Tuesday, December 30, 2008

People In Order

I'm having trouble with YouTube embedded films on my web page, so I've removed the embedded film that I had here. But you can find it on YouTube. I'll put a link back in once I've found it again myself. It's a short film that shows one hundred people, in order from age 1 to 100, banging on a drum.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Michigander Monday: Cynthia Furlong Reynolds

I'm pleased today to welcome Cynthia Furlong Reynolds. Cynthia is a multi-talented writer. Her work includes numerous picture books, a young adult novel, a chapter book collection, and, for the adult market, oral histories for individuals, towns, non-profit organizations, and corporations. Her corporate history Jiffy: A Family Tradition was recently named a 2009 Michigan Notable Book.

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Cynthia: I was born in Maine, where my mother’s family can trace its roots for 11 generations, and I have always loved the sights and sounds of Big Water—which is why living in the Great Lakes region has been the next best thing to living in Maine. My family moved 17 times before I graduated from college, and I desperately wanted to live in one place. When I met my husband, Mark was living in his hometown, a small village in the hills of NJ, and I must admit, that was a big attraction for me. Of course, three years after we married, we began moving with my husband’s job! Together we’ve moved 11 times, which means that my 11 years in Michigan is nearly three times longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else!

My personal history is reflected in my books. I often write about places I love (L is for Lobster, H is for Hoosier, M is for Maple Syrup, Fishing for Numbers, The Far-Flung Adventures of Homer the Hummer, Across The Reach) and places I’ve loved to visit (Rascal Makes Mischief on Mackinac Island, Across The Reach, and my Oliver’s Travels series). In addition to children’s books, I often write grown-up histories. The book OUR HOMETOWN: America’s History Seen Through the Eyes of a Midwestern Village shows that not only have I always longed for a hometown, but I’ve also researched histories of hometowns since my college days.

A graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, I have taken writing, history, and literature classes my entire life. I love stories and story-telling, and I worry about the loss of great stories from the past, so I often write people’s life stories or oral histories of places and professions. I use my research/interviews in different ways, not only in grown-up histories, but also in fiction; I’m working on a series of Young Adult novels that are based on collections of letters or memories of people I’ve interviewed.

I’ve worked on newspapers, magazines, and university staffs, among them Princeton and the University of Tampa.

I had a passion for writing and reading even before I knew my entire alphabet. My book Grammie’s Secret Cupboard talks about how I came to learn at a very early age that I would be a writer, thanks to the insight of a wonderful grandmother.

My family lives in the country outside of Ann Arbor. I have two grown-up sons and a daughter in high school, as well as two obstreperous dogs we love dearly.

Debbie: And of course, we'd like to know about your latest books, and all that's upcoming!

Cynthia: I have a half-dozen books in various stages right now.

Mitten Press is publishing a series of mouse adventures winding through the Midwest, called Oliver’s Travels. Oliver Catsdorf, a very enterprising and charming young mouse, is given an ancient family map with some strange symbols and pieces missing. It’s up to him to solve the mysteries of the symbols and reunite the map sections. His grand adventures and daring deeds take him through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. (Gr. 3-6)

I’m working on a series of Young Adult novels based on collections of letters or recollections of elderly people I’ve interviewed.

I’m continuing a Middle Reader series I began with Across The Reach. Every summer, Elizabeth Henley Sherman visits her grandparents and her best friend, who live on the coast of Maine. In the first book (which is semi-autobiographical) she comes to know her great-grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s.

In the picture book arena, I’m writing a series of fairy tales based on American folk stories, as well as a book (again based on my historical interviews) about life in a one-room schoolhouse. I have two Christmas books done, including The Legend of St. Nicholas.

I’ve written my first adult historical fiction novel, Wounded Hearts, which I should be sending to agents even as I write this.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Cynthia: I love Lake Michigan, particularly the shores along Muskegon State Park, and any spot north of there. In the past we’ve lived on Lake Superior, and I love Big Water! There is something cleansing and humbling and utterly dramatic about huge expanses of water and the stories they whisper to us in the waves and tides. Mackinac Island is tied for first place, though.

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

Cynthia: I’ve interviewed quite a few famous people because of my career in journalism, but I find the non-famous people far more interesting. John Keusch is a 100-year-old lawyer in Chelsea, Michigan, who still comes to the office every day. Historical societies are chock full of characters with fascinating stories. I’ve met great cooks, fascinating collectors, challenging adventurers, and amazingly creative people. If you take the time and ask the right questions, you’ll find interesting people wherever you go!

