Monday, January 30, 2012

Michigander Monday: Jeni Decker

I'm pleased to welcome Jeni Decker to Michigander Monday!

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

JeniExcerpted from the pretentious third person bio; a must-have for every author:

Jeni Decker lives on a farm in rural Michigan with her husband, two autistic sons, some chickens, the occasional pig, her dog, and an albino frog named Humbert Humbert.  She’s the author of I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames and the co-author of  Waiting for Karl Rove. You can find her blatantly exploiting her children (and often politicians) on

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

JeniI Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames is a memoir; my crazy life and everything in it - shaken, not stirred. The Library Journal called I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames  “…brash, sarcastic, irreverent, heartfelt, and touching…” and who am I to argue?

Waiting for Karl Rove is irreverent, politically incorrect satire masquerading as road trip memoir.  Think Thelma and Louise—only Thelma’s menopausal, Louise is an erratic big-mouth with a penchant for discussing her hemorrhoids, and they’re on a road trip to wrestle an apology from Karl Rove by any means necessary.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Jeni:  My co-author Kat Nove and I are working on book two in the Waiting for Karl Rove series - Waiting for a Plot: What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas, Especially if Someone Slips You a Roofie. Book two takes place during a span of time covered in book one where the “characters” are in a drunken blackout. Did I mention that Kat and I wrote ourselves into these books? Yeah, so there’s that.

Also, I’ve got two books with small publishers that should be released this year - barring any terrorist activity or other unforeseen complications. The Peacock Mirror is a cheeky Victorian era romp; a cautionary tale of blackmail, bed-hopping, and social climbing  that explores sexual mores and social standing around the time of the Oscar Wilde trial.

Far From Happy takes place during the pre- to post- gentrification of New York City and  follows a male hustler as he comes to terms with his sexuality. This one isn’t humor, though it’s one of my personal favorites. I believe there’s a great deal of beauty in the pain life has to offer and as a writer, I often find it necessary to push those bruises and shine a light on life’s sores.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jeni:  I’ll be at Schuler Books on Feb. 7th at 7pm
2660 28th St. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512

Also, Literary Life Bookstore & More doing a reading followed by a signing on the evening of February 9th starting at 7:00pm.
758 Wealthy Street SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

Jeni:  I’ve always loved libraries; I equate the smell of a library to the feeling of limitless possibilities. It’s the one place I’d have no problem being locked inside for any length of time. I could go a day or so without food and water, but not reading material.

I live in Reed City so I use that library frequently, as well as the Big Rapids Public Library. The staff at both are fantastic. I’m sort of a book fiend, so it helps that they don’t look at me strangely when I approach the desk with a stack of books that’s taller than I am.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jeni:  The one place we take the kids every year is Ludington Beach. Unlike the beaches in Florida where I come from, there’s no car traffic so I can actually sit and relax as the kids run free. The other huge plus: fresh water = no sharks and jellyfish!

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

Jeni:  Not a specific event, but I have to say, living somewhere where there’s an actual change of seasons is fantastic. Florida had one season: hot. Okay, two: hot and sticky. Okay, three: hot, sticky and humid.

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

Jeni:  My mother is also a writer and she’s fun on Tuesdays and alternating Saturdays. The rest of the week, I just ignore her. But she feeds my addiction to making crazy videos (SEE: agorophobejeni on Youtube). Her name is Susan Stec and her book The Grateful Undead: They’re So Vein is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book, as well as at Barnes and Noble for Nook. She’s got two others in the humor series coming out soon, and I highly recommend them all. She’s another author who wrote herself into her book, along with the entire “cast” of estrogen-producing members of our family… only in her book everyone’s a vampire. Except me. Even in fiction I have to be the sensible one.

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

Jeni:  People are really nice here. Seriously,  that took some getting used to… people always smiling.

