Monday, December 25, 2017

Michigander Monday: Cal Freeman

I'm pleased to welcome Cal Freeman to Michigander Monday.

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

Cal:  I grew up in a neighborhood in West Detroit called “Warrendale.”  I now live in Dearborn, just a few miles from where I grew up.  This area is vital to my writing because of the extensive local labor history involving the Ford empire and the UAW.  My grandmother’s first cousin, Jim Sullivan, was a labor organizer at the Rouge Plant and one of the central figures in the 1941 strike; he was also one of Walter Reuther’s bodyguards for a few years during the late 30s and early 40s.  Stories my grandmother told me about him were the impetus for my interest in local history. 

My dad is an English professor at University of Detroit-Mercy, and my mother is a retired nurse.  My mother’s uncanny ability to memorize and recite poems coupled with the fact that both my parents were big readers has a lot to do with why I write.  I have vivid childhood memories of my mother standing on our big green front porch in Warrendale reciting poems by Poe, Eugene Field, and Alfred Noyes into the night.  I still have recurring dreams about that house (now torn down) and that neighborhood.

In addition to writing poetry, I play guitar and sing in a band called The Codgers.  We play the Gaelic League Irish-American Club of Detroit in Corktown the first Saturday of every month.

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

Cal:  My first book, Brother of Leaving, was published by Marick Press.  My second book, Fight Songs, was just published by Eyewear Publishing in London.  I’ve been fortunate to work with great editors in Mariela Griffor and Todd Swift, both brilliant poets and publishers as well.  Fight Songs pays tribute to places in Southeast, Michigan I love: River Rouge, Dearborn, South Dearborn Heights (especially the riparian section of District 7 on the banks of the Ecorse Creek).  The other sections deal with ecology and social justice. 

Debbie:  Other book projects on the horizon?

Cal:  I’ve just completed a draft of a novella called, “An Easy Friend,” and I’m also working over the poem sequence for a new collection.  The novella deals with the current opioid epidemic and is set in Downriver, MI.  The newer poems sprang up out of my participation in the British poet Aaron Kent’s “Poetic Interviews” project, so many of the titles function as answers to questions other poets and artists, as well as personal friends, have posed that I find engaging and/or baffling.  Some of the poem titles include: “The Answer to your Question Is, ‘Yes, but Not as Some Unremitting Paradise,’” “The Answer to Your Question Is, ‘Wired, like the Taxidermy Wing,” and “The Answer to Your Question Is, ‘Like Insects, We Seek Out Cool Interiors.’”  The first poem in the sequence is a prose poem listing all the questions I’m working off of later in the sequence. 

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Cal:  I’ve got a poetry and music event at the Gaelic League Irish-American Club of Detroit on December 28th with some excellent poets in Kelly Fordon and Diane DeCillis, as well as phenomenal Detroit songwriters Ryan Dillaha and Scott Fab.  I’ve also got a reading at the Bowery Club in New York City on January 14th. 

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

Cal:  Many, but if pressed to pick just one I’d have to go with Pages in Rosedale Park, Detroit.  My favorite library is Kresge Library at Oakland University.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Cal:  Heather Lane Park in South Dearborn Heights; I walk there almost every day to check on the creek.  I also love Port Austin, MI. 

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

Cal:  The last day of every month I go to Lake Erie Metropark with my wife.  She takes pictures of Gibraltar Bay and I collect images for a poem.  I also look forward to playing and attending the Motor City Irish Fest every June.

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

Cal:  There are a few songwriters from the Detroit area who I think of as criminally underrated.  Don “Doop” Duprie, a fire fighter and artist from the industrial town of River Rouge, MI, check his music out.  Also from River Rouge, Alison Lewis is a phenomenal songwriter.  Ryan Dillaha is a brilliant songwriter, also a Downriver guy.  The SEIU labor activist/button accordion player/songwriter Steve Cousins.  Steve was one of the early architects of the fight for 15 movement.  Terry Blackhawk, Alise Alousi, Peter Markus and all the good folks at Inside Out Literary Arts Detroit.  Poets Michael Lauchlan and francine j. harris.  So many artists and musicians I could really go on for a long time.

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

Cal:  That there’s a lot of natural beauty here and many resources, namely freshwater, that are vital to protect.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Cal:  Definitely a Michigander.

Debbie:  Cal, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Michigander Monday: Shutta Crum

I'm pleased to welcome Shutta Crum back to Michigander Monday!

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

Shutta:  Let's see, in a nutshell: I'm a native Kentuckian transplanted to Michigan when I was very young. I'm a teacher, librarian (Retired now. But librarians never really retire they just wander on down another aisle of books.), and writer. I write a lot of different things; poems, articles for magazines, blog posts, novels and picture books. Mouseling's Words is my 16th book! It comes out on Dec. 5th.

I live half the year in Michigan and half the year in Florida. That's because I have grandkids in both places, so it works out well. Also, I love seeing new places, making things with my hands and anything colorful. I'm addicted to color and secretly wish I were an artist!

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

Shutta:  I call Mouseling's Words an auto-mouse-ography. That's because it's really a slice of my life, only my life as a mouse. It's about the youngest mouseling born into a nest made up of bits of paper with words on them. His Aunt Tilly has taught all the mouselings how to sound out words and say them. She works in the Swashbuckler Restaurant where there is a board with words that are "specials of the day." But one day Mouseling has to make his way out into the world. Encouraged by his family he finds more words out there, and danger! Next door is a library, with a cat.

