Debbie: Joe, please tell us a little about yourself.
Joe: Grew up in USAF family, lived overseas, and all around the U.S. Graduated from Rudyard HS, in Chippewa Co (eastern UP), 1961; Michigan State University (BA Journalism), 1965. USAF KC-135 Navigator, 1965-1970. Vietnam vet, honorably discharged as Captain. Attended grad school, Western Michigan University, mid-70s, English Literature. For the past 12 years I’ve spent about one month a year in trucks on patrol with Michigan Conservation Officers, mostly in the UP. But have also patrolled downtown Detroit and Lansing. This equates to roughly one year in a patrol truck. My wife, our dog Shaksper (authentic spelling from one of a handful of extant signatures) and I live in Deer Park, 35 miles north of Newberry for six months each year and winter “south” in Portage (SW Michigan). Our leased cabin is 288-square feet. We’re outside a lot.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Joe: Taxi Dancer (Berkley, 1985); The Berkut (Random House, 1987); The Domino Conspiracy (Random House, 1992); The Snowfly (Lyons Press, 2000); Ice Hunter (Lyons, 2001); Blue Wolf in Green Fire (Lyons, 2003); Chasing a Blond Moon (Lyons, 2003); Running Dark (Lyons, 2005); Strike Dog (Lyons, 2007); Death Roe (Lyons, 2009); Shadow of the Wolf Tree (Lyons, 2010); Force of Blood (Lyons, 2012); Red Jacket (Lyons, 2012). A Memoir was published by Lyons in 2003, Covered Waters: Tempests of a Nomadic Trouter. And there was The ABCs of Snowmobiling in the late 60s, a cartoon book. Eight of the books focus on the life of a Michigan Conservation Officer who lives and works in the UP. A second series launched last fall with Red Jacket, set in the Keweenaw Peninsula during the violent and tragic 1913 copper mine strike. The series will track the character’s life through the teens, including the period encompassing World War I. My books are translated into 15 languages.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Joe: March, 2013: two short stories as “singlets” offered via Amazon. April, 2013, short story collection, entitled Hard Ground, Woods Cop Stories. And The Snowfly. September, 2013, Killing A Cold One, No 9 in the Woods Cop series. Also September 2013, softcover Red Jacket. Right now working on second book in the new series, entitled Mountains of the Misbegotten, out September 2014, and another novel outside all the rest, called Brown Ball. Also working with a friend and colleague on Secondhand Highway, a lighthearted nonfiction piece on US-41, which runs from Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to Miami, Florida.
Debbie: Tell us more about what you write about.
Joe: I’ve written about Vietnam, the end of World War II, the summit between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and a fable about a giant fly that hatches in winter, never on the same river. My love has always been outside, with nature, and most of my work since 2001 has focused on the Upper Peninsula and a culture that worships the open woods and loathes fences, a place where individuals want to feel free to roam, not arbitrarily tied to discreet territory.
Wallace Stegner wrote “Lawlessness, like wilderness is attractive.” It seemed to me that the life and work of conservation officers (called game wardens in some places) merges the magnets of lawlessness and wilderness. The series is still going a dozen years later.
Most of my stuff since 2001 has focused on the Upper Peninsula. Why? I went to high school up there in the “eastern end,” and fell in love with it. I also spent four years in the Air Force there after graduating from Navigation training in California. Been going up there every year for more than 50 years, for up to six months, and over time I’ve gotten to know it far more intimately than most folks. It’s the physical size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, with the population of Grand Rapids. Sparse in people, and in deep economic trouble, it’s a place used to being raped commercially: furs, copper, iron, timber. The people who live there are tough by necessity and I adopted the U.P. as “my territory.” Critic B.R. Myers once wrote, “A wild landscape can bestow epic significance on the lives of its inhabitants.” And a reviewer once wrote “That knowing your territory like a native is the best gift a writer can be granted, short of a miserable childhood.” My stories happen outdoors, require energy, involve individualism, competition, physical, mental and emotional strength, stoicism, recklessness, a distaste for close control and direction, and characters value hard work with goals for their own sake, not rewards. Officers believe in the resources they protect and what they do is more a calling than simple employment.
