Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#216 Matthew Simmons Likes to Get the Door for People

Matthew Simmons was born in Columbus, Ohio, and his family moved around a lot after that—Pennsylvania, Kansas, Upper Michigan. Matthew always had the sense that every place he moved had a version of a person from the last place he lived. He had a friend in Lenexa, Kansas named Loren who looked almost exactly like his friend Andy in Gladstone, Michigan (similar temperament too). Sometimes, Matthew tried to reinvent himself after a move, but eventually he realized that he was always Matthew. Matthew had wonderful parents, but still managed to be a kind of sad child, and sometimes he feels a little guilty about that. Lots of good things happened to him, though. For instance, once, he won Best Customizing in the Pinewood Derby. Also, it was nice the way Matthew and his brother were so close growing up (still are; they live just a few blocks from each other). It wasn’t until his senior year of high school that Matthew became a reader, but now he really likes books. In college, Matthew studied English—reading, writing, and writing about reading were the only things that he felt naturally good at. Once, Matthew wrote a short story that somebody else turned into a short film without asking him, but the guy flew Matthew to LA to see it on a big screen and he liked it. Years ago, Matthew had a friend, a coworker, and he would write weird little stories for her on sticky notes and then stick them on her desk. Matthew liked her and liked making her laugh. She encouraged him to take storytelling more seriously. Within a year, he was sending fiction out to online journals. Within 5 years, he had an MFA. Matthew continued to move through the years—Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, and now Seattle, Washington. Moving to Seattle was big for Matthew. He had been rootless for a while. After Matthew turned 30, a lot of things in his life normalized. He stopped clamping his jaws. He stopped not letting things go. Also, the Zoloft has helped. A while ago, Matthew realized that he is often really melancholy and so he decided to just be okay with being sad, which sometimes he can enjoy now—not in a self-indulgent way, but in a natural way. Also, Matthew’s girlfriend is really wonderful, so easy to be around. His mind quiets down when he is around her. He likes waking up next to her and seeing her face softened by sleep. She's beautiful and smarter than he is and he likes that. Matthew’s cat let Matthew tattoo his likeness on Matthew’s arm. Also, he likes to get the door for people. Now Matthew works as a copywriter and feels settled, but there is a chance that he will move again—to go back to college to pursue a Ph.D.

[Update: Matthew Simmons’ first book A Jello Horse is now in its third printing and it received a really nice review in The Believer. He went back to Michigan for the holidays.]

Also, Here's Matthew’s chapbook, Caves.
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#60 Kim Chinquee: Fully Formed

Kim Chinquee was three weeks late being born and she was a big baby when she finally arrived. She started reading before anybody else in her class and was the salutatorian of her middle school, but her parents divorced when she was 14 and Kim stopped studying in high school. She preferred sports, boys, and parties. When she graduated, she didn't go to college. She couldn't afford it and nobody had told her about financial aid. She was going to join the Navy, but the recruiter wasn't there, so she joined the Air Force instead. She didn’t want to fly planes, but she didn't really want to be a medical lab technician either--it was her 10th choice. She married another lab tech and they had a son a little over one year later. Technically, they were married for 7 years, but they were separated for the last 4 years of their marriage because her husband wouldn't sign the divorce papers. He couldn't believe that she actually wanted to leave him. The divorce finally became official and Kim left the Air Force too. She joined the Reserves, but the next few years were a difficult time. She was a single mother working multiple jobs, taking classes toward her college degree, and paying for food with food stamps. She took her first creative writing class because it filled a general education requirement and has been a writer ever since--though she never admitted that fact until she won the Henfield Prize and the 5K dollar award that goes with it. Now she is a creative writing professor at Buffalo State College and has published a great book of tiny stories called OH BABY. She may have started her writing life a little late, but she has arrived fully formed.

[Update: Kim Chinquee is now the fiction and creative nonfiction editor at elimae. The first issue is up. She is also the editor for the January 2010 issue of the Mississippi Review Online.]

Kim Chinquee's blog. Kim Chinquee's OH BABY.
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Poets & Writers: Beyond Words

The Jan/Feb isssue of Poets & Writers is out. It's theme is inspiration and it's the best issue of Poets & Writers I've ever read. There's a nice article by Cecilia Ward Jones about continuing to write, for years and years, even though she had never published a single piece (until the article). There's a good piece Dennis Cass on what gets called writer's block, a smart take that gets to research on divergent thinking and convergent thinking. And there's a great article by Suzanne Pettypiece called "Beyond Words"--about 5 writers who practice other arts. There's a two-page+ interview where I talk about painting--then Michelle Wildgen talks about cooking, Jesse Ball about drawing, Abha Dawesar about photography, and Jen Bervin about visual arts. It feels like a good way to end the year.
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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.

