Debbie: John, please tell us a little about yourself.
John: I’m from New England but have lived in Michigan since 1986, when I began teaching at Michigan State University. I was there for 11 years, and during that time I also taught at Western Michigan. In 1996, we moved north to Marquette, where I’ve been on the English faculty at Northern Michigan University for the past 17 years.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
John: I’ve published nine books since coming to Michigan:
Quarantine, Pegasus Books (a division of W. W. Norton), New York, 2012
The Schoolmaster's Daughter, Pegasus Books (a division of W. W. Norton), New York, 2011
The Anarchist, Three Rivers Press (a division of Random House), New York, 2009
Fire Point, Shaye Areheart Books (a division of Random House), New York, 2004
The Invisible World, Shaye Areheart Books (a division of Random House), New York, 2002
Cold, Shaye Areheart Books (a division of Random House), New York, 2001
My One and Only Bomb Shelter (Short Stories), Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000
Angel’s Head, the Countryman Press, Vermont, 1994
Winter by Degrees, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1987
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
John: I’m currently working on a novel set in Michigan, with a working title of Incognito, which begins during World War II and ends at the end of the century. It’s about an Italian officer named Francesco Verdi, who is captured and brought to a prisoner of war camp in the Upper Peninsula. When his life is threatened by a ruthless Nazi, Colonel Vogel, who demands that prisoners maintain a blind allegiance to the Third Reich, Francesco escapes from the camp with the assistance an American woman named Chiara, who lives in the village of Munising. They fall in love, and with great difficulty make their way to Detroit, where they change their identities (becoming Frank and Claire Green), with the hope that they can remain together in the United States after the end of the war. A decade later, Frank Green appears to be a law-abiding, married American citizen, but he is actually being sought by remnants of the Third Reich, led by Vogel, out to settle scores in America. Ultimately, Green forms an unusual alliance with a U. S. government agent, who is determined to capture Vogel and have him deported to Germany, where he will stand trial for war crimes. For years Green is caught between trying to conceal his real identity and being true to the man he has always been, and by the time he is elderly and living again in the U. P. he has a final confrontation with his past, when Vogel’s son tracks him down him in Marquette, with the intention of exacting revenge on his father’s behalf.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
John: Only one planned in Michigan at the moment. I’ll be at Finlandia University in Hancock, Thursday, March 14, to give a talk entitled: “History: True Fiction.”
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
John: That would be Snowbound Books on Third Street in Marquette, and Peter White Public Library, also here in Marquette. Both wonderful places.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
John: I would say that would have to be in my sailboat on Lake Superior on a summer’s day.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
John: There are so many. Let’s say—to stay with the boat theme—that there’s a day in May when most of the boats are launched in Marquette’s Lower Harbor. It’s like Opening Day for sailors. Sometimes it’s even snowing, but once the boats are afloat and tied up in their slips it means that for several months the lake will beckon.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
John: You want me to name names? Ha! Usually, when I walk into the Pub at the Landmark Hotel here in Marquette I’ll run into some people who are up to no good, though they will claim that it’s fun. Artist Paul Grant, for one.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
John: People who don’t know where Marquette is often seem baffled, thinking we’re close to Detroit, which is more than 500 miles to the south. The best thing to do is tell them that Marquetters live north of the majority of Canadians, and then let folks consult a map.
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?
John: I’m a widower and my wife, who was a native of Michigan, always insisted that the proper term was Michiganian and would get mad when I pointed out that Michigander was used in many publications (some of them respectable), but she would have none of it. I like Michigander because it’s a bit of a hoot, or maybe I should say a honk.
Debbie: We'll add you to the Michigander column. John, thank you for being here today for Michigander Monday!
To learn more about John and his books, stop by his web site at johnsmolens.com. His most recent books are published by Pegasus Books in New York.