By Haven Kimmel
Free Press, $24
Five books in six years is enough to give any writer pause and a chance to celebrate. Ever since her first memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, flew to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and was named one of the first Today Show book club selections, Durham's Haven Kimmel has been hitting deadlines, touring, writing, editing and rewriting.
With a popular children's book and a pair of book club favorite novels on the shelves and another on the boards, Haven finally found time to answer a question frequently asked at her readings: "What about your mom?" The answers are fabulously found in her new memoir, She Got Up Off the Couch, the further adventures of Zippy. "I never intended to write books about myself. Couch is the story of my mother's evolution and the way it reflects a broader cultural shift."
After Zippy, she was pleased that so many people approached her to tell her that it caused them to think about their own past in ways they never had before.
"I wanted to awaken childhood," she explained with a smile.
But the real reason she's smiling as we slurp huge steaming bowls of soup in toasty Elmo's Diner is that she's eating for two ... again! "With this child, I will have birthed a baby in each of the last three decades," she laughs.
Steering the book launch, with child, she accomplished an epic day-long photoshoot with People magazine recently. They gave her the four-star, half-page, full-color treatment in their 2006 debut double issue.
When we asked Haven if she wanted to write a Front Porch piece to accompany her interview this week, she demurred, citing other pressing family priorities. "I could write about napping, but that would interfere with my napping."
As the back-to-school Blue Devil lunch crowd bustled around us, we had plenty to talk about and plenty to celebrate.
INDEPENDENT: Pre-teen Zippy on the cover of Couch smiles at us with such sweet confidence and promise. Was that your Mooreland school picture?
HAVEN KIMMEL: That was indeed my third grade school photograph. One could perceive that smile as either confident or the result of a low I.Q.; clearly I was oblivious to what had already gone wrong with my gigantic new teeth. My sister dressed me and put my hair in those pony tails, which--if I know myself at all--were demolished by recess. Melinda often dressed me in brown because it hides blood stains.
You create unforgetable scenes out of ordinary circumstances. The visuals leap off the page. I'm thinking about the church camp introductions, the high school band director at basketball games, and your mom's bright VW with the naked Herbal Essence waif-painted Beetleboard advertisement. Has Hollywood called?
Ha! I don't know why that strikes me as so funny. I actually made the decision, back when Zippy had just sold, to never allow a memoir to be optioned for film. For one thing, I'm not a movie person--I don't work in that medium and my books are books, not screenplays--also the people in Zippy and Couch are real. They just happened to be living near me, innocently or not, and didn't sign on even to be written about. No one should have the right to portray them on film, particularly when it goes without saying that the film industry is venal. I can imagine situations and characters who would be played for laughs, and without mercy. I can't allow that to happen, regardless of how I might benefit from it.
One of my favorite pair of chapters were the back-to-back essays on father/daughter music tastes: "A Short List of Records My Father Threatened To Break Over My Head If I Played Them One More Time" and "A Short List of Records That Vanished From My Collection." Do you always have such fun when you're writing (and do you abscond with your children's music)?
I wish I always had such fun while writing. You may recall from Zippy that when I was an infant and toddler, my parents and siblings believed I was suffering from some mental handicap; I not only didn't speak, I spent hours each day rocking on a rocking horse. Once I mastered the arm of the record player, I listened to the same song 20 or 30 times in a row. My father just didn't get it, bless his heart. My own children are (mostly) normal and tend to listen to music more reasonably--too reasonably, if you ask me. They listen to CDs all the way through, for instance, or a favorite song just two or three times. When my son Obadiah was four, five, he loved the "Davy Crockett" song. In the car we'd listen to it once, he'd ask to hear it again, we'd listen a second, third, fifth, seventh time. This didn't bother me in the least. He's mostly grown out of it now, I'm sad to report.
What happened to Dr. John Mood, your mother's honors English professor whose writing instructions included, "I don't care if you turn it in on toilet paper as long as it's good"?
I wrote the chapter on John Mood and wanted to see if I could find him, so I contacted the alumni office of his graduate university. They allowed me to send an e-mail to him which they forwarded, and I heard back from him in just a few days. He loved the essay and was stunned by how much I'd gotten right. At first he swore he never rode his motorcycle directly into the English building, but after he called a friend from Ball State, he sent me an e-mail saying, "Hmmm. Maybe I did." He lives in California, never returned to academia, is still writing about Rilke and Joyce. We've corresponded steadily for months now, and I'm pleased to report that he is a kind, generous, peculiar and happy man.
Tell us something about Hazel Hunnicutt, the heroine of your forthcoming novel (due this summer).
Tricky question! Hazel Hunnicutt is one of the three protagonists in my new novel, The Used World. She owns the book's setting, Hazel Hunnicutt's Used World Emporium, a sprawling antique store in an old warehouse. She is a woman of mystery--I'll leave it at that.
Did Zippy make New Year's resolutions?
The bottom line of being Zippy is the acceptance of who Zippy is. I don't improve, unfortunately. Damage control--that's what every new year is about for me.
Contributing writer John Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Short List of Records My Father Threatened to Break Over My Head If I Played Them One More Time
1. "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon.
You need only to listen to this song once to realize it is the greatest work of genius since "Beep Beep (The Little Nash Rambler)"; by The Playmates. Also it provides a person with the bonus of rewriting the chorus 700 times a day. For instance, a girl might say, "I'm ridin' my bike, Mike," or "I'm goin' to my sister's, Mister." She could also string together many sentences, as in, "I'm feelin' sad, Dad. Maybe you could get me some candy, Randy. Don't be such a slob, Bob, just listen to me."
2. "Beep Beep (The Little Nash Rambler)" by The Playmates.
A morality tale about a little car, a Cadillac, and a transmission problem. This song brilliantly gains momentum, and is sung faster and faster right up to the hysterical ending. Could be sung in the truck so frantically the father in question would sometimes have to stick his head out the window while praying aloud.
3. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John.
I understand only one line of this song: "And butterflies are free to fly, fly away." The rest is completely lost on me. I assumed the British did not speak English, which was a puzzle as they were sometimes referred to as the English. Not understanding the lyrics required me to listen to the song hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, filling in with nonsense words, which my sister said made me look oxygen deprived and sad.