Monday, November 28, 2016

Michigander Monday: Jordan J. Scavone

I'm pleased to welcome Jordan Scavone to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Jordan, please tell us a little about yourself.

Jordan:  This past April I received my M.A. in Children’s Literature from Eastern Michigan University. I also studied for my undergraduate degree in Ypsilanti, majoring in Children’s Literature and Theater for the Young, with a Minor in Communications. I originally wanted to go to EMU to do Forensics (Competitive Speech). I did it all through high school, and ended up doing it for a little over three years in college. That background allowed me to be extremely comfortable with talking to people - something that has really helped me during signing events, school visits, and talking with people within the field. Also, I’m a huge wrestling and video game fan. I actually did ‘backyard wrestling’ in high school with some friends and thought about pursuing it as a full-time thing at one point, but, then I remembered I’m not a fan of pain haha.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book.

Jordan:  Might-E is my debut children’s book, and it follows a preschool girl named Emma. She suffers from social anxiety, and a general fear of being around other people. In order to help her overcome her fears she transforms from Emma into Might-E, the bravest, strongest, and mightiest superhero on the planet.

I really wanted to create something that would not only entertain, but inspire and help children (and adults alike) grow. I think this is something that most children’s authors want to do, so I suppose it isn’t that unique. But I felt that combining the aspects of the superhero genre as well as comics, I would be able to create a more desirable book. My illustrator Caitlyn Notaro (formerly Knepka – she got married! Yay!) is incredible and perfectly captured what I wanted visually. While I think my story is good enough to stand on its own, I know that Caitlyn’s ability really raised up, and elevated Might-E to another level.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Jordan:  I’m brainstorming a few ideas, while playing with some picture book manuscripts. I’m also exploring the world of YA literature. While exploring new ideas, and new stories, I am also sending out queries to agents. I want to extend the reach of my stories to more regions, and continue to push my story out, and inspire more kids.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jordan:  Yes!  December 3rd at the Barnes and Noble in Brighton, December 10th at the Barnes and Noble in Grandville, and January 14th at the Barnes and Noble in Lansing. My book's Facebook page (facebook.com/MightEBook) as well as my website (www.jordanjscavone.com) have a constantly updating list of events.

I’m also lucky enough to be doing a school visit to an Ann Arbor elementary school this December. School visits are some of my favorite events; I’ve only done a few, but they are beyond fun, and really show me that what I’m doing is worthwhile.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Jordan:  I love the Dawn Treader in Ann Arbor. If you’ve never been it is wonderful. It is a deep literal treasure trove of books. Burgess Meredith would love it there. That’s a Twilight Zone joke. As for my favorite library, that would be the Wixom Library. Though I’ve only been there a couple times, it features a beautiful fountain area where my wife and I got our wedding pictures taken!

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jordan:  The Sterling Heights Nature Center (across the street from where I grew up) is certainly one of my favorite places in Michigan. I spent a lot of time there, and it was where my wife and I took our first date. I also really really really like Mackinaw Island. I went once my senior year of High School and if I could afford it I’d go back yearly.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Jordan:  I’d like to one day go to the Traverse City Children’s Book Festival. I’ve heard it’s really fun, and I’ve also never been to Traverse City, so win win!

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Jordan:  Earlier this year I met Cori McCarthy.  She is a Michigan Author out of Big Rapids. We picked up each other's books (her books for myself and Might-E for her little one). She was then gracious enough to do a review and blurb for Might-E. I’d encourage anyone to pick up Breaking Sky and You Were Here. They are stellar reads.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Jordan:  Some of us do not care about the feud between Michigan and Ohio schools. I’ll go fortify my doors and windows now.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Jordan:  Michigander for life!

Debbie:  Jordan, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you for joining us today for a Might-E Michigander Monday!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Michigander Monday: Susan Froetschel

I'm pleased to welcome Susan Froetschel to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Susan, please tell us a little about yourself.

Susan:  I grew up in Pittsburgh and after living in many states, from Alaska to New York, I relish living and working in East Lansing. I am managing editor for an online magazine – YaleGlobal Online – which explores globalization defined as the interconnectedness of our world. These connections turn up in politics, economic, trade and security alliances, labor, health care, environment and many other ways – and what better job could there be than exploring the world and such connections through reading and writing? Chance encounters can leave lasting effects, and with instant global communications, a few ideas resonate and travel far. Such connections and encounters have found their way into my stories.  

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your books.

Susan:  All my writing focuses on characters, ordinary people, both parents and their children, who question troublesome policies that others in their communities take for granted. As an editor and former newspaper reporter, I enjoy analyzing how public polices influence families and small communities – and analyzing these through fiction.