I grew up in a house next door to our elementary school. We had no public library in the area, but the school's library was open all summer. So I spent many happy summers trying to read all the books in that small library. I don't think I actually did it—but I came close! That library didn't have a cat. But many do.

Mouseling's Words is published by Clarion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and is beautifully illustrated by Ryan O-Rourke. I love the collage look of it, with little scraps of paper everywhere.  And the pictures of the library just make me want to get lost among its stacks! In addition, I have to shout out to the folks at Clarion. They are so wonderful to work with. My editor there, Marcia Leonard, is a dream come true. She's thoughtful, insightful and creative. I love working with her. We've done several books together.

Debbie:  The dedication of Mouseling's Words is to your teachers at Dublin Elementary. Who were a few of your memorable teachers there?

Shutta:  I wouldn't be a reader, nor a writer, without some of my teachers from Dublin! I owe them so much. Mrs. Yuchartz in third grade took me to her house where she introduced me to some amazing books. And Mrs. Kennedy read to us every day. I especially remember Shackleton's Valiant Voyage. Wow! And since we lived next door to the school, it plays a very large part in all my best memories. Thank you, Dublin Elementary!

Debbie:  What's your favorite word?

Shutta:  So hard for a writer to pick one. But I do love words that I can feel in my mouth as I say them. I keep a journal of favorite words, similes, colors, sounds. In it are words like lugubrious, vivacity, splendorous. In Mouseling's Words a couple of my favorites are: if (One of the most powerful words in any language!) and tidbit.

Debbie:  What's the best thing on the menu at the Swashbuckler Restaurant?

Shutta:  Definitely, ice cream floats! And isn't float a wonderful word? It's the word that Mouseling risks everything to get from above the cat. One of my favorite lines is "I ached to own that splendid big-bellied word." And doesn't the "o" and "a" together in the middle of it look like two plump mouse tummies? (I think you can tell, by this, how my strange mind works. Hah!)

Debbie:  Shutta, I love the way your mind works!  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Shutta:  I'm always working on several things at the same time. But publishing is a bit fickle. One never knows, until the last minute, when a book is actually going to come out. The only way to qualm that trepidation is to keep on writing. Truth be told, I'd write even if I was never published.

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

Shutta:  I always love the Art Fair in Ann Arbor. So much color! I want to take home tons of pottery, paintings, and handmade beautiful objects. Stories are "handmade" and full of beautiful colorful words. One of the reasons I love storytelling.

Also, I just got a glimpse of my first nErDcampMi in the Jackson area. Wow! What energy, what concern and commitment. Loved it! So many educators together in one spot, learning and inspiring each other. Just lovely!

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

Shutta:  Too many to name here! Michigan is full of fun people with big hearts.

Debbie:  Last question. Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Shutta:  I'm a Michituckian. There are lots of us in the Mitten State.

Debbie:  Shutta, a new column for our tally!  Thank you so much for being here today for Michituckian Monday!

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Small Poem

I shot a glance at someone

                                 and no one died

because glances are human

               but bullets

are not.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Michigander Monday: Supriya Kelkar

I'm pleased to welcome Supriya Kelkar to Michigander Monday!

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

Supriya:  I am a Bollywood screenwriter who studied film at the University of Michigan. I have credits on several Bollywood movies and one Hollywood feature. My first middle grade novel, Ahimsa, comes out today (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books). And I learned Hindi by watching three Hindi movies a week growing up.

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

Supriya:  I started Ahimsa back in 2003 on a break between film projects. Every year I would go back to it and revise it. After several drafts I finally got it to a place I was happy with and in 2016 I won the New Visions Award along with a publishing contract from Tu Books.

Ahimsa tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Anjali in British-ruled India in 1942. When Mahatma Gandhi asks each family to give one member to the nonviolent freedom movement, Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle. But it turns out he isn't the one joining. Her mother is. And when Anjali's mother is imprisoned for her participation in the movement, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother's work, ensuring their little part in the independence movement is completed.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Supriya:  I am working on a couple other middle grade novels and some picture books but they are all still works in progress.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Supriya:  My release party is Sunday, October 8th at 3 PM at Nicola's Books.

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

Supriya:  I adore Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor. I tend to like almost all the libraries I have set foot in so that is a hard one for me to answer.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Supriya:  I really like Oval Beach and the town of Saugatuck. The water is beautiful and the beach is not crowded at all in the off-season.

I also enjoy Grand Rapids' children's museum, Frederik Meijer Gardens, and their art museum.

And I love Ann Arbor. It brings back lots of memories from college and the restaurant scene is great.

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

Supriya:  I love fall in Michigan because it is the start of cider season.

I also like to see the peonies bloom at the Arb in Ann Arbor in June and the tulips bloom in Holland in spring.

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

Supriya:  Michiganders are correct; it is "pop," not "soda."

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Supriya:  I am 100% a Michigander.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Michigander column!  Supriya, thank you so much for joining us today, and congratulation on your book!

Monday, September 4, 2017

New book; book tour

The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully-Bully Shark hits the shelves Tuesday, September 5.

Illustrator Dan Hanna and I will both be touring for the new book, visiting schools in several states. We both have a couple of public events as well.

