Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#160 Particularly Michael Martone

Michael Martone was born in 1955 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is one of the things that made Michael Martone particularly Michael Martone. Michael Martone’s childhood was like many childhoods at the end of the baby boom—happy, rich, optimistic. His mother was a high school English teacher and Michael Martone loved reading mythology—in part because the translator (Edith Hamilton) was from his hometown, in part because she made the mythology new. Growing up, Michael Martone loved to make model airplanes (each with its own nose mascot or variation of camo paint) and 54mm soldiers (the uniformity of uniforms, the slight variation in the details of the dress and how those details can be read)—theme and variation. In junior high school, Michael Martone wore black-and-white saddle shoes (for their black-and-white-ness). In high school, Michael Martone was mostly speech and debate, reading and writing, government and politics; he also wore black-and-white saddle shoes (because they were the first gym shoe). At Butler University and then at Indiana University, Michael Martone continued to wear black-and-white saddle shoes (for their iconic nature). Michael Martone graduated with a degree in English, and, for a while, worked in a bookstore. In graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, Michael met the poet Theresa Pappas. The first thing he noticed about her was the brightly colored socks she wore, and, after that, they got married. For all these years, Michael has admired her strength and her intensity, her devotion and her intelligence. The strangest thing Michael Martone ever did was become a father—two sons, Sam and Nick—but he loves the rewiring that takes place when one has children. For the past 30 years, Michael Martone has taught creative writing—at four different universities (now at the University of Alabama). At one university, at a party, a drunk colleague threw a drink at a woman student. The fallout from that gesture changed Michael Martone’s life in profound ways. It made him rethink and reimagine what it means to be a teacher, a writer, a man; his notions of what art is, what fiction is, what power is; what a family is and whether that should that be a model for a program, a department, or any job. Over the past 25 years, Michael Martone has published 12 books of fiction and nonfiction—including The Flatness and Other Landscapes (2000), Michael Martone (2005), Unconventions (2005), Double-Wide (collected fiction; 2007), and, most recently, Racing in Place (2008). Right now, Michael Martone is on a semester leave and hopes to finish up 3 or 4 books he’s been working on. He also wants to keep running, to start a compost heap, and to redesign his garden to include more vegetables. He wants to work harder to care and to not care. He wants to learn how to sit still. He stays in touch the best he can.

[Note #1: This postcard life story is part of a series of postcard life stories that appear in Keyhole #6 (guest edited by William Walsh), where all the contributor bios will be postcard life stories--the idea being to make every possible aspect of the magazine literature.]
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A Hug or a Slap?

There's a nice interview at Me and My Big Mouth about DEAR EVERYBODY where Scott Packs asks me, among other things, whether I would hug or slap Jonathon Bender if he took corporeal form.

Scott also gave DEAR EVERYBODY a really great review last week where he says that DEAR EVERYBODY is "a wonderful, clever, imaginative and moving book. It really is quite something ... a fucking marvelous book." This is all part of my UK blog tour.

The Only Thing Holding Me Together: A UK Review of DEAR EVERYBODY

There is a really nice review of DEAR EVERYBODY and it's up at Just William's Luck. William Rycroft wraps up the review with this: "... the perfect way to tell the story of a man who has fallen through the net ... remembering that he has taken his own life gives a forensic importance to the documents. As you go through the evidence you may find yourself caring more with each page not only about his sad, short life but the continuing narrative of those other voices around him."

William and I also did an interview about DEAR EVERYBODY and that will be up at Just William's Luck on April 26th as part of my UK blog tour.

Me and My Big Mouth

There is a really great review of DEAR EVERYBODY and it's up at Me and My Big Mouth. Scott Pack says: "A wonderful, clever, imaginative and moving book. It really is quite something ... a fucking marvelous book."

Scott and I also did an interview about DEAR EVERYBODY and that will be up at Me and My Big Mouth on April 13th as part of my UK blog tour.

