Monday, November 30, 2009

Michigander Monday: Buffy Silverman

It's a joy to welcome to Michigander Monday Buffy Silverman, who I'm lucky enough to have in my critique group. Buffy is a great writer with an extensive and impressive array of publications. It's wonderful to have her here today!

Debbie: Buffy, tell us a little about yourself.

Buffy: I have been, at various times: a park naturalist; a teacher for several nature centers and a college biology teacher; a mom (job title still held, but currently a long-distance position;) and a writer. I first donned my writer's cap in the early 1980s, while take a class in graduate school entitled Environmental Writing. With more beginner's luck than I realized at the time, a manuscript that I wrote for the class was accepted in Ranger Rick. Over the next few years I wrote educational materials and articles for adult nature magazines.

It was not until my kids were toddlers and demanding that I read one picture book after another, that I thought of writing for children again, certain that fame and fortune would find me as a picture book writer. And while I did receive compliments and encouragement from editors (again, more beginner's luck than I realized at the time) I didn't make a picture book sale. Not all of us can strike gold with a pout-pout fish, so I turned to children's magazines, and found acceptance writing nature/non-fiction articles.

Now I write nonfiction books for educational publishers--it is nice to know, after years of collecting rejections, that these assigned books will see the light of day. But I still write the occasional picture book or easy-reader and send it out to the cruel world. Lately I've been writing poems, and have a collection that I'm hoping will find a home.

Debbie: Buffy, you have an impressive list of magazine articles and books! Please tell us a little about your latest books.

Buffy: Last week a box of books landed on my doorstep, containing my author copies of Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks And Other Questions About Animals, a title in Lerner Publication's new "Is That A Fact" series. The book investigates the science (or lack of science) behind common animal sayings (e.g. "The Early Bird Catches the Worm.") This one was a lot of fun to research and write, and the talented folks at Lerner did a great job making the book visually appealing. Look for it in March, 2010.

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Buffy: I'm currently finishing up two books on food chains for Heinemann-Raintree, and I'm also starting a new poetry project.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Buffy: I'm appearing at our dining room table in time for dinner tonight.

Debbie: Ha! I'm making a similar appearance myself today. Buffy, how about your favorite place in Michigan?

Buffy: I'm sure it would be easier to choose favorite places in Michigan if I had grown up here (most of my time is spent in my basement office, and that is comfortable, but not one of my favorite places.) We spent many summer weekends at a cottage near Lake Michigan when my two kids were younger. Taking sunset walks and collecting beach glass and smooth rocks was a favorite past time. I also loved hiking at the Silver Lake dunes. My son would park with his camera to photograph the dune buggies racing up and down the mountains of sand (I'm sure he wished that he had been born into a family that was inclined to race vehicles instead of hike;) my daughter and husband would leap down the dunes to Silver Lake and struggle back up; and and I would hike along the top, collecting sand-smoothed driftwood.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Buffy: Again, an easier question to answer if I got out more. Maybe the Crane Fest at Baker Sanctuary (okay, I've only been once, but it was a wonderful outing.)

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

Buffy: I assume you're referring to people other than my husband and two kids, who are not native Michiganders? (and there's your answer to your last question!) Hmmm...there are so many terrific children's book authors in Michigan, that I hesitate to name a few favorites because I know I'll kick myself later for forgetting someone wonderful. Most of these authors are listed at, so send your readers there. Okay, I've danced around that question long enough to call it answered.

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

Buffy: You can hike and camp on two islands in Lake Michigan--North and South Manitou. There's a stand of giant white cedars (virgin trees=never cut) on South Manitou, and ship wrecks off the coast of both. Other than a case of flip-flopping stomach on the ride to North Manitou, both of these were fun excursions for our family.

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

Buffy: See above!

Debbie: Buffy, thank you for being here today! I admire your writing, and am so happy to share a critique group with you. I hope all the readers of this blog will head over to your web site and get to know your books and magazine articles.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Workout Review: Self "Sculpt Sexy Legs Fast"

First off, can I just say that exercise DVDs often have silly titles? This one is no exception: it sounds like a how-to for expeditiously creating suggestive limestone limbs. Who names these things????

