Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#86 Jen Michalski: All the Things She Is

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.

[Update #2: Jen has been killing it lately (see this update and the one below). Her novella, May-September, just won the Press 53 2010 novella contest and will be published next year. She is also a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship.]

[Update #1: Jen edited an anthology of Baltimore writers (from Douglass to Stein to Lipmann and Bell) that just published, City Sages: Baltimore. Even better, Dzanc just signed her up for a novella and stories, tentatively titled "I Can Make It to California Before It's Time for Dinner." You can find more Jen Michalski here and JMWW here.]

Two Unofficial Rules

I have an interview with Kevin Sampsell up at The Faster Times. We talk about A Common Pornography, listing memories, and two unofficial rules for writing memoir.

More interviews @ The Faster Times: Gary Lutz, Blake Butler, Rachel Sherman, Laura van den Berg, Ben Tanzer, Brian Evenson, Robert Lopez, Samuel Ligon, Dylan Landis, Joseph Young, Andrew Porter, Padgett Powell, Zachary German, Christopher Higgs, Sam Lipsyte, Dawn Raffel, Adam Robinson.

Shya Scanlon Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #257 bl pawelek

Barry Pawelek was born at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, NC, in 1968, the first son of three to a two-term Vietnam Vet. His family soon moved to the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where his mother worked as an emergency room RN, and his father jumped from job to job, being everything from a florist to a wrestling coach. Very active in sports as a teenager, Barry taught hockey to kids until, in the winter of his 16th year, he had a bad fall on the ice, and was unconscious for two days. Fortunately, he woke up. For the next two years or so, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but in time his memory became noticeably unreliable for what Barry calls “secondary memory.” Though he could still remember things most dear and important to him, things of lesser importance, like directions, or the names of acquaintances, were now increasingly lost. He now sees this as one of the defining moments of his life. Barry has been writing since he was in his teens, but although he has notebooks of evidence, he has only one distinct memory of writing during this early period: one summer his father worked as a park ranger, and he spent time with his father in the woods. He remembers the feeling of carrying his binder around, of writing among the trees. It was “horribly bad stuff.” He wrote sporadically during his 20s, but he was a voracious reader, having earned a BA in English Literature from Cal State. Encouraged by a teacher, he went on to earn an MA in Literature from Loyola Marymount. It was at Marymount that Barry began to take creative writing classes, and as a result to take writing more seriously. In the beginning, he had a very “shotgun” approach to submitting, and though he found some success with publication, he was not proud of either the work, or the publishing credits. In 1998, he stopped submitting altogether, and began to think less about getting it out there, and more about self-improvement. During the next ten years, he focused on his own private artistic practice, which includes writing, painting, and photography, on his family, and on his career in public relations. Barry is a Communication Project Manager for a water company, and no one at work knows about his issues with memory. This is partly because he keeps his private and work lives separate, but also because he has successfully been able to mask the matter by taking exhaustive notes, and because the nature of his work follows short project lifecycles. Barry takes a journal with him everywhere, and writes down everything that seems important. When he travels by car, he uses a GPS to make sure he knows how to get where he’s going, and how to get back. But when he wants to remember something important, to savor an experience, he also stops, focuses, puts the scene into perspective, and tries to embed it in his memory. Barry was married in 2003, and has two children—Eli, who is five, and Abbey, who is three—with his wife, Jennifer. Jennifer is the best thing that ever happened to him (he realizes that everyone says this, but he knows it to be true). She is extraordinarily caring and patient with him, and is his best friend. Barry feels incredibly fortunate to have waited until his mid-30s before having children, because by this time he could let go of his youthful selfishness. He does not have any real regrets. Everything serious, he’s talked through and apologized for. The small things he simply forgets. In 2008, Barry began again to submit his writing for publication, but this time he was very selective and smart about where he wanted to be published. The first publication he sought out was Willows Wept Review, and Molly Gaudry was the editor who accepted his poetry. Barry does not consider himself an accomplishment-driven person—he enjoys building relationships and promoting things that are important to him—but he does look forward to publishing his first book. In 2009 he wrote a novella, but he’s not in love with it. Sometimes he goes back to old journals—much of which he does not remember writing—and types some of it out. But generally, his writing keeps getting better, and whatever he most recently wrote, he likes the best.

