Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
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#224 Leigh Newman Isn’t Afraid of Anything Anymore

Leigh Newman was born in LA in the 70s. She lived with her family in a yellow bungalow and there was a lemon tree out back. They had a monster black lab named Roger who Leigh used to ride around like a horse. Leigh’s childhood was kind of dreamy. As a family, they had massive tickle fights, danced the can-can, camped in a VW van with a pop-top tent, and ate a lot of rainbow sherbet. But she thinks that she has probably suppressed all the miserable crap. After they moved to Alaska, they cross-country skied over glaciers. The moose used to clomp through their backyard and Leigh remembers watching them to snack on the leaves at night, under the moon, in the snow. When she was 7, her mother left French fries cooking on the stove, which caught on fire all the way up to the ceiling. Leigh tried to tell her parents that the house was on fire, but they were either laughing or arguing. Leigh tried again and again, but eventually gave up and went back to the family room to watch The Love Boat. The kitchen burned down and a fireman carried Leigh out of the house. When Leigh was 10, she was flying in a single-prop plane with her dad when an updraft hit them as they were going over a mountain. They climbed up and up to 20,000 feet, which people say is impossible in small plane, but Leigh saw where the needle was. Over the radio, her dad said they wouldn't be in trouble until they started turning blue and that’s when Leigh looked down at her fingers, which were blue. They laughed like lunatics at the lack of oxygen. It wasn't real somehow, up in the sky. Luckily, they drifted down and lived. After that, Leigh studied English at Stanford because she loved reading. She had always wanted to be a writer, but was afraid. In 1995, Leigh met Lawrence at a champagne party. Leigh was wearing a vintage tennis dress with red shoes and a yellow silk parasol and they were standing out on a balcony overlooking Central Park. Lawrence leaned over and kissed her and then they got married. Leigh’s favorite thing about Lawrence is his odd and beautiful imagination (he pretended his dad was private detective for most of his childhood; he wasn’t) and the way he is exactly himself in all occasions. Having a child, especially an unexpected one, made Leigh rethink and redo who she is. Leigh’s favorite thing about her son Will (3 years old) is that he is a forest sprite. Her favorite thing about Wilder (8 weeks old) is the doofus love in his smile. Right now, Leigh is writing a memoir about growing up in Alaska. One day, she wants to have a house with a swimming pool. And she wants to keep writing until she’s old and can't anymore. She isn’t afraid to write or do anything else anymore.

Leigh Newman in the New York Times.
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#217 Sarah Black Likes to Do Things Her Own Way

Sarah Witte’s family moved every 2 years, so it was always a new school, new people, a new chance (she’s now lived in 14 states). By the time Sarah was 8, she already loved books and reading. She also loved pretending to be a nurse and bandaging skinned knees, which led to college at Old Dominion, where she became a registered nurse (and then, years later, a nurse practioner). After college, Sarah joined the Navy as a young ensign in the Nurse Corps. She loved belonging to a unit, but never stopped moving. At 25, Sarah met a young lieutenant commander and knew after 5 minutes that he was it. The first time she took his hand, Sarah could see their child’s face. Maybe they lived past lives together (though Sarah doesn’t believe in that). Regardless, the whole wonderful and heartbreaking affair seemed inevitable. He was married and a serial adulterer, but she forged ahead anyway. 7 years later, they had a baby. It was much harder than Sarah expected and that doesn’t even take into account her son, James. When James was 7 and failing in school and every interaction, Sarah quit her job, sold everything, and started driving west on a camping trip with him. Sarah likes to do things her own way, so she took James off all the meds and tried to figure out what was going on with him. It would have worked beautifully, but 6 months in they were broke. So Sarah drove onto a Navajo reservation and talked a small clinic at a boarding school into taking them both—a package deal. It was during this time (when she turned 40) that Sarah took on the last name Black and started writing. Sarah Black liked that the name was all hers. She discovered literary fiction, abandoned genre with almost no regrets (she has written romance novels and gay sleuth murder mysteries, but now she writes flash fiction), and started a publishing house for illustrated flash fiction chapbooks (Bannock Street Books). Sarah stayed at the reservation for 6 years, but eventually started taking long drives over the red dirt roads and thinking about Alaska. She wanted another adventure, so she found a small Inuit village on the Yukon River (no roads in or out; you get there by small plane). The clinic was next to the school, so she was right there if James needed anything, but Sarah hated it and only lasted 6 months. She left with James, but without a job, a vehicle, or a place to live. Now James is 17. He has autism, but not classic autism. He interacts with the world in his own particular way, but he’s a lovely person—full of affection, ready to help anybody. When it’s just the two of them, Sarah and James are a happy family. Now Sarah works as a nurse practioner at a community health center for the homeless in Boise, Idaho. She’s happy working there (and she becomes unmoored when she’s not working). She loves making people feel like they can change for the better.

Bannock Street Books
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