I will be at:
Saturday, September 9
2:00 PM Storytime Event at Louisville Free Public Library
301 York St, Louisville, KY 40203
Free event but pre-registration is required.  Call the library for details. 
Sunday, September 10
2:00 PM Storytime at Anderson’s Bookshop
123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL 60540

Dan Hanna will be at:
Saturday, September 9
2:00 PM Storytime at The King’s English Bookshop
Salt Lake City, UT
Sunday, September 10
11:00 AM Storytime at Third Place Books 
17171 Bothell Way NE, Seattle, WA 98155 

As always, check with the host venue before attending, in case of any last minute schedule issues.

Hope to see you!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Michigander Monday: G. Corwin Stoppel

I'm pleased to welcome the Rev. G. Corwin Stoppel to Michigander Monday!

Fr. Stoppel, please tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Rochester, Minnesota, and after graduation from university and seminary, was eventually ordained in the Episcopal Church.  I moved to Saugatuck in 1990, where I have served as the rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church for the past 27 year.  In addition to my parish work, I am a columnist for The Commercial Record newspaper, and have written a number of short stories for the church’s annual Silver Tea.  My intention is to one day re-work them for publication.

Because my wife is an artist, we are often at Ox Bow School of the Arts, where, after a while I take up residence on one of the chairs or benches overlooking the meadow and lagoon.  It is there where I seem to develop the ideas for the two murder mysteries set in Saugatuck.

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

There are two murder mysteries, both set in Saugatuck in the 1920s.  The Great Saugatuck Murder Mystery is a tale of the murder of the Episcopal priest, forgery, duplicity, intrigue, and twist of a love story.  Death by Pallet Knife is the sequel, also in the same setting, when a visitor to Ox Bow is found on the meadow with an artist’s pallet knife in his chest. The same characters are included, with two new ones - a very strange piano teacher and a woman out of Doctor Horace Balfour’s past.

For both books, the setting was simple - Saugatuck in the 1920s,  the era of the Big Pavilion, tour boats, gangsters, prohibition, and the local setting. This meant I could use places and place names that would be familiar with the readers.  As for the characters, there is a mixture of real people from the area, as well as fictional characters who are composites of people I have encountered over the years.

For the second book, I intentionally chose to make both Doctor Balfour the woman from his past (Beatrix) with many traits of someone very high on the autism spectrum.

Other books or projects on the horizon?

I am currently working on a third mystery, with the same setting and many of the same characters.  I may stay with the working title A Murder of Crows in Cadmium Yellow.  I do know it will be a ‘gentle’ murder which means an absolute minimum of violence, bloodshed, and gore.

Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

I still like old fashioned ‘ma and pa’ bookstores.  As much as I like the wide variety and selection of the national chains, I sometimes find them too overwhelming.

How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Saugatuck and Douglas.  A day away from here is wasted,  to my way of thinking.

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

Every other Friday evening at the Ox Bow Open House, during June through August.  And of all the summer benefits, the one I would truly hate to miss is the one at Ox Bow.

A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

First, my wife Pat Dewey, an artist and partner in mischief. Another is the writer Jacqueline Carey who also lives here in Saugatuck. Our styles are very different and she is far more successful. But what a wit, smile, and a truly wonderful person.  A bit further afield, the magnificent Minnesota artist, Ann Riggott, whose water scenes constantly impress me for their realism and beauty.

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

Come to the west coast of the state, from the Indiana border to Canada, take your time prowling through the small towns, and you will find delights where ever you go.

Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Both words seem somewhat awkward. I just tell people I live in Saugatuck.

That's a new column for our tally sheet!  We'll add you there.  Thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Saugatuck Monday!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Michigander Monday: Cynie Cory

I'm pleased to welcome Cynie Cory to Michigander Monday!

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

Cynie:  I live in Northern Florida.  The heat and humidity are extreme as the cold and Lake Superior wind up in Marquette.   I was a serious athlete in my formative years which included ski racing, but I was also a closeted poet, writing poems in chemistry class, for instance.  My mother was a reader and had Sexton, Plath, Lowell and Dickinson in the house which stirred my imagination and most certainly impacted the way I stylistically approached poetry.  It also gave me the freedom to speak honestly, which was critical for me as a poet, coming from a densely pressured psyche.

I currently teach International Baccalaureate Literature at a predominately African-American high school in the deep south.  I’ve been invited into a culture that teaches me daily about white privilege, among other things.  Most students allow me to play with them about our cultural differences.  In six years, I have exponentially changed, much in the way living in another country changes you.  For instance, it was not until I lived in Europe that I learned what it means to be an American.  Certainly, there are tremendous challenges in this kind of immersion, the key is wanting to learn and that process necessitates play and humor and a light heart. Not always easy when most of your reference points no longer help you.

Debbie:  And please tell us about your publications.

Cynie:  The two poems you’ll see in And Here are from American Girl (New Issues) which was selected by Brenda Hillman, a fine poet in her own right.  And a really nice person.  “The Iceberg” and “The Smell of Snow” are the opening poems in the book.  The latter is a prose poem.  There’s a longing to the voice, and it’s pretty romantic, which is not representative of the collection.  “The Iceberg” is one of those pressured poems.  It’s tight and gives up the heart.  “The Smell of Snow” found itself as prose which dictates a looser, more natural speech.

I wrote a full-length play – which was very intense and fun.  “Wolf in Daylight,” set in the UP, is about a family who is unable to live inside the truth of their lives and are bound to this unspoken contract.  There is a blizzard that literally takes over the house.  It’s Shepardesque in that his plays tend to disallow and disavow a single reality.  “Wolf” had a reading with actors and an audience but I’d still love to see that wild, unwieldy play produced.