[Note: You can read Meg Pokrass' expressive life story here.]
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Peter Schwartz Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #235 Shamal Da'Kimm Davis

Shamal Da’Kimm Davis AKA Shimy HotRod was born in Corona Queens. Soon after his mother and him moved to Buffalo to care for his grandfather who was sick at the time. And there they stayed for years. His mother was a singer so music was always playing in the house, everything from Talking Heads to Betty Davis to Barry White and most importantly, gospel music. She was with a group called Business Before Pleasure in NYC and after relocating she did some backup singing work with the late Rick James. So growing up, the house was filled with incredible sound. In 1984, the next influence came into young Shamal's life in the form of a Radio Shack computer. It was given to him by his father who he has only laid eyes on once in his life. He studied computers in high school and then computer science in college. He developed a love of sports like football and basketball, but was too short and scrawny to be any good at them. So, he took it to the streets, turned to skateboarding, which he is grateful for because it kept him out of the hood. Skateboarding exposed him to traveling and introduced him to new friends and experiences. He gained notoriety throughout Buffalo as an amazing skateboarder for which he is proud, especially since black skateboarders were a rare thing to see at the time. In March of 1999, he made a hard decision. Although he had/has nothing but love for Buffalo, he realized that he would have a lot more opportunity in Brooklyn. It was there he met Jaime while waiting for his friend Emile at a spot on Park Avenue. She had a big booty and, well, Shamal being an ass man, he gave chase. And it worked. They now have a 2-year-old son and a tan Chihuahua named Brooklyn. And Brooklyn (the borough) loves Shimy. One day he decided to sport a faded Mohawk, which he had done by Daz AKA Triple X on Washington Avenue, and he took to wearing a Stingy brim hat. Sure enough, his old barber reported a dramatic increase in Mohawks and he himself noticed a lot of Stingy hats around his new neighborhood. It is this natural talent for leadership and innovation that led him to start HotRod Group, a production development company, in 2009. This was after a real low point in his life, so this project has a special place in his heart. As with everything he does, Shamal will come full force with this project so watch out for the vroom vroom. Currently, he works with the rap acts: M. Island, Legiyon, and Oscar Grammy; with soul singer Bradd Marquis; with pop singer Tess; with artists: Shah Wonders, Concep, Rizz 22, Aniekan Udofia, and with a black female drag racer named Rikkia Mills. As you can see from the variety of artists he produces and works with, he doesn't feel the need to limit himself to any one area. HotRod is not so much a company as a grassroots movement, a community, a platform that he's created for his friends and associates to use to shine, to succeed without all the stress and demands that often come when dealing with larger, more formal production companies. So, if you express yourself in an honest, unique way and have passion and real perseverance for what you do, you probably want to give him a call.
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Redivider

I have a tiny fiction called "Tom's Mother Died Today in New Jersey" in the new Redivider, along with some great writing from Blake Butler, Robert Travieso, Dan Chaon, Kate Russell, Jeff Porter, Krista Benjamin, and a ton of others. Thanks to the good Matt Salesses and Cat Ennis Sears.
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Pamela Witter Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #233 Russell Rowland

Through his parents’ rough times, financial problems, and his father’s alcoholism, Russell Rowland, born 1957 in Bozeman, MT, was a shy child. He was often insecure and angry, and without a clue as to how to get along in the world. That frustration was a constant source of confusion and fear. People scared the hell out of him. They moved a lot. At 10, he attended a one-room school, then joined 125 sixth graders in Billings, MT. He got a music scholarship and received a BA in Music Education, which was not his calling. For a time, Russell did lounge lizard gigs. He played and sang mostly Billy Joel/Elton John covers. Like his dad, Russell drank. He stopped in 1985. That changed his life. After that, Russell fell in love with books. He started with Vonnegut and Salinger. Reading led him to Western literature. Authors Ken Kesey, Wallace Stegner, and Raymond Carver inspired him to try his hand at writing. Russell married and had a son. Despite parental concern, Russell got an MA in Creative Writing. That was his calling. He got divorced, struggled financially, joined support groups and got therapy. Russell lost his grandmother. He thought about her life; during homestead days, people had little support, or even telephones. He realized those people turned out to be incredibly optimistic. Russell decided to write a novel about that. During an Atlantic Monthly internship, fiction editor C. Michael Curtis read the first chapters of Russell’s novel, In Open Spaces. Though he did not get it published, the fact that Curtis thought it was good enough kept Russell encouraged. Around 1999, Russell wrote fortune cookies for a few weeks. That led to appearances on two of his all-time favorite game shows: “To Tell the Truth” and “I’ve Got a Secret.” His first novel was finally published, reviewed in the New York Times, and made the San Francisco Chronicle's Bestseller list. He turned down an offer for the sequel, The Watershed Years. Though that decision haunted him, it too was eventually published. After nearly 20 years as a single man, he married. Two months later, he was devastated. His bride’s only child, a 19-year-old daughter, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Not long ago, Russell met the woman now in his life at a book club. They share a huge love of books and read widely. She’s a social worker, cares deeply about others, and continually pushes herself to be a better person. That makes Russell want to do the same thing. Russell had prostate cancer. Last year, he went in for a 2-hour surgery that took 10 hours. Through this and other experiences, Russell learned to notice how his behavior affects other people. He works on improving himself every day. While completing the first novel’s prequel, Arbuckle, Russell is working on a western writers’ anthology. He also teaches writing, consults fellow writers, and is co-editor of an online literary magazine called Stone's Throw. Since he began writing, Russell has never suffered from writers’ block. Russell wants to marry his girlfriend. He knows he’s very fortunate to have people in his life that he loves, and who support and love him. He expects to focus on that.



