Monday, October 31, 2011

Michigander Monday: Ron Riekki

I'm pleased to welcome Ron Riekki to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Tell us a little about yourself.

Ron:  Hi, my name is Ron Riekki and I'm pretty tall.

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

Ron:  I just have one main book, a novel entitled U.P.  It's done pretty well for a smaller press, Ghost Road out of Colorado.  John Casey nominated it for the Sewanee Writers Series.  Later it was also nominated for the Great Michigan Read series.  And I have a couple of poetry chapbooks with Gypsy Daughter, both nominated for &Now Awards for Innovative Writing.  Leave Me Alone I'm Bleeding is probably my favorite of the two.  For playwriting, Ruckus Theater in Chicago did a great production of my play All Saints' Day and I also loved Circle Theatre's production of my play War.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Ron:  There are too many to list.  I had a multi-book deal with Ghost Road, but that fell through.  But I'm talking with Michigan State University Press, Northern Michigan University Press, and Wayne State University Press about a bunch of book projects that look like they are going to happen, so I'll be busy from now until 2016 or so with those.  I just adapted Dandelion Cottage for Lake Superior Theatre.  It looks like they'll be performing the adaptation next summer if all goes as planned.  I have a publisher interested in the adaptation, so discussing that.  In the interesting liminal stages for a lot of these projects.  I'm doing another adaptation for another theater as well.  And Stageworks/Hudson just did a great production of my play Carol.  Then I have some TV and film things in the pipeline, but I don't like to talk about those too much until they're closer to coming to fruition.  I'm repped by a great agency out of Beverly Hills for TV writing.  I like them very much.  And hope they read that I like them very much.  Also, I have a thriller I've been struggling with that a literary agent wants to see when it's ready, but the key verb in this sentence is struggling.

Even more projects than the ones listed above.

I like to keep very busy in the writing world, but those are the things that immediately come to mind.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Ron:  I have a couple of appearances in the Savannah, GA, area in November.  I forget where, have to look them up.  Appearing there with Chad Faries and Amy Lynn Hess, two great poets.  Looking like maybe one or two in FL upcoming too, but will see.  I'm on deadlines, so not a lot of time anymore to appear for things, especially if they're wanting me to do it for free.  I have to focus my energies on completing the projects already underway.  (Plus I'm directing a play in Ocala, FL, so my scale of busy-ness on a scale of one to ten is at an eleven right now.)

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

RonPeter White Public Library has always been nice to me.  Bayliss Public Library too.  A lot of libraries, actually.  The Chicago Public Library was the first ever to host me for a reading, so I'm definitely thankful to them.

And Snowbound Books in Marquette has always been a big supporter of my novel.  Aurora Books in Menominee too.  And Safe Harbor BooksNorth Wind Books, Country Village.  Too many stores to list.  Polyester Books in Australia I have to mention too.

I really appreciate the stores that support Michigan writers.  I once contacted Prairie Lights in Iowa City to see if I could set up a reading and the person who answered the phone said something along the lines of--nobody around here would care about a book set in the U.P.  So thank God for the bookstores who do care about a book set there.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Ron:  Little Presque always comes to mind, but . . .

Last year I was driving with Steve Hamilton (great writer and an amazing human being) and he took me to this breathtaking beach near Paradise, Michigan.  We were on our way to a reading and I couldn't help it--I had to jump in.  It was just too beautiful not to swim.  He basically had to call me back to shore and I ended up changing clothing really quickly at his friend's house and we still made the reading on time, just barely.  But that was one of the best moments of my life.  There's something about beautiful Michigan nature and being with a writer you respect that for me is just perfection.  After a reading at Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore in Munising (another store I love), I went canoeing with Jonathan Johnson (great poet and also an amazing person) and there was just a gorgeous calm to the air.  That perfect U.P. summer air.  Chad Faries was in a kayak circling us talking about his owl tattoo.  Those were great moments, peaceful.