Debbie: Your favorite Michigan event?

Cynthia: I love the street events in Ann Arbor, the Christmas music in churches all over the state, Dexter Daze, my daughter’s orchestra and piano concerts, the U of M graduation ceremonies (my boys graduated in 2007 and 2008), Marshall’s home tours, Mackinac’s festivals.

Debbie: Something others should know about Michigan?

Cynthia: That we take the Big Ten games—all games—VERY seriously. I thought I understand big-time football and basketball when I moved here, but I quickly realized that you have to live here to understand the Michigan/OSU and Michigan/Michigan State rivalries!

Debbie: And finally, for our ongoing poll: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as "Michiganders"; others "Michiganians." Which do you prefer?

Cynthia: I far prefer Michigander—that name reminds me of a slightly befuddled Beatrix Potter creature, a relative of Jemima Puddle-Duck perhaps. I often feel befuddled!

Debbie: You show absolutely no signs of befuddlement! It's been a pleasure having you join us today. Thank you!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Red Hot Post

Does anyone know: do red-hots (those little red cinnamon candies used in cake decorating, apple-baking, and Christmas-cornflake-candy-wreath making) come in any color other than red?

If not, it seems like a good start-up business for some enterprising candy maker.




Totally unrelated: still looking for a few good bloggers.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looking for a few slightly disorganized bloggers

The New Year is nearly upon us, and like many folks, I have a few areas of clutter in my life that I've resolved to tackle and tame during 2009.

I thought it might be fun to have a blog for fifteen or so folks with clutter challenges to share our experiences and lessons learned in clearing out our clutter. The blog is tentatively titled "The Clutter Club."

Each blogger will have one particular clutter area (could be a geographic area of the home, or a particular topic -- so one person might have kitchen clutter, another kid clutter, another photo album organizing, another financial paperwork organizing --- you get the idea...). Each blogger will blog at least twice a month but no more than once a week or so. Bloggers will each do a little research into their own area, sharing tips and options.

The overall theme will be responsible reduction (that is, how to get rid of unnecessary stuff without just tossing it all in the landfill) and, more importantly, clutter prevention (how to keep from getting overloaded with "stuff" in the first place). Being environmentally responsible and a good earth citizen will be an undercurrent of the blog. Bloggers should have a manageable challenge to blog about (that is, the blog will not be the place for tackling Bigger Issues than clutter, nor would it be the right place for someone with hoarding tendencies or other major psychological reasons for clutter). No religion or politics allowed on the blog. General good manners apply and all that.

I'm currently open to the first seven folks who contact me about this. After that, the eight of us will take stock of which areas we would like to cover, and see where we have holes. We also will want a diversity of perspectives (women and men, people with and without kids, house dwellers and apartment dwellers, etc.). So the eight of us will then put out a specific call for another eight, to fill those gaps.

You need to be eighteen or older, with passable writing skills. Ideally with an existing blog of your own, but that's not required. There will be no monetary benefit to the blog (it will be ad-free), so you should go into this simply with the idea of wanting to share you experiences to benefit those who read the blog.

If you're interested, contact me via my web site email contact page. If you're not interested but know of someone who might be, feel free to pass on word.

(I know this is off-topic for this blog, but when have I ever stayed on topic?)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jingle All the Way

Merry Christmas, all! I hope your day is joyful, and that Santa was good to you.

Being in a household with young children, Christmas morning started pretty early ("Merry Christmas" being whispered in my ear during an hour that began with 5...). We're now in that nice, quiet lull, with happy, contented kids who aren't fighting yet. (Currently taking bets on how long the happy lull will last -- my money is on 47 minutes.)

A little quick nosing around the Internet this morning found some funny and/or interesting things: Jacqui Robbins has a link to a funny bunny-re-enactment of It's A Wonderful Life (click on "Gift 4"); MittenLit has the story behind Chris Van Allsburg's Polar Express; Sarah Miller shares some of her grandmother's holiday recipes; Fuse #8 has assorted Christmas goodies plus a cute animal christmas song video link (I also saw the video link over on Wild Rose Reader); A Patchwork of Books has a big book give-away; Gina Gort shares a Mary Oliver poem; Boni Ashburn has her dragons decked out for the season; Ann Finkelstein shares holiday thoughts; Lori VanHoesen has a holiday memory; and there's much more. Check my sidebar (scroll down a bit) for lots more links.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When the Holidays Aren't So Very Happy: Making Room at the Table for Sadness, Grief, and Depression

It's Christmas Eve, and as I count my blessings, I find myself running out of fingers and toes. I am truly a lucky woman, and I cherish all that surrounds me: my family, my friends, and the experiences I have been fortunate enough to have. Other than the snow (winter being my nemesis), I have no complaints, and I have nothing pressing to demand of Santa.