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

Jeni:  How about Meshugenah? I’m not Jewish, but it does mean crazy, so it's apropos. Seriously, I lived in Florida my whole life, up until about 5 years ago when we came here. I don’t think I’ve earned the title Michigander or Michiganian yet. I only started driving in the snow last year. Holy crap, that’s scary! But if I were forced to choose, Michigander gets my vote. I like the way it rolls off the tongue. Any ole place can slap a ‘ian’ on the end of their state and call it a day, but not everyone can add a ‘gander’ and get away with it.

Hawaiigander? I think not.

Debbie:  Good point - and Michigander it is!  Jeni, thank you so much for being here today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Jeni and her books, visit her blog and her Twitter feed.  And view the book trailer for her new book over on YouTube.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Michigander Monday: Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli

I'm pleased to welcome Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli to Michigander Monday!

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

Elizabeth:  I’m a writer, probably always have been.  Story is a big part of my life—what I see in the lives of others; in my own life.  Plotlines.  Reasons for doing what we do.  Writing fiction, making stories from the world around me, is a way to find some sense, partial reason, for the things I see but don’t understand.  Probably, at the heart of this need to know, is ego—a will to tame this world: I will redo it and make it to my own liking.  I guess this is who I am, in the deepest part of me.

If—by ‘a little about myself’—is meant a list of accomplishments—degrees—friends, family—there are those:  Macomb County College after having five kids.  Oakland University—a degree in education.  My first novel published by Bantam: Gift of Evil.  Then on to grad school at the University of Michigan.

And then life interfered with writing.  My husband, Tony, was in a terrible car accident that took years of his life and many operations to recover from. All the time writing in my head, even when I wasn’t writing in fact.

The thing about being ‘a writer’ is that dealing with thoughts and words isn’t a thing you do outside yourself—like being a ditch digger or a doctor.  It is a part of every corner of your brain.  A part of every day: observing, understanding, asking questions.  A part of everything we see, hear, smell, feel.  So—not a job.  More, as Flannery O’Connor observed, “A Habit of Being.”

And then a job change and a move to northern Michigan—time to write again.  I wrote five books in five years—as if something stoppered had been freed.  All the novels sold and I am now on to the fifth in a series with a new series beginning.

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

Elizabeth:  I write mysteries because, again, I have the most control over my people, my places, my stories.  Evil is nothing to fear when you create it and then punish it.  Character is of the highest importance to me—after all, it is people who live the lives we write about, the events, who figure (or don’t figure) out how to deal with life.  Place is their setting—my people.  The world around them, seen through their eyes, reflects who they are, what they know of the natural world.

My latest books are:  Dead Dancing Women, Dead Floating Lovers, Dead Sleeping Shaman, and Dead Dogs and EnglishmenDead Dogs and Englishmen received a starred review from Kirkus, then was chosen as one of the best mysteries of 2011.  Then the Christian Science Review chose it as one of the best mysteries of 2011.  The next in this series is Dead Little Dolly.  In a new, psychological thriller, series, I’ve written The Philosopher’s Wife, which takes on philosophy and physics, God, the devil, and a few other things—such as monumental evil and what it is to be a human being.  This one’s with my agent now.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jan. 30—Kiwanis Club in Traverse City
Feb. 4—Writers conference in Chicago—panel leader
April: MLA National Conference; appearance at Kent Library.

Many appearances planned on into the new year.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Elizabeth:  Almost any bookstore where the owners or managers love books and writers and readers.  Any bookstore where books aren’t only saleable objects, but revered treasures—for the thought, the talent, the art forms it takes to create them.  Brilliant Books in Traverse City is such a bookstore.  Horizon Books in Traverse City.  The Cottage Book Store in Leland.  Saturn Books in Gaylord.  These people, these owners, have feelings for books even I can’t quite fathom—it is so deep and so real.  It is reverence for inanimate objects offering what is best about the rest of us., that share ideas, that teach, that entertain, that connect mind to mind.

Debbie:  How about your favorite places in Michigan?

Elizabeth:  Oh my God—let’s start with Rugg Pond, near me.  A pool of absolutely still water on one side, a torrent of disgorged water on the other.  Swans.  Broken trees.  In winter the bottom branches of pine trees ice up and create dams in the whirlpools.  Walks in very hot sun, watching not to step on grasshoppers.  Shorter walks around circles of bloodied trees.  Even shorter walks over ice—to see if the water is still falling.