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

Ron:  I've been Program Director for the U.P. Book Tour for the last two years.  We appeared all over the U.P. last year--Houghton, Ishpeming, Negaunee, Sault Ste Marie, Menominee, Munising, Hancock, Baraga, Marquette, Escanaba, St. Ignace,  Brimley, and a bunch of other towns.  Those events have been incredible.  In the Sault, the panel consisted of Steve, myself, Jonathan, Nancy Eimers, William Olsen, Jaswinder Bolina, and Keith Taylor.  Those events are really fun, to get the best Michigan writers I know into one room like that.  I'm excited for what's falling in place for next year's events, which are looking to be Jun 20 to Jul 7, 2012.

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

Ron:  I've already named a bunch, but I think Matthew Gavin Frank is someone people should check out.  He's a nice guy too.  And Bamewawagezhikaquay.  I don't think you can really be a Michigan writer until you've read her.  She's so formative, necessary to know.  I'm a big Neil LaBute fan.  Philip Levine too.  And Catie Rosemurgy is a pure Michigan writer to me.  A lot of names I could name.  A lot.  I'll try to hold back though.  Oh, five more and then I'll move on--Laura Kasischke, Ellen Airgood, Caitlin Horrocks, Beverly Matherne, Austin Hummell . . . Arnie Johnston, Donald Goines, Sam Raimi, Wayne Dyer, Stuart Dybek, John Smolens, Jen Howard, Carroll Watson Rankin, Melinda Moustakis, Nelson Algren . . . I can't stop.  So many names people should know.  Hell, Eminem, Gregg Alexander, MC Serch, Madonna, Aaliyah, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Iggy Pop while we're at it.  And for sports journalism--Mitch Albom or even better yet Jim Lahde.  That's for those out there who really know your Michigan sports journalism.

When you really look at it, the talent out of Michigan is incredible.  I could make a full list that would make you think all of the best artists and writers from the country come from one state.  Pure respect for the wolverine state . . .

By the way, buy Michigan books for upcoming Christmas presents!  Keep it local.  (If you have young daughters who behave, buy 'em Dandelion Cottage.  If you have young sons who don't, buy 'em U.P.).

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

Ron:  We have amazing literature up here.  Enough books about New York, especially people from New York who have nannies and visit India.  I think after I read my 1000th book set in New York I started realizing this intense craving for books set where I grew up.  So I started devouring Michigan authors and loved the connection I feel to the place as I'm reading.  [Let me put it this way: I dislike New York pizza.  Give me Tino's (in Negaunee) any day.]

Debbie:  Finally, last question -- some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Ron:  Yooper.

Debbie:  Yooper it is!  Ron, thank you for being here today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Ron, his books, and the U.P. author tour, please stop by his web site.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Michigander Monday: Dan Mulhern

I'm pleased to welcome Dan Mulhern to Michigander Monday!  Dan is the author of Everyday Leadership and Be Real and the co-author, with his wife Jennifer Granholm, of A Governor's Story: The Fight For Jobs and America's Economic Future.  Both will be appearing at the Schuler Books in Okemos this Friday and at the Michigan International Book Festival in Livonia on Saturday; details are below.

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

Dan:  I am the father of 3, sibling to 6 and husband of one. I am trained as a teacher and as a lawyer, but I have done many many things in my life – from working in steel mills to caddying; from being a teacher and youth worker, to being a campaign manager and a fundraiser. Most of my career I have been working in the field of leadership – helping to guide individuals and groups to lead as best they can. I have written two books about leadership, coached many executives and executive teams, and hosted a radio show called “Everyday Leadership.”

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about A Governor's Story.