But I've walked this earth for more than 40 years now, and so I know that life can be a complicated, messy thing. And I know that for many, the holiday season brings with it as much sadness as it does joy. Though I don't have a huge blog readership, if statistics are any indication, at least one or more of my readers is struggling with something significant this season. Perhaps you, somewhere out there on the other end of a vast computer network, find yourself amongst that struggling number.

The holidays offer many opportunities for hard emotions. For some, there's the matter of inflated expectations v. reality, of holding up one's own life to the unrealistic light of glossy magazines and concluding that real life falls short of the mark. Others deal with family scars and conflicts that are reopened by the holidays. For others, there's the ache of loss, of holidays changed by distance or illness or death. For still others, there are issues wrestled with all year long that become Larger Than Life in the midst of a time of year that seems to belong only to The Happy People. Sadness, grief, and depression knock at so many doors this time of year -- unexpected, unwelcome guests that nonetheless demand a seat at the table.

And in most cases, there comes a sort of shame -- for aren't we all supposed to be joyous during the holidays? And if one isn't happy during the holidays, doesn't that make one a failure?

No. It does not.

If your holidays are feeling less than happy, that does not reflect anything about you other than that You Are Human. Life can be hard. Life can be sad. Life can be discouragingly, awfully unfair. And to pretend otherwise in the face of facts is a sad futility that only makes the whole thing worse.

If you are carrying on your back sadness or grief, I say, be honest about it. Don't pretend otherwise. Sadness is not contagious. If you share your feelings with others, they will not "catch" your sadness. Instead, they will have the opportunity to connect with you, one human being to another. Don't fear that you will somehow, by acknowledging your pain, end up dwelling in your grief. Instead, by being open about your emotions, you will be more likely to be open to the other emotions and experiences that this time of year brings. Let those unwelcome guests come in, and treat them as you would any other unexpected partycrasher: with courtesy, decency, and dignity.

Above all, do not be ashamed of your tears.

Should it all become too much, there is help. If you don't feel you can reach out to a family member or friend, there are phone resources available. Many unique resources exist at your local level, but if you're not sure where to begin, a useful number to have is the Lifeline Network at 1-800-273-8255.

Be honest about your emotions, and be unafraid to lean on those who love you. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, you are a crucial and irreplaceable part of this world.

We would not be who we are without you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Miss Zukas, My Favorite Librarian

If you're a reader of cozy mysteries, you may know the character Miss Zukas, created by Jo Dereske. I've long enjoyed the mystery series, now eleven books in total.

For some reason, today I happened to be thinking about the books, so I popped over to Jo Dereske's site to see when the next Miss Zukas book was due out. Sadly, I saw posted the news that the Miss Zukas series has now ended. Apparently Avon/HarperCollins is moving in other directions and has chosen to "retire" the series. A new publisher for the series has not been found.

I won't give up hope, though. Perhaps another publisher will make a better decision, and keep Jo Dereske's wonderful series going. No early retirement for Helma!

Fish in a Tree? How Can that Be?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a great fondness for the Grand Rapids bookstore Literary Life. It's a small but extremely well-tended independent bookstore that you -- and yes, I mean you -- should go out of your way to visit. (If you haven't done that already, add it to your 2009 resolutions!)

This holiday season, the store has had a fish-themed tree on display in the store. (Check out the familiar face in the second photo.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Michigander Monday: Johnathan Rand

This week we welcome Johnathan Rand!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Johnathan: Born in Pontiac, 1964. Moved to Grayling in 1973, Prudenville 1985-1986, Petoskey 1987-1993, Cheboygan 1993-1998, Topinabee 1998 - present. Got a job in 1982 at a radio station where I was on the air and wrote/voiced radio commercials. I made a career out of writing and creating radio commercials, until I wrote my first book in 1998: St. Helena, a novel for adults, written under the name 'Christopher Knight.' First Michigan Chiller, Mayhem on Mackinac Island, was published in March of 2000. Later that same year, the 'Chillers' series really took off. I quit my radio job and never looked back. Nearly 4 million books in print, and (I believe) I'm the only author in the world that has a store that sells only my books. 'Chillermania' is located in Indian River, Michigan, just off I-75 exit 313.

