Monday, November 24, 2014

Michigander Monday: Richard Katrovas

I'm pleased to welcome Richard Katrovas to Michigander Monday.

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

Richard:  I grew up on the road. My father, through the fifties and into the sixties, kited checks and scammed car dealers. He was wanted in forty-seven states when he was finally caught. I’m the oldest of five, all born over the course of our parents’ protracted road trip. My family lived on welfare both times my father was incarcerated in federal prisons (five-to-ten out in three), the second time in the Norfolk, Virginia, federal housing projects. I was adopted into a navy family in my early teens, moved to Sasebo, Japan, where I earned a second-degree black belt in Sho-bu-kan Okinawa-te. I put myself through college primarily by teaching karate and working in restaurants. I graduated from San Diego State University, and then attended the University of Virginia on a Hoyns fellowship. I subsequently attended the MFA program at the University of Arkansas for two years, but graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop. I taught for twenty years at the University of New Orleans, taking early retirement in 2002. I've taught for twelve years at Western Michigan University. I’m the founding director of the Prague Summer Program, which is going into its twenty-second year. I witnessed Prague’s Velvet Revolution on a Fulbright fellowship in 1989. I have three Czech-American daughters. My oldest, Ema, twenty-four, is an opera singer in Europe.

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

Richard:  I've published fifteen books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. My first three books were published by Wesleyan University Press (my first won the Wesleyan New Poets Series in 1982), and Carnegie Mellon University Press has published six. My newest books are Raising Girls in Bohemia: Meditations of an American Father (Three Rooms Press, New York: 2014) and a poetry collection, Swastika to Lotus (forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon in late 2015). My books have been nominated for all the big awards, but nominations are no big deal. My books have been widely and positively reviewed over the years. My poems, stories and essays have appeared in scores of the most respected literary journals and anthologies.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Richard:  I’m putting finishing touches on a novel, Confessions of a Waiter, and a story collection, The Great Czech Navy.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Richard:  I attended my book launch in New York a couple weeks ago, and read and lectured in the Meachem Literary Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn., a few days. On November 20, I read in WMU’s Frostic Reading Series. I’ll read at University of Mississippi in the spring, and in New Orleans while I’m down there.

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

Richard:  I’m very proud of the Kalamazoo Public Library. I love the Michigan News Agency. It’s owned and run by an angel. K’zoo Books is also terrific.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Richard:  I love to walks around Asylum Lake, in Kalamazoo, with my wife. I love South Haven. I must say that my life is such that I really don’t have many opportunities to travel around the state. Most of what I know about Michigan I've learned from my students’ stories, essays and poems. Just today, a young woman put up for critique a story set in Battle Creek, where she grew up. I learned a lot about the working-class youth culture there, about the effects of the cereal industry moving away. The story of course needs a lot of editing, a lot of work, but it’s full of wisdom, and full of wary love for the writer’s hometown. I have to say that I love my Michigan students. I can love Michigan through them.

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

Richard:  Spring. I love the hell out of spring.

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

Richard:  Arnie and Deborah Johnston are state treasures. Deb grew up here, raised a family here, in her short fiction writes gloriously about southwest Michigan. Arnie came here decades ago and is a true Renaissance man. They collaborate on terrific plays that get produced all over, even in New York.

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

Richard:  The term “pure Michigan” is unfortunate on several levels, but the landscape of this state is as stunning, in its way, as that of any other.

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?

Richard:  I’m neither. I've not earned the right to call myself a Michigander (my favorite of the two). I spend too much time traveling around the country and living in Europe to feel genuinely rooted here. But, like I said earlier, I feel connected to this place primarily through my Michigander students.

Debbie:  Richard, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Michigander Monday: Jo Anne Normile

I'm pleased to welcome Jo Anne Normile to Michigander Monday!  This post includes a book giveaway -- check for details at the end of the entry.

Debbie:  Jo Anne, please tell us a little about yourself.

Jo Anne:  I am lifelong resident of Michigan.  I currently live in Plymouth, between Ann Arbor and Detroit, on a small horse farm. I was one of those girls who always loved horses but grew up in a tiny two-bedroom tract house in the suburbs and then lived the first 16 years of my marriage in Westland. In a kind of I Love Lucy moment, I convinced my husband to move from our bustling suburb to a house in the country. At age 36 I got my first horse, a beautiful black Quarter Horse that I named Beauty, after Black Beauty. A few months later, she was followed by a sweet, docile orangey/mahogany horse I named Pumpkin.  She was skinny and sickly when I first brought her home on Christmas Eve, but by the next spring, her beautiful ginger highlights were shining.