I began writing a collection of sonnets, mostly in Europe, when I was teaching for FSU. I wrote over 150 of them. So many were bad.  I mean just bad.  I pulled what I thought were the ones that best worked and narrowed it down to 64, about the size of a book.  It was nearly picked up by half a dozen publishers.  I was finishing “Wolf” at the time and wanted to clear the way. So I narrowed the manuscript to 24 poems and sent it off to a chapbook contest at Finishing Line Press.  They screwed up the cover title.  It was supposed to be, Self-Portrait as Fiskadoro’s Lover After the End of The World. When people buy the book at readings I draw a huge arrow in ink and write in the missing words.  What a joke.  You work hard to get the jet off the ground and then they don’t care about the wheels.  Unbelievable.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Cynie:  Here on Rue Morgue Avenue. I have recently found a publisher, Hysterical Books, who will publish the book in its entirety later this year.  It’s lengthy for a book of poetry.  The poems alone are 110 pages.  There are several partitions rather than chapters that contain alternating quotations from Bob Dylan and George Byron which, among other things, allow the reader to rest and the narrative to manifest.  They are brittle little poems that look like icebergs. Just a small space in which to breathe.  Although the poems are quintessentially lyric, it is my intention to tell a story as Byron does in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” which I completely fell in love with while reading in London.

Currently I’m working on a novel that I’ve been writing for two or three years.  I can’t talk about it too much right now since it’s in its first draft.  I can say it’s about two young brothers who run from home, in the U.P., because they are caught up in a crime. The problem is there is only one way to run: the lake.  And it is dead winter.

As a poet, playwriting makes sense, nonfiction makes sense.  I find myself doing the things that you hear poets doing when then they write novels:  There’s no storyline, the characters are in their heads, blah blah blah.  The novel is unforgiving. It crushes your self-esteem.

I’m also collaborating on a television pilot with a friend who lives in San Francisco.  It focuses on a black high school in the South.  I want it to be funny and I’ll tell you, you can be funny in life but it’s so difficult to write funny.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Cynie:  I’ll be at Philville (Phil’s 550) in Marquette on August 4, 2017.  In December, I will be touring the UP to promote And Here.  Also a few cities in Florida and Georgia, including Atlanta which will most likely happen in the fall.

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

Cynie:  Snowbound Books is an independent bookstore in Marquette. It has an amazing inventory for a small place.  I always make it a point to get lost there, whenever I’m home.  You can find people like Paul Bowles, Denis Johnson, Haruki Murakami as well as the classics, local writing and a good bit of poetry.  The place is cozy and warm, especially coming in off of Third Street in winter.  The staff tend to keep to themselves, as you would expect in the Midwest, which I like very much. On the other hand, they are friendly and knowledgeable, and will give you an opinion if you ask for one, on a writer or book.  It seems they’ve read nearly all the books on their shelves.

Peter White Library is the best library in the world.  I spent a lot of time there with my sister when we were growing up. We’d walk up Front Street pulling an empty radio flyer wagon that we’d fill with books.  My mother had an affinity for reading and writing, and she instilled in us the importance of a good book.  She had requested upon her death that people donate to Peter White.  In fact, the Ivory keys and their respective hammers for the grand piano were donated to the library in my mother’s name.  I’m proud of that.

Debbie:  Favorite place or places in Michigan?

Cynie:  Phil Pearce’s store on the Big Bay highway.  Phil’s 550. Phil’s nifty 550. He has a garage there where he works on cars, drinks beer with friends, family and neighbors.  He sells beer and wine and pop and the regular stuff.  Night crawlers.  He sells t shirts with his face on it. There are always books to take or to buy for nothing.  The best part for me and for many people is seeing him.  He has a huge heart and a silver tongue.  I feel like I’m a kid when I’m there because he won’t let me buy anything.

There’s the Mackinac Bridge. When I was a kid, my parents and sister and I would drive across it. We never tired of it.  It was mind blowing for my sister and me who lived in a world where our perspective was limited to the lake, horizon, and woods.  When my dad pressed the gas, there was an exhilarating rush of speed, then the whole world opened up.  You could see we were leaving one world for another.  For me, the Mackinac Bridge represents possibility, imagination, and therefore freedom. It is the horizontal version of the Eiffel Tower at the fin de siècle.  It profoundly altered my view of the world and the self.

Debbie:  Favorite Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Cynie:  In Marquette, the Greek Food Festival is outstanding.  So is Art on the Rocks.  One fourth of July parade not to miss is in Big Bay.  The children and adults of Big Bay Health Camp are its participants.

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

Cynie:  Definitely Phil Pearce, my uncle, who you can catch at Phil’s 550 on the Big Bay Highway.  There have been a few films about him, along with newspaper articles.  The Detroit Free Press wrote a nice piece on him last December or January.  NMU students and others send Phil photos of themselves from around the world donning Phil’s 550 tee shirts.  He is well loved and tells stories that make you laugh.  A month or so after Christmas he was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer.  He’s still working at his store.

Maggie Linn is someone everyone should know everywhere.  She is Chinese-German American who is a nationally recognized watercolorist who lives in Marquette. She doesn’t have a studio any more but she works at home.  She paints nature scenes that are anything but cliché. Maggie is in her eighties now.  If you get a chance to see her work you won’t regret it.

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

Cynie:  There are no poisonous snakes in Michigan and there is no poison ivy, either.  That’s what my father always told me!