I have written five mystery novels and descriptions of where I live at the time slip into these books, though that may seem odd since my two most recent books – Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit – are set in a remote farming village in Afghanistan. Fear of Beauty is about a woman who is desperate to learn how to read so she can figure out the reasons behind the death of her oldest son. Allure of Deceit is about how charity can have a hidden agenda – and a foundation director who uses the program to investigate the death of her son. Royal Escape – set in London – is about a princess who resists the monarchy’s controls and discovers that security is more trap than protection. My first two novels were set in Sitka, Alaska, and the first was Alaska Gray, about art forgeries and a scholarship fraud. The second, Interruptions, is about a mother and son who work at cross purposes to fight a cross-island road with exorbitant costs in terms of money and the environment.

An excerpt of Fear of Beauty is available at Criminal Element.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Susan:  I have started a third book set in Afghanistan, but may take a detour into a story about a family with many secrets and resentments – possibly set in Michigan or Pennsylvania.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Susan:  Nothing on the schedule at this moment, but I always enjoy to speaking about writing and publishing, the celebrity culture, and many topics related to globalization for libraries, book groups, senior centers, clubs or classrooms for students of all ages. I have given many programs in Maine, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Florida, Georgia as well as Michigan.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Susan:  I love and appreciate every bookstore that stocks my books for their readers and that includes Horizon in Traverse City, McLean and Eakin in Petoskey, Blue Phoenix and Olivet in Alpena, and Schuler Books in Okemos! Naming a favorite library is again too difficult. I always enjoy my hometown library – the East Lansing Public Library. But I also enjoy exploring the extensive collections at college libraries like Michigan State University and Yale.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Susan:  The lakeside communities are stunningly beautiful, friendly and peaceful – Alpena, Saugatuck, Cheboygan – with the Great Lakes, again it’s very hard to decide!

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Susan:  My favorite event is the Alpena Book Festival held each September. The entire downtown rallies to support of Michigan authors and organize a wide range of programs for readers and aspiring authors alike. The town is ideal for a book festival with the library, two bookstores, an art store, bakery, and wine-tasting room all in close proximity.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Susan:  Peg Herring is a talented and thoughtful mystery writer who juggles three series (The Loser Series, The Dead Detective Series and the Simon and Elizabeth Tudor Series) along with many other projects. She is fantastic at organizing, motivating and mentoring writers of all levels. She is adventurous and never shoots down new ideas. Connie Doherty, who just released her first mystery book, has a great voice and imagination.


Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Susan:  The people are open, friendly and the best at making their communities welcoming places.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Susan:  Count me in with the ganders.

Debbie:  Susan, we'll add you to the Michigander column.  Thank you for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Susan and her books, visit her web site (which includes her blog), Facebook page, Twitter account, and Yale Global.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why are some Pout-Pout Fish stories longer than others?

I thought it might be helpful to provide an overview of the three kinds of Pout-Pout Fish books, since each kind differs from the others in length and format.

The three kinds are:  1) full-length adventure stories; 2) mini-adventures; and 3) novelty items.

There are currently four full-length adventure stories:  The Pout-Pout Fish; The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark; The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School; and The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish. Each of these books is a picture book story meant for toddlers, preschoolers, early elementary, and beyond, and are each about 500 or 600 words long.  They come in a hardcover format (approximately 10" x 10", with hard covers and paper pages); two of them (the original and the Big-Big Dark) also come in board book format (about 6.5" x 6.5", with thick board pages).  The board book versions of these stories are not shortened or abridged from the hard cover.

The mini-adventures are much shorter and simpler than the full-length adventure stories.  There are currently four of them:  Smile, Pout-Pout Fish; Sweet Dreams, Pout-Pout Fish; Kiss, Kiss, Pout-Pout Fish; and Trick or Treat, Pout-Pout Fish.  They're twelve pages long with just a few words per page - no more than around 50 words total.  They come in board book format -- they're the same size as the full-length adventure board books, but much thinner due to fewer pages.

The novelty items are a variety of activity books, including a lift-the-flap book, an alphabet and numbers workbook, a sticker book, and a touch-and-feel book.  Word length and format varies.

For more information about the various books, please visit my web page, or email me.

Thank you for your interest in The Pout-Pout Fish series!!


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Booksigning Nov. 26, 11 AM to 1 PM

I'll be signing books at the Eastwood Schuler Books on Saturday, November 26, from 11 AM to 1 PM.  Hope to see you!

Location details etc. available at this link.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Poem of Sorts. A promise.











Come and sit next to me.

There's room.

I will not harm you.
I will not make fun of you.
I will not push you away.
Whether we agree on everything,
on some things,
or on almost nothing at all,
it does not matter.
There's a place for you next to me,
still,
and always.
You are safe.

