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.

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