I have been waiting more than a year for the new Haven Kimmel book, The Farm, to be released by Waterstones in England. That’s why I penned into my blog calendar to make March 2014 Haven Kimmel Month. I was going to re-read all of her books (two memoirs, a children’s book, one YA, and four novels). Then I was going to read the new one, review everything, and blog extensively on authors who have disappeared.
Yep. You guessed it. Not only has the release of The Farm been pushed back to 2016 (perhaps…), but Kimmel is a disappeared author.
I am drawn to Kimmel for various reasons. She grew up in and her memoirs and novels center around the state of Indiana, where I spent my college career and still have friends. Her adulthood (at least up until her disappearance) was/is spent in Durham, NC, where I live and which I love. I have been to a couple of her readings, where I found her approachable, down-to-earth, funny, and very smart. And of course, most importantly, I think she is a brilliant writer. Her memoirs, A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch, are her most famous works, but I firmly feel her novels are far superior. They are the “place” trilogy (think Stephen King’s fictional locations and the various stories that take place in them) The Solace of Leaving Early, Something Rising (Light and Swift), and The Used World, and Iodine. I also think her books got better as she went. She had started as a poet, but after Zippy hit the shelves in 2001, she released the rest of her works in only seven years (including the YA and kids books, as well as a piece in an anthology). (See this article for a more thorough biography.)
On May 18, 2009, Kimmel posted on her blog a regular ol’ entry where she answered fan mail and received hundreds of comments. On May 24, at 5:07pm, she posted this: “FIN. As of now, comments have been disabled on this blog. For that matter, this blog has been suspended on this blog. Thank you all for your friendship and your loving support. HK.” After that? It has been nearly impossible to find anything out about her and one can not locate her or contact her at all. The only things out there are a few echoing voices wondering where she has gone and the skimpy page at a British publishing house called Waterstones that claims they are publishing her next book in 2014, 2016, well…
I suppose that if she were more famous, stories about her whereabouts would have been cooked up and posted all over the internet. But let’s face it, even famous hermits do truly disappear after awhile. As for Kimmel fans, they are left with absolutely no story, no reason for her disappearance, not even a statement of retirement or a promise to return.
I have thought much over the years about fame and its rights and its responsibilities. I have, you might call it, a “heart for Hollywood.” While not a very star-struck person, I am intrigued by the lives of those who have such recognition, blessings, and curses. This means that I am also very interested in those celebrities who disappear, and also in the philosophical or ethical questions this poses: What obligations do celebrities have in relation to their fans? What responsibilities come with the perks of being paid by the public? with being invested in by your fans, supporters, and even critics?
I waffle back and forth in what I think about this, even though I am careful in my considerations: I would like very much to have to live them out one day, myself. If I manage a large fan base, significant monetary compensation, and a mid-level writer’s amount of fame, what responsibilities will come along with that? There is something in me that wants to respect the disappeared celebrity and their space, but another part of me is frustrated when a celebrity does not feel they need to answer to the public for the public part of their lives. Sincerely, I do not need to know Kimmel’s shampoo brand, but as far as her writing career goes, I am invested. I would have appreciated, at the very least, an explanation and an assurance that she isn’t lying in a ditch somewhere (figuratively and literally). And I want to know if there really is another book in the making.
I feel this way when authors go all nom de plume on us, as well (like J. K. Rowling). For one, the jealousy in me rises just about as high as it can get and I want to scream, “Give me the opportunity to have thousands (or millions) of built-in readers!” At heart level, I can understand their desire to experiment with their talents and to wonder if it can be accomplished again, by them. Like, am I that good? and, while I’m at it, can I come out from my pigeon hole? (For an interesting article on why authors disappear, see here.) At aspiring celebrity level, I am wrenched by this seemingly flippant dealing with fame (and sometimes fortune). After all, have they forgotten that what they have is only bestowed on a very small proportion of the population, even though it is sought by so many? Think of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. There is plenty of animosity toward him because he lives the life of a ranger when he should be taking up the mantle of the king. The Middle-earth-ers have a sense that he owes them something by being royal, even if he doesn’t want his destiny. There are plenty of other royal characters in literature and film who face this same challenge.
J. D. Sallinger was born in 1919. He achieved success early in his career and Catcher In the Rye was published in 1951. He gave his last interview in 1980, and stayed disappeared until his death in 2010. The movie, Finding Forrester, was inspired by Sallinger. This successful movie was about a fictional novelist named William Forrester, who won a Pulitzer before disappearing into his New York apartment and the life of a hermit. Harper Lee published her first book, To Kill a Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer, and gave very few interviews before never publishing again. Late in life, she made this statement in response to a world that still could not accept she had never reprised her American classic: “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”
These stories strongly suggest to me that authors are required to fulfill–not an invisible contract upon publishing, but–a more vague responsibility to their talent and an obligation to share their extraordinary talent with the world.
I don’t know what to say in conclusion, except that I was so disappointed with the postponement of the release of The Farm (and my disbelief that it will ever be published), that I have decided to suspend indefinitely Haven Kimmel Month and my reviews of her works. Just like that. No further word on it.