Debbie:  Well, there's at least one patch of poison ivy, because I recently found it in my yard (or should I say, it found me!).  Last question:  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Cynie:  People are out of their minds.  There are only Michiganders and I will always be one. There is no option.

Debbie:  We'll put you firmly in the Michigander column!  Thanks so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Michigander Monday: Rick Bailey

I'm pleased to welcome Rick Bailey to Michigander Monday!

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

Rick:  I grew up in Freeland, Michigan, on the banks of the Tittabawassee River. Small agricultural town, Midwestern values. I played little league, fished for carp in the river, delivered the Midland Daily News, got ringworm from the dog.  In college I studied English language and literature. Once I was degreed, I moved to Detroit and taught writing for 38 years at Henry Ford College. Part of my teaching practice consisted of writing with my students, a work habit which eventually led to Tittabawassee Road, a blog largely made up of essays on family, food, travel, and current events and reading that jiggles memory.

A Midwesterner long married to an Italian immigrant, I’ve learned the language and food of Italy, traveled around the country. In the process, I have been (partly) made over–italianizato. In retirement my wife and I divide our time between Michigan and the Republic of San Marino.

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

Rick:  My book, American English, Italian Chocolate, published by University of Nebraska Press, is a memoir in forty short essays.  Forty shorties. It’s roughly organized in chronological order.

Why do some memories stick with us for so long? What do those memories have to do with who we are now and what’s going on in our lives? I didn’t really set out to write the story of my life in any linear way. I wanted to explore those memories and bring them back to life in narrative form.  There’s an essay about donuts, ducks, horses, car crashes, outhouses, EKG’s, feet, frogs, levitation, wisdom teeth, and Nutella; traveling all night from Michigan to New Jersey to attend the funeral of a college friend dead of AIDS; climbing in flipflops across the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa; pausing in a trattoria in the hills above the Adriatic to reflect on Thoreau, Pythagoras, and beans.

Think David Sedaris, only Midwest not South, Italy not France.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Rick:  Right now my wife and I are spending quite a bit time in Italy.  On my blog I’m writing about eating in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It’s kind of an under-discovered region. Tuscany has hogged all the attention over the past few years, thanks to Under the Tuscan Sun.  That’s a fun book about a great place--amazing history, good food, terrific wine--but it’s not the only great place in Italy. It would be fun to write a book about some great little towns in Emilia-Romagna, each with a restaurant that shows off the amazing local cuisine, to help people get to know the region and its riches.  I’ve got a photographer friend in Rimini.  We’re talking.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Rick:  Bloomfield Township Library, Tuesday, July 11, 7:30-9:00. Book launch, signing, reading.

Horizon Books, Traverse City, MI, Saturday, July 22, 11-1.  Book signing.

Horizon Books, Cadillac, MI, Saturday, July 22, 2-4. Book signing.

Franklin Farmhouse, Franklin, MI, Sunday, July 23.  Reading.

Brilliant Books, Traverse City,  Saturday, August 5, 2-4.  Book signing and reading.

McLean and Eakins, Petoskey, MI. Friday, August 11, 2-4.  Book signing.

Bookmamas, Indianapolis, IN. Friday, September 8, 5:30-7:30. Book signing and reading.

Three Sisters Books and Gifts, Shelbyville, IN. Saturday, September 9, 11-1.  Book signing and reading.

Wild Geese Bookshop, Franklin, IN.  Saturday, September 9, 2-4.  Booking signing and reading.

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI., Sept 29, 7:00 p.m.  Reading.

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

Rick:  I’ll tell you the bookstores I miss.  Metro Books at Bloomfield Plaza and the amazing Barnes and Noble across from it on Telegraph Road that closed a few years ago. And the BN and Borders on Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield. And the Borders on Southfield and 13 Mile. And down in Dearborn the Borders and the Little Professor. I still go to the 13 Mile store, now called Books-A-million.  The Bloomfield Township Library is an oasis, everything I would want a library to be.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Rick:  I never get tired of the views at Sleeping Bear Dunes. At the edge of the dunes, with Lake Michigan in front of you, look to the north--unspoiled coastline; look the the south--same. Public policy, so frequently benighted, got things right in this beautiful spot.

The river runs through you when you grow up living on one. The old bridge is gone now, with the catwalk we rode our bikes across, the metal railing we froze our tongues to in winters is no longer there, but the Tittabawassee River lives in my memory, and I never miss a chance to look north and south from the new and improved and altogether soul-less bridge whenever I’m in Freeland.

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

Rick:  Summer and fall means Eastern Market in Detroit. I can’t think of a place where there is more diversity and more joy and hope. I’m always happy to be a Detroiter when I’m there.

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

Rick:  Mark Adler, a creative director at Doner Advertising, is currently acting up to address wage differentials in men and women working in that industry. He’s won a Clio and been shortlisted twice at the Cannes Lions Festival.  Andrew Laurich, a Michigander transplanted in LA, where he heads up ContagiousLA, recently won an award for his short film “A Reasonable Request.” His new short film is “A Study in Tyranny.” Stephanie Levy will start post-doc work at Yale this fall, fresh from her PhD in biological anthropology at Northwestern. She’s one of my favorite Michiganders.  Her area of expertise: brown adipose tissue activity and metabolic disease risk. Ken and Geraldine Grunow, people of conscience who quietly put their values to work in social activism, have run the Detroit chapter of Amnesty International for 20 years.

