stories and poems) and a lot of her inhibitions went away. She stopped worrying about failure and started writing in a way that felt freeing. Also, Meg has 7 animals—a dog, 3 cats, 2 rats, and a bearded dragon lizard—and they all live happily together in San Francisco.

[Update: Congratulations to Meg Pokrass on her debut collection of flash fiction, which Press 53 will publish February 2011.]
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Renée E. D’Aoust Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #267 Truffle the Hound

Truffle was born in Clark Fork, Idaho sometime in 1998 or 1999. One day, while his previous owners were chopping a grand fir, Truffle chewed through his leash and followed his nose into the woods. Truffle spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness before jumping into the front seat of a truck driven by Nancy. Nancy took him to J.C. Penney’s, where she works as a salesclerk. His current owner’s mom had the feeling to stop by and say “hi” to Nancy, and Truffle’s new grandma brought him home in her green Subaru. She found the original owners, who did not want Truffle back; they said, “he was too much work.” Truffle’s second family still calls him a found hound.

Because of Truffle’s forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, he likes to eat a lot of different things. He eats bark, beetles, and bees. He likes ants and gophers. He eats huckleberries, raspberries, and strawberries from the bush, and he balances on his back paws to pick plums from branches. He prefers cucumbers, apples, and pears that are peeled. He once ate a hundred tadpoles at Moose Lake.

Truffle’s leash and collar are always green-colored. Even if he had attended obedience courses, he would not have learned how to overrule his nose. If he gets a scent, he trolls the ground and is off, five miles away, before realizing how far his legs have taken him. When he is on the chase, he emits a scent, too, a combination smell of wet dog fur and fresh moose scat.

Truffle has seen lots of things on a road trip across America: a miniature Statue of Liberty in Troy, Kansas; a big ball of twine in Lucas, Kansas; and Paul Bunyan with his blue ox Babe in Bemidji, Minnesota. He also saw Paul Bunyan in Maine and Illinois. His mistress wrote a whole book about their travels together: Travels with Truffle: A Canine Tour of America.

The Kittle boys recognized that Truffle is a Plott hound, a breed known for their skill as bear, boar, and cougar hunters. The family von Plott in North Carolina originally bred these dogs, and the Plott hound is the North Carolina state dog. Truffle is proud of his lineage, but he resents that people think his mistress made up the breed “Plott” just because she is a writer.

If a dog does not like him, Truffle keeps wagging. With Bryce, an Elkhound, it took six months of daily wags and brief licks until she licked him back. With his friend Keisha, a yellow Labrador, it took only one wag and one lick. Truffle has an unfailingly positive outlook combined with gracious poise. Truffle has never had a girlfriend because he is “fixed,” but he misses his friends: Max (RIP); Bryce (RIP); Keisha (RIP); and Daisy (RIP). Daisy was supposed to outlive Truffle as his replacement dog, but she charged a moose and was kicked in the head. Daisy was buried right where she died in the Fish Glade by Mosquito Creek.

These days Truffle prefers his perch on the northeast corner of the new velvet brown-colored couch. He is often called the German professor because of the graying fur around his snout. He likes to stretch his neck back and rest the top of his head on the back of the couch as if he is preparing a treatise on existentialism. He will howl, a warble, if prompted. He likes to cuddle in the morning. He often squeezes himself into a tight ball, so he can fit on a human lap.

[Note: You can read the postcard life story of Renée E. D’Aoust here.]
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#259 Martha Vancour: The Happiest She's Ever Been

Martha Vancour was born in 1983 on Martha's Vineyard. She is of Portuguese decent (so stubborn and loyal) and a Gemini (so she can’t make up my mind and wants to please everybody). Growing up, Martha ran around barefoot and picked blueberries. In 1st grade, she was held back and after that she never did very well in school, except with writing in English. As a girl, Martha loved being outdoors and riding horses. She loved the smell of horses, dirt, leather, sweat, and hay. Martha loved going swimming with the horses (they are excellent swimmers). She loved coming home dirty at the end of the day. Martha didn't have a lot of friends her last year of high school so she spent all of her time at the barn with Abby, her quiet little bay quarter horse. May 13, 2002 was the hardest day of Martha’s life. Abby got sick (colic) and Martha had to get her off the island to get her help. The people in charge of the ferry denied them passage until the next morning and by then it was too late. Abby was so sweet to everybody, especially children (there was a 2-year-old girl who used to sit in Abby’s food dish and hand-feed her), and she didn’t deserve to die like that. After that, it was never the same. Martha gained 50 pounds and it was 5 years before she got another horse. After high school, Martha worked as a farm hand, then as a receptionist at an insurance agency. After 2 years, Martha tried college—first as an Equine Science major, then as an English major—but dropped out. The insurance company took her back, but the situation there became so bad that Martha knew she couldn’t do that for the rest of her life. One thing Martha regrets is buying her last horse, Sabina. Martha realizes now that her love of horses was over when Abby died. Martha stayed in a job that she hated to support Sabina, but eventually sold her. She isn't sure if she will ever own another horse. 4 years ago, Martha met Brenden by accident at her cousin’s birthday dinner. Brenden is a charming Midwestern guy who came to work on the Vineyard one summer and never left. He’s awesome and hilarious and he stayed with Martha when she was at her worst, so she’s pretty happy about their relationship now that she’s doing so well. Part of the reason that she’s doing so well is that 2 years ago, Martha broke away from her human doormat persona. This meant losing her best friend, but it had to happen, and now Martha has reached a place where she can help her friends without losing herself. Martha comes across as a short, nice, quiet girl, but she has 6 tattoos, and can’t show all of them to you. Another reason that Martha is doing so well is that she went back to school and is now studying environmental management, which is a good fit. Besides school 2 days a week, Martha works at an Insurance agency the rest of the week. On Saturdays, she works as a data collector for an interactive mapping program. On Sundays, she does paperwork for the insurance agency. Martha likes to keep busy. She falls apart if she doesn’t have lots of things going. She gives herself 1 day off a month. In her spare time, she restores a 1964 Ford Mustang. Now Martha and Brenden live together and even though she’s the busiest she has ever been, she is also the happiest.

