By Caryn Coyle
Jen Michalski was chosen one of the best authors in Maryland by CBSBaltimore.com in December 2010. “I didn’t know that happened,” she declared modestly. A prolific writer, she has more than 80 published stories listed on her website, jenmichalski.com and her novella, May-September, won the Winston Salem Press 53 Open Award in 2010.
“I like to write about things I don’t know. I will do research and put myself in other people’s shoes,” Michalski explained.
She has been writing since she was very young, and is fondest of fiction. Her description of a bookstore in her novella, May-September reveals her affection for the written word:
The bookstore was big … The large dome lights made people’s skin look like wet powder, and the high ceilings and exposed ductwork reminded her of a factory. She scanned the aisles … So much color packed in blond wood bookshelves.
When she graduated from St. Mary’s College in southern Maryland, Michalski, whose Baltimore roots stem from Fells Point on her father’s side and Canton on her mother’s, thought she would leave Baltimore. Fifteen years later, she is still here.
“Baltimore is a really large family. You always run into people who know you,” she said. “I always tell people that you can do whatever you want in Baltimore. The only limit is your imagination.”
Michalski is a prime example of the creative possibilities here. She hosts the 510 Fiction Reading Series in Hampden with novelist Michael Kimball. Michalski edits an online literary journal, JMWW, which currently employs 10 editors to review the hundreds of submissions she receives each month. Launched in 2004, JMWW has expanded to include e-books and blogs. In March 2012, she will debut the Lit Show with local writer Betsy Boyd, who edits Baltimore Fishbowl. The Lit Show, which will be launched at the Creative Alliance on Eastern Avenue, is a literary variety show with a house band, a mystery literary guest, local authors and a nationally known writer.
“It will be the literary version of the David Letterman Show,” she explained.
In her short story collection, Close Encounters, which was published in 2007, Michalski sets many of the stories in Baltimore:
We visited so many Northeast Baltimore rowhouses in two months that people thought my parents were running for election … Because of my mother’s canary yellow Volvo and posters, we were affectionately referred to as “the Looney Birds.” Entire rows of homes would descend into darkness the moment we hit their street, apparently having been warned that we were badgering people about a little white girl. “Algorithm.”
Michalski is an independent editor of medical journals who tries to carve out time each day to write for herself. She said that when she does “put pen to paper, I don’t know what will turn up.” To her, the creative process is a mystery. “I don’t usually know what is going to happen when I write,” she said.
Michalski believes Baltimore is a “good place for writers. Everyone knows each other. I tell people to come to the 510 Readings and if you meet one person, you’ve essentially met everyone,” she said.
Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (2010) from City Lit Press.