Kill Me Now, by local author Timmy Reed, is the journal of a skateboarder named Miles Lover kept over the summer between 8th grade and high school. Miles has divorced parents who live on opposite ends of Roland Park, younger twin sisters, and no friends — though he does see a fair bit of his pot dealer, whom he calls the Beaster Bunny. Midway through the summer, he develops a relationship with an old guy from the neighborhood named Mister Reese, along with his health aide, Diamontay, and their giant boa constrictor, Tickles.
Though Miles has grown up being called Retard, retarded is the last thing this kid is. He is a philosopher-sage for the ages. Here’s a taste of his life wisdom.
On going to the gym:
“Why don’t people just go DO something once in a while if they want to shed pounds. Explore, Climb a tree. Get in a fistfight. Whatever. What do they need a conveyor belt and a room full of mirrors for?”
“Time was always cheating me somehow. Holidays never came on time, and they rushed past like airplanes out the sunroof when they did. There was always something like five years between Christmas and my birthday.”
“People’s lives start to suck when they decide they want to BE something. They get stuck. It’s like they BECOME their job. From then on, all their time is for sale. A person’s time on earth is not the best bargaining chip in my opinion. Mostly because you can never replace it. But also because you never know how much time you’ve got left.”
On his mother announcing she is going to relax:
“If you’re really relaxing, you don’t have to talk about it. You don’t even THINK about it. I doubt very much that she’s ever been completely relaxed. Even in sleep.”
On kids at school who say “you can’t do that”:
“I can’t fly or shoot lasers out my eyes or anything gnarly and superhuman like that, but if I want to grab an extra rice pudding at the lunch line or forge a hall pass, then I’m gonna fucking do it. I mean, it is physically possible to steal pudding. School rules aren’t exactly the laws of gravity.”
Nothing much happens to Miles over the summer. He rides through the pouring rain to buy some weed, he argues with a kid named Donald about what vaginas look like, he gets beaten up by a gang of Govans boys at the Dunkin Donuts. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book for local readers will be the avalanche of Baltimore specifics.Many private schools and neighborhoods are mentioned by name, the skate route from Pigtown to Fells Point is laid out in detail, and a secret beauty spot under the JFX called Round Falls is revealed. Perhaps it’s no surprise: Like Miles, Timmy grew up on North Charles St., and he’s a Towson Catholic alum.
We caught up with the author to ask a few questions.
Baltimore Fishbowl: You must have fainted when local literary celebrity Madison Smartt Bell said he wanted to be your agent! Tell us how that happened.
MSB and I knew each other a little bit —
BFB: How did you meet?
We first met a long time ago when I was an undergraduate at College of Charleston and working at Crazyhorse literary journal. He came down and held a reading at the school. Flash forward a number of years and I have moved back home. We met at a reading for this Baltimore LED haiku-project thing it seemed like every writer in town was involved with.
BFB: I was, but my haiku was really embarrassing.
Madison ended up getting a copy of my novel The Ghosts That Surrounded Them, which is a strange, experimental novel full of the ghosts of everyday life and the suburban familial discord that creates them. He enjoyed the book a lot, and after that, he wrote a blurb for my novella, IRL. But it was really great news when he got in touch with me and let me know he was going to be working as an agent and wanted me on the roster. Working with Madison is rewarding and comforting in a way because he is a writer and a real artist first and foremost, which is something I can put a lot of trust in. Plus, he’s just a cool dude.
BFB: It lists here six previous books. You have published six previous books? In like five years or something? How is that?
The first one came out in 2013 when I was finishing graduate school at the University of Baltimore and things just started snowballing after that, I guess. The Ghosts That Surrounded Them came out, then Miraculous Fauna, Stray/Pest, Star Backwards, IRL, now this one, each from a different publishing house. I didn’t write any of them in the order in which they appeared. Two and a half, including Kill Me Now, were drafted before I entered graduate school.
BFB: Were these previous books published locally?
No, none of them. Do we even have any local presses that publish full-length fiction? One of my books came out in Nashville, another LA, another St. Louis, another San Francisco, another England. Counterpoint is in Berkeley and they are the largest indy publisher in America, which is nice.
BFB: You didn’t have an agent before MSB, right? So how did you make the connections with these presses?