And we can sit together

for as long as it takes

to find the strength


To Stand.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Michigander Monday: Mary Fox

I'm pleased to welcome Mary Fox to Michigander Monday.

Debbie:  Mary, please tell us a little about yourself.

Mary:  I grew up in Warren, MI and attended and graduated from Lincoln High School.  With scholarship money and earned money from jobs throughout my high school years and summers, I went to MSU where I obtained my teaching degree and a degree in English.  I taught for 40 years at Fowler High School and earned a Masters degree at CMU.  Toward the end of my career, I also taught part-time at LCC.  During my years teaching, I most liked teaching writing.  When I retired I promised myself I'd finally engage fully with my own writing, so I joined a writing group (Writing at the Ledges) and have worked on my own writing ever since.  Although my spouse died in 2015, I'm blessed with a lovely family and many friends who fill my time with fun and joy. Since I am a voracious reader and have haunted libraries and bookstores all my life, I do volunteer work at my local library, I also love to see plays and live entertainment, swim, walk on our River Trail and play golf.  What makes me most happy?  Spending good time with my kitties and family and friends.  Helping others and just hanging out with family and friends makes a good day.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book.

Mary:  My book is a collection of poetry entitled Waiting for Rain. My poems aren't academic exercises.  I like to write for the ordinary person and about the things ordinary people experience. Here is the statement I gave about the book when I put the collection together.  I think it best expresses what I was trying to do in this collection of poems:

“In collecting the poems, I focused on the moments that people live in between life’s more dramatic events—times we are left waiting, resting, hoping, evaluating, mourning, or expecting what might come.  When we wait for rain, we can hope for growth, change or relief but we also can think of rain as interrupting our progress, flooding our plans, or in some other way 'raining on our parade,' as the cliché says.  I wanted poems that captured those reflective moments of life, our reactions, when we step back and look for meaning and enlightenment.”

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Mary:  Currently I'm working on putting together a webpage/blog.  I want a page for my writing that includes several things:  First, I have stories about my two cats--the dynamic duo of Boguy and Goldie.  I'm putting together a year's worth of adventures which I may turn into a nonfiction work later.  Secondly, I want a column on grief and grieving to be part of this page. I think that we do not talk about many of the aspects of grief we face throughout our life.  Death is still a subject with taboos, and then I want a column to explore grief fully.  When I have a year's worth of postings ready, I will launch the site.  Right now I've got quite a few of the cat stories done and some of the writing column started.  I'm gathering topics for the segments on grief, so if anyone has suggestions they can message me through the Writing at the Ledges facebook page.  Writing at the Ledges, my writing group, is also completing an anthology and I will be editing it in October.  We hope to have it out soon.  It is a collection of good short works based on writing prompts the group worked on.  I call this type of book a "cottage" book because it's the type of book I liked to take to a cottage when I was young because stories were short enough to finish in between the other more active stuff.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Mary:  I'm scheduling a poetry workshop at Portland Library in January and plan to be selling books at a couple events in October and November (including St. Mary's in Westphalia Nov. 6).  This is all rather new to me so I think I will learn as I go about how to market books.  I love the writing part but the sales part is all new to me.  So I'm slowly putting together events.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

Mary:  Portland District Library, where I volunteer, is absolutely the best small town library ever.  The town residents and a dedicated group of women worked to raise funds to revamp this old Carnegie library into a modern, dynamic facility and we continue to improve it year by year.  The big push was to add on to the library and modernize its electrical, etc.  The children's library and facilities are therefore wonderful.  Recently a local donor provided funds for an outdoor reading area that is a "fairy" garden for outdoor children's literacy activities.  The whole bottom floor of the library is devoted to children's reading and literacy.  There is a wonderful area on the main floor for teens and areas for meetings and genealogy and business research.  My group, Friends of the Portland District Library, works to provide funds and manpower to upgrade and maintain our lovely library.  It gives my heart joy that we have so many people participating in our activities.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Mary:  I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, so Detroit has a special place in my heart--I love Tiger Stadium, the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, and Greektown and the Art Museum and many locations hold good memories for me.  I also love Higgins Lake's deep clear water and the West Coast of Michigan in Pentwater and Ludington.  I think I live in the most beautiful state in the nation.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Mary:  My absolute favorite thing to do in Michigan?  It's hard to pick but Tiger games rates high, the Detroit Zoo is close behind, and any view of water off our shores makes me happy.  In the Lansing area, I like to wander Old Town and the City Market.  Walking MSU's campus is a treat.  In Grand Rapids, ArtPrize is a favorite.  Mackinac Island is lovely in the spring and fall as well as during "taffy" season.  I never tire of Michigan.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Mary:  I like to hang with ordinary people, so spend a day with someone from Michigan and learn about living here.  Whether a Troll or a Yooper, you'll have fun.  They might even teach you Euchre.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Mary:  One of the weirdest things I've learned about Michigan is that it has a gigantic salt mine under the Detroit area.  It stretches from Detroit to Dearborn.  The mines closed in the 1980s but the underground "city" still exists.  The other weird thing I know is that the term "hillbilly" was first defined in the Websters as a Michigan farmer.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Mary:  I am a Michigander.

