Monday, February 9, 2009

Michigander Monday: Jean Alicia Elster

For those of you new to this blog, Michigander Monday is a regular feature that profiles a Michigan children's book author or illustrator each week. This week we welcome Jean Alicia Elster to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Jean: I’d like to share a few things about myself that aren’t already in the biography on my website (www.jeanaliciaelster.com): By day I am a grant writer for a mental health agency. I can use my legal background (I’m still licensed to practice law in the state of Michigan) in the research, persuasion, advocacy, and organizational aspects of the job. Plus it takes me outside of myself for several hours a day on Monday through Thursday. Writing is very solitary work and it’s important to stay in touch with the various ranges of human need. Keeps me grounded, I guess you could say.

Since childhood, I’ve been taken with the needle arts. I’m more involved with knitting lately—especially the garter stitch. The simplicity and the elasticity appeal to me right now.

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

Jean: My book, Who’s Jim Hines?, is a coming of age story about a twelve-year-old boy as he comes to terms with the racial realities of Detroit in 1935. It’s based on real events in my family’s history. For almost twenty-five years, my maternal grandfather owned a very successful wood business, the Douglas Ford Wood Company. The focus of this book is the summer of 1935 when my uncle—young Douglas Ford Jr.—unravels the mystery of a man named Jim Hines, a driver for the wood company whom Doug Jr. has always heard about but has never seen.

While it is labeled as a middle grade novel, specifically for ages eight through twelve, adult readers are enjoying Who’s Jim Hines? as well. I tell anyone who asks that it’s written for ages eight and above.

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Jean: I always carry several unwritten projects swirling around in my brain. I am outlining a companion volume to Who’s Jim Hines?. That book will also take place during the summer of 1935, but the focus will be on Doug Jr.’s oldest sister. I am also in the process of writing the first volume in a series of books for teen girls.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Jean: I have many upcoming appearances. I thoroughly enjoy this phase of the book marketing process. I love visiting schools, libraries, book fairs, book conferences—the whole gamut.
I have a special fondness for libraries because I firmly believe they are the repositories of our culture. I enjoy interacting with children and youth in that setting. That works out particularly well for me this year because Who’s Jim Hines? was selected as a 2009 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. I may be invited to appear at more libraries than usual because of that honor. Please feel free to check my website calendar for more details about any additional appearances.

Debbie: Your favorite places in Michigan?

Jean: One of my favorite Michigan locales is the Detroit Riverwalk. Right at the southernmost reach of downtown Detroit along the Detroit River, it is a walkway that will one day span from the Ambassador Bridge to the Belle Isle Bridge. On a sunny day you will be in the midst of people from all across metropolitan Detroit as well as every corner of the world, all taking a leisurely stroll. And kids love the carousel!

Every summer I vacation with my family in the city of Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Just outside of Marquette, along Lake Superior, is Little Presque Isle Beach. That has got to be the most beautiful spot in all of Michigan. The beach is practically deserted which makes for hours and hours of peace and tranquility. And don’t neglect to take the short trek (or swim, depending upon the water levels) over to Little Presque Isle—quite an adventure!

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Jean: Every spring I look forward to the Detroit Festival of the Arts in the Wayne State University/Cultural Center area. Local, national, and international artists and entertainers converge upon this dynamic and energetic section of the city to the delight of hundreds of thousands of visitors. An invigorating experience.

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

Jean: Interesting Michigan people? Come on down to Detroit’s Eastern Market on a Saturday morning. Farmers, vendors, and customers from across the state meet, mingle, barter, and buy fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meat and poultry—you name it. It’s a people watcher’s paradise!

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

Jean: Michigan is home to some of the finest writers, musicians, and artists in the world. I am honored to be a part of such a stellar creative community.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Jean: I vote for Michiganian! When I was young, I was taught that we who live in Michigan are referred to a Michiganders. But now that we have a choice, I prefer to drop that whole goosey gander connection!

Debbie: Jean, thank you for joining us today! And congratulations on the well-deserved Michigan Notable Book honor. I hope readers of this interview will head on over to your web site to learn more about you and your book.

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