Deward—the site that used to be a logging town.  Now there’s nothing left of Man but a few things He built to herd the logs down the Manistee River.   A kind of sad reminder of how all we touch will change.  A happy reminder that no matter how Man destroys everything around him, Nature will heal it and the birds and trees will come back and the river will still run in heavy rains and run dry in drought times.

So much to love about Michigan.  Backwoods people—with their own patois and their own kind of honesty.  City people—black and white, with differing cultures and differing religions.  Women in high heels and short skirts flagging down strange lovers.  Women in veils.  Women in jeans and midriff shirts picking their kids up at school.  Office women dressed in suits—like little men . . .  All kinds of people: golden shores to trailer parks.

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

Elizabeth:  All my kids.  All my grandkids.  All my friends.  Writer friends who don’t take themselves seriously (I’ve found the best writers don’t wear airs of destiny draped around them).  Writer friends like Doug Stanton and Mardi Link and Aaron Stander, Rainelle Burton, Carolyn Hall, Annick Hivert Carthew.  Michigan people I can laugh with . . . and on and on and on.

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

Elizabeth:  Michigan isn’t just a big chunk of real estate surrounded by a lot of water.   It’s a state of being—sports: winter and summer.  Sailing.  Skiing.  And studying.  Learning about the natural world—forests, birds, animals—things to be watched closely in case we’re wrong and they know more about existence than we do.   Miles of swamps where dangerous men live alone with voices in their head—and you don’t want to stumble on them.  Universities where the true salvation of all of us is being worked out—in medical research, in physics, in Cosmology.  In these places, new worlds will be announced.  And miles and miles of water where you look out and see nothing on the horizon and you take in deep breaths and feel what being alive is all about.

Debbie:  Finally -- Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Elizabeth:  I pick Michiganian.  The other sounds as if I’m horning in on all those intelligent geese, with their free-form Vees, who know enough to get the heck out when winter’s coming.

Debbie:  Michiganian it is!  Elizabeth, thank you for being here today!

To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, be sure to stop by her web site and blog.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Michigander Monday: Eileen Pollack

I'm pleased to welcome Eileen Pollack to Michigander Monday.  (Special note to those of you in the Ann Arbor area:  Eileen will be appearing this Wednesday at Nicola's Books - details below!)

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

Eileen:  I grew up in the Catskills in New York State--my family owned a small hotel there. The region was famous for its working-class Jewish hotels--and the stand-up comics who entertained the audiences there. The most famous of the Catskills Hotels, Grossinger's, which was the model for the hotel in Dirty Dancing, was located in my hometown.

After I left home, I studied physics at Yale, worked as a reporter at a small newspaper in New Hampshire, earned my MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa, then lived for ten years in Boston with my ex-husband, Tom, a genetics researcher. When Tom was recruited by the U of M, I came along. That was 1994. Ann Arbor was a wonderful place for our son, Noah, to grow up. He attended Community High and is now a senior at the University of Chicago.

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

EileenBreaking and Entering is my second published novel and my first book set in Michigan. Just after I moved here, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, and stories about the Michigan Militia were all over the national media. I was fascinated to learn about the far rightwing views of many militia members, and equally interested in the conservatism and fundamentalism of other residents of my new state. I spent a day as a visiting writer in a public school to the west of Ann Arbor and was stunned to find out that most of the biology teachers were creationists. And yet here were my husband and his coworkers in Ann Arbor studying genetics, believing as deeply in evolution as their fellow Michiganders believed in creationism. I grew close to a friend living in a town where the minister was making vitriolic anti-Semitic sermons every Sunday. Her husband, who is Jewish, protested the sermons, and their children began to be harassed. Soon afterward, their house burned down. My friend was pretty sure that she and her family had been burned out on purpose; the town fire marshall, in fact, found evidence of arson, but he accused them of burning down their own house to collect the insurance. All that gave me an idea for a book--a book in which I tried to figure out how people so different from one another could all be Michiganders, could all be Americans, and how we could ever hope to make a democracy work with citizens who felt so passionately about such disparate beliefs.

