Interview: Michael Kimball, Author of Big Ray

Michael Kimball 200 Interview: Michael Kimball, Author of <em>Big Ray</em>Michael Kimball is the author of the novel Big Ray. Big Ray is the mostly true story of the abusive and massively obese father of Michael Kimball. He dies in the beginning.

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Michael Kimball is the author of some other books. They are called The Way the Family Got Away (2000), How Much of Us There Was (2005); Us (2011), and Dear Everybody (2008). I just cut-and-pasted those titles from Wikipedia. I haven’t read them. I probably will read them now that I am done with Big Ray.

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I asked Michael Kimball some questions about Big Ray because I liked Big Ray. The book. (The dad’s name is also Big Ray in case you had’t grasped that yet.) I asked Michael Kimball some questions about poker because I like poker, too. Big Ray played poker. In the novel he makes a run at becoming a professional poker player in Las Vegas. He also abuses his kids. Poker players don’t always abuse their kids.

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Michael Kimball lives in Baltimore and grew up in Michigan. Those facts might not be right — they came from my memory. Listen, you have Google.

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I may have played poker against Michael Kimball in downtown Vegas without knowing who he was. I didn’t know he played poker until I read his answers to the questions in the interview below.

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Question: I read in The Nervous Breakdown that you wrote this book in an “intense rush.” What was driving you to put this together in only three months? Was it easier because the content was autobiographical?

Answer: That rush was partly driven by grief, but more so by a kind of sad anger over my rough childhood and my complicated relationship with my father. I had finally reached a point in my life where I could deal with all of that, and Big Ray was how I did it. So it was emotionally difficult to deal with that autobiographical material, but it was easier to get the material down on the page than with any of my other books.

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Question: I felt unusually angry and aggressive when reading this book. Was anger your dominant emotion when writing it?

Answer: There was definitely a lot of anger that I was working out while writing it, but there were a lot of other emotions and feelings as well – sadness, hate, fear, disgust. I laughed a lot while writing it, too, and I found my way to a kind of acceptance through all of it.

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Question: Do you feel like this novel is best read in one sitting?

Answer: I think that’s probably different for everybody, but I like it when people tell me they read Big Ray in one sitting or two sittings. I love it when a book can hold me like that.

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Question: Your descriptions of downtown Las Vegas, down to the crappy elevators at the Plaza hotel, were impressive. How much time have you spent in Vegas? Do you enjoy it?

Answer: Las Vegas is my third favorite city in America – after Baltimore, where I live, and NYC, where I used to live – and I especially love the old downtown. I’ve visited Las Vegas 20-25 times and I really love the place. I love that I’m given comps for playing blackjack and counting cards all night long. I love the sense of time that gets completely lost in Las Vegas. I love all the food and the lights and the huge, garish casinos – and the fact that all of that exists in the desert.

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Question(s): Why did Big Ray play poker? Was he any good at it? Do you play?

Answer: Big Ray grew up playing cards. It was a family activity and something he did all his life in one form or another. Of course, Big Ray thought he was a better poker player than he was. He was the kind of poker player who always told you about his big wins and sick plays, but never about his stupid calls and bad losses. I’m a winning poker player and used to play a ton of poker online. I’ll still play in a casino from time to time, and I play in a couple of friendly games in Baltimore – one game that’s just hold ‘em and one that’s dealer’s choice where each hand is the craziest thing any of us can make up.

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Question: What is an insight you gained about your history when putting the story on paper?

Answer: I didn’t figure this out myself, but it was given to me by a friend who is also a writer. She grew up in an abusive household as well and wrote me a note, after reading Big Ray, in which she remarked on how the novel was written without shame. I knew I felt released after writing the novel, but I could never quite articulate it. And I think it was that – the shame that many abused people have to face down – I had done it in writing the novel.

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Question: How did the process of creating this book make you a better writer?

Answer: I don’t think the book made me a better writer, but I did need to be a better writer before I could write the book. I tried to write it back in 2005 and couldn’t. I tried again in 2008 and couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t until late 2010 that I was actually able to write the book. I feel as if I had to get ready, both as a writer and a person.

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9781608198542 Interview: Michael Kimball, Author of <em>Big Ray</em>

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