Paraphrasing Bernard DeVoto talking about mountain men in the mid Nineteenth century there was an astonishing breadth and depth of knowledge needed just to survive. E.g., DeVoto talked about reading formal sign being one thing, but the interpretation of observed circumstances too minute to be called sign, and even higher art and skill: a branch floats down a stream – is it natural, or the work of animals, or weather or man? On the edge of a field, blurred by mirage or the sky or low light, something moves. Man, wind, animal? If man or animal, what and why is it moving and toward what or away from what? Five eagles in a single tree: Why? A wolf’s howl is cut short, why? COs must learn their law enforcement craft AND outdoor craft on top of that. COs learn to read people and the world around them in sophisticated ways, which affords a different perspective of life and earth than may visit the rest of us. Their “situational awareness” skills push supernatural limits.
Place, geographers tell us, is defined as somewhere things have happened and these things are what we call history. In addition to actual events, parts of a place’s history are its fiction. And there are levels of history: the formal stuff written in books by academics, the folk-tales told in communities, and yet another level of highly personal history known only to families and friends. COs must know all the levels in order to do their jobs and remain safe. Woods cops know and live histories of places not on maps, know through their senses, guts, can intuit menace and trickery, know well the history of shady families and stories formal historians cannot or are not likely to ever know.
Why the mystery genre? Who knows. Gertrude Stein once quipped that the detective novel was the only really modern novel form that had come into existence in the 20th century. Not sure she’s right, but mysteries certainly afford their writers a lot of room to develop character and explore the social fabric of lives in a context somewhat different than the reader might otherwise be exposed to. I never read detective stories before starting to write them. But when you get right down to it, every novel is a mystery. Something happens and the author then explicates the how and why as the main frame of the story structure.
Canadian author Robertson Davies says the Canadian National Anthem is “Oh God, give me a mediocre life. Do not let me be disturbed by any great thing,” and he tells us this is “pretty much the attitude, and it is rooted in history. The lot of Canadian immigrants was a very tough one. They had a rotten time in the old land and lack the buoyance and exuberance found in the United States. Perhaps that’s because America had its national beginning in a revolution; we had ours in the immigration of bitterly dispossessed and unhappy people.” Ironically the Upper Peninsula was settled by Canadians far more than any other nationality, and I surmise that perhaps they were already accustomed to being taken advantage of. Thus the people up there can absorb huge amounts of punishment and they learnt to fight back as the Russians say, On the Left.” Upper peninsula people do not welcome intrusive government at any level.
Debbie: Joe, do you have any upcoming appearances?
Joe: Wednesday, February 20, 7- 9 p.m., Big Rapids Public Library, part of the Big Rapids Festival of the Arts (in conjunction with Ferris State University); Thursday, April 25, Fremont District Library, 7-9 P.m. More, not yet scheduled will occur in the UP and northern Michigan spring through fall, 2013.
Debbie: Favorite places in Michigan?
Joe: My favorite place in the state is anywhere there are no other people. But my favorite places to stay are Gates Au Sable Lodge outside Grayling and Brown’s Deer Park Lodge in Deer Park, Michigan. And the Chicaugon Inn, between Crystal Falls and Iron River, in Iron County. Loathe crowds, organized group gropes and the like, thus no festivals or such staged follies and Let’s-Arbitrarily-All-Be-Jolly-Now-Folderol. Okay, mayhaps a farmers market now and then, but such pickings are slim in the U.P., the growing season being so brief. I prefer to be alone in the woods and swamps, fishing, looking around, or out on a Lake Superior beach looking for agates. My wife is a painter/jeweler who makes jewelry from items we find in the wild. She teaches art at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Joe: The very few, rarely found trout we have here are very, very small. And cannibals dwell near all of our trout streams, which keeps the fish populations up and angler populations down. Just saying?
Debbie: Good to know! 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"?
Joe: Neither Michigander nor Michiganian: I prefer Upper Rustbeltoid or Yooper-Below-The-Bridge. Or, having lived and traveled extensively outside the United States, long time citizen of the world.
Debbie: We'll add a new column to our tally. Joe, thank you very much for being here today for Citizen of the World Monday!
To learn more about author Joseph Heywood, please stop by his web site at www.josephheywood.com. And be sure to stop back here next Monday for the next installment of Michigander Monday!