Debbie:  Mary, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Michigander Monday: Katie Kennedy

I'm pleased to welcome Katie Kennedy to Michigander Monday.

Debbie:  Katie, please tell us a little about yourself.

Katie:  I’m a college history instructor. I used to teach in a fire station. When the alarm rang, the entire class jumped up and ran out of the room. I became an LPN in order to write more accurate medical scenes. I have been lost in Moscow, and rousted by the KGB for sitting in Red Square to eat my ice cream. I have been bitten by a fish.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book.

Katie:  I think of Learning to Swear in America as John Green meets Brian Greene. It’s the story of Yuri Strelnikov, a seventeen-year-old Russian physics genius brought by NASA to California to help stop an incoming asteroid. The good news is that Yuri knows how to stop the asteroid--his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize if there's ever another Nobel prize awarded. But the trouble is, even though NASA asked for his help, not everyone there will listen to him. He's seventeen, and they've been studying physics longer than he's been alive.

Just when he doesn’t need a distraction he meets Dovie, a wise and unpredictable American girl. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he's not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and live a life worth saving.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Katie:  What Goes Up comes out in July, 2017 (Bloomsbury). It’s another contemp/sci fi/action adventure mashup. WGU is set in an infinite universe—which means there are parallel worlds. NASA holds a competition for positions on an elite team dealing with potential alien contact. Rosa and Eddie answer the call—and face a series of tests on Earth, and challenges off it.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Katie:  I’m going to be at NerdCon in Minneapolis in October.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Katie:  I’m fond of Snowbound Books in Marquette and Brilliant Books in Traverse City. As for libraries, definitely Dickinson County’s. It’s not big, but the staff is excellent.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Katie:  I lived in the UP—we just moved. The whole place is beautiful—but I’m especially fond of Lake Antoine, Horse Race Rapids, Michigan Tech’s hockey arena, and Michigan House restaurant in Calumet.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Katie:  The brilliant folks in Trenary put outhouses on skis and race them over the snow. How can you top that?

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Katie:  Ki-Wing Merlin (Weaving a Net Is Better Than Praying for Fish) recently moved, but she’s delightful.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Katie:  Bring bug spray. And seriously, people should know that Michigan has two peninsulas.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, which is the better term: Michigander or Michiganian?

Katie:  Michigander!

Debbie:  Katie, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you so much for joining us for Michigander Monday!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Michigander Monday: Rosalie Sanara Petrouske

I'm pleased to welcome Rosalie Sanara Petrouske to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Rosalie, please tell us a little about yourself.

Rosalie:  I was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and during my childhood lived between both lakes, Michigan and Superior.  My father always told the story that my first word was water, my second sky.  When my father died, I was only sixteen years old.  I checked books out of the Carnegie Library in Escanaba, Michigan, where I lived at the time and started reading about how to become a writer, and my first poems were born. They were not very good, but a few years later, a group of local writers that included Elinor Benedict, the founder of Passages North, took me under her wing when I joined her writers group.   Everyone in the group was kind and encouraging to me.  My first significant publication was a poem in Passages North.  Now, I have had poems published in journals such as the Southern Poetry Review, Seattle Review, The MacGuffin, Red Rock Review, Paintbrush, and many others. During National Poetry Month in April 2015, a broadside of my poem “New Year’s Day” appeared in the Michigan Poet, and in a subsequent anthology. I was extremely happy to receive that honor. Additionally, I have also had essays and fiction published and currently I am working on a novel whenever I can find the time to write, which is sometimes a challenge since I teach at Lansing Community College and have to grade numerous student essays.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your new book.

Rosalie:  My second chapbook of poetry published with Finishing Line Press, an award winning poetry publisher based in Georgetown, Kentucky, is titled What We Keep.  It was released this spring. My first chapbook, A Postcard from my Mother, was also published with Finishing Line in 2004.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Rosalie:  I am working on a new chapbook of poetry, and a novel.  I may have a poem accepted for an anthology of Upper Peninsula Writers to be published in 2017 by MSU Press. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  Also, the writer’s group I founded in 2005, Writing at the Ledges, is working on a new collection of our work titled Promptly Speaking.  The concept is based on writing prompts we have used to begin meetings for the past two years.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Rosalie:  I will be launching my poetry book What We Keep at Everybody Reads Books and Stuff on Saturday, October 1, from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.  There will be wine, cheese, and other snacks available. So everyone should come on out!

