Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Kim Fairley Interview - Shooting Out the Lights

Photo Content from Kim Fairley 

Kim Fairley was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended the University of Southern California and holds an MFA in Mixed Media from the University of Michigan. Her first book, Boreal Ties: Photographs and Two Diaries of the 1901 Peary Relief Expedition, chronicled the Arctic expedition of her great grandfather, Clarence Wyckoff. Kim lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Tell us your latest news.
I have been very pleased with the pre-publication response to Shooting Out the Lights, the book I wrote about my age-gap marriage. The story has been a full-time effort over the past almost twelve years, so I’m glad that with positive reviews, more people will be interested in reading it.

Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, the oldest of five children. My grandfather, who lived there, and was a physician, delivered me. Just before I entered school, we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where my father had accepted a sales position selling sheets and pillowcases for JP Stevens. Even though I live in Ann Arbor now, I consider Cincinnati my home.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
My first book, Boreal Ties, was about my great grandfather’s trip to the Arctic in 1901. It was a coffee table book, filled with images of icebergs and the Inuit of the Thule region of northwestern Greenland. After the book was published, I received letters from people all over the country telling me how fascinating they found the images. In some way, I’ve felt like I was contributing to the preservation of Arctic history. That connection with readers is the most rewarding of the whole process.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
As a child I always liked to draw. I won a couple of poster contests, one that gave me free summer art lessons at the Cincinnati Art Museum. After that, I had a teacher, Dorothy Dobbins, who saved one of my contour drawings and used it as a teaching tool for her classes. That got me thinking about my future as an artist. I ended up majoring in fine arts at USC. Then in my mid-twenties when I was keenly aware that my husband’s life could be cut short by his poor health, I made dozens of figure drawings of him for our children. When he died, the drawings were a part of a show in Cincinnati. And that show inspired me to go back to school for my MFA. Interestingly, grad school taught me that the stories about my art were more compelling than the art itself. So it was grad school in art that helped me to discover I was a writer.

Can you tell us when you started SHOOTING OUT THE LIGHTS, how that came about?
I come from a family of storytellers and I love being surprised by family secrets. I especially enjoy hearing the stories that get passed down through families. So when my husband died, our children were only two and four and I wanted to be sure my kids knew as much as I could tell them about their father. I began writing Shooting Out the Lights as a way of preserving those memories for my kids.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your memoir?
There are three things that stand out for me. The first is that I would like readers to have a greater understanding of the difference in the perception of people with ADHD and those who are on the autism spectrum today versus the way they were perceived twenty-five or thirty years ago. Today we know more, and we have more resources available for those who need them. I also would like readers to see the devastating and long-lasting impact of a single accidental gun death on a broad range of people. Finally, I hope readers will get an intimate look into some of the issues that can arise in a relationship where there is a wide age gap.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing SHOOTING OUT THE LIGHTS?
What I learned is that when you intend to interview people for your memoir, you shouldn’t delay. My story is about an eleven-year-old boy who came to live with my husband and me within the first three months of our marriage. This was right after I learned I was pregnant. The boy, whose name was Stanislaus, lived in Old Lyme, Connecticut. He had been living on an organic farm with no experience of school and almost no interaction with other children, and his father had died, so he was grieving. When I started writing the story, he was forty-five and I reached out to his mother, but I chose not to speak with him because I wanted to finish the book first. I didn’t want his memories to influence how I told the story. Sadly, by the time I made the second phone call, I learned he had died.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I had two memoirs to write: this book, Shooting Out the Lights, about my first year of marriage and another one about my childhood as a competitive swimmer. Shooting Out the Lights seemed the most pressing story since my children were in their twenties and wanted to know more about their father who died when they were young. But whenever I would write a scene and flash back to a scene from my childhood, I was told by my writing group that my childhood story needed to come first, that I needed to think more deeply about the impact of my childhood before I could write about my first year of marriage.

In the beginning I was doing a lot of switching back and forth in time. Figuring out those themes took a lot of internal work and therapy. The most valuable lesson I learned was to follow my own convictions. But, hey, I also got a lot of extra therapy which didn’t hurt!

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Everyone should consider recording their stories. We all have dramatic stories and I think writing is a way of understanding our past. As we tell the same stories over and over, they become a part of us. But writing often helps us to see that the stories we repeat may have evolved to something different over time. I used to describe my first swimming experience by saying, “My father hurled me into the ocean to teach me to swim.” But as I recreated the scene in narrative, I realized my story was a lie. It’s true that I tumbled in the waves and thought I might drown, but he never hurled me into the waves. Somehow, I had let go of his hand, which is a different story.

Best date you've ever had?
The sweet kind without a pit, that melts in your mouth!