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

Johnathan: Just released this month is American Chillers #25: Mississippi Megalodon, about a giant, prehistoric shark. #26 will be released at a big world premiere party in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The book is called Oklahoma Outbreak, and it's about a cootie infestation at a school in (where else?) Oklahoma. Released another adult book a short time ago called The World is Black and White.

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Johnathan: Working on American Chillers #27: Kentucky Komodo Dragons. I also write another series for younger readers called Freddie Fernortner, Fearless First Grader, and I'm working on book #10 in that series, along with another adult novel that will be published in the spring.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Johnathan: Tulsa City-County Library, Oklahoma, on January 13th. I'll also have periodic events at Chillermania, in addition to over 100 school visits across the country between January and May 30th, 2009.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Johnathan: I love where we live, and I get to spend the entire summer here without having to travel. But I LOVE the upper peninsula, and I try to get up there once a year to take a two-week writing sabbatical.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Johnathan: Each year, I host two writing camps for kids called 'Author Quest.' It's four days and three nights of magic. We plan all year for this, and it's the most rewarding thing I think I've ever done. On Thursday, kids are nervous and fidgety because they don't know anyone. By Sunday, they've made great friends, and no one wants to leave (including the staff and counselors!).

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

Johnathan: Singers/Songwriters Will and Ann Rowland, Musician Mike Ridley, Musician Duffy King, Musician Billy Jewell, authors/illustrators Gisbert van Frankenhuyzen and Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, authors/illustrators Darrin Brege and Karen Bell-Brege, authors/illustrators Kevin and Stephanie Kammeraad, author/illustrator/playwright Michal Jacot, artist Mark Thompson.

Debbie
: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state.

Johnathan: We have mosquitos the size of pheasants.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Johnathan: 'Michiganian' sounds tougher and more meddlesome; I'm one of them.

Debbie: What a pleasure to have you here with us today! Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Frightful and Delightful

The weather outside is a tad "frightful." The winds are strong, and the snow that came down last night (on top of the near foot we got Friday) was a dry, fine one. So the air is a-swirl with a thickness of snow, and some of the drifts on our back porch are three feet or higher. But the sun is shining, and so through the window the sparkling spin of snow is a pretty sight.

We're snug inside. There's a fire in the hearth, the kids are playing happily, and we're watching/listening to the MSU Children's Choir DVD Songs for the Season playing (full disclosure: I know one of the talented voices in the choir -- but even if I didn't, I'd love the DVD). Winter may be my least favorite season, but its cozy safe-at-home moments are delightful and sublime.

(...at least until cabin fever sets in amongst the troops. Which I estimate will occur around 2:30 or so.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Other Uses For My Head: A Barometer

'Tis snowy here today. In this part of Michigan, winter isn't a constant state of snowfall (not like, say, in Boni's neck of the woods), but we do have a lot of small snowstorms, a moderate number of moderate snowstorms, and the occasion biggee. Currently, we're at the bigger end of the spectrum. Snow started to fall overnight, and continues even as I type this. Right now, there's a heavy enough snowfall and a strong enough wind that I can't see much further than across the street.

The weather this week has wreaked havoc on my head. Rapid weather changes can trigger migraines in those so prone, and I've spent good chunks of this week with either the optical kind (hole in my vision, or the visual bric-a-brac edging effect) or the go-away-world-my-head-is-in-a-vise kind. No fun.

Anyway, having finally (or, more likely, temporarily) escaped the latest one, I was doing some googling on weather migraines, and found that they're common enough to have their own term: barometric pressure headaches. And get this -- the Weather Channel web site has an "Aches & Pains Index" that you can check for your zip code to see how likely you will be to suffer weather related aches and pains such as migraines or arthritis pain. Too cool. I love gadgets like that.

(Incidentally, the index here is at 8 now, down from 10 earlier today.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ooooh!! Shrinky-Dinks!

When I saw Allison Morris's Shelftalker blog entry about Shrinky Dinks, I was hit by a tidal wave of nostalgia. Oh, how I loved Shrinky Dinks when I was a kid!