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And a favorite Michigan library?

Rosalie:  My favorite Michigan bookstore in the Lansing area is Everybody Reads Books and Stuff. It is a great little place and so welcoming to everyone and all genres of writing.  Up north, my favorite bookstore is Snowbound Books in Marquette.  I always try to pop in there for a visit whenever I am in the U.P.  As for favorite Michigan libraries, I would have to say the Peter White Public Library in Marquette.  It was built in 1904 and is an architecturally lovely building.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Rosalie:  My favorite spot in Michigan is the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Ontonagon, Michigan.  I served in 2008 and 2014 as Artist-in-Residence in the “Porkies,” as the locals affectionately calls them.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Rosalie:  My favorite Michigan festival is the Island Art Fair in Grand ledge. Writing at the Ledges always has a booth and we sell our books at it.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Rosalie:  I know many great Michigan writers and poets-one of my all-time favorite people is poet Judith Minty. I met Judith at the Bay de Noc Writer’s Conference in Escanaba in the 80’s and she reviewed some of my poems and was very positive about them.  It gave me the courage to keep writing.  Other favorite Michigan Poets and writers are Jack Driscoll, Michael Delp, Laura Apol, Jack Ridl and I could go on and on. I have met numerous Michigan authors whose work I admire and have a bookshelf full of signed books that I treasure.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Rosalie:  The Grand River is the longest river in the state of Michigan. I actually did not know that until I moved to Grand Ledge.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Rosalie:  I am a Michigander, for sure.  :)
 
Debbie:  Rosalie, we'll add you to the Michigander column.  Thank you for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Michigander Monday: Neal Levin

I'm pleased to welcome Neal Levin to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Neal, please tell us a little about yourself.

Neal:  I grew up in Michigan and have always enjoyed children's literature, with a special fondness for children's poems. Now I write my own poems for a variety of children's magazines and anthologies. I also write stories, draw pictures, and teach cartooning to kids.

Debbie:  Please tell us about your poetry.

Neal:  I usually write light, humorous poems, sometimes with a twist at the end. I'm big on word play. Some titles include "Baby Ate a Microchip," "Creepy Pizza," and "The Vampire's New Clothes." Although I don't have my own book yet, my poetry has been included in over a dozen collections including Caroline Kennedy's recent anthology Poems to Learn by Heart, published by Disney -- as well as magazines like Highlights, Spider, and MAD, and professional publications such as The Journal of Children's Literature. This year a poem of mine won the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Neal:  One of my poems will be included in the new anthology One Minute till Bedtime, edited by former U.S. Children's Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt, scheduled to be released in Fall 2016.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Neal:  My "appearances" are mainly at elementary schools where I teach my cartooning workshops. I run three or four afterschool classes a week -- each at a different school in the Metro Detroit area -- for any kids who want to sign up and draw pictures. I also run classes for libraries, scouting groups, and other interested organizations. (These are drawing classes, not poetry.) You can contact me through my website to set one up: www.neallevin.com

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

Neal:  I visit the Bloomfield Township Library, which is a mile from my home, at least once a week. It has excellent collections of adult and children's books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs, as well as computers, printers, and scanners.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Neal:  I love the woods, lakes, and open spaces of northern Michigan, especially the northeast section, which is a lot less developed than the west side.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Neal:  I spend my summers at Camp Walden, a summer camp for children outside of Cheboygan, where I get to combine my skills of writing and drawing by putting together a daily newspaper. Most of the kids are from Michigan or the Midwest, but a lot come from other states and countries, and many of the staff are British.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Neal:  Well, there's this guy in Mackinaw City who paints himself copper and pretends he's a statue. I don't know him personally, but I see him standing outside the fudge shops every summer. And then there are my friends Jean and Martin who are always fun when it comes to having cookouts.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Neal:  Mammoths and mastodons once roamed this state during prehistoric times, and the American mastodon is the official state fossil of Michigan.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Neal:  Michigander, for sure. That's what everybody answers, isn't it?

Debbie:  Neal, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you so much for joining us today!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Michigander Monday: Tim and Regina Gort

 I'm very pleased to welcome Tim and Regina Gort to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Please tell us a little about yourselves.

Tim and Regina:  We were married in 2002 and are parents to three girls.

Our first daughter, an identical twin, was born prematurely and suffered a white-matter-brain injury called periventricular leukomalacia due to the passing of her twin in-utero. A few months later she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). Her first years of life required constant care and medical intervention. Our second daughter, born five years later didn’t have any medical or developmental challenges. Our third daughter was born in 2010: the Year of the White Tiger, which according to the Chinese zodiac is very bad luck. A human error shortly after she arrived resulted in a traumatic-brain injury, and a CP diagnosis similar to her eldest sister. At that time, we became full-time caregivers, in addition to parents and advocates. We left behind our professional careers.