Dan:  Our book chronicles an amazing eight years in our lives.  The “our” here is of course my wife, Governor Jennifer Granholm, but especially the people of Michigan who were struggling with our aching economy.  We learned that the old ways in Michigan no longer work.  That’s an easy sentence to write, but involved a huge number of painful truths for businesses large and small, for government, for labor unions, and for individuals and families.  A Governor’s Story is very much an “inside look” from the Governor who wanted to fix everything and her relationship with the people who wanted her to fix everything.  We tell the story of what it was like as Michigan faced first what the entire country is now facing:  a stubborn lack of jobs, deficit-ridden budgets, and warring ideas about how to fix things.  Jennifer and I have blended our perspectives – her analytical, systemic look at jobs and government, and my views as a leadership and business expert and a man cast in a whole new role – of supportive spouse and lead parent.  We didn’t want to write a book that pretended that she knew everything and never made a mistake, but instead a very personal story of what it was like to lead in such difficult times. There is challenge and drama, but there are critical insights for this presidential race, and some real signs of hope for a revitalized economy.  It’s also an inspiring story of a pretty amazing woman!

Debbie:  Do you have other books on the horizon?

Dan:  I am thinking hard about how to write a book about the enormous changes affecting boys and men.  Hundreds of books have been written about “women’s liberation,” but few about men’s “confinement” let alone their liberation. I think it’s a great untold story which I and an increasing number of men have happily embraced. It’s a story we need to tell our boys.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Dan:  A signing at the Okemos Schulers Oct 28 from 10:30am – 12pm (http://www.schulerbooks.com/event/book-signing-governor-jennifer-granholm-and-dan-mulhern-governors-story-okemos) and

A signing at the Michigan International Books Festival Saturday October 29 at noon (http://www.michiganinternationalbooksfestival.info/granholm).

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

Dan:  Jennifer (former Governor Granholm) and I spent many many “date nights” trolling through Schuler Books in Lansing, camping on the floor or in a great leather chair and reading.  John King’s rare books is a blast and always deserves more time than we can give it.  As a high school student I spent many hours doing debate research at the Southfield Public Library; since then it has been enlarged and it is a wonderful community gathering place.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Dan:  Michigan’s governor has use of a wonderful “cottage” on Mackinac Island.  I fell in love with Mackinac.  With the trails that I grew to know very well, to the pier from which I jumped into frigid waters, and of course to the smell of fudge and horse droppings.

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

Dan:  “The Joe” tops my list.  Hockey is an amazing sport and Wings fans are completely into the game.  Jeff Daniels’ Thanksgiving concerts and the Michigan Theater have been marvelous.  But my fondest memories are the Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Run.

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

DanJim Dreyer (yes, that’s his name) who was once afraid of water, but now owns multiple Guinness records, and has swam across all 5 of Michigan’s Great Lakes; he’s also a champion for Mentor Michigan. Joe Dumars is (like me) not “fun;” he’s a serious guy, but a fascinating person, smart, well-rounded, competitive and gentlemanly.

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

Dan:  Our Lakes are for all practical purposes as large as oceans. Our beaches are as warm and wonderful as Florida’s. And we are both a kind and a diverse and soul-filled people.

Debbie:  Finally, some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, what’s the better term: "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Dan:  If it’s good for the goose it’s good for the Gander!

Debbie:  Michigander it is!  We'll add it to our tally.  Dan, thank you for being here today!

To learn more about Dan Mulhern, visit his web site, "Everyday Leadership."  You can also find him on Twitter and on FaceBook.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michigander Monday: Caitlin Horrocks

I'm pleased to welcome Caitlin Horrocks to Michigander Monday!!  Caitlin is the author of the story collection, This Is Not Your City, and her stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications.

Debbie:  Caitlin, tell us a little about yourself.

Caitlin:  I grew up in Ann Arbor, moved away for college, then worked my way back to the state via Ohio, Arizona, England, Finland, and the Czech Republic. I moved to Grand Rapids four years ago to take a job teaching writing at Grand Valley State University, and I’ve enjoyed exploring the west side of the state.