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

Rick:  The green. A few years ago we had family and friends from Italy over for lunch on the back porch. It was August. It was hot. All the Italians said, I just can’t believe how green it is. Our kids and our friends’ kids move out of state and then move back. Or don’t move back. They come to visit. Anyone who’s been out of state remarks, upon return, that the green in Michigan is beyond belief.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Rick:  See above (in the Eastern Market answer).

Debbie:  Rick, we'll add you to the Detroiter column!  Thanks so much for joining us today!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Michigander Monday: Resuming Soon!

Sorry for the long gap between postings!  It's been a busy stretch, which resulted in another of my periodic bouts of Blog Neglect.

But I've got some Michigander Monday postings queued up again.  Watch for semi-regular (a couple a month) Michigander Monday postings throughout the summer, and then weekly again beginning this fall.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Michigander Monday: Drew Philp

I'm pleased to welcome Drew Philp to Michigander Monday.

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

Drew:  My name is Drew Philp, and my journalism and essays have been published both nationally and internationally, including in translation, and have appeared in publications including BuzzFeed, the Guardian, and the Detroit Free Press, among others. I live in Detroit with my dog, Gratiot, in a formerly abandoned house I purchased for $500 with no plumbing, electricity or windows. I repaired it myself, and my book about the experience, A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City, will be published April 11.

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

Drew:  From the flap copy:

In 2008, Drew Philp, an idealistic college student from a small town in Michigan, withdraws from the comforts of life on a university campus in search of a place to live where he can make a difference. He sets his sights on Detroit, the failed metropolis of abandoned buildings, widespread poverty, and rampant crime, a complicated source of fascination often stereotyped and little understood. Arriving with no job, no friends, and no money, Philp is naively determined to fix the huge, broken city with his own hands and on his own terms. A year later, he saves up and buys a ramshackle house for $500 in the east side neighborhood known as Poletown and moves in.

Philp gets what he pays for. The roomy Queen Anne has been abandoned for a decade and is little more than a clapboard shell on a crumbling brick foundation, filled with heaping piles of trash (including most of a chopped up minivan), and missing windows, heat, water, electricity and a functional roof. The landscape of the surrounding neighborhood resembles an urban prairie: overgrown fields dotted with houses that haven’t been demolished or burned to the ground—some of them well-maintained by Detroiters who have chosen to remain in the city, but many, like the Queen Anne, left vacant and in complete disrepair.

Based on a Buzzfeed essay that resonated with millions of readers, A $500 House in Detroit is Philp’s raw and earnest account of rebuilding everything but the frame of his house, nail by nail and room by room. It’s also the story of a young man finding his footing in the city, the country, and his own generation. As he assimilates into the community of Detroiters around him, Philp guides readers through the city’s vibrant history and engages in urgent conversations about gentrification, racial tensions, class warfare through his first-hand experiences. We witness his concept of Detroit shift, expand, and evolve as his plan to save the city gives way to a life forged from political meaning, personal connection, and collective purpose.

Part social history, part brash generational statement, part comeback story, A $500 House in Detroit is an intimate account of the tentative revival of an American city, home by home and person by person—and a glimpse at a new way forward for generations to come.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Drew:  I’m currently working on a wordless “children’s book” with Italian illustrator Matthew Watkins. As for a next book of nonfiction, I have some irons in the fire but nothing set as of yet.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Drew:  My book release party is April 14, at Trinosophes coffee house, art gallery and performance space. The event begins at 7PM and is free. All are welcome, and I’d love to see you there! We’ll also have some surprises, including music and art from people in the book.

I’ll also be reading at the Mount Clemens Public Library April 25th and The Detroit Public Library June 7th.

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

Drew:  Too many to name! I love both Literati and Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, and John King Used books, The Source Booksellers and Pages in Detroit are always wonderful places full of great books and phenomenal, knowledgeable staff.

I have always loved the Detroit Public Library, particularly the main branch—they were a sanctuary to me when I first moved to Detroit, and they will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Drew:  I grew up near my grandparents’ house on Lake Huron. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the lake, the fiery, orange ball appearing over all of that fresh water. On any given morning there’s no place I’d rather be.

In Detroit, there’s no beating a bottle of wine and some cheese on Belle Isle, and maybe a pizza at the Motor City Brewing Works after. Polish Village Café and Yemen café, both in Hamtramck, have the best Polish and Yemeni food—and some of the best food anywhere—this side of Warsaw and Sana’a.

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

Drew:  I really enjoy “boat day” in Port Huron, the start of the annual Port Huron to Macinac sailboat race. The city swells to more than twice its size with all of the visitors, and if the wind is right the boats sail close to shore showing their colorful spinnaker sails.

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

Drew:  I’m really into the horn playing of young Michigander Marcus Elliot. He’s wicked smart, utterly superlative, and will be a huge star someday. Catch him in Metro Detroit while you can—this guy is going to be huge.

Airea D. Matthews also has a new book of poetry out, Simulacra, via Yale University, which is certain to be mindbending and powerful and unmissable. I eagerly await my copy.

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

Drew:  Michigan is clearly the finest state in the union, and Detroit is the best city in the US for young artists.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Drew:  Michigander all the way.

Debbie:  Drew, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Michigander Monday: Ruth Behar

I'm pleased to welcome Ruth Behar to Michigander Monday!

