Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Case You Haven't Seen It Yet...

This article by Ann Patchett has been linked to on a bunch of blogs (which is how I found it), but if you're a writer and you haven't seen it yet, you might enjoy reading it.

This is my favorite line from it, about the repetition involved in writing and revision:
"The process of writing books is somewhat akin to a very long police interrogation in which the detective leans over the table littered with the butt ends of cigarettes and cold coffee in Styrofoam cups and says for the 87th time, 'Now let's go over this again.'" --Ann Patchett

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wednesday Workout Review: Jeanette Jenkins Core & Stretch It Out

The Jeanette Jenkins' DVD Core and Stretch It Out is actually two separate workouts: Core focuses on your abs and back; Stretch It Out is entirely stretching. Both workouts run approximately 30 minutes each.

My general outlook on ab workouts is that they're something to endure rather than enjoy. But Jeanette's Core workout, though challenging, is not one that had me counting the seconds until it was over. Plus, it's very thorough, hitting all areas of the core, including the obliques and the back (too often neglected).

But what I really love about this workout DVD is the Stretch It Out section. Stretching is a component of fitness that I need to attend to more; but most yoga DVDs bore me to tears, and most non-yoga workout DVDs just tack on a short, ineffective stretching sequence at the end. Jeanette Jenkins' Stretch stands out as thorough, invigorating, and not at all boring. It's the perfect add-on after a cardio workout, or any time you'd like a good stretch.

Reviews here and here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mr. Fish as a Parade Float!

Last summer, the wonderful folks at the Lodi Public Library created a Pout-Pout Fish float for the Rotary Summer Parade in Lodi, WI.

What fun! And I love the advice on the float: "Don't be a Pout-Pout. Duck into the Library to see what it's all about-bout."

Thanks, Lodi Public Library!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Michigander Monday

I don't have a Michigander Monday interview for you today. But I have been meaning for quite a while to thank Kelli at Writing the Waves for interviewing me for her blog earlier this month. Since I'm a Michigander, I'll count myself as this Monday's "Michigander Monday" by pointing you over to my interview with Kelli. It was fun! Thanks, Kelli.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Joy and The Sorrow of Christmas

Today is the Eve of Christmas Eve. We're two days away from the "big day," and around here my spouse, kids and I are feeling cozy and relaxed. We had a nice visit with family last weekend, and we've another family gathering to look forward to later in the week. Household stress is wonderfully low: presents were purchased and wrapped with plenty of time to spare; an assortment of goodies have been baked and enjoyed; and there's been enough snow for cross-country skiing. All in all, I feel grateful, thankful, and happy.

But I've had enough years on this earth to know that Christmas can be, and often is, a terribly hard time for individuals and families to get through. The ubiquitous artifacts of the season surround us and set impossibly high happiness expectations even as they unearth sadness, disappointment, and loss. "Life is made of ever so many partings welded together," wrote Charles Dickens, and to my mind these include not just partings from loved ones but also partings from our former selves, our expectations, and our dreams. At Christmastime, seasonal lights can shine harshly on landscape that doesn't look a thing like we used to imagine.

If this year your Christmas does not seem merry; if you are feeling sad; if you feel very much alone -- please give the ultimate gift of the season by being kind to yourself.

Nurture yourself, the deepest part of you, with gentle words, gentle thoughts, and gentle actions. Tend to yourself, and to your vulnerability. Know that you are not alone, neither in your feelings, nor in your world. Every single person on this planet matters, including you. Whether we know one another or not, whether we've ever even met, you and I, we are all connected.

As best you can, reach out. Anchor your life in some small way to those around you. And don't be afraid to be honest about how you're feeling. Support can come where and when you least expect it.

If you're feeling desperate, at any point, remember that there are people you can talk to even if you don't know where to turn. Most communities have a crisis hotline and can help you with your situation. There is also a national number if you, or someone you know, is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You do not have to be alone with your feelings. Help is available. And with it, hope.