But through a practice of daily meditation, reading and writing poetry, and enlisting the help of a professional poetry therapist, we discovered a path that changed the fate of our family. In turn, we learned how to walk with our grief, first privately, then openly and finally together.

Debbie:  Please tell us about your poetry book.

Tim and Regina:  Our first collection of poetry, The Year of the White Tiger, is a result of our hard work to sustain and overcome, and is a true reflection of our love for living poetry, our children and one another.

Today, as husband and wife, we are poets who write collaboratively and individually. We also operate a full-time caregiving business to support the needs of our children and to help support our needs as parents, caregivers and artists.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Tim and Regina:  We've thought about a non-fiction book based on our lives caring for our kids.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Tim and Regina:  None scheduled at this time but you can check our website www.poetryisahouse.com for future events

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Tim and Regina:  Snowbound Books in Marquette.

Debbie:  And a favorite Michigan library?

Tim and Regina:  Forsyth Township in Gwinn.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Tim and Regina:  The Copper Country

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Tim and Regina:  All Things Dusk.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Tim and Regina:  Z.G. Tomaszweski, poet, https://zgtomaszewski.wordpress.com/about/

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Tim and Regina:  The Seney Stretch is the longest curveless section of highway in Michigan, and one of the longest straight stretches of curveless highway east of the Mississippi River

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Tim and Regina:  Michiganders!

Debbie:  I'll add two to the tally marks!  Gina and Tim, thank you so much for being here for Michigander Monday today!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Michigander Monday: Andrea Scarpino

I had the pleasure of featuring Andrea Scarpino on Michigander Monday back in May 2015. Today we're catching up with her to find out about her new book, her U.P. Poet Laureate experience, and more!

Debbie:  Please tell us about your new book of poetry.

Andrea:  What the Willow Said as It Fell (Red Hen Press, 2016) is a book-length poem about chronic pain. I include personal writing in the book, mythological writing about figures like the willow tree (which contains salicin in its branches, used for millennia as a pain relieving compound) and the ash tree (which was thought to be a healing tree), and found poetry. So basically, I try to recount some of my own experience with chronic pain, but also reach outside my own experience.

I became really interested in the book-length poetry form several years ago when I wanted to push my own short lyrics in a longer direction. At about the same time, I decided I wanted to try to write about chronic pain because I didn’t see much literature discussing it. And chronic pain seemed like the perfect subject to explore in the book-length form—it can ebb and flow, diminish and return, circle back on itself, and appear in unexpected places. Basically, the subject matter and the form each inspired and challenged my thinking about the other.

I’m also a long-time lover of found poetry, so I loved having the change to incorporate writing from the painter Frida Kahlo and from professional athletes about their experiences with pain, writing about the body, and writing about trees. Hopefully, the book works in part by moving between my own experiences and the experiences of others.

Debbie:  That sounds like a heavy book—and your first book was heavy too; it focused on your father’s death. Why do you think you write about such serious subjects?

Andrea:  I keep joking that my third book is going to be absolutely hilarious—but so far, that’s not turning out to be the case! One of the things I love about writing and reading poetry is that it allows me to struggle on the page through some of the harder aspects of living. At almost every poetry reading I’ve done to support my two books, audience members have spoken to me afterwards about their own experience with loss, or about their own experience with health issues. Being able to connect with a reader like that and knowing that we are not so alone in the world, well, it is the best part about being a writer, even when the material is scary or hard.

Debbie:  We’d love to hear about your experience as the U.P. Poet Laureate!

Andrea:  It has been a delightful experience! Michigan is one of only a few states without an official Poet Laureate position, so the UP Poet Laureate is an entirely grassroots position, which is pretty cool. I decided I wanted to use the position to try to increase poetry’s visibility, so I had a friend build a Free Little Poetry Library that I’ve moved around the UP to different locations (it even won a blue ribbon in last summer’s Marquette County Fair), I’ve done poetry readings around the UP, I worked with Marquette’s Food Co-op to create an event called Eat this Poem based on Pablo Neruda’s food odes, and I partnered with Ore Dock Brewing Company in Marquette to start a monthly reading series called Bards and Brews.

Many people think of poetry as a dead art or an art that they just don’t understand, so I wanted to try to make poetry feel accessible and fun. Maybe you’re just out walking your dog and you see the Free Little Poetry Library and you take home a new poetry collection, or you’re just grabbing a beer at Ore Dock and people start reading poetry and you realize you really like it. Just having more opportunities for people to come into contact with poetry (and hopefully to fall in love with it) is really my goal.

And I have really appreciated the community support for my programs and activities. You never know when you organize an event if anyone is going to actually show up, so having 60 people come to a poetry reading at Ore Dock has just blown me away!