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
As a competitive swimmer through high school and college, I learned that it is the consistency of the work that pays off in the end. Most of the season, I was exhausted and often my performance in meets suffered. But at the end of the season, knowing I’d put in the hard work helped me believe I could finish with my best performance. I still rely on that belief as it relates to my writing. Whenever I’ve submitted my manuscript to an editor and had to revise, it’s been emotionally draining, but I remember what I learned as a swimmer, that the effort always pays off.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
There was a time in my twenties when my brothers confided that something terrible had happened at a pig roast at my parents’ house. It was a huge secret that nobody would talk about. When I found out what had happened, I was horrified. And yet in the process of writing Shooting Out the Lights, when I spoke with two people involved in the incident, they didn’t seem to care much about what they had done. They had moved on but I was still shaken. I found in writing memoir that people tend to smooth over their past behavior. I don’t know if it’s denial, coping skills, or simply that we care less the farther we get away from an event. I always try to question what events, if any, I may have smoothed over to be able to live with myself. And that’s a big part of writing a memoir.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
  • 1. Dental floss
  • 2. Chapstick
  • 3. My mental “to do” list.
  • 4. My mental “not to do” list.
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
My husband’s family owned a piece of property about fifteen miles east of Hillsboro, Ohio, that is the setting for a large part of my story. It was known as “The Point” because it was near the convergence of Paint and Rocky Fork Creeks. It also had a small creek running through it known as Distillery Run because there used to be a distillery there. Around 1900 someone built two huge dams with stacked logs. Water poured over the top dam and ran through a gate in the lower dam. In the summer, the gate in the lower dam could be lowered to create a natural swimming pool. It was an incredible twenty-five-meter pool, ten feet deep, with natural rock walls and a rock bottom. We would swim and bathe in that dark green water, and it was spring fed so it was ice cold all summer long. It ran right between two houses that were connected by a small bridge. I spent five summers there and despite having traveled to some very remote places in the world, The Point is still my favorite.

First Heartbreak?
I don’t really remember my first heartbreak. What comes to mind right now is the moment when I was twenty-nine and had to tell my four-year-old son that his father had died. My husband was sick in large part from all the years he smoked unfiltered Pall Malls. The year he died, our son had wanted to give him candy cigarettes for Christmas to help him quit smoking, but with all the commotion around the holidays, and hospice nurses coming and going, Christmas was a blur. When my husband died a few days after Christmas, and I had to tell my son that his father died, he burst into tears and the first thing he said was “I forgot to give him the candy cigarettes.” That broke my heart.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Well, my whole story is really about love with a guarantee of a heartbreak. When I first decided to marry my husband, Vern, and there was a thirty-two-year age difference, nobody really confronted me about it except my sister, Pam. She said, “Are you saying you’re okay if you marry him and he dies?”

What I said to her was, “If I have five wonderful years, it’s better than none.”
She shook her head and said, “I guess so,” but as it turned out, the words were prophetic. Because in exactly five years and two kids later, Vern died.

  • 1. Know My Name – Chanel Miller
  • 2. The Spiral Staircase – Karen Armstrong
  • 3. When Breath becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
  • 4. What Comes Next and How to Like it – Abigail Thomas
  • 5. Inheritance – Dani Shapiro
  • 6. Memorial Drive – Natasha Trethewey
  • 7. Tender at the Bone – JR Moehringer
  • 8. Why We Swim – Bonie Tsui
  • 9. Differently Wired – Deborah Reber
  • 10. Heating & Cooling – Beth Ann Fennelly
Writing Behind the Scenes
Some of the behind-the-scenes process was easy and some more difficult.

1. My husband, Vern, who died almost thirty-five years ago, collected dozens of comic strips he found amusing. They were silly, like maybe two frames with Hagar the Horrible leaning back on a chair with a drink in his hand and his wife telling him, “Remember how you promised me the moon and the stars if I’d only marry you?” Then in the next frame she’s telling him, “I’ve decided to settle for a new mop.” I compiled Vern’s comic strips which helped me a great deal in recalling his sense of humor. He wrote me dozens of letters and short notes, which made it easy to capture his voice in my story. At the same time, remembering the heartache of his failing health and subsequent death made writing the story sometimes excruciating.

2. While writing Shooting Out the Lights, I had to think long and hard about whether or not I was truly honoring Vern’s memory. Trying to imagine what is going through someone else’s mind is a fool’s game. We only have our own perspectives. And that’s one of the reasons writing memoir can be so challenging.

3. I also grappled with setting. Five years after my husband died, I moved away from the small town of Hillsboro, Ohio, and went to the University of Michigan for grad school. I had intended to return to Hillsboro but never did. So, the town remained frozen in my mind as it was in 1989. In some ways, that made writing the setting easier, but I also needed to do plenty of research to be sure I had the facts straight.

Kim Fairley was twenty-four when she fell in love with and married a man who was fifty-six. Something about Vern--his quirkiness, his humor, his devilish smile--made her feel an immediate connection with him. She quickly became pregnant, but instead of the idyllic interlude she'd imagined as she settled into married life and planned for their family, their love was soon tested by the ghosts of Vern's past--a town, a house, a family, a memory.

Shooting Out the Lights is a May-December love story that explores the ongoing, wrenching aftermath of gun violence and the healing that comes with confronting the past.

You can purchase Shooting Out the Lights at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KIM FAIRLEY for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Shooting Out the Lights by Kim Fairley.