But setting that aside, Self: Sculpt Sexy Legs Fast! is a great workout. It runs about 45 minutes, which to my mind is the perfect workout length (long enough to be thorough, short enough to still fit in the morning schedule).

The instructor is Violet Zaki, who is extremely fit and appears to truly enjoy exercising. Her demeanor throughout is encouraging and energetic, without being over the top. (Granted, I find her occasional use of the phrase "Like you mean it!" to be a bit much; and why, oh why, does every fitness instructor insist upon using the transition "[We're] moving on!" six or more times per session?; but these are tolerable.)

The emphasis of this DVD is on leg muscles, but the exercises incorporate stretching, so that the net effect doesn't feel like bulking up but rather lengthening and strengthening. And, unlike many other body-part-targeted workouts, this workout goes beyond just focusing on the legs and includes lots of heart-pumping cardio work. Most of the work is done standing, and a portion is done with light hand weights. If you don't want to do the whole workout, it's broken into smaller sections: warm-up, legs, cardio, legs with arm weights, floorwork, cool-down/stretch.

A few quibbles/caveats: a) there is some bouncing in this one, so if you've knees like mine, this may take a bit of modification at points; and b) it's filmed outdoors, which means everybody on film looks a little squinty. But those are minor points. I enjoyed this workout, and I hope you'll give it a try.

You can find other reviews here, here, here, and here; and info about instructor Violet Zaki here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Michigander Monday: Devin Scillian

I'm pleased this week to welcome Devin Scillian to Michigander Monday!

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

Devin: I'm married with four children (all of whom have been invaluable in my writing career -- stories have to pass muster at home or they pretty much go back to the drawing board). My "real" or primary job is anchoring the news at WDIV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Detroit. But for as long as I can remember I've had a fascination of and fondness for children's literature. And while it took ten years of trying, my first book, Fibblestax, was published in 2000. That started a surprisingly busy but marvelously satisfying second career as a children's book author. My 12th book will be released in the spring. (And as proof that I may have trouble with focus, I'm also a musician and songwriter.)

Debbie: Wow, you are busy! What an amazing scope of work and creativity. Please tell us about your latest book.

Devin: My newest book is still being illustrated. Memoirs of a Goldfish will be out in the spring. It's the story of a goldfish whose quiet life is suddenly thrown into very crowded chaos by the new guests who keep showing up in his bowl. The idea came from my daughter, Christian, who suggested the title.

My most recent published book is One Kansas Farmer written with my wife Corey. It's a book about our home state of Kansas, and it was released at the beginning of this past summer.

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Devin: I'm currently working on an alphabet book about Australia called K is for Koala. I'm working on a folktale called The Legend of Johnny Kaw. And I'm also working on a Christmas story that I like very much called The Smallest Stocking. I'm not sure if other writers have so many manuscripts going at once, but it's the only way that seems to work for me.

Debbie: Any upcoming author appearances?

Devin: I'm currently setting up the school visit schedule for the winter and spring. I've got several appearances with the band coming up. And in March of 2010, I'll be giving the keynote address for the Michigan Reading Association which is a wonderful event. I was delighted to be asked.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Devin: I have many -- I love the Leelanau Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Harbor Springs and Petoskey, Saugatuck and Holland, and I'm extremely fond of a summer afternoon at Comerica Park. But Corey and I have really fallen for the Thumb and if pressed, I'd say my favorite place is at our little cottage along Lake Huron near Lexington and Port Sanilac.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Devin: I do love America's Thanksgiving Parade (even though it means a very early wake-up call on a holiday that never gives me a day off!). Corey and I really enjoy the Ann Arbor Art Fairs every year. And any and every Red Wings Stanley Cup parade is a pretty darn good day, too.