Before Madison approached me, it had never even occurred to me to even want a literary agent to be honest. I had never contacted one and wasn’t even sure who would be the right person to contact if I had wanted to. I had heard so many nightmare stories about agents from other writers, too. My writing had always felt most natural at small, independent presses, which also happen to be the types of presses I most read.
Since small presses don’t often pay very well and they usually accept unsolicited, un-agented submissions during their call periods, it never made sense to reach out to an agent, or at least that’s what I thought. I had already been publishing a lot of short fiction in indy journals and websites, so small press editors were familiar enough with my work that I never really needed an agent until I had one. Of course, now I wish I had had MSB on my team for all of the other books as well! You live and learn and sometimes get lucky.
BFB: Do you write all the time? I mean, I get a lot of work done too, but I have ten books and I’m 60. You’re going to have 100 books by the time you’re my age! Do you have a job? How does it work?
I have too many jobs! I teach English at Stevenson University, University of Baltimore, and CCBC, and some semesters I teach ESL at Morgan State. I also give culinary/history tours for Charm City Food Tours and work as an Urban Park Ranger for Baltimore National Heritage Area. I definitely do not get to write every day anymore, but I am not sure I need to. I find that a lot of writing for me is more about managing my mood/energy than my time. If I can get myself in the mood to write, the time will exist and I will be able to make the most of it. Now, because of how draining an adjunct teaching schedule can be, I find it often comes in short, productive bursts. I also had to learn that writing is often about not writing. In other words, I don’t need to be slaving away in front of the keyboard or notebook to be “working” on a novel.
BFB: I really agree with that! Not writing is also writing! … One of the most moving aspects of the book was Miles’ sympathy for his mother. It is really heartbreakingly sweet, how much he cares about her and sees her as a real person in a way that is very rare for a teenager. Is this relationship autobiographical?
Well, I am not Miles and my mother is not his mother, but do love my mother deeply and am very close to her.
BFB: Well, your mom herself told me that she drinks Bud Lights and smokes Marlboros. I felt like this mom, with her anxiety and her housecleaning and her workaholism might be pretty close to the real thing. No?
They both drink Miller Lite and enjoy a clean house, but my mom has these two guys come over to help her clean. My mom was a career woman, and would probably still like to be one if someone would give her a shot, but she wasn’t the inspiration for Miles’ mother. Only in superficial details. She was more a part of the inspiration for the mother in my mother-daughter saint-zombie road trip novel, Miraculous Fauna, which is dedicated to her.
BFB: Fourteen-year-old Miles smokes both cigarettes and weed, drinks, takes acid, phenobarbital and ketamine… and I’ve probably missed a few substances along the way. He’s kind of like a character from Superbad — a crazy combination of a loser and a badass. Have you gotten any flak about any of this?
Not really. I think the Student Library Journal mentioned it as a kind of caveat but they gave the book a good review. Maybe on Goodreads or some site, I saw somebody complaining that they wished he was a little bit older, which I thought was funny because it is not like they are raising him or whatever, right? But drugs are a part of life and very often are they a part of growing up. Miles is definitely alive and growing and on drugs. To be honest, I don’t think Miles encounters as many drugs in Baltimore as I remember encountering at the same age. I thought I toned that aspect down to an extent. Kids in this town often have seen far more drugs than Miles by his age.
BFB: What are you working on now? Are you working with Madison on it?
Yep. I am working with MSB on all my full-length fiction stuff, which is basically all I am writing these days although I do have a poetry chapbook coming out in England at the end of the month. Right now I am knee-deep into the manuscript for a new novel. It is currently titled The Suicide Button and takes place here in Baltimore. Have you ever wondered why someone might wear a seatbelt to commit suicide by auto? I have. This book looks a little bit into a specific suicide, as well as the issue of suicidal ideation in general. The protagonist and his Saudi ESL student travel around Baltimore playing suicide detective in a way, although nobody asked them too. I’d tell you more, but I need to finish it first. Hell, at this point, for all I know there could be dragons.
Timmy Reed is appearing in conversation with me at Bird in Hand on Thursday, February 8th at 7 pm. He’ll be at the JHU Barnes and Noble, 3330 St. Paul, on March 8th at 7 pm.