The blog entry has a how-to about making Shrinky Dink Christmas ornaments of favorite children's book characters. The entry also includes a link to an article about a use for Shrinky Dinks in science.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Harras" is to "Horses" as ________ is to "Lists"

Is there a collective noun to use with "lists"? That is, one can have a dule of doves, a kindle of kittens, a labor of moles, and a pledge of wasps; but is there something fun to say other than "a list of lists"? (By the way, head here for more collective nouns for animals.)

But until I learn what to call it, let's just say that Chicken Spaghetti has a pretty comprehensive collection of end-of-year Best Lists.

When I have time, I plan to look through them all and pull out the Michigan names that I recognize. If you get there before me, holler about any Michiganders you find on the lists.


P.S. Please, please don't suggest "meta-list." Too dull.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Good News, Bad News

In the good news column, I happened upon the Time magazine "best of" issue when I was stuck in a waiting room today. When I saw it, propped there in the rack, I instantly had visions of politely approaching the desk and saying, "Please, may I have this magazine? My book is in it!"

Unfortunately (as I suspected might be the case), not all of the Top 10 lists that are at Time's web site are included in the print edition, and the children's books list apparently did not make the cut. This didn't surprise me, but I still had kinda hoped. 'Twould have been neat to see the book title right there in Time magazine.

But I'm definitely not pouting. Whether it's in the print edition or not, it's still a very nice honor for The Pout-Pout Fish. No complaints from me!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Michigander Monday: Carolyn Reed Barritt

I'm pleased to welcome Carolyn Reed Barritt to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Carolyn: I grew up in rural Minnesota, 8 miles from the nearest town (of 800 people) and about 30 miles south of Duluth. I spent a great deal of my childhood roaming around in the woods surrounding my home. I went to college in St. Paul, MN where I met a native Michigander and moved to Michigan when that Michigander (now my husband) decided to do his Master's and doctorate at UM. We lived in Ann Arbor for a long time, then moved to Tacoma, Washington. In 2003 we both decided to quit our jobs (I was an art director and he was an assistant professor) to pursue different careers -- illustrating for me and writing for him. We sold our house and nearly all our belongings and became caretakers so we could draw and write and live inexpensively. We have been caretakers in Washington state, Ottawa, Canada and on an island off the coast of Salem, Massachusetts (where we were the only people on island for most of the winter.) Now we live in Ann Arbor in the winter and Arizona in the summer as we are switching back and forth with my mother-in-law, alternating between her two homes. She's in Arizona in the winter, we're there in the summer; she's here in Ann Arbor in the summer and we're here in the winter. Essentially we get the worst of the weather, which is what caretakers usually get. And yes, it's hot in Arizona in the summer, but it is nice to never feel cold.

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

Carolyn: I illustrated, The Day the Dragon Danced, written by Kay Haugaard, and published by Shen's Books. Shen's hired me after I sent them one of my self-promo postcards. The book came out in the fall of 2006. It's about a girl who goes with her grandmother to a Chinese New Year's Day parade where her father is one of the dragon dancers. It's colorful and bright and I learned a lot doing it; both about illustrating a children's book and the Chinese New Year.

Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?

Carolyn: I have 3 books that I've written and made dummies for circulating to publishers right now. ("James Builds an Airplane," "Idgy," and "Fetch") I get a good number of personal responses (along with some form rejections, of course) back in my SASEs, but none of the books have been picked up so far. I write and sketch the story at the same time then eventually create a dummy which is a complete paper sample of the book made up of ink sketches and the text. I also paint one or two sample final illustrations which I include with the dummy when I send it to a publisher. It takes a long time for me to get a book ready to send. I'm also working on a 4th book right now which I hope to have ready to start sending out in February or March of 2009. In the mean time I've done some picture-book type illustrations for clients, but no other books yet. I'd love to illustrate someone else's text again as well as have my own books published and I'd really love to do illustrations for a chapter book which would let me work in black and white. I also market myself to the "adult" world (editorial, advertising, etc.). Samples of my illustration can be seen on my website: http://www.carolynreedbarritt.com/

Debbie: Any upcoming appearances?

Carolyn: When The Day the Dragon Danced came out I had a reading at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor and did a school visit and I realized how bad a case of stage fright I have. It's pretty pathetic that a room full of 6 year olds can give me the shakes. When my own books get published I'll have to decide whether or not I do any more appearances.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan (or places, if you can't settle on just one)?

