I'm pleased to welcome Beth Neff to Michigander Monday!
Debbie: Beth, please tell us a little about yourself.
Beth: Though Getting Somewhere is my first published novel, words and language and books have been a great love of mine from a very young age. I majored in journalism and anthropology at the University of Michigan – I’d been convinced that creative writing was too impractical – and I think that provided me with both skills and a world view that have served me well. Most of my adult life has been devoted to raising four homeschooled kids on our ten-acre farm, milking dairy goats and making cheese, growing organic produce for a year-round, indoor farmers market that I founded in my town, and doing sustainability activism, eventually leading the project to develop our community’s first sustainable master plan. After nearly thirty years of farming, I decided to turn back to my first love to see if it might welcome me back. It has!
Debbie: Please tell us all about your book!
Beth: Getting Somewhere is the story of four girls who have been convicted of juvenile crimes and choose to serve out their sentences in an alternative detention program located on an organic farm. Not surprisingly, life on the farm is a difficult adjustment: the girls distrust the women who run the program, question what possible use it could be for them to work with their hands, to live ‘out in the middle of nowhere,’ and are even suspicious of each other – somewhat with good reason. All have secrets, wounds of their own, yet the program offers something they can barely resist, an opportunity for a kind of nurture and self-awareness that they’ve never had. Three of the girls begin to respond but the fourth, determined to keep her real self hidden, sets out to destroy everything the others are working so hard to achieve.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Beth: I have a number of novels underway but it will be my editor’s decision which one we go with next. They include the story of a kidnapping that leads to a search for a group of teenage class warriors, one about a teenager whose best friend has cancer, a novel about two young people fighting discrimination against migrants in their town, and a contemporary version of a famous teenager in history (no further hints!)
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Beth: I will be participating in a storytelling event at Better World Books in Goshen, IN (not far from Michigan!) on March 2 and will be reading and signing at Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo on March 13. I will also be at Schuler Books and Music in Lansing sometime in early May (see website or Facebook author page for details.) I have several author visits in the works for schools and youth centers and am particularly interested in and excited about the educational opportunities that come along with being an author.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Beth: I really appreciate the job that the wonderful women at the Constantine Library do with their small facility. Three Rivers is my next closest town and I love both Lowry’s Books and the library there. Having lived in Ann Arbor as a student, I seek out any chance I can to go there, visiting the Common Language bookstore and the U of M Hatcher Graduate Library whenever possible. Kalamazoo has two great independents – Bookbug and Kazoo Books.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Beth: It’s really such a privilege to live in a state as beautiful as Michigan. The Lake Michigan shoreline, from the orchard belt down here in the south to Sleeping Bear Dunes is a favorite destination for my family. On occasion, we get to the Upper Peninsula as well and I have wonderful memories of camping along Lake Superior – wild, diverse, and utterly breathtaking.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Beth: I am continually impressed by the incredible artists and performances found at the Gilmore Festival in Kalamazoo. The annual ArtPrize event in Grand Rapids is also spectacular.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Beth: Well, as you know, Michigan has some amazing authors like Jaimy Gordon, Bonnie Jo Campbell, David Small, and Wade Rouse – it’s really dangerous to name any for all those that I am missing. I haven’t lived in Michigan all that long but I have enjoyed all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Beth: Michigan has something for everyone – vibrant cities, diverse ecosystems, dynamic arts and entertainment – and it’s also a great place for foodies with its orchards, vineyards, fresh produce and strong sustainable agriculture movement.
Debbie: 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"?
Beth: Definitely Michigander.
Debbie: We'll add you to the Michigander column! Beth, thank you so much for being with us today!
To learn more about Beth and her book, visit her web site, FaceBook page, and blog.