[Update: Martha's sister brought her horse, Danika, home from college for the summer and is keeping her at Abby's old barn, Bittersweet Farm, where Martha will half-lease her for the summer. Their old trainer is also moving her horses back there, as well as another woman who kept her horse there years ago. Martha is excited that the Bittersweet Farm gang is getting back together. In fact, she just found her very first helmet there, which she had forgotten about after she left it in a stall six years ago.]

[Note: The postcard life story of Abby the Horse is here.]

Redivider 7.2 (Spring 2010)

I have a flash called "I Was Supposed to Be an Actor" in the new Redivider. There's also fine work from Keith Alexander, Emily Bobo, Traci Brimhall, Alison Doernberg, Alison Doernberg, Bill Edmondson, Timothy Fitzmaurice, David Huddle, Richard Jackson, Isaac’s Janet Jennings, Michael McFee, Michael McFee, Wayne Miller, Wayne Miller, Cecily Parks, Isaac Pressnell, James Richardson, James Richardson, Milan Rufus, Ali Shapiro, Gary Soto, Patrick Swaney, Matt Bell, Christopher Boucher, J. Bowers, Ron Carlson, Joe Celizic, Dan Moreau, Kelcey Parker, Molly Reid, Davy Rothbart, Jake Wolff, Ellen O’Connell, Chantel L. Tattoli, K.C. Wolfe, Kathleen Rooney, Elizabeth Crane. Thanks to Matthew Salesses, Cat Ennis, and Brooks Sterritt.

#265 Abby the Horse

Her show name was Ima Alibi, but her barn name was Abby. She was born in 1984, a quiet little beautiful bay Quarter Horse. She had 2 white socks on her back legs, a star on her forehead, and a little white spot on her nose. For the first years of her life, she lived as a western show horse with her girl and her other people in Connecticut. Abby had a brisk walk and a lovely lope. Then she got a new girl and mostly did dressage. That was when Abby lived in a big backyard in Hopkinton, Massachusetts with a little Haflinger pony named Winston. Then one hot day a few years after that, another new girl came to ride her. Abby didn’t mind. She would let nearly anybody ride her and she loved getting washed down with water and liniment oil afterward. A few days later, the new girl came back with a trailer and Abby rode out to the end of Massachusetts in it, Martha’s Vineyard. On the ferry across the water, Abby’s new girl sat in the trailer with her and fed her Skittles. After that, Abby mostly lived at a little rough board barn and her two new girls—Martha and Emma—spent a lot of time with her and took care of her there. Abby mostly did dressage with Emma and hunters with Martha and she always gave any challenge her best try. She knew what her people wanted if they even just shifted their weight a little bit. Abby made it look effortless. But Abby mostly liked hacking around the barn, going on trail rides, and running through the fields. There were summer fields and winter fields and Abby mostly had her own. In the summer, Abby stayed out at night and would also eat outside. Even if Abby was all the way at the back of the field, she could hear her people get her bucket out and Abby would race up to see them, sliding to a stop nose-to-nose with Emma or Martha. For a while, Abby had another girl too, Krista. Abby liked being with all of them, as well as her pony buddy Goonie, who shared hay with her in the paddock. Abby also loved to go swimming (horses are very good swimmers). She had wonderful manners and was super sweet. Little kids could even run around her feet and Abby would stand absolutely still so that she didn’t step on them or kick them. There was even a 2-year-old girl who used to sit in Abby’s food dish and hand-feed her. When her people cleaned her stall, Abby would rest her chin on her person’s shoulder and just kind of nuzzle her. All anybody could do was nuzzle her back. On May 13, 2002, Abby got sick (colic). She was distressed and in pain. The veterinarian treated her, but it didn’t help. Her people had to get her off the island to get her more help. The Steamship Authority agreed to hold the last ferry of the night for them, but the ship inexplicably left without them. Abby’s people kept vigil with her in her stall all night and the next morning they boarded the ferry and made it to Tufts, where the medical team was remarkable, but it was too late. Abby had to be put down later that morning. Abby knows how much her people loved her and how hard they tried to save her. Her people all miss her so much. Everybody loved Abby. Abby loved everybody back.

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