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

Jo Anne:  The book is called Saving Baby and was just released in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press. I started out self-publishing it in paperback because no publisher thought it would sell. But the book received some excellent reviews (I wrote it with New York Times bestselling writer Larry Lindner) and in early January, I brought it to a new agent, and within three weeks it had gone to auction with the bids going up and up. In the end, St. Martin’s Press beat out Simon & Schuster. Now it’s available in all the bookstores as well as online and will soon be out in audio. Readers Digest picked it up for an adaptation this coming February so it has been a very exciting year.

The book is about my star-crossed entry into racing. I had two well-bred Thoroughbreds: one, a granddaughter of Secretariat, and the other, Baby of the book’s title. He, too, came from fine racing lineage. I had no intention to race but got pulled in by a fluke. Then I saw that racing is not kind to horses, to say the least, so I did an about-face and started a horse rescue called CANTER. It was the first rescue to take horses directly from the track to safe havens. In time, CANTER had operations at tracks in more than 10 states, and I ended up responsible for saving more than 4,000 equines – more than any other horse rescue. I was given an award for my work that needed the approval of Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, so in a certain way things came full circle. It was because of Penny Chenery that I ended up having a granddaughter of Secretariat in the first place! I could have potentially made a considerable amount if I let her continue to race, but I realized by degrees that racing is not a blanket of red roses thrown over a horse, not all mint juleps and large hats. The racing industry treats “spent” horses like a bent deck of cards, treating them in the harshest ways possible, and I couldn't be part of that.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Jo Anne:  No books right now, although I've been asked repeatedly by my readers when my next book is coming out.  The ultimate honor!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jo Anne:  I’ll be at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on November 19 at 7:00 o’clock  and at Barnes & Noble in Northville on November 22 at 2:00 o’clock.

Debbie:  Is there anything unique about this book that readers should know?

Jo Anne:  Most definitely! A portion of the proceeds of each and every book helps fund Saving Baby Equine Charity so that readers actually become directly involved in horse rescue and can go on the website under Success Stories and see the horses they have helped. They can also follow the rescue on its Facebook page if they prefer.

Debbie:  How can readers stay in touch with you?

Jo Anne:  I love interaction with readers because they have truly shared my life with me through my book's pages and we have also become partners in horse rescue and promoting change. Readers can stay in touch with me on Facebook at my book's page Saving Baby - How One Woman's Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption

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

Jo Anne:  It would be hard to pick a favorite library. I love every one I've been in.  I personally visited many of them when my book was self-published, and they were all extremely supportive of a Michigan writer.  They hosted “Meet the Author” days, advertised the events, put up posters, and kept in touch with me afterwards.  One was even responsible for having me be the guest speaker at an equine event not related to the library.

I received similar enthusiastic support from Nicola’s Books, an independent store that likes to promote Michigan authors. The special people at Nicola’s have asked me back for a second “Meet the Author” evening.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jo Anne:  My parents were both born in Keweenaw, known as Michigan’s Copper Country, located in the far west of the Upper Peninsula and 600 miles away from the Detroit area.  As a child we vacationed there every summer.  Heavily forested, with high cliffs, a historic fort, wild blueberries to pick for fresh pie, swimming in Lake Superior (brrrrrr) and lots of wildlife  – even bears, oh, my! Spectacular!

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

Jo Anne:  Right now! Michigan autumns!  The magnificence of the trees as they put on their show of colors brings people from other states for fall leaf tours.  Autumn means the opening of all the apple cider mills.  There’s nothing like a trail ride at this time of year to enjoy fresh cider, homemade donuts and, of course, apples for your horse.

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

Jo Anne:  I love the compassionate people of Michigan that I have worked with my lifetime here.   We have two large humane societies for animals, special wildlife rehabilitation centers, and large numbers of dog and cat rescues and horse rescues. They know our work is not over so all strive to keep improving the welfare of all beings we share this earth with.