As a kid, I was always reading, and I wrote my own choose-your-own-adventure stories and recorded fake radio shows with my sister. I took creative writing classes in college, but I kept thinking it was something I’d grow out of when I had a “real” career. But I kept writing, and while I was in graduate school I started sending my work out for publication. I got a lot of positive responses from literary magazine editors, and that helped me take myself more seriously as a writer. Some of the first stories I sent out ended up in my first book, This Is Not Your City, which came out this past July.
 
Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book, This Is Not Your City.

Caitlin:  The jacket copy says it like this: “Eleven women confront dramas both everyday and outlandish… in stories as darkly comic as they are unflinching, people isolated by geography, emotion, or circumstance cut imperfect paths to peace—they have no other choice.” The New York Times called it “appealingly rugged-hearted,” and I like that a lot. I’m definitely interested in characters who don’t always follow the better angels of their natures.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?
Caitlin:  I’m working on a novel, but story ideas keep popping up to distract me.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?
Caitlin:  In Michigan and elsewhere. For a current list, check out www.caitlinhorrocks.com/news.htm

Debbie:  Do you have favorite Michigan bookstore?

Caitlin:  My beloved neighborhood bookstore is Literary Life Bookstore in Grand Rapids. For used books, I could spend hours in Dawn Treader Book Shop in Ann Arbor.

Debbie:  Fabulous bookstores, both!  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Caitlin:  It’s impossible to pick one, but the Manistee National Forest, on Lake Michigan, is the site of my favorite camping memories. A childhood friend’s family began a camping tradition up there, renting group sites and inviting lots of people to join them for a week or a few days. The beach and dunes there are gorgeous, but I also loved seeing friends, year after year, as we all grew up together.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
CaitlinArtPrize in Grand Rapids. It’s three years old this year, and worth travelling for. The downtown area fills with art, both giant installations and smaller pieces, and members of the public vote on their favorites. This results in plenty of grumbling about taste, but it also gives people the courage to feel like their opinion matters, like they’re “allowed” to have ideas about art, that it isn’t intended only for a particular museum or gallery-going crowd. It’s a very permission-giving sort of event, and it transforms the city for a few weeks each year.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Caitlin:  One of my favorite Michigan writers is a children’s author, John Bellairs, who grew up in Marshall and wrote these wonderfully creepy, Gothic kids’ novels, some of which featured recognizably Michigan locations. If you’ve never read them, the fact that Edward Gorey did the illustrations will tell you a lot about their feel. Ander Monson decamped for Arizona a few years ago, but he still counts: he’s a Michigan native and amazing writer of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Overachiever! His wonderful story collection-slash-novel Other Electricities is set in the Upper Peninsula.  I also really enjoy Peter Ho Davies’ fiction. He lives in Ann Arbor and teaches at the University of Michigan.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Caitlin:  It’s so much more diverse, in every sense, than anyone outside the state imagines. We aren’t just a blown out tire and a rusty fence and a swath of wilderness. There’s a lot of life and a lot of beauty here, of all kinds.

Debbie:  Agreed!  Finally, some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: what’s the better term, "Michigander" or "Michiganian"?
Caitlin:  Michigander. Which makes me think of geese, but still sounds better than the ungainly –ganian.

Debbie:  Michigander it is!  Caitlin, thank you so much for being here today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Caitlin, please visit her web site.  For her upcoming appearances, be sure to visit her "News & Events" page.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Poetry Friday: Distraction

Distraction

Early morning autumn.  Leaves fall
from the tree in the moonlit yard.  I haul
the front porch chair to the driveway for a better
listen.  Ah, the crisp rustle of the changing season.
Ah, the clearing of my mind.  I settle down,
content in my chair.  Until

Off to the side, comes the snuffling of a
night creature.  Raccoon, probably; groundhog,
perhaps; who the heck knows?
This is why I don’t go camping –
this mysterious, unsettling, unknown imposition
of the nocturnal world.  And in an instant of
freshly caffeinated certainty, I’m suddenly
quite sure it must be…

A skunk.