My earlier books include two story collections (In the Mouth and The Rabbi in the Attic), a novel set in the Catskills (Paradise, New York), and a work of nonfiction called Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull, which is about a female artist and Indian rights activist who was friends with Sitting Bull and lived with him and his family toward the end of his life. A long time ago, I also wrote a children's book about AIDS.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Eileen:  I've just finished a memoir about my childhood dream of becoming an astrophysicist and my time as one of the first female physics majors at Yale. I'm trying to get at the deeper cultural and psychological reasons that so few American women go on in math, physics, engineering and computer science, even today.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Eileen:  I'll be reading at Nicola's in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, January 18, at 7 pm, and on the U of M campus on Wednesday, April 4, at 5:30 pm, at the Hatcher Graduate Library.

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

EileenNicola's at Westgate Plaza in Ann Arbor ... and all the wonderful libraries on the U of M campus ... as well as the public library in downtown Ann Arbor.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Eileen:  My favorite place in Michigan is the Diego Rivera room at the DIA. I have to say that Bliss Beach near Cross Village is my favorite place on the lake. I like to take walks along the river in Ann Arbor. And when the winters get me down, I trek out to the Matthei Botanical Garden and spend some time in the desert room in the conservatory.

Oh, and I'm a tennis fanatic, so I love spending time at the Varsity Tennis Center here at the U of M. State-of-the-art facility, wonderful coaches and pros, and terrific women to run me around the court.

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

Eileen:  I love our recruitment weeks in March, when the students we've accepted to our MFA Program in Creative Writing show up on campus. We're one of the top two MFA programs in the country and get approximately 1100 applications for 20 spots (in poetry and fiction). These are some of the most creative young people in the country, and getting to meet them in person after reading their poetry and prose is a pure joy.

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

Eileen:  Too many colleagues and students and former students to name ... if I start, I'll leave someone out and be sorry for it later. Let me just say for now that the last three winners of the National Book Award have been women who've either taught writing or studied writing at U of M or Western Michigan!

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

Eileen:  We have the best deli and roadhouse in the country right here in Ann Arbor.

Debbie:  Finally -- Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Eileen:  Given that I've already used the word "Michigander" several times, you know my answer.

Debbie:  Michigander it is.  Eileen, thank you for being with us today!

To learn more about Eileen and her books, stop by her web site.  And if you're in the Ann Arbor area, be sure to head over to her signing at Nicola's on Wednesday at 7 PM.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Michigan Notable Books 2012 Reading Challenge

After meaning to do so for several years, last year I hosted a "Michigan Notable Books Reading Challenge" here on my blog.  I'm happy to say that I'm doing so again this year.  I'm not affiliated in any way with Notable Books, but I think it's a really terrific program; so my Reading Challenge is meant to be a small show of support for the program and for the wonderful books selected for it.

So what's involved involved in the Reading Challenge?

Rest assured, it's a totally No Stress reading challenge.  Bottom line:  If you’re willing to commit to reading at least two of the books on the 2012 Michigan Notable Books list, at some point in the next year or so, you’ll have a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to a Michigan independent bookstore.

Do you have to live in Michigan to participate?  NO.

Do you have to tell me which two books you're reading?  NO.

Do you have to read the books by a particular date?  NO.

Like I said, it's a totally No Stress reading challenge.  We aim to please here at Jumping The Candlestick.

Here's all you do need to do:

1.  Take a look at the 2012 Michigan Notable Books list.
Titles are listed below.  If you'd like more details, you can find further description of each book by clicking here.

2.  Choose two books you'd like to read.
You do NOT have to read them by a particular date.  Just some time within your lifetime.  Timetable is totally your call.

3.  Inform me that you're participating.
Inform me how?  Well, you can comment on this blog post.  Or you can tell me when you see me.  Or you can send me an email ( deborah [at] deborahdiesen [dot] com ).  Or you can write a note in invisible ink and send it by carrier pigeon.  Method is totally up to you.