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

Ruth:  I was born in Cuba to a Jewish family and left the island with my parents and my little brother when I was a child. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York where I attended public schools and spoke Spanish at home. From a young age I loved to write, but I also wanted to travel and that’s what led me to study cultural anthropology. I spent many years traveling to Spain and Mexico before going on to reconnect with Cuba, where I have been building cultural bridges with the United States for over two decades.

In 1986, I settled in Ann Arbor with my husband, David, also an anthropologist, as well as a translator. Our son, Gabriel, was born in Ann Arbor, and though he now lives in New York, he is passionate about his Michigan roots. I have been teaching at the University of Michigan for thirty years. David and I live in a Victorian house in Ann Arbor that is painted in bright Caribbean colors.

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

Ruth:  My book, Lucky Broken Girl, is my debut novel for young readers. I am thrilled to have been able to write it. The story was inspired by the year I spent in a body cast, confined to my bed, when I was nine going on ten. It was a traumatic experience for me as well as my family. We were immigrants, just arrived from Cuba, penniless and afraid, and suddenly the family had an invalid girl to take care of. Looking back, I realized how painful the situation was for everyone around me who wanted to help me heal. The book brings together those two narratives – the immigrant story and the story of healing from a serious injury – and takes up universal themes of self-acceptance, forgiveness, and learning to embrace the lucky aspects of even the worst things that happen to us in childhood.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Ruth:  I am at work on a new novel for young readers. It is set in Cuba at the time of the revolution. I was inspired by Carson McCullers’s haunting novel, The Member of the Wedding. The story focuses on a twelve-year-old girl who watches jealously as her older sister prepares to marry and is fitted for a beautiful lace honeymoon nightgown sewn to fit her measurements. Then things get more complicated as the revolution brings about dramatic changes and her parents decide to send her out of Cuba to the United States with the Peter Pan Operation.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Ruth:  I have two events coming up in Ann Arbor. I will be doing a reading from Lucky Broken Girl at Literati Bookstore on May 2nd and will participate in Children’s Book Week at Nicola’s Books on May 3rd.

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

Ruth:  I have many favorite Michigan bookstores! Ann Arbor is filled with the most wonderful bookstores. I miss Shaman Drum and Borders, which were havens when I first arrived in Ann Arbor, but I am thrilled that we have Nicola’s Books and Literati Bookstore, both of which are very supportive of local writers. I buy used books at Dawn Treader Book Shop, which has a great selection of classics and contemporary books. The Ann Arbor Public Library is an amazing resource and organizes terrific events with visiting writers. I’m in awe of the vast holdings at the University of Michigan Library where I can find every book I dream of.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Ruth:  I love the Old West Side in Ann Arbor, where I live. The tree-lined streets become so leafy in the summer it feels like a jungle. But our greatest Michigan treasure, I think, is the Detroit Institute of Art. I’ve gone many times to see the stunning Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera, which were painted between 1932 and 1933 and represent the workers at the Ford Motor Company. Frida Kahlo accompanied her husband Diego Rivera during their stay in Detroit and it was there she painted many of her most important and haunting self-portraits.

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

Ruth:  The Ann Arbor Summer Festival is a lot of fun. I like the music events at Top of the Park and the outdoor salsa dancing. And while Ann Arborites complain about the inconveniences caused by the yearly Art Fair, I enjoy the carnival atmosphere and the streets filled with people strolling about.

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

Ruth:  There are so many great people in Michigan. Here are a few that come to mind, among colleagues and friends in Ann Arbor: visual artist Joanne Leonard; anthropologist Jason De Leon; photographer David Turnley; women’s studies scholar Sidonie Smith; linguistic anthropologist Bruce Mannheim; psychologist Susan Gelman; Latina/Latino Studies scholars Maria Cotera, Yeidy Rivero, and Larry LaFountain; musician and doctor Alberto Nacif; yoga teachers Carter and Ana Hough; and fellow Cuban-American writer Derek Palacio.

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

Ruth:  The winters are bad, it’s true, but autumn, spring, and summer are beautiful.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Ruth:  I’m afraid I’m neither. Since I’m not originally from Michigan and come from an immigrant background, plus I’ve traveled so much as an anthropologist, I fear misleading people about my identity if I say I am either a Michigander or a Michiganian. What I usually say is that I’ve been a resident of Michigan for many years and that is where my only child was born.

Debbie:  Ruth, we'll make a brand new column for our tally!  Thank you so much for joining us for Michigander Monday!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book Tour!

I'll be on a book tour for The Pout-Pout Fish, Far, Far From Home. Many of my tour stops will be schools, but I also have a few bookstore and library events scheduled.  If you're in the neighborhood of any of these, I'd love to see you!  (Be sure to confirm event details with the venue before attending.)

  • Wednesday, April 5 at 2:00 PM - Simsbury Public Library in Simsbury, CT 
  • Thursday, April 6 at 11:00 AM - Towne Book Center in Collegeville, PA 
  • Saturday, April 8 at 10:30 AM - Hooray for Books in Alexandria, VA 
  • Sunday, April 9 at 2:00 PM - Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC 

I will also be stopping by Politics & Prose (Washington DC), Square Books Jr. (Oxford, MS), and Red Balloon Bookshop (St. Paul, MN) during the tour to sign stock.  If you'd like to order a signed book but can't come to any of the story times, contact any of the story time or stock-signing bookstores before April 4 to put in your request.