A skunk that I will startle.
A skunk that by instinct shall spray me.
A skunk that will define
the rest of the day the week the month the year
oh it started so magnificently!
and ended so badly,
so godawful stinkin’ badly.

And so, slowly, I rise.
Even more slowly,
I backstep to the porch,
chair in hand.
Set the chair down.
Ease myself in
by the solid brick wall of the house.

And there I sit, in the moonlight shadow,
only half listening

to the fall of the leaves.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Michigander Monday: Scott Sparling

I'm very pleased to welcome Scott Sparling to Michigander Monday!  Scott, now of Oregon, hails from and regularly returns to Michigan; and much of his absorbing and compellingly written novel Wire to Wire occurs here in the Mitten state.

Debbie:  Scott, tell us a little about yourself.

Scott:  I grew up outside Jackson, Michigan, on a dead-end road near the Penn Central tracks. Jackson was a conservative town, but my family was not. Along with a friend, I co-founded the Jackson Moratorium Coalition during the Vietnam War. Outside a church in downtown Jackson, we read the names of 35,000 American soldiers who – at that point in the war – had been killed in Vietnam. That was not popular with city leaders.

I also hung out near those railroad tracks. With a different friend, I began riding freights across southern Michigan, and then from Ann Arbor up to Frankfort and Elberta. Soon we were riding to the southwestern states, up the Pacific coast to Seattle, and across the northern states to Minneapolis. Then all across Canada. We rode off and on for six or seven years.

During that time, a good friend built a house up near Maple City. Over the years, I’ve spent weeks and months living in his cabin, gathering notes and working on sections of Wire to Wire. I moved to Portland in 1989, where I live with my wife and my son who just started college. But I’ve been back to Michigan almost every year.

Debbie:  Scott, please tell us all about your book.

Scott:  I started writing fiction when I was 30. I thought I knew about a couple things that not everyone knew – riding freights, certainly, and Northern Michigan, which is pretty much a secret once you leave the area. I knew from the start that I had to write about those two things.

I’ve been very influenced by Robert Stone. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read Dog Soldiers. Stone influenced me to write in third person at a time when first person narratives seemed to have much greater currency. I was also writing about white males in the Midwest at a time when the publishing world had just opened up – rightly and belatedly – to voices and characters from other cultures and other walks of life.

Those factors may have made it harder to sell Wire to Wire to a publisher, but the biggest obstacle was my own slow rate of learning. I understood sentences almost from day one. It took me years and years to understand story.

At one point, in 1993, I got my manuscript into Jim Harrison’s mailbox. I’d talked to Harrison briefly – I’d asked him to pass the mustard in the Sugarfoot Saloon up by Cedar, Michigan. He obliged, and so I thought he might be the kind of person who would enjoy getting an unsolicited manuscript in the mail. This turned out not to be true. Though he was actually fairly nice about it and even passed the manuscript on to his agent. They both said it was well written but didn’t have a sufficiently compelling story for an unknown author. It took me another decade or so to correct that. But I was also doing other stuff. My wife and I raised our son. I have a day job. I launched and still write Segerfile.com.

Now that it’s done, I think of Wire to Wire as literary fiction with elements of a crime novel plot. Michael Slater is a video editor with many problems: he has a metal plate in his head, he sees things that aren’t there, he’s hooked on speed. And he’s been wounded in love. All of this plays out on the screens in his edit suites.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Scott:  I’ve finished the first draft of a book set in the Pacific Northwest, ostensibly about organ theft, but on a different level about moving on after loss, which to me is also what Wire to Wire is about. And I’ve written the first chapter of a novel set in Detroit. I’m not far enough along to know where that’s going yet.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Scott:  I hope to be at the final Bob Seger concert in Detroit, whenever that occurs – maybe this December. Last July, I put 2,700 miles on a rented Dodge Avenger reading at 10 bookstores across Michigan. Nothing else is scheduled right now, but I hope to be back.