[Update: bl pawelek's collection of poems, The Equation of Constants, is now available at Artistically Declined Press.]

[Notes: You can read Shya Scanlon's postcard life story here. And you can read bl pawelek's postcard life story of James Beach here.]

Dear Everybody in Chinese Complex

I'm excited to have just signed the contracts for the translation of Dear Everybody into Chinese Complex with Ace Publishing in Taiwan, especially since Citic Publishing in Beijing is already working on the translation into Chinese Simplified.
Comments (2)

#228 Nick Kane: Ninja for Hire

Nick Kane was born in 1983, the oldest of 6 kids. His mom struggled with eating and prescription meds. His dad was abusive. His mom often ran away from home (and so did Nick). To manage, Nick would often go break dancing. He was never home if he could help it. As a kid, Nick loved magic because you can create your own reality with magic. At 12, Nick’s parents divorced. All the kids got put in separate foster homes, which was terrible. Nick didn’t know his brothers and sisters for much of his childhood. In high school, Nick explored many religions and eventually found his faith as an open-minded Christian. He ran an underground dance club and made a public access TV show with dance, improv, and stunts. Nick was also politically active, held office in student government, and started a massage club. In college, Nick studied dance and film. Eventually, he became a dance addict—giving dance lessons during the day and going out dancing nearly every night. When Nick is in motion, everything fits and he connects with people on a spiritual level. In 2002, Nick was carjacked, kidnapped, robbed, and almost murdered. The kidnapper took him to a secret crack house where they thought he was a narc and tried to kill him. Eventually, Nick escaped. That same year, Nick started an arts-based church (ABC) that worshipped god with art. For years, he lived in and ran a coffee shop his friend owned (it had open mics, karaoke, and live bands). Nick was kicked out when he refused to fire an employee unjustly. Then he did fine art photography, had shows, did photos for local papers, and shot weddings. After that, Nick started a non-profit called SAFE (Starving Artist Food and Employment) that brought food to artists and found them work teaching or doing their art. Nick lost his virginity when he was date raped by a girl he knew. In 2004, Nick got his dream job—working the teleprompter and floor directing for NBC. Unfortunately, NBC fired him 2 days from being union. Nick was devastated. After that, Nick was recruited (for surveillance photography) and trained to be a tactical crowd control riot officer, but he ended up using his guard card to work security at Taco Bell. In 2006, Nick moved out to LA with only $300. He lived with a friend for 2 months and then lived in his car for a year. Nick took showers at Venice Beach and worked for free as a PA and grip to gain film set experience. Nick loved this life until he got sick and there was nobody to take care of him. He went back home to heal before coming back to LA, where he thought he had a paid post-production job set up. The job didn’t happen so Nick just kept showing up until they hired him. Nick found a place to live, organized his housemates into an intentional community, and taught free weekly dance lessons to the public. Nick has never loved money. In 2009, he got really poor, so he signed up to be a human test subject for NASA, but did not pass the tests. Nick still works as a grip in the movie business (he loves light). He’s really proud of the music video he directed. Besides film crew gigs, Nick does background acting, sells popsicles on the beach, teaches kids after school, does street performances, and makes appearances as a clown to earn money. Nick dresses up as a ninja to make youtube videos and he collaborates with other artists any way he can.

[Update: Craigslist has made a short documentary about Nick Kane, Ninja for Hire.]
Comments (1)

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.
Comments (1)

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.
Comments (5)

#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.]
Comments (1)
See Older Posts...



© 2008-2011 Michael Kimball