I'll be back to this blog on the other side of Christmas.
Until then, all who pass here, take care of yourselves.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Michigander Monday: Monica Harris

I'm pleased this week to welcome Monica Harris, a Michigan author and also co-regional advisor for SCBWI-Michigan!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Monica: Well, what’s your definition of “little”? :) Let’s see, I was born in Kalamazoo and consider Michigan home. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to live in Germany and Switzerland where I learned a better appreciation of family time, hiking, delicious cheese, and mouthwatering chocolate. As a writer, I’ve been described as being “eclectic” simply because I don’t focus on any particular genre. I write picture books, middle grade novels, YA novels, nonfiction, educational materials, pieces for magazines. Personally, I don’t think it’s “eclectic” but rather “ADD prone.”

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

Monica: My last book was Wake the Dead which was published by Walker & Company in 2004. I’ve sold several magazine pieces since then but for some reason, the book fairy hasn’t stepped forward with my million dollar contract. It will happen though….that’s my mantra!

Debbie: Other books and projects on the horizon?

Monica: I have several completed picture books which need to find homes but in the meantime, I’m trying to move forward on a middle grade novel that’s a psychic mystery. My YA novel follows a similar vein but is more of a psychic coming of age thriller.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Monica: Check me out at the next SCBWI event where I’m bound to make an announcement or two! :)

Debbie: I'm sure we'll see you at the spring 2010 SCBWI-Michigan conference! (Terrific line-up for the May 1 event; details here.) How about your favorite place in Michigan?

Monica: Having grown up here, I have several places. I love spending summer days in South Haven where I suffered my first heartbreak (long story). The Keweenaw region of the Upper Peninsula holds fond memories as well with its fresh air, friendly people, and easy-going lifestyle.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Monica: There is ALWAYS something going on in Michigan so there’s no excuse to be bored. Check out the monthly Art Hops in Kalamazoo, Celebration on the Grand in Grand Rapids, the Hot Air Balloon Competition in Battle Creek, and the walk across Mackinac Bridge in the fall.

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

Monica: Not everyone on my list is considered “fun” but they’re all Michigan based people that have offered something to our culture:

Jerry Bruckheimer – TV and movie producer
John Hughes – Movie producer, writer, and director
Jack Kevorkian – Assisted suicide doctor
Sojourner Truth - the self-given name of Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist.
James Anthony Bailey – Cofounder of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus
Homer Stryker – MD and inventor of mobile hospital bed and found of Stryker Corporation
Dave Coverly – Speed Bump comic strip creator
Music: Madonna, Eminem, the Verve Pipe, Alice Cooper, Sonny Bono, the Romantics, Iggy Pop, and OkGo.
Children’s Authors:

  • K.A. Applegate
  • Jon Scieszka
  • Chris Van Allsburg
  • Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Wendy Anderson Halperin
  • Sue Stauffacher

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


  • We have some of the best freshwater beaches in the country.
  • We’re extremely generous people when it comes to bringing something to a potluck (which I learned is a very Midwestern thing to do)
  • Michigan people have earned the right to complain about the weather so grin and let us vent.
  • When asked where we live, we all put up our right hand and point to some random place on our palm.

Debbie: And the left hand makes a handy upper peninsula!

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

Monica: Oh, a Michigander all the way!

Debbie: Thank you, Monica, for joining us today!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sneak Preview

Though The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade won't be out for another 97 days (but who's counting), you can read an excerpt over here (scroll down to the bottom part of the page).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Michigander Monday: Janie Panagopoulos

I'm pleased this week to welcome Janie Panagopoulos to Michigander Monday! Her books include the Great Lakes Adventure in History and Mystery series, the Dream Quest series, and books in State of Michigan’s The History of the Inhabitants of the Straits of Mackinac series.

Debbie: Janie, tell us a little about yourself.

Janie: I love what I do. I have been writing professionally for over 33 years and started writing in 3rd grade because my teacher thought I talked too much. Go figure, I just had lots of things going on in my head and wanted to share them, just like today.