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

Scott:  The last I heard, my hometown of Jackson no longer has a bookstore, which is sad. The Jackson District Library, Carnegie Branch, where I read in July, is certainly my favorite library. It’s a great place – I spent a lot of time there as a kid.

My tour of Michigan bookstores introduced me to a lot of great stores, and I feel like I’d have to name them all. A person could hit my web page and see where I was in July, because I love all those stores. I even like the store that cancelled my reading after one bad review.

One thing I learned during that tour is what a strong connection indy bookstores have with their readers. Wire to Wire is selling and being read in Michigan in large part because indy bookstore owners have talked to their regular customers about it. I feel extremely grateful for that.

Debbie:  Michigan does have some really amazing independent bookstores!  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Scott:  There are a lot of places. I like standing at the end of Strathmoor Lane outside Jackson and trying to hallucinate the younger me carrying his lunchbox to the bus stop. There’s a place near the old dairy in Jackson where my father last spoke to me. The bar in Ann Arbor where I fell under Bob Seger’s spell. The Cabbage Shed bar in Elberta.

But if I had a Transport Button that would teleport me to any place in the world, it would be set to the Lake Michigan beach just north of Frankfort. I’d be waist deep in water. My friend T.L. would be there, maybe on the shore. He would have just thrown an orange ball in my direction and I’d see it arching across the blue sky. He’s thrown it a little too far. I’m going to have to jump to catch it, but I think I can reach it. That moment and that place is where I want to be. 

Debbie:  What an amazing image and memory, grounded so firmly in place.

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

Scott:  Any place Bob Seger is playing. I’ve never been to the Kerrytown BookFest, but I hope I get to read there in the future.

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

Scott:  Here are some photographers I admire: D. C. Jesse Burkhardt -- the guy I rode freights with. He’s published non-fiction books about his freight trips, but also has some beautiful photo books of trains. Tom Weschler is a great guy with fascinating stories of Seger’s early days. He and writer Gary Graff put out the Seger book, Travelin’ Man. I love talking music with Ken Settle, another great Detroit area photographer – his memory, sense of detail and perspectives are amazing. Last summer in Jackson, I met a young photographer named Nick Dentamaro whose photo galleries of the old Jackson prison blew me away.

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

Scott:  The amazing number of great Michigan writers. And the beauty of Northern Michigan. I’m torn on this last one. Part of me wants to keep it secret.

Debbie:  Totally understandable!  Last question:  some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: what’s the better term, "Michigander" or "Michiganian"?

Scott:  I’m too old school to switch away from Michigander. But I think it sounds ridiculous. I never say it without making a joke about it. “From Michigan” is the only good alternative. I’m from Michigan. I like the sound of that.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the "From Michigan" column!  Scott, thank you very much for being here today!

To learn more about Scott Sparling and his novel, please visit his web site and blog.  And for more about his book, Wire to Wire, click here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Michigander Monday: Jane Shapiro

I enjoy every single Michigander Monday interview I do, but I find it particularly wonderful when I get to interview members of my own writing group!  Due to geography, Jane Shapiro is no longer an Attending Member at our critique sessions (the monthly commute from Oregon to Michigan would be a wee tad much...), but she remains a member in spirit, and a friend to us all.  We're quite thrilled about her new book, Magic Trash.

Debbie:  Jane, welcome!

Jane:  I’m excited to be a guest on the blog of my past critique partner and continuing writing friend. And, of course, splashing in the same waters as Mr. Fish is quite a thrill, whatever his mood.

Debbie:  Your Michigan-related book is out in the world now. What inspired this book?