Debbie:  What will happen in 2017 when your tenure as U.P. Poet Laureate ends?

Andrea:  Hopefully the position just keeps growing! Russ Thorburn was the UP’s first Poet Laureate and he lay the foundation really strongly, so I just tried to keep growing it and making it more visible. So hopefully, whoever takes over in 2017 will do the same. It would be great to have some financial support for the position—I raised money for my programs by doing an Indiegogo campaign, but it would really be nice to have some financial backing from Michigan so that the new Poet Laureate can jump right into programming.

Debbie:  Sometimes people, even if they’re avid readers in other genres, are a little intimidated by poetry, and end up avoiding it even though they’d enjoy it if they tried it.  What advice do you have for folks who’d like to begin cultivating a poetry reading habit?

Andrea:  Start searching!

When people tell me they don’t like poetry, I always tell them that’s like saying you don’t like movies or you don’t like music. There are so many styles of poetry and so many different poets that if you don’t like one, you should just keep searching. And don’t feel like you have to understand everything about a poem the first time you read it—or that you have to spend 10 hours reading one poem in order to understand it. Most poetry definitely rewards slow and careful reading, but it’s also okay to read a poem once and move on.

In all honesty, I think we often do a disservice to poetry when we teach it. We tell students that there is one hidden meaning to a poem and ask them to search and search for that meaning. And sure, some poetry is written like a treasure hunt, but a lot of contemporary poetry especially is very accessible to the non-poetry reader, and doesn’t require any special sleuthing abilities.

So I would say: go to your local library or bookstore and just start browsing the poetry section. Pick up twenty books and read one or two poems in each until you find a writer you like. You can also start with some popular anthologies like The Best American Poetry series which comes out every year, or Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry which is incredibly diverse in terms of writers and content. I’m not always a huge anthology fan, but they are great in introducing you to a bunch of writers at one time so you’re sure to find at least one writer who strikes your fancy.

Debbie:  And what about first steps for cultivating a poetry writing habit?

Andrea:  Start writing!

Sometimes people think they have to wander around waiting for poetic inspiration to strike them, but the truth about writing is that you just have to start doing it. Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And I agree. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin: the more you do of one, the more (and better) you do of the other.

There are also some really great books out there with writing prompts, which I find very helpful when I need to find a new direction in my work or when I feel stuck. I have taught with The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux for years, but I also use it for myself when I need a writing prompt or refresher. So I would say, borrow or buy a poetry writing handbook, make an appointment with yourself to sit down at your desk, and start writing. Choose a poetry prompt, and see where it takes you. Also remember that your first poems are going to be terrible, and that’s okay. It’s like throwing out your first pancake. You have to write those first poems in order to get to the good stuff, so just keep going.

Debbie:  Please tell us a little more about life in the Upper Peninsula.  What are some of the best parts?  What are some of the hardest challenges?

Andrea:  For me, the best part about living in the UP is the natural beauty. This is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived! I love the hiking, the miles of running trails, the miles of beaches. And I have fallen in love with Lake Superior—it’s so interesting to watch through the different seasons, to see the really stormy days and the really calm days and everything in between. If you like to spend time outside, there’s no place better than the UP.

The biggest challenge for me is the UP’s isolation, especially in the winter. I really love the snow and the snowshoeing, but I have to admit that I get some serious cabin fever mid-March.

Debbie:  What are some common beliefs about the U.P. that aren’t actually true (and maybe a few that are!)?

Andrea:  Well, it’s definitely true that we have a lot of winter! But it’s also true that most people just continue on with their lives throughout the winter. Sure, we have to dig out our cars before we can drive anywhere, but we dig them out and continue on with our lives. And after having lived in the UP for six years now, I can feel pretty high-and-mighty when I see that other cities shut down with 2 inches of snow—the news up here barely even mentions a 2-inch snowfall.

In terms of beliefs about the UP that aren’t true: there are a lot of stereotypes about so-called “backwards” Yoopers that I find incredibly offensive. I won’t mention them because I don’t want so support their continuation in any way, but I will say that the best way to get to know the UP is to come up here and spend some time! I guarantee you will fall in love with some aspect of life up here.

Debbie:  Books change lives.  Tell us about one that changed yours.

Andrea:  Oh, there are so many. Special books definitely have the habit of coming into my life right when I need them. Carolyn Forché’s The Country Between Us is a poetry collection that changed my life in myriad ways—and it’s a book I reread at least once a year, always finding new moments of beauty or heartbreak, a new line that resonates with me, a new favorite image or moment. Reading Forché’s work helped me think about poetry in new ways, and the kinds of things that poetry can do and say, which was absolutely essential to my development as a poet.