#159 The Great Imagination of Cooper Esteban

Cooper Esteban was born in 1953 in Dallas, TX. Growing up, he loved reading genre fiction—first mysteries, then science fiction, then (with Tolkien) fantasy. He also read lots of ancient history, Biblical history, mythology, and these bodies of knowledge began working their way into Cooper’s poems fairly early—when he started writing poetry in high school. Gerard Manley Hopkins was one of Cooper’s early idols, which may have something to do with his affinity for the sonnet and a vigorous syntax. In college, he studied English literature and history, and ancient (mostly Roman) history. After college, he worked for several thousand years in public education (both a teacher and a librarian, though generally not at the same time), during which time he continued to write poetry. Mostly, Cooper was a school librarian (where he also wrote reviews for School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Criticas), though he also taught junior high and high school and even a bit of college. He was almost totally unknown and barely published when The Quarterly’s Gordon Lish pulled him out of the slush pile in the late '80s--interested, presumably, in the fact that some of his poems were quite formal, and perhaps in the way Cooper approached subject matter and didn't much write solipsism. Cooper claims to have lived a very mundane daily life, but his poems are the product of a great imagination. Of course, we can only presume Cooper’s tremendous interior life. In 2006, Cooper’s translation of Mario Bellatin's Chinese Checkers: Three Fictions was published. Later that year, Cooper retired to a life of reading, writing, drawing, and traveling. In 2007, his beautiful collection of poems Mosefolket was published. He continues to review books and edit the wonderful www.elimae.com (one of the first and best online literary magazines). Cooper is currently trying to place a couple of oddball literary thrillers and has just moved to Alamo, TX on the Mexican border.

Cooper’s collection of poems, Mosefolket.
Cooper is the great editor behind elimae.com.
One of Cooper’s drawings.

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The UK Paperback of DEAR EVERYBODY

I have loved my UK publishers ever since 4th Estate took on my first novel, The Way the Family Got Away, after 119 other publishers had rejected it. Now Alma Books has just put out the UK paperback of Dear Everybody (US paperback coming in September) and I’m excited to be doing a two-week tour of the vibrant UK blogosphere starting next week.

April 13th *Me & My Big Mouth*
April 15th *Dogmatika*
April 17th *The View From Here*
April 18th *3am Magazine*
April 19th *Lizzy’s Literary Life*
April 20th *Digital Fiction Show*
April 21st *Planting Words*
April 23rd *Elizabeth Baines*
April 25th *Writing Neuroses*
April 26th *Just William's Luck*

If any other UK bloggers or reviewers would like a review copy, please leave a comment here and I’ll ask the good Daniel Seton of Alma Books to post one to you.
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#158 The Adventures of Patrick King

Patrick King was born in San Antonio, Texas, where his dad was getting military training, and the family kept moving for his dad’s Army job until Pat was 6--New Jersey, Germany, then Frederick, Maryland, where he spent kindergarten. On the first day of school, he remembers holding hands with Mandy Devis as they got on the school bus. After that, the family moved to Upstate NY, a small town outside of Ithaca while his dad finished his PhD in biology at Cornell, after which the family moved to Thailand for his research. Pat spent one semester of 4th grade in Bangkok, Thailand. Then his mom left his dad that summer and his dad sent Pat and his two brothers back to the states to be with her in Upstate NY. His parents divorced soon afterward, which, secretly, Pat liked. It was something that the other kids didn't have, but he did miss seeing his dad. After his 12th birthday, Pat turned inward, got shy and depressed, cut himself off from his friends. His only friend for 2 years was his brother Dave. It was a horrible time, but it was also when Pat started writing in notebooks. Just before his 15th birthday, Pat’s mother moved the family to Birmingham (where her family was) and he was insanely glad to be leaving Ithaca. He decided he would start over with a new life and make new friends. He threw away his notebooks and decided to make up stories about his past. Pat always hated the structure, and, in 7th grade, he almost flunked out. In high school, Pat’s grades always ranged from terrible to decent. He never got an A in anything until college, but, eventually, he dropped out. Pat has nightmares where he flunks out of college—though that isn’t what happened. He thought he had learned all he needed to learn and could do the rest on his own. In early 2006, Pat left his wife. Their lives were going in different directions—she wanted the bourgeois and he wanted the bohemian. So one night around 1am, he packed his stuff up in his brother Mike's car and they took off for Philadelphia. Pat left her with all the bills and the cats and an empty apartment. It was probably the cruelest thing he’s ever done. He didn't care then because he was going on a crazy adventure (and he wouldn’t be his dad's son if he wasn't an adventure-seeking, book-loving, half-mad artist), but he’s ashamed of it now. By 2007, Pat was divorced, living with his dad, and back in Maryland to start over again. He met Katie online and liked how smart she is and what a great artist she is. Also, she doesn't mind his vices. Right now, Pat works in a grocery store and is also working on a book of essays about his travels and the women in his life. Pat would like to marry Katie (there is something special about being legally bound to somebody else) and produce weird offspring and go on adventures together.