Carolyn: I actually really like being in Ann Arbor. I like the fact that I can walk everywhere in the city and I love the variety of shops, bookstores, and restaurants and markets. My husband and I used to live downtown and we were able to walk out the door and go anywhere in town. For a while we didn't own a car. I also really love the Leland area. My husband's family used to have a cabin up there on Lake Michigan and we spent a lot of time sitting on the beach. The land is now part of a national park, so sadly the cabin is gone.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Carolyn: I have to say the July Ann Arbor Art Fair. When we lived downtown I would spend as much time as possible wandering around the different art fairs that go on during the same four days. I love looking at all the art; from crafty kitschy stuff to fine art. And there's always that year's fad of some sort of art-on-a-stick that everyone seems to buy, like license plate birdhouses or bugs with wiggly wings or a smiling sun. Now that we have been living in Arizona in the summer I've had to miss the art fair, which is too bad.

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

Carolyn: Let's see, illustrators Chris Van Allsburg, David Small, Robert Sabuda, and Susan Hartung. (I know, not all these people live in Michigan any more.)

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

Carolyn: Lake Michigan has really great beaches.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Carolyn: Since I didn't grow up here, I asked my Michigan-native husband the question and he said it's definitely Michigander. But since I get to choose, I choose Michiganian. I like the way it sounds.

Debbie: Thanks, Carolyn, for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thirty-Odd Events Later....

Today I was part of an author signing line-up at the Flint Barnes & Noble. The appearance marked my last book-related event of the year. If I'm counting correctly on my fingers and toes, since spring I've done story times or signings at seventeen bookstores, along with three school visits, three library visits, two radio interviews, two newspaper interviews, and four speaking panels. That may not sound like a lot, but it comes to at least one event a week nearly every week (mostly on weekends) since The Pout-Pout Fish came out in March. Add to that several hundred notes mailed to bookstores and individuals, and double that in terms of email, and it's been a rather busy pout-pout year.

Looking back, I can honestly say it's been a good experience. Having a book in print is an honor and a stroke of luck both, and so every event has been privilege. What a joy to share the story of Mr. Fish with children and their parents and caregivers. I am humbled and profoundly grateful. Every appearance, every note, every moment of it all has been a gift that I am beyond thankful for.

But, being a shy person, it's also been at times a real challenge. Even events I looked forward to, I found myself with anxiety stomachaches for hours, if not days, before hand. And my busy schedule had a definite impact on my kids and husband. For their patience and understanding during it all, I thank them profusely.

The events had their ups and downs. I learned a lot, and made a few mistakes along the way. Fortunately, only one event approached "disastrous" (an out-of-town story time that I dragged my kids along to, where a friendly child tried to befriend my younger son; but my younger son thought the boy was chasing him, so he took off running up and down the aisles of the bookstore, screaming, for a full ten minutes, before I could calm him down -- I doubt we'll be invited back there....); but every event had at least one moment that brought a smile to my heart, and reminded me why I got involved in writing for children in the first place. I met some remarkable people -- kids and grown-ups alike -- and I gained confidence and humility both.

In 2009, I will slow my pace of appearances, but I will still have some here and there. In the meantime, I thank all of you who have come to a story time or signing, or emailed me, or read my blog, or even just thought about my book in any way at all. It's meant a great deal to me. Thank you for letting me share my words with you, and for encouraging me to continue on with this strange, wonderful, unpredictable journey that I'm on. We'll see what comes in 2009, but looking back, 2008 was pretty remarkable, and for that I thank you all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Michigan Children's Book Author Lisa Wheeler on Amazon Top 10 Picture Books of 2008 List

I was nosing around at Amazon and ran across their list of Top 10 Picture Books of 2008. Michigan children's book author Lisa Wheeler is included on the list for Boogie Knights. Yay!

Congratulations to Michigan Notable Book Authors!

The Library of Michigan has announced the 2009 Michigan Notable Books, twenty books highlighting Michigan people, places and events. What a great line-up of books and authors!

For the 2009 list, click here; and click here for background about the Notable Books program. Also, Bill Castanier over at MittLit has a nice write-up here.

The list includes several children's book authors. Jean Alicia Elster, for her middle grade novel Who's Jim Hines?, and Cynthia Furlong Reynolds, for her general audience book "Jiffy" A Family Tradition: Mixing Business and Old-Fashioned Values, are both currently of Michigan. And Jon Scieszka, for his memoir Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka, is formerly of Michigan.

