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Just a Small Town Girl

Who needs the bright lights and big city? ‘A Girl Named Zippy’ author Haven Kimmel prefers to remain a local hero.

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A girl didn’t have much to do on Friday nights in Mooreland, Ind., the farm town of 300 people, three churches, and one gas station celebrated in Haven Kimmel’s No. 1 best-selling memoir, A Girl Named Zippy”except get drunk, drive around, crash into tombstones, and get pregnant,” says the 38-year-old author today. Lousy options for a child who’d started tapping out stories on a hand-me-down Royal typewriter when she was 9 and soon after announced to the unimpressed neighbors her intention of becoming a poet. ”Saying in Mooreland in the ’70s that you wanted to be a writer was really like saying you wanted to be a Luddite or the head of a mosque,” says Kimmel. ”There was no such animal.”

With boys and booze her daughter’s only options, Kimmel’s mother sent her away to finish high school in big-city Muncie. There she made friends in the drama department and bought records and walked to movie theaters and bookstores and met people who made their living with words. And just like that, the world opened up.

One memoir, two novels — the new pool-shark family drama Something Rising (Light and Swift) and The Solace of Leaving Early, which Angels in America director Mike Nichols will bring to the big screen — and one children’s book later, Kimmel can do anything she pleases on this Friday night in North Carolina. She has tickets for Drag Queen Bingo, an AIDS charity event hosted by fallen evangelist angel — turned — gay icon Tammy Faye. There’s no drinking inside, so a grinning Kimmel, in a tight red sweater with a cursive H stitched above the heart, slips a Snapple jar out of her purse. ”Excuse the flask — I think I lost my good one at a wedding — but there’s three cosmopolitans in here.” So, in a fluorescent-lit parking garage, with Ho Tai Buddha on her truck’s dashboard and Ganesha dangling from the rearview mirror, the conversation drifts from marriage (she’s failed in some way at three) to the celebrity she’d most like to sleep with (”Angelina Jolie! Like, duh, hel-looo!”). All this while passing back and forth a bottle of pink. ”Relax, honey,” she laughs, drawling theatrically. ”You in Durham now.”

She lives in the same old blue house with pickup trucks in the gravel driveway that she did before hitting it big with Zippy. Crammed joyously inside are two children, two fish, a cat, and five dogs — four of them rescues, the fifth a prim French bulldog named Rosebud. Her home is a place to sit back and stay awhile. ”If you said to Haven, ‘Honey, my feet really hurt,”’ says her editor, Amy Scheibe, ”she’d say, ‘Well, you sit down right now and I’ll get my nail stuff out and we’ll make some popcorn and chat.’ And she’d roll out the cosmopolitans, and half an hour later you’d have the prettiest feet in all of North Carolina.”

On this weekend morning, Kimmel is curled up in a chair wearing a Burger King crown on her head and a T-shirt with a donkey and ”ASS” written across her chest. Her 7-year-old, Obadiah — the son of Kimmel’s third husband, still her wonderful partner and friend — is carrying on a lively discussion with his new stuffed cat. Nineteen-year-old Katie, home from college for Christmas break, yawns luxuriously while telling her mom about her night out with friends. Kimmel was at college for less than a semester before she got pregnant with Katie. She dropped out, moved to Mississippi, and married her gay best friend, whose military career needed the added buffer of a wife. When the relationship naturally collapsed in on itself (though he proudly attended Katie’s high school graduation), she returned to school and stayed out of trouble. ”I knew that I couldn’t get anything wrong again,” says Kimmel. ”I was a single mother and I had this baby to support.”