Outsider Writers
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#157 The Happy-Go-Lucky Life of Jill Cary

Jill Cary (Jillian to her parents) was born in Pembury, Kent, UK. Her parents split up when she was 5 and, after that, she lived with her mother and her sister, Fiona, which made them very close. Jill used to visit her father, stepmother, Eve, and three half-sisters (Jen, Carol and Sarah) every other Sunday. She still wonders how her life would have been different if her parents hadn’t divorced, but is glad she gained three more sisters. Her mother found a new partner, David, when Jill was about 8 and they moved to a new house when she was 13. Jill had a happy childhood living in Matfield and the memories get happier the older she gets. She went to Brenchley and Matfield Primary School where she met friends who she is still really close to some 20-odd years later. Not knowing what to do after school, Jill applied for lots of different jobs and got hired at El Parido because they knew she had print in her blood. Her father was a printer and Jill is a graphic designer (like her sister) and does a little web design. In 1998, Jill met Tom in a Cornwall nightclub called Berties. She was 18 and working; Tom was 17 and still in school. They had a holiday romance, swapped addresses, and then both went to their different homes. They had a long distance romance for about a year—letters and phone calls, visiting each other once or twice a month—until Tom moved to live nearby Jill. Later, they moved in together, and, in 2002, they bought their first house. In 2003, they got engaged, and then, in 2006, they got married, at Salomons—a lovely day that even the rain couldn’t ruin. They honeymooned in Australia and New Zealand—a dream of Jill’s that Tom surprised her with on the Valentine’s Day before their wedding. One of the strangest things that has happened to Jill happened one night when she woke bolt upright at 3am and felt as if she should say goodbye to her grandfather. Later, she found out that 3am was the time he died. There were so many wonderful people at her grandfather’s funeral who had such nice things to say about him that it inspires Jill to be just like him—kind and funny, which she very much is. Now it’s 2 years later and Jill and Tom are even more in love than they were when they got married. At work, Blaze, she’s very happy with her promotion to assistant studio manager. At home, she’s looking forward to starting a family with Tom, though it's really not happening as fast as they'd like. Still, Jillian is smiley, which matches her happy-go-lucky life.
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Blake Butler Asked Me to Guest Edit Lamination Colony and I Said Yes

I guest edited Blake Butler’s Lamination Colony and the issue looks amazing. Blake asked me what I wanted it to look like and then he made it look like that. It’s all different-colored boxes that you have to scroll over until a name pops up and then you click on that some-colored box and there is something for you to love there. There are 100 boxes and 38 writers and over 60 pieces.

Shaindel Beers: On the Hood of a Cutlass Supreme Tour

I met Shaindel Beers through my life story project. She was one of the first people to step up and I have admired her fearlessness ever since. So I was happy to participate in her blog tour, On the Hood of a Cutlass Supreme Tour.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME is Shaindel Beers’ first collection of poetry. It is at once an exploration of what it is to grow up in rural America and a treatise for social justice. These poems, many of them award-winning, span a wide range of styles—from plainsong free verse to sestinas to nearly epic works.

Michael Kimball: When you signed up with Salt Publishing, it was a two-book deal. Could you talk a little about that and a little about how you decided which poems would go into A Brief History of Time and which poems would go in the second book?

Shaindel Beers: Sure. I think what I’m learning more and more as a writer is just to go with those crazy ideas that you’re not sure of because they seem too crazy. After all, my two-book deal came out of a crazy idea. Basically, A Brief History of Time is made up of poems I wrote and crafted during graduate school (my MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts—I also have a Master’s degree in Humanities split between British literature and Philosophy from the University of Chicago, but that’s sort of a different world), and a few poems written since then. It’s a collection I was sending out in minorly different variations since 2005 or so. And it’s definitely a separate body of work from my second collection I’m working on.