Debbie: Great events, all! How about a few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Devin: There are so many Michiganders I've come to enjoy, but I have a special admiration for Jeff Daniels and what he's done in his hometown of Chelsea. As a successful actor, he can certainly live anywhere but it was important to him to begin a professional theatre in Chelsea, and the Purple Rose has become a vibrant catalyst for art and business ever since. He's also become a superb spokesman for Michigan. And I'll also point out that he's never given a bad performance as an actor; he's a pro.

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

Devin: I've been all over the country and all over the world and I don't believe any place has as much beauty per square mile as Michigan. We're very lucky.

Debbie: I agree with that! Finally, some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others, Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Devin: I vote for Michigander --- but as a non-native, does my vote count as much? (I just think it's a superior word. And if you've read Fibblestax you know you can trust me when it comes to words!)

Debbie: You get a full vote, and we'll count you amongst the Michiganders! Thank you so much for being here today.

To learn more about Devin's books, as well as his music, please head over to his web site.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poetry Friday

For Poetry Friday this week, I offer up a poem of mine that originally appeared in the April 2008 Eastside Neighbor. I will admit that I am indeed sometimes guilty of being a "littershrug." This poem is a reminder to myself (and to anyone else who might be willing to listen) that keeping a park or other favorite place clean involves one step beyond simply not littering. In this season of thankfulness, you can show that you're thankful for your parks by helping to keep them free of trash!

Are You A LitterShrug?
--by Debbie Diesen

Of course you're not a litterbug –
But maybe you're a littershrug?

You see some garbage left behind
And try to put it out of mind.

It bothers you, but not enough
To stoop and pick up trashy stuff.

Yet little messes, so contagious,
Grow to messes that outrage us.

Litterbugs and littershrugs
Together lead to litter-ughs.

The cycle, though, can be contained
When littershruggers are retrained.

To make your park a better place
And put a smile on someone's face,

Go grab yourself a bag and glove,
And show your park a little love.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Poetry Friday


You have to hope, for his sake, that the guy was alone

when it happened. Of course, “guy,” is a gender

assumption, but the whole scene’s got “guy” written all

over it. Guy spots an unclaimed treasure left out

curbside, and he can picture just the right place for it in

his basement. Or maybe it was a cast-off from his co-

worker’s brother-in-law. “Sure, it’s all yours. Stop on

by.” So he heads over, pulls over, tosses it into the back

of the pick-up truck. Or maybe jams it awkwardly into a

trunk that somehow seemed bigger when he first

bought the car. A smart guy, he’s well aware there

should be a bungee cord or two involved; but the cord

he really needs is back in his garage, and the cord he

really has is too short to help. Lucky he’s not going too

far. No worries. Good enough. Out on the highway, he

speeds up without even thinking about it, and then,

Thump, a heavy thud informs him he’s hit a bump and

his treasured find has crashed out onto the highway

shoulder, landing in an amalgam of odd angles. And

there it sits, even now, weeks later. For his sake, it’s a

darn good thing he was alone, with no witness to his

folly. Still, he knows that more than likely before the

whole mess mysteriously disappears, his wife will

probably drive by it. When she sees it there, upside

down and shattered, she'll laugh out loud and say,

"What a perfect place for such an ugly old chair.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Order of Odd-Fish

I haven't read the book yet, so I can't give you a review; but after hearing James Kennedy speak at an MLA luncheon today, I'm definitely adding The Order of Odd-Fish to my "To Be Read" pile. Click here to read about a book described as "A carnival of odd," "Rollicking fantasy on the grand scale," and "Equal parts Monty Python and Roald Dahl." Should be an interesting read!

Nancy Pearl

I had the pleasure of hearing Nancy Pearl speak yesterday, at the Michigan Library Association annual conference. You've probably run across Book Lust, More Book Lust, and/or Book Crush, and/or heard Nancy Pearl on NPR. Maybe you even have the action figure (standard or deluxe). But if you're not familiar with her, head on over to her site and blog. I didn't realize she had a blog: near-daily Nancy Pearl - what could be better?