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

Jo Anne:  We have the full change of seasons so something for everyone. Autumn, as I mentioned, is stunning.  For summer, we are surrounded by the Great Lakes with thousands of inland lakes for unlimited summer fun.  Winter brings lots of snow for downhill and cross country skiers and snowmobilers or just making a giant snowman. Another great time to trail ride—no bugs!!   Spring comes in with a vibrant burst of color when the yellow forsythia bloom in landscaped yards, and here in Michigan it grows wild in nearly every field.

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?

Jo Anne:  Michigander.

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

Jo Anne's publisher has generously provided three copies of Saving Baby as a giveaway.  First three to claim one in the comments section, they're yours!  (Leave your name in the comments; I'll get your address by email so that the publisher can send your book.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Michigander Monday: Laura Lee

I'm pleased to welcome Laura Lee to Michigander Monday!

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

Laura:  I’m a full time author, or more accurately a half-time author. I divide my time between producing ballet educational tours, which has me on the road five months a year, and writing. The division is not neat. I often write while on the road. Between tours I am working to set them up. But those are the two sides of my career.

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

Laura:  I've published 15 books. Mostly humorous non-fiction. My biggest seller was The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation which sold 85,000 copies or so. It is about the science behind annoying things. It’s part of my “negative things” series. The most recent is Don’t Screw It Up published by Reader’s Digest. It is about how to avoid various common screw ups. There is also Broke is Beautiful about the joys of being broke, 100 Most Dangerous Things and How to Avoid Them, and Schadenfreude, Baby. I've also written one children’s book, A Child’s Introduction to Ballet, The Elvis Impersonation Kit and various other things.

My first novel was Angel, which has just come out in audio format. It has been really interesting to hear characters I created voiced by an actor. Shea Taylor, the narrator, did a great job with the dialogue.

I wrote Angel to explore themes of beauty, identity and inspiration. Some people consider its plot to be controversial, as it is about a Christian minister who becomes attracted to another man, but my purpose was not to be shocking or political. It is much less controversial a topic today than it was when I was writing it a number of years ago.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Laura:  I've just successfully crowdsourced my second novel. It will be the first independent fiction I have put out. I am glad I crowdsourced it because it does not feel as if I am out there all alone. It is great to have a team. The novel is called Identity Theft. It tells the story of a young man who works in a rock star’s office handling the social media. He decides to pose as his boss and flirt with a fan. This sets off a chain of events he can’t control. It is sometimes comic and sometimes chilling as he tries to fix what he has broken without revealing what he has done.

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

Laura:  My favorite Michigan bookstore is John K. King in Detroit. I could explore there for hours, although it has been some time since I have. I’m a starving artist after all. I am much more of a library person these days. I am a power user of Melcat, the interlibrary loan system.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Laura:  I've always had good experiences when I visited the U.P.

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

Laura:  I’m very involved in the Birmingham Unitarian Church’s twice-a-year rummage sales. They fall in between my two ballet tours. I like the camaraderie, the hard work and the treasure hunting.

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

Laura:  Have you heard of Ric Carver?  He’s a local actor and a fixture at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. He is a multi-talented variety performer and one of the most genuine people you could hope to meet. I really admire him and the naturalness of his ability as a performer. There are few people who can connect to an audience on a personal level like he can. He is the real deal.

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

Laura:  If you ask someone from Michigan where he lives he will instinctively raise his right hand, hold it as if it were in a mitten and point to a spot on the palm. This amuses people from outside the state, but it is actually useful. The other day, I was watching Orange is the New Black with my mother and a character was supposed to be from Michigan. “Where are you from?” “Muskegon.” “Where is that?” She did the hand thing, pointing to the center of the hand near Mt. Pleasant.  My mother and I both turned to each other and said, “That’s not Muskegon.” Michiganders know where they live on the hand. They also know where other cities are on the hand. You can’t just point at random. It’s a real map.

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?

Laura:  Michigander.

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Michigander Monday: Elinor Benedict

I'm pleased to welcome Elinor Benedict to Michigander Monday!

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

Elinor:  I have about three states to my name now.  Born and grew up in East Tennessee, mountain country. Lived there until I married another Tennessean, Sam Benedict, and went to seek our fortune in Ohio until we moved with his company, Mead Paper Corp, which ultimately took us to Escanaba, Michigan, in the UP!

We've lived there for almost 40 years, so we are really Yoopers now. Except we now spend the winters in Florida. But most of my poems are about the UP. If you heard me talk, you'd say: "Why does she have a Southern accent?"  Now you know.

Debbie:  And please tell us about your books.