Dan Hanna, fabulous illustrator of The Pout-Pout Fish books, will also be touring (we're on separate tours). You can meet him Tuesday, April 4th at 4pm at Hicklebee's (San Jose, CA); Saturday, April 8th at 10am at Changing Hands (Phoenix, AZ); and Sunday, April 9th at 11:30am at BookPeople (Austin, TX).

Monday, March 13, 2017


My blog has gotten a bit dusty again, but I'll have Michigander Monday interviews beginning again in April, so stay tuned for those.

Also in April, I will be headed out on a book tour for The Pout-Pout Fish, Far, Far from Home.  I'll be in Simsbury, CT; Collegeville, PA; Elkins Park, PA; Alexandria, VA; Raleigh, NC; Oxford, MS; and St. Paul, MN.  I'll post details of my itinerary later this month.

And, in the meantime, I have a new book!  Bloom, beautifully illustrated by the talented Mary Lundquist, hit the shelves this month.  You can find it at your favorite library or bookstore.

Celebrate all that blooms!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Michigander Monday: Heather Smith Meloche

I'm pleased to welcome Heather Smith Meloche to Michigander Monday!

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

Heather:  Well, I thought for sure I would never write a novel. Poetry was my thing. Short, punchy, easy to construct in a condensed amount of time. But then I had kids, and kids change everything! The poems I was writing for my first son over fifteen years ago turned into short stories that turned into picture books, which I was really lousy at, and then that morphed into me discovering my sixteen-year-old voice and writing young adult stories. Now I find that my poetry background plays right into my prose and into the voices of the characters and the tone. My writing wouldn’t be as strong without that poetic base.

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

Heather:  Again, because I never thought I was going to really do this whole novel thing, I was really surprised when I went to a children’s writing workshop in Oregon in 2007 and got a lot of excitement about my submission from the agents there. I’d submitted a couple chapters of Ripple, and that agent praise was huge motivation and impetus for me to keep going. At the time, because of the expectations in the children’s writing field, I was told Ripple – a book about the ripple of addiction from one generation to the next and two teens dealing with their own unique addictions -- would be a tough sell even though the writing was strong. And, in fact, it didn’t sell. Paranormal hit strongly right after that and everyone wanted books with a fairy, werewolf, or vampire in them. My edgy contemporary wasn’t very marketable. So I took the basic story and rewrote it in verse as a short story, which became “Him,” that won the Katherine Paterson Prize in 2011 through the literary journal Hunger Mountain at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Suddenly, agents were contacting me again. With the rise of John Green’s novels, contemporary was becoming hot again, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games had blown the doors off the perceptions of what was edgy, and Ripple had a market. I chose an awesome, seasoned agent, Heather Schroder, who sold the book in 2014. It was released in September 2016.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Heather:  I’ve written two novels since getting my contract for Ripple. The first one my agent didn’t love. The second my editor passed on. So I’m plugging away with my next contemporary and hope to have it done by mid-spring. I also consistently work on short stories that are often offspring of the novels I’m working on – like side stories of certain characters or settings.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Heather:  I’m always adding to my schedule, but so far, it looks like this for 2017:
Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Heather:  With regard to bookstores, my local Barnes and Noble has been wonderful to me and invites me to do so much in their store. But I also love my indie stores, including Pages Bookstore on Grand River in Detroit that just opened recently, Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo, and The Book Beat in Oak Park, which, magically, has books I didn’t even know I needed jumping off the shelves at my feet when I walk in! ;) When it comes to libraries, I can’t choose! I believe so strongly in libraries and the power of librarians, that every one of them is my favorite. But recently, I’ve had the chance to visit Orion Township Public Library in Lake Orion and Frenchtown Dixie Library in Monroe for some awesome book fairs. Both libraries have an out-of-this-world staff!!

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Heather:  My grandparents built a cottage on Lake Michigan in Cross Village, which is about 20 minutes below Mackinaw City. With my grandparents now gone from this world, my parents own it, and it is my favorite place to be. I write better there than anywhere else. My grandmother was an artist who told my mom when I was younger, “Heather will be a successful writer. I won’t be here to see it, but she’ll publish her work.” I can “feel” my grandmother there, which is inspiring.

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

Heather:  There is absolutely NOTHING like a sunset over Lake Michigan. It’s a total moment of awe and Zen every time.

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

Heather:  Cross Village has an awesome gallery, Three Pines Studio, that is run by artists and former Wayne State University professors, Joann Condino and Gene Reck. They do some amazing things mixing children’s literature with art. Joann is a marketing queen and has really networked well in Northern Michigan to bring art to so many people. They are wonderful!! Also, my roommate from Michigan State University has gone on to open an emporium/gallery in Sutton’s Bay called Great Goods. She features work by some award-winning jewelry artists in Michigan and worldwide, since metallurgy and jewelry-making was her focus in college. She also features some Michigan authors and other Michigan artists in her store, which is super fun to walk through!!

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

Heather:  Seriously, I would never want to live in any other state. I absolutely love it here. The summers are the very best for vacationing all over Michigan – both upper and lower peninsulas, and Michigan winters are huge for skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding. Detroit is having the most amazing resurgence when it comes to tourism and restaurants. Michigan is a state that is so diverse and so beautiful that it would be a shame for non-residents to never visit it. Do I sound like a “Pure Michigan” commercial? I’m totally good with that. 

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Heather:  I LOVE this question! I actually use them both interchangeably. I don’t want to offend anyone ;)

Debbie:  We'll add you to both columns!  Heather, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday and Michiganian Monday!  :)