My second collection, The Children’s War, came to me as an idea when Slate.com did a story on children’s drawings in Darfur illustrating the atrocities there. I became obsessed with the drawings and started writing a poem on each one. Then, I learned that child psychologists have been using art therapy in war-torn areas since the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, so I started looking at those drawings and drawings done by children living through nearly every war since then. This was an obsession during summer break last year, where I hardly left the couch for a week once I got the idea; I was just poring over children’s drawings and writing. I got a little worried about myself, so I asked Lee (my husband) if he thought it was a good idea and showed him what I was working on and sent a few of the poems to friends. I read a few of them on a radio interview I did, and when I was sending my manuscript to Salt, I was a bit short of their page requirement for a manuscript, so I sent the seven or eight Children’s War poems I had at the time. I was really honest that they didn’t feel like they belonged in the same book, but that I knew they were something and that I was trying to meet their page requirement for a full book. I couldn’t believe it when Chris Hamilton-Emery from Salt called and offered me a two-book deal for A Brief History of Time, my completed manuscript, and for The Children’s War, if I thought I could come up with enough poems on children’s war drawings. I was elated.

Kimball: Publishing can be so difficult, so I love to hear stories like that. I want to ask you more about The Children’s War, but I’ll save that for next time. There’s a poem early in A Brief History of Time that’s titled “Elegy for a Past Life” and that title, that idea, animates a lot of the poems in the collection.

Beers: I guess I’m a big believer in the notion that “you can’t go home again.” Either home will have changed since you left it or you will have changed since you’ve been there, and you’ll see it differently. There was something really idyllic about growing up somewhere so rural that if you didn’t want to see anybody all day, you didn’t have to. I could just get on my bike or take off walking and be in my own head for as long as I needed to be, and I think it helped me to grow up, being alone with my thoughts like that. I hate to sound biased, but I almost feel like it made some of the people in my little town some of the deepest thinkers I’ve ever met. My high school friends and I would just walk (or ride bikes or horses) for miles outside of town and talk about any topic you could imagine. My high school boyfriend who “Elegy for a Past Life” is about got a word processor when we were together (yes, this was before computers), and we would write stories together, taking turns sentence by sentence, for hours.

I never realized how different a lot of the outside world was until I was somewhere else. I went to college in Montgomery, Alabama, which was a different universe in a lot of ways than Indiana. I think the biggest culture shock was the amount of money everyone seemed to have. It’s not fair to say “everyone” because there were other students at my college on scholarship, but it seemed like almost everyone had been living in an entirely different world than the one I grew up in. I still remember things I said during some college classes, and, looking back, I think, “Wow…I must have sounded like such a hick.”

I even did have a boyfriend later in college who re-taught me how to say certain words. It was very My Fair Lady. I used to say cement as “See-Ment” and vehicle as “vee-hick-al” and a bunch of other things that would have been embarrassing to have kept saying my entire life. On the one hand, it’s very sad and classist and patriarchal that he did that, but on the other hand, I’m sure it’s helped in the very real, prejudiced world in which we live.

I think of stories that some of my friends who grew up in really different lifestyles have told me, and when I was younger, I might have envied them, but I don’t now. It doesn’t sound interesting to have gone to concerts or movies every weekend or to have had crazy parties at someone’s house where there were more people at the party than in my entire high school. I think the quiet life I grew up with was training me to be a writer all along.

Kimball: I grew up in an ungrammatical family and I often think that that way of talking made me into the kind of fiction writer I am today. Are there other parts of your biography that were formative for you as a poet?

Beers: I’ve tried and tried to come up with a different answer than what I’m going to write, but I can’t. I think growing up around a lot of chaos made me realize that anything could happen. By chaos, I think I mean “mental illness,” but that sounds a lot sadder and less poetic than I wanted to sound. You’ve already written about my kidnapping when I was four on life story blog, and I talk about it in my poem, “Flashback.” Basically, one day, my mom just told my little sister and me to put our favorite toys in a laundry basket, and she put us in the car, and we drove from Indiana to Texas. I think I learned early on that life is unpredictable. I don’t know if my mom had a plan at all, but we stayed with the most amazing array of people. We stayed with her friend Vangie (short for Evangelina). One of my memories of that is that Vangie’s family would speak Spanish when it was just them together, and I woke up and heard a lot of Spanish, then the word “burritos,” which I recognized. I woke my mother up, “They’re having burritos!” She tried to tell me I was dreaming and to go back to sleep, but when we got up, there were breakfast burritos.

We also stayed with a friend of my mother’s named Nancy. She was blind and had a little Pomeranian I was obsessed with, but the dog did not like children and always snapped at me. I was still always crawling under the kitchen table to try to pet him. I remember loving to touch Nancy’s Braille newspapers and being fascinated that she could read that way, when I couldn’t read at all yet.