When I was in high school, my doctor gave me Mary Oliver’s collection Dream Work, and that’s also a book that I return to again and again—“The Journey” is one of my all-time favorite poems to read when I need a morale boost. Even The Babysitter’s Club series was important to me at a particular time in my life—it showed me that families very different from my own existed in the world. My grandmother used to give me Agatha Christie novels too, and I loved disappearing into their world and trying to solve their mysteries.

Really, books have been such a huge part of my life for so long that I can’t remember living without them, so I’m certain they’ve shaped my life in ways I don’t even realize.

Debbie:  Current estimates (per something called the Global Language Monitor) put the number of words in the English language at 1,025,109.8.  Of all those wonderful words, what are a few of your favorites?  (Also, which word do you think counted as only .8 of a word?)

Andrea:  That’s another hard question because there are so many interesting, strange, wonderful words! I’m just starting to learn about birds, so I’m really into bird words right now: indigo bunting and arboreal and brood are all great words. And I love the word proper, although I hardly ever say it—its sounds are perfect and perfectly balanced. But there are so many words that I love.

And that .8 of a word is probably the or an—some tiny word that we use all the time.

Debbie:  Last question.  In our ongoing Michigander/Michiganian tally, are you still in the Michigander column?

Andrea:  Michigander for life.

Debbie:  Andrea, we'll put your tally mark in bold!  Thank you so much for returning today for another Michigander Monday interview!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Michigander Monday: Wendy BooydeGraaff

I'm pleased to welcome Wendy BooydeGraaff to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Wendy, please tell us a little about yourself.

Wendy:  I grew up making mud pies on a fruit farm in southern Ontario, and now live near Grand Rapids where I still play in the mud, except now I call it gardening.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book.

Wendy:  Salad Pie (illustrated by Bryan Langdo, published by Ripple Grove Press) is a picture book about friendship, imagination and the great outdoors. Contrary to what comes up when you google Salad Pie, there is no cooking involved, unless you count the pretend kind.

Maggie is determined to make her imaginary salad pie all by herself, because then she knows it will turn out just perfect. When Herbert appears, Maggie won’t let him join in…until she takes a tumble and Herbert saves the day, and Salad Pie.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Wendy:  No news yet, but I do have several projects I am working on.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Wendy:  I am running a Goodreads giveaway soon, so if Salad Pie is on your shelf, you’ll get notified. And, I have an events page on www.wendybooydegraaff.com that I update regularly.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Wendy:  My home store is Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids, which has a huge used book section, a café (with outdoor seating) and an events studio for live music and author talks.

The Kentwood Library (part of KDL-Kent District Library) has always been my favourite library, even before they moved into their current space beside City Hall. They have weekly outdoor concerts in the summer, a farmer’s market every Saturday morning in June, July and August, a seed exchange, quiet meeting rooms, a huge kids’ area with a play city and, most importantly, their librarians are the friendliest around. Oh, and they also have books, lots of books. They even have several copies of my book, which they ordered all on their own before I had a chance to ask them to!

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Wendy:  I love Lake Michigan, anywhere along the shoreline. Last summer I went to Sleeping Bear Dunes for the first time and was blown away by the beauty of the endless sand and variegated blue water. I also love Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Art Museum (the only LEED certified art museum in the world). All three places give me immense happiness and warm feelings.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Wendy:  Art Prize in September is my favourite Grand Rapids event. Along with art everywhere—on the streets, in building lobbies, on the Blue Bridge—there is also food everywhere. Great restaurants set up little booths outside and food trucks park in the B.O.B. parking lot.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Wendy:  My critique group includes Dan Burns (who just won the Michigan SCBWI mentorship), Roxanne Henley (a fellow picture book writer), Amy Henrickson (who writes all about Michigan) and Katie Van Ark (YA author of The Boy Next Door). Each and every one of them are smart writers to watch, and whose work you will be seeing out there on the shelves more and more.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Wendy:  Michigan has great beauty, lots of artsy towns (Grand Rapids, Saugutuck, Ann Arbor, Detroit) and friendly people.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Wendy:  Well, I am an Ontarioian (yeah, try saying that out loud) but my kids are Michiganders, all the way.

Debbie:  Wendy, Ontarioian is fun to say!  Thank you for joining us today for Michigander  Ontarioian Monday!

Wendy BooydeGraaff knows picture books are for everyone and thinks people shouldn’t stare at her when she walks out of the library with armloads of them. She is the author of SALAD PIE (illustrated by Bryan Langdo, published by Ripple Grove Press, 2016) and now lives in Michigan, though she honourably imports every u she can find from her Canadian childhood. You can find out more at her website, and you can read about many other new picture books at On the Scene in 2016, a picture book debut blog. She’d also love to connect with you on Pinterest or Goodreads.