That's it!  If you do those three things, you're entered for a chance to win.  One Lucky Reader will win a $50 gift certificate to a Michigan independent bookstore.  The winner chooses which bookstore.  (Note that most bookstores have online ordering options, so even if you live out of state, you'll be able to redeem your prize.)

Some optional things:

1.  If you let other folks know about this reading challenge, I'll put your name in the hat twice.  Are you required to let others know in a particular way?  No.  You can email friends a link to this page; you can mention the challenge at the office water cooler; you can share on your FaceBook page; you can tweet; you can work out an arrangement with your friendly local carrier pigeon.  Or, of course, there's the ever-popular Michigan Notable Books tattoo option.  It's your call.  Any spreading-of-the-word counts -- just let me know you've done so and I'll double your hat entries.

2.  If you end up really excited about one of the books that you read, I'd be happy to have you do a Guest Blog Post about the book.  Totally optional, totally your call, but if you're interested, let me know.

3.  Lansing area folks, there's usually a public reception for the Notable authors in the spring at the State Library - you might want to go to it.  I generally attend the function (it's a great opportunity to meet writers and learn more about their work; and there's generally a keynote speaker - great fun to hear).  I'd encourage any of you who are in the area to attend as well.

4.  Special Note:  If you're an author who's on the list, you can still participate in the Challenge - you just can't read your own book as one of your two books.

As for timetable?

Well, like most things related to my blog, I'm a bit loosey-goosey.  But let's try to have sign-ups by January 31 February 15.  I'll plan do the gift certificate drawing around February 15 (though if by any change I extend the sign-up period, I might end up with a March 1 drawing).  Stay tuned for details; but all things considered, I'd prefer you sign up sooner rather than later.  Thankee.
[2/4/12 note - I've updated deadlines - still plenty of time to sign up!]

Now, without further ado, here are the 2012 Michigan Notable Books:

Elly Peterson: "Mother" of the Moderates by Sara Fitzgerald (University of Michigan Press)

Everyday Klansfolk: White Protestant Life and the KKK in 1920s Michigan by Craig Fox (Michigan State University Press)

Fever: Little Willie John, A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul by Susan Whitall (Titan Books)

Ghost Writers: Us Haunting Them, Contemporary Michigan Literature edited by Keith Taylor and Laura Kasischke (Wayne State University Press)

Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One by Mark Kurlansky (Yale University Press)

Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life by Michael Moore (Grand Central Publishing)

In Stitches: A Memoir by Anthony Youn, M.D. (Gallery Books)

Jacobson's, I Miss It So: The Story Of A Michigan Fashion Institute by Bruce Allen Kopytek (History Press)

Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J.H. Shapiro and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Charlesbridge)

Michigan and the Civil War: A Great and Bloody Sacrifice by Jack Dempsey (The History Press)

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur Books)

Miss Martin Is a Martian by Colleen Murray Fisher and illustrated by Jared Chapman (Mackinac Island Press)

Motor City Shakedown by D. E. Johnson (Minotaur Books)

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Dial Books for Young Readers)

Once Upon a Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America's Big Three Automakers-GM, Ford, and Chrysler by Bill Vlasic (William Morrow)

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Norton)

Songs of Unreason by Jim Harrison (Copper Canyon Press)

South of Superior by Ellen Airgood (Riverhead Books)

Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike: From Sand Trails to US-31 by M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson (Arbutus Press)
Wire to Wire by Scott Sparling (Tin House Books)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Where Has "Michigander Monday" Gone?

Don't worry:  "Michigander Monday" is just on a brief hiatus.  During the holidays, I didn't send out any interview requests, so I don't have any profiles to feature right now.  But once I get back underway (later this month), rest assured there will be more Michigan and Michigan-related author interviews here.

In the meantime, check out the recently-released 2012 Michigan Notable Books List.  And then come back here next week to read about my Michigan Notable Books reading challenge (complete with a chance to win a gift certificate to a Michigan indie bookstore).

Till then!