Another person we stayed with was Mrs. Thompson. I remember that she was a complete stranger, just an old lady sitting on the porch with a border collie, and my mom stopped the car, told Mrs. Thompson her story, and asked if we could stay there.
We stayed with a lot of other people, but this is just the abbreviated version. And this was all when I was four.

My dad also had great stories about his brother (my Uncle Jack) who had been Bobby Fischer’s best friend and was mentioned on the first page of Brad Darrach’s Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World. I only met Jack once. He came to visit when I was in, maybe, eighth or ninth grade, and he had a paranoid delusion that we had had him injected with the AIDS virus (he had gotten a booster shot while he visited us since he hadn’t been to a doctor in forever) and that our whole town was in on it. When he got back to New York, he would call my dad crying, begging him for the antidote and asking why we would do that to him. I don’t know how long that went on, but I’m sure it was at least a year.

There are many, many other family stories like this, but it made me realize that life is unpredictable. Sometimes my students will write works (fiction and poetry), which aren’t at all surprising, and I think, “Wow. They must have had boring lives if they think this is exciting.” Growing up with a lot of mental illness around meant that anything could happen, or at least people could believe that anything could happen. I had a cousin take her kids and her brother’s kids out into a field with a jar full of change to wait for Jesus, and it was so cold they all could have frozen to death; a relative from my grandmother’s generation shot all of her kids, and it was the truancy officer who discovered the crime scene when he came to see why the kids hadn’t come to school. Anything can happen, and that’s, perhaps, the most important ingredient in creative writing.
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Blake Butler Asked Me to Guest Edit Lamination Colony and I Said Yes

I guest edited Blake Butler’s Lamination Colony and the issue looks amazing. Blake asked me what I wanted it to look like and then he made it look like that. It’s all different-colored boxes that you have to scroll over until a name pops up and then you click on that some-colored box and there is something for you to love there.

There are 100 boxes and 38 writers and over 60 pieces. There is Kim Chinquee, Adam Robinson, Ben Mirov, DS White, Matthew Salesses, Blaster Al Ackerman, M.T. Fallon, Adam Good, Stephanie Barber, J.A. Tyler, Catherine Moran, Cooper Renner, Luca Dipierro, Amanda Raczkowski, Rupert Wondolowski, Whitney Woolf, Lauren Becker, Michael Bible, Robert Swartwood, Darcelle Bleau, Robert Bradley, Jamie Gaughran-Perez, Aimee Lynn-Hirschowitz, Shane Jones, Conor Madigan, Krammer Abrahams, Shatera Davenport, Jordan Sanderson, Stacie Leatherman, Josh Maday, Joseph Young, Jason Jones, Gena Mohwish, Jen Michalski, Aby Kaupang, Jac Jemc, Karen Lillis, and Justin Sirois.
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#59 Shaindel Beers and Her Writing Behavior

When Shaindel Beers was 4 years old, her mother kidnapped her and they fled cross-country. For a year, they lived with strangers. Because of this, in part, Shaindel has never been afraid of anybody or anything. During this time, and before she could write, Shaindel told her mother stories, which her mother wrote down with crayons. This storytelling instinct and the fact that she observed adults often writing things led her to believe that this is what adults did, a behavior that she would later emulate as an English professor and a writer of poems (when she starts with a feeling) and fiction (when she starts with a character). Eventually, Shaindel and her mother drove back to her father, but the family was still dysfunctional—in part because of her mother’s OCD, which manifested itself, partly, as a hoarding instinct. In fact, growing up, Shaindel always thought of her friends’ houses as strangely neat, oddly empty. Her mother’s hoarding led to the family house being condemned and her mother going to jail for pulling a gun on two people who were trying to clean out the house. This might not have happened, but Shaindel’s father was at Subway getting a sandwich. Another thing that almost didn’t happen was Shaindel meeting her husband, Lee. Two hippies who live in a trailer on a reservation had fixed them up on a blind date—because they both read all the time and they both are hermits—but the hippies told them each a different meeting time. When Shaindel got there, Lee had left. Shaindel found out where Lee lived and went to his house. He answered the door in a wife beater that showed off his skull tattoos, but Shaindel was not afraid. They got married, and—oh, wait, did I tell you that Shaindel means pretty in Yiddish? It does. She is. Ask Lee. He’ll tell you.

Shaindel Beers' Blog Tour started a couple of weeks ago--in support of A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, which is just out. She will be stopping by here tomorrow for an interview about her life and her books.
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