Elinor:  My first complete collection of poems (after some chapbooks) was All That Divides Us. It's about China and an aunt who married a Chinese man who was studying in America back in the 30's. So I have Chinese cousins, and the book is about how that is. Of course the book has a lot of history and cultural interplay in it. My second collection is about the Upper Peninsula mostly, and family.  It's called Late News from the Wilderness. Several kinds of wildernesses. I'm trying now to put together a third collection, probably called  Early Girl, if I last that long to put it together.

I don't want to forgot the most important thing--the forthcoming anthology Here, with work by UP women writers. What a dynamo that Ron Riekki is, who put the whole thing together in a work-intensive process!  I just got through going over the proof, and I think it will be a credit to our region and state--and anywhere.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Elinor:  I'm going to Florida in a few days for the winter. That doesn't mean I'm a turncoat. It means I'm getting old and need to avoid freezing. I have given a few readings there--but hope to work on the next book and not gallivant around too much.

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

Elinor:  My favorite bookstore is Canterbury Bookstore in Escanaba, but I hear there's a super  one up in Munising now--one that has a delightful ambience. The library in Escanaba is wonderful, though. It's got amazingly fine collections and personnel. Also they have sponsored readings from time to time.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Elinor:  Well, my home is my favorite location in Michigan. We're on the top of Lake Michigan and so we have water AND trees. The trees were beautiful here this fall--but winter is coming fast.

US Highway 2 and Interstate 75 all the way to the Ohio border.

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

Elinor:  Oh, yeah--when family (including Great-Grandaughter Norah) comes to visit us at our home, described above.

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

Elinor:  Wendy Irish is a good person to know. She just hiked the John Muir Trail (alone!) in California and is a true nature girl.  She now lives in Munising and is painting her house tomorrow.

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

Elinor:  There are a lot of different kind of scenes and places in Michigan, and lots of people from other places that live here now. Cities and wild lands both.

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?

Elinor:  I am a mixed-breed. North and South. Maybe a Michi-goose. Something like that.

Debbie:  Elinor, we will add you to the Michi-goose column.  Thank you so much for joining us for Michi-goose Monday!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Using "Picture Day Perfection" in the classroom!

My and Dan Santat's book Picture Day Perfection is not just for Picture Day!

Picture Day Perfection is a fun story with an unexpected ending, and it's appropriate for all elementary school ages, including upper elementary.  (In fact, due to its subtle humor, it's particularly appealing to students in the 3rd through 5th grade range.)

Use of the story can be a launching point for a teaching lesson or other classroom activity, at any time during the year.  Possible classroom connections include reading, writing, technology, art, and more.

Resources for classroom use of the story include:

And some examples of real life classroom use of Picture Day Perfection include:
If you use Picture Day Perfection in your classroom, I'd love to hear about it!  Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.  And if you blog or post to your web site about your classroom use, let me know so I can add your post to the list above.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Poetry Friday

I've heard zenos are all the rage right now, so I thought I'd try one.

October Celebration

Dropping down to dance on the lawn.
Bustling party,
room for
Sunny descent;
Each of the leaves
knows the

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pout-Pout Fish Costume Character visit this Monday 10/13! Tour wrap-up photos. Web site news. All in one overdue blog post.

Several bits of news to share:

First, for those of you in the Lansing area:  The costume character of The Pout-Pout Fish will be visiting the Okemos/Meridian Mall location of Schuler Books at 7 PM on Monday, October 13.  I'll be there as well to read The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School.  Bring your kids, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, and come get your photo taken with The Pout-Pout Fish!

Second, I'm pleased to let you know that my web site has recently had an overhaul.  If you want to take a look, it's at

Finally, I thought I'd share some of the photos that I took during the second half of my and Dan Hanna's recent book tour.  The second week of our travels took us to PS 31 in Brooklyn; the Flatiron Building in NYC (home of our publisher); Maderia Elementary in Cincinnati, OH; Elm Primary School in Wyoming, OH; Blue Manatee Books in Cincinnati; College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur; the WXIA TV studio in Atlanta; Glennwood Elementary in Decatur; Little Shop of Stories in Decatur; Discovery Place Kids in Rockingham, NC; Sandhills Classical Christian School in Southern Pines, NC; Country Bookshop in Southern Pines; Montessori School of Raleigh, NC; Millbrook Elementary in Raleigh; and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.  A wonderful trip!