Stone’s Throw Magazine
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Zachary German on 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES


Zachary German has a nice, descriptive write-up of 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES at Moby Lives. It is, as they say, "good."
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Shanti Perez Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #233 Michael Baker

Michael George Baker, the youngest of three brothers, was born to Michael and Zinda, in Spokane, in Washington, in July 1989, on a day when the high temperature was 89 °F, and had to undergo surgery as an infant because he could not swallow food. His mother didn’t really care what he did or didn’t do, so he kept pets, and he has always had the impulse to wander. His father, who is reputed to have been a good cook at the Davenport Hotel long ago, beat Michael’s mother when she was pregnant with him and has been in and out of prison all of Michael’s life, so he hasn’t spent much time with him. Michael knows his father is famous in Spokane for his association with methamphetamines. Since he and his father have the same name, Michael has to sometimes inform people that he’s not ‘that’ Michael Baker. Michael does strange things, such as in third grade when he ate a green caterpillar, which reminded him of jelly candy. He uses dermestid beetles to clean the flesh off of animals that have died natural deaths and then he reconstructs their skeletons. In school, he was fascinated with the Russian language and studied horticulture and livestock. His love of animals led him to a fascination with poultry genetics, which he thinks is the best decision he’s ever made—though he describes it as an addiction. Michael does not like to have regrets. When he was seven years old he was attacked and bitten by a dog, which left a scar, but he persevered—he now works in a pet store and it’s the most fun job he’s ever had. During his days off, he enjoys reading and thinking about poultry genetics. Right now, he doesn’t have a spouse or kids, and he doesn’t feel he needs them like most people do. Instead, his companions are a trio of Saxony ducks and saltwater fish, which he keeps in a tank in his bedroom. Michael has a rare condition known as triorchidism that some of his friends and family do not know about. He is most proud of the way he turned out, because left to his own devices most of the time, he could have gotten into drugs. The biggest plan he has, in keeping with his childhood impulse to wander, is to see the world and also save money and move to a state like Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, or Kentucky, though he doesn’t know why he’s chosen these places. In his spare time, he plans to develop new color varieties of chickens, perhaps a landrace and a blue egg layer that yields high egg production. He doesn’t want to be a doctor, lawyer, or fireman. He enjoys the simple things in life.

Michael Baker on Facebook

[Note: You can read Shanti Perez's amazing life story here.]
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Dear Michael Kimball

The good John Madera has an incredibly thoughtful review of DEAR EVERYBODY, disguised as a letter to Michael Kimball, up at the always wonderful Word Riot. The review asks many smart questions, among them: "How do I get rid of your voice in my head?"
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Adam Robinson Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #219 Cubicle Wall

At about three o'clock Central time, the cubicle wall was born at average height. The cubicle wall was happy about this, but before long he was laid flat and wrapped in cardboard. He was stacked somewhere. (He didn't know where because he couldn't see on account of the box he was in and also because he didn't have eyes or a brain.) He stayed there for several long days. He started to cry through his fabric. Then, earless, he heard a truck and felt himself lifted onto it. There was a rumbling. In the truck he traveled until the truck stopped, whereupon the cubicle wall was unloaded. He was elated when the box was peeled away and he was fastened to some other beige cubicle walls in the form of a box. Together with a computer and some pens they became a community. A phone came along and joined the group. The computer was friendly, but the pens were often short. The phone had a whiney ring. One day, and then repeatedly every weekday for three years, a good looking young man came and sat in front of the beige cubicle wall. He touched the computer, the phone and the pens. He rarely touched the cubicle wall except, occasionally, to stick some sheet of paper to it with a pin. The puncture didn't hurt nearly as bad as the feeling of being ignored. The young man seemed not to care about the cubicle wall. It was even as if the cubicle wall represented something hateful to the young man, or if not hateful, at least unbearably mundane. But the cubicle wall was resolute. He would be there for the young man tomorrow, too, and the next day, and the day after that. Oh yes, the cubicle wall would remain a presence in that young man’s life for many long years.

[Note: Adam Robinson's postcard life story is here.]
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A Kind of Planned Awkwardness

I have an interview with Joseph Young up at The Faster Times. We talk about his new book, Easter Rabbit, by way of his microfiction, "Eleven"--of which I ask questions that address each of the 30 words in the piece.

More interviews @ The Faster Times:
I Am Not a Camera: Gary Lutz
A Ribbon of Language: Blake Butler
What People Do When No One is Watching: Rachel Sherman
Justify Every Sentence: Laura van den Berg
Most Violence Is Intimate: Ben Tanzer
I'm Not Trying to Trick the Reader: Brian Evenson
Where Commas Ordinarily Go: Robert Lopez
My Narrative Mind: Joanna Howard
Details Are My Weakness: Dylan Landis
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