Hearty congratulations to all!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Infectious Appeal of a Wonderful Bookstore

Last month, I had the true pleasure of visiting Literary Life Bookstore in Grand Rapids to do a Pout-Pout Fish story time. I fell in love with the store immediately: it was everything a bookstore should be. Cozy, inviting, uniquely stocked, and staffed by the absolute nicest people.

I have meant ever since to write about the store on my blog -- I even have some photos to share with you -- but until I manage to get to that, you should head over to this article in the Grand Rapids Press to read about Dr. Roni Devlin and her journey to bookstore owner.

And please, if you're anywhere in the Grand Rapids area -- and in this case I would say I mean by that "anywhere in the Midwest" -- then you should make a point to go visit Literary Life Bookstore.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I Suddenly Love Top 10 Lists

Really neat.

(I think it's just an online list, not in their print magazine -- but still very cool.)

((But if it is in the print edition, and you're a subscriber, I wouldn't mind having your copy.))

Anyway. A nice day brightener.

Michigander Monday: Joan Donaldson

I'm pleased to welcome Joan Donaldson to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Joan: I am an organic blueberry farmer who lives off the grid, keeps goats and chickens, makes maple syrup and raises a huge garden. When not busy with those chores, I play a Celtic folk harp, knit and quilt. Recently I earned an MFA in creative writing from Spalding University in Louisville, KY.

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

Joan: Currently, I am working on revisions for a YA novel that takes place at Rugby, TN, a utopian community settled by Thomas Hughs in 1880 in the Cumberland Mts of Tennessee. The community was suppose to be a place where the second sons of the English gentry could go if they wanted to work with their hands. My main character is a local girl, based on a famous weaver from the area, and Viney is not thrilled with the invasion of the foreigners. The working title is On Viney's Mountain.

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Joan: This year two of my personal essays were published in Christmas is a Season! 2008 and Home for Christmas published by Guideposts/Ideals. I am also writing a MG novel about a young girl who is learning to drive oxen, plus a creative nonfiction work.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Joan: I am speaking at Fernwood for their English tea on April 25th and will be at the International Reading Association Regional Conference in Grand Rapids next October.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan? (Or places, if you can't settle on just one)

Joan: The dunes of Lake Michigan, near Douglas/Saugatuck....close to where I live. And Beaver Island is a wonderful place.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Joan: Making maple syrup, an exciting time to work in the woods, to watch winter slip away even though everyone else is still complaining about snow and cold. Because Michigan has that fluctuation between warm days and cold nights, we can boil syrup!

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

Joan: Tracy Gallup's work is enchanted, both her words and her illustrations. And Glenn Hendrix collects Michigan fiddle tunes, another bit of our heritage to respect and cherish.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?
Joan: My husband always says that Michigan is the fountainhead of creative people. We have met more organic farmers, businessmen, who grew up in MI and then went else where to farm. While we may not be on the way to most other states, many creative and innovative people quietly live here, changing the world.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Joan: I am a Michigander, and one segment of my family arrived in 1781 when the British marched my Moravian ancestors north from Ohio to Detroit. They settled near Moravian Corners near Mount Clemens. Thanks for asking!

Debbie: And thank you, Joan, for being here today!

Friday, December 5, 2008

NaNoWriMo'ers Make Good

For those of you dedicated souls who participated in National Novel Writing Month, you might like to see the list over at Mental Floss (one of their many lists of ten) of 10 NaNoWriMo novels that got published.

Seguing from the earnest, regular output of NaNoWriMo'ers to the other extreme, I believe I owe my (handful of) dedicated readers an apology for my infrequent posts of late. I even missed posting a poem today for the first time since I started posting Friday poems! No worries, though: there's nothing earthshattering going on that's kept me from Jumping the Candlestick-- it's just been a busy stretch.

(Or perhaps I'm just prepping for a New Year's Resolution of "Establish Better Blogging Habits." Guess I'll add it to the list....)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Yes, It's Monday...

...but I'm still running behind on Michigander Monday profiles. I apologize for the (hopefully brief) hiatus of this feature, a feature which I know many of you have come to look forward to. I should be up and going again within a couple of weeks, so do keep checking back. There are plenty of wonderful Michigan children's book authors and illustrators out there, and I can't wait to get going again on all of us getting to know them better.