Monday, October 5, 2009

Michigander Monday: Margaret Willey

This week we welcome Margaret Willey to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Margaret, tell us a little about yourself.

Margaret: I have been writing in multiple genres for 30 years, but most of my published work is for children – 7 teen novels, 5 picture books and a new northwoods folktale scheduled for 2011. I also write essays, reviews and short stories. My entire writing life people have told me I need to stop spreading myself so thin and focus on 1 or 2 areas of writing, but I have never been able to do that. My dad was a visual artist who worked in many genres; so I guess I can both blame and thank him for that.

Debbie: What an amazing scope of work you have! Please tell us about your latest book.

Margaret: It’s a thrill to talk about my new novel for teenagers—A Summer of Silk Moths—because I have been working on it for TEN YEARS and there were many times when I almost gave up! But I kept coming back to it and having “aha” moments about how to improve and deepen it. It came out on October 1st. It contains so many elements that are important to me as an artist. Here are three: my fascination with silk moths, my belief that the natural world can be a place of healing and sanctuary for children, and my belief that a new generation can heal the wounds of the previous one. The novel is set in the southwest corner of Michigan where I grew up. It is also a tribute to a book I loved as a girl; Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost—a classic coming-of-age novel that is 100 years old this year!

Debbie: Margaret, A Summer of Silk Moths sounds like a must-read! Other books & projects on the horizon?

Margaret: I’m currently working on a new young adult novel about three teens in juvenile detention who have a sworn a pact of secrecy about their crime. Very different from Silk Moths, really fun, full of twists and surprises, no title yet.

Debbie: Sounds wonderful. Margaret, do you have any upcoming appearances?

Margaret: All still unfolding. I was recently at the Midwest Booksellers Association in St. Paul, Minnesota in late September. Check my novel’s website for upcoming appearances:

Debbie: Your favorite places in Michigan?

Margaret: I have traveled all over the world and I have come to really appreciate the natural wonders of Michigan: St. Joseph’s Tiscornia Beach in the summer, the Leelanau Peninsula in the fall, Hoffmaster Park ski trails in Muskegon in the winter, and year-round the great and historic city of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula. I also love my home town of Grand Haven—the beautiful boardwalk and the lighthouse, Morningstar Restaurant and the Bookman Bookstore, the deep ravine behind my house, full of deer and owls and an occasional fox. What would I do without these places?

Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan event or happening?

Margaret: Actually, as I’m getting older, I tend to avoid crowds, so a lot of the wonderful festivals—like the Cherry, Blueberry and Apple Blossom Festivals, Tulip Festival and Grand Haven’s own Coast Guard Festival—don’t tempt me like they used to when my children were small. I’m getting to where I get more excited about the local farmer’s market than a festival. I love the two weeks in early late May/early June when the lilacs bloom. Or the arrival of Michigan asparagus. Or the first cider pressing in the fall.

Debbie: Those are some of my favorite Michigan happenings, too. Love that fall cider! Margaret, tell us about a few Michigan people we should all know about.

Margaret: A lot of important writers have come from Michigan—two I would mention here are Iola Fuller, who was born in Marcellus, Michigan and was a librarian. She wrote The Loon Feather, a classic historical novel published in the 40’s and set primarily on Mackinaw Island, narrated by an Ojibwa girl, the daughter of Tecumseh. It’s an amazing, amazing book. I also love to mention the great Verna Aardema, whose work includes Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears, winner of the Caldecott in 1976. Born in New Era, she was a dedicated elementary school teacher in Muskegon before she was an author. The first booksigning I ever had was with Verna at the Bookman in Grand Haven, a very precious memory.

Debbie: What a wonderful experience that must have been!
Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Margaret: I don’t think people who are not Michigan residents know or appreciate our Upper Peninsula—how geographically and historically unique it is up there. In fact, a lot of Michigan residents don’t know. It is a treasure trove of international folklore because of the immigrants who came from all over the world to work in the lumber camps and mining towns—the French Canadians, the Finns, the Swedes, the Irish, the Brits. There were African-American lumberjacks. There were Native Americans tribes long before the Europeans came and overdid the logging and mining thing. The U.P. still has wide areas that are undeveloped, unspoiled and gorgeous. The stretch along the lower shores of Lake Superior comes to mind. Marquette is one of my favorite cities in the world. And don’t forget the tiny & weird roadside historical museums...I’ve visited quite a few.

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

Margaret: Wow, I am really sounding like a Michiganian here!

Debbie: Michiganian it is! Margaret, I truly enjoyed this interview. Thank you for being here today!

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