I am from a family of readers. My grandmother was named after two of my great grandmother’s favorite books. All my grandmother’s siblings name’s had book connections, too. I think that is very unique and very cool, especially since that was over 100 years ago.

I only write about things that I think is important to learn about. I always ask myself, before selecting a subject or period to write about… “Who cares? What will it teach? Why is it important?” If I can’t answer these questions honestly, I will not waste my time in writing a story “just” to write. It has to have something of importance to share with readers, I want them to learn something factual and have fun while they are learning.
This is one of the reasons I find it very difficult to read any fiction. I don’t read fiction only non-fiction to learn the facts and true history. Facts and reality are incredibly amazing to me, to think what people went through in the past, to see how they survived all that they did, these are our ancestors and are incredible. They made it through life with nothing simple and with no technology to help them. I don’t know if we could do that today.

While doing research, I try to experience the settings and experiences our ancestors would have experienced. No short cuts… canoes and horses not cars… open fires to cook with… the ground with a blanket to sleep on… I must have these experiences to write, so I can honestly share my emotions, and sore, tired muscles and joints with my readers, to put the reader there, too.

I spend 3-5 years doing research, just to help put the reader “there”, to see how amazing our ancestors were, which make us, their descendants, amazing too. It is all in the genes.

Debbie: You've got a long list of books to your name! Tell us about what you're working on lately.

Janie: When I write, I generally am working on 2-3 projects all at the same time. I am currently writing a book about the early explorers of Georgian Bay and also doing research on a project set in China.

I went to China this summer and was amazed at my learning curve. It was just incredible. I was there for three weeks and just couldn’t wait to get home to read Marco Polo’s book about his adventures in the twelfth century and the stories of the Silk Road.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Janie: I do lots of national and international videoconferencing, which gives me time to write.

I just returned home from a three week book tour and am glad to be able to visit schools by videoconferencing for the next three-four weeks. I also do blogs with schools and have a couple of conferences that I have to travel to, coming up in March.

I currently live in Richmond, Virginia, where I moved this summer. This is a perfect place for a historian/author to live, and I know I will have lots of research material available to me, for the rest of my life. I have already been invited to a few schools in the area, and I don’t even know how they got my name.

Debbie: Your favorite places in Michigan?

Janie: Any place along the beautiful Michigan waterways, lakes, rivers, streams and creeks, I love them all. I am also very fond of the UP as it is still very undeveloped in many areas, and I can really get the feel for Michigan’s primitive settings of the past.

I can just smell the fresh, clean, crisp air of Michigan. I think Michigan is one of America’s most beautiful states.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Janie: The Aurora Borealis and viewing it over one of our Great Lakes is simply magical to me. In my mind, you cannot beat nature when it comes to creating things of beauty, mystery and interest and Michigan is a unique place to see nature at its finest.

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

Janie: Michigan teachers... I think teachers should always come to mind when someone asks who their hero is… Teachers make the world different and hopefully better. Teachers give, nearly, their whole lives to children. What amazing and interesting people teachers are.

Also, what other profession is there that the professional spends, nearly their entire life in school. From the time they start school in kindergarten until they retire from teaching… I think this is incredible!

I love learning! I love school! Teachers are my heroes!

Debbie: Janie, how about something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state.

Janie: You have to see it to believe it. You have to drive through our wonderful fragrant woods. You have to see the million diamond glitters reflecting off our Great Lakes. You must travel to the UP and breathe the fresh air. You have to take a walk and listen to the snow fall around you in the woods. You must experience Michigan to understand its beauty.

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

Janie: I know, you know the insult from Old Abe about Lewis Cass; I like the history, not the name.

Michiganian is more dignified… Like Virginian.

However, how about Michiganites for something different? I like the sound!

Sorry, you should not ask this question to a crazy historian/writer, you will get a crazy answer!

Debbie: Over the years, I've accumulated quite a few tally columns in the "What do you call a resident of the state of Michigan?" survey. I'll gladly add Michiganite!

Janie, thank you for being with us today!

Head on over to Janie Panagopoulos's web site to read more about her and her books.