Jane:  My book, Magic Trash, A Story of Tyree Guyton and his Art, arrives in bookstores this month. What a ride this has been! The idea for a children’s book about Tyree’s work struck me seven years ago when I led tours as a docent at the Kresge Art Museum on the Michigan State University campus. Visitors, adults and children, gravitated to his workman’s lunchbox painted in an American flag design and locked in a birdcage.

Debbie:  Then you approached the artist about a book?

Jane:  Both Tyree and his wife and manager Jenenne Whitfield immediately agreed to a biography and have supported with enthusiasm the many versions and revisions.

Debbie:  Would you tell us about the writing process for Magic Trash?

Jane:  I wrote the first manuscript of Magic Trash in rhyme. Randi Rivers from Charlesbridge responded that she “loved” the story, but requested that I take it out of rhyme to develop the characters and also the setting. Well, writers will do a lot for the love of an editor. So, I added more of young Tyree and his Grandpa Sam and continued their relationship through the years in the city of Detroit. But wait, I kept the rhyming refrain.

http://www.charlesbridge.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=5408

Debbie:  Have you visited Heidelberg in Detroit?

Jane:  Yes, and now I consider The Heidelberg Project in Detroit to be one of my favorite places in Michigan. A picture from one day I spent there with Tyree is on my website:

http://www.jhshapiro.com/

In addition, a surprise about Michigan for people living elsewhere is that the city of Detroit is a wonderful place with great museums, four professional sports teams, restaurants, and much more. I’m looking forward to a visit to Detroit on October 14th for a jazz concert in honor of Heidelberg’s 25th anniversary. Earlier that day I'll be signing at the Wayne State Barnes and Noble from 1 to 3 PM. Tyree will  join me there to sign from 2 to 3. Please, everyone, stop by if in the area.

Debbie:  You’re still a Michigander at heart?

Jane:  Michigan has been a place of wonder for me since I was a child in Indiana, spending part of each summer at the amazing Richelieu Lodge on Corey Lake in Three Rivers: turtle races, week-long shuffleboard tournaments, swimming, speed boating, water skiing (once), canoeing. Ahhh, summer meant Corey Lake and life there was all good, even when my older brother knocked me out of the shuffleboard bracket. Sadly, the lodge burned down some years ago. However, turtles probably flapped and snapped in relief that the races had ended.

Debbie:  When did you become a resident of our wonderful state?

Jane:  After college I moved to East Lansing, delivered my son at Sparrow Hospital, and remained there until a few years ago when I relocated to Portland, Oregon where my son and his wife delivered their first child this year. 

During those years in East Lansing I earned a master’s degree in social work at MI State University, eventually working for the Department of Medicine. I sang in the chorus for MSU productions of Madame Butterfly, Fidelio, The Merry Widow and other operas, and I sang soprano in the fun a cappella group, The Silver Swan Singers, performing around Michigan including the annual Renaissance Festival.

Debbie:  You had plenty to do already, but began writing for children?

Jane:  When a family at the Department of Medicine requested a children’s book on von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder, I wrote my first picture book aided by grants, the expertise of publishing professionals at the university, and a tenor in the Swans who painted fabulous green dinosaurs. Of course, this was part of my job and the books were given to children and families. But I was hooked the moment I saw kids clutching and reading the book.

Debbie:  And now you live in Oregon?

Jane:  After my husband, a mathematics professor at MSU, retired, we decided to experience living in the Northwest. Now we stare with wonder at beautiful mountains, forests, and our new granddaughter.  But we’ll always be Spartans, wherever we are, especially during college basketball season.

Debbie:  Finally, for our ongoing tally:  Michigander or Michiganian?

Jane:  Definitely Michigander, and thanks for inviting me to Michigander Monday.

Debbie:  Jane, it was truly my pleasure!  Thanks for being here!

To learn more about Jane Shapiro, please visit her web site.  You can find out more about The Heidelberg Project at this link, and about Tyree Guyton at this link.  And be sure to stop by the Wayne State Barnes & Noble on October 14 for a joint appearance by Jane and Tyree!