Monday, May 28, 2012

Michigander Monday: Bill Murphy

I'm pleased to welcome Bill Murphy to Michigander Monday!

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

Bill:  I am a Michigan native, originally from what were western Genesee County’s fertile farmlands (fields of my youth that I used to wander with joy that have now been largely replaced with poorly planned scattered exurbia development, with a few scattered farms optimistically still clinging to life.)  Arriving at adulthood at the same point in time that the war in Vietnam was at its peak, I spent time in the Marine Corps and served as an infantryman in that distant land. Having survived the experience I returned to college and ultimately worked a career in a field that I’ve always felt passionate about – natural resources and environmental protection. I retired from the MDEQ in the late 1990s and spent the next decade working in the same profession as a private contractor.

I have a keen interest for other things in my life, including history, travel, and motorcycling. In fact for four decades I’ve combined my love of exploring the back roads of America on two wheels and searching out unique and historic places. I call it ‘exploratory wandering’ and it has been an important and fulfilling part of my life, having visited all fifty states.

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

Bill:  In 2004 I decided to attempt to write a book about the wonders of Michigan’s back roads and small towns, calling it Motorcycling Across Michigan, (although the places and roads I recommend can be enjoyed equally well with any type of vehicle). The book sold surprisingly well (now in the third edition) and publisher Arbutus Press agreed to do a series.  Thus Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin have been added to my inventory of books about exploring the beautiful Great Lakes region.

In 2007 I turned what started out as a diary of my Vietnam experience into a book called Souvenirs of War.

My latest literary effort began in late 2009.  Over the years I had heard bits and pieces of some remarkable travel adventures attempted by daring and resourceful women in the 1915 time period. At the time, of course, cross country or around the world travel was a difficult and potentially dangerous proposition for anyone – let alone young women traveling alone – on motorcycles!

My latest book, published earlier this year, is called Grace and Grit: Motorcycle Dispatches From Early Twentieth Century Women Adventurers. The adventures described are all true and documented in detail for the first time in this book.

After six books I think it’s fair to say that this unexpected chapter in my life – that of being an author – is now part of who I am.  I may be one of the rare folks out there who actually enjoy doing the research necessary for a book, and I suspect that there will be a number seven, though I don’t have a specific idea right now.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Bill:  I am scheduled to be at Horizon Bookstore in Traverse City on Saturday, June 9th for a sell & sign event.

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

Bill:  I can’t say that I have a single favorite Michigan bookstore or library. My wife and I enjoy browsing in these venues, but if I had to choose a favorite bookstore it would be one of those small independent stores that struggle to survive today, usually found in small towns or old neighborhoods.

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

Bill:  I have long been a proud and happy Michigander. I think Michigan, and the entire Great Lakes region, is a remarkably unique and wonderful place to live. In fact, the whole idea about writing a book extolling the beauties and charms of Michigan was born when a Wyoming cowboy badmouthed my home state when a friend and I were in that barren and hot part of the country on a motorcycle trip ten years ago. After his remarks I thought – someone ought to write a book bragging about our beautiful (and green!) part of the country. So I did.

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

Bill:  My advice to folks who don’t know Michigan is to get off the I-75 / I-94 & I-96 corridors and get on the side roads to see the real Michigan. Go through the pleasant small towns and countryside rather than only seeing the billboards and strip developments that line the X-Ways. If my only exposure to Michigan was I-75 between Toledo and Bay City I wouldn’t be impressed either. But there is so much more to see than that.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Bill:  I love the Lake Superior region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and for years I thought I might move there if I could arrange work assignments to that effect. It never happened, however, and I’ve lived my entire life in various parts of the LP. I’ve vacationed in the UP many times, rationalizing that there was little reason to travel long distances when we had it all right here in our own backyard!  Things often work out for the best despite our efforts to the contrary, and living and working in the places I did was for the best. I highly suspect that I would not be an author or done the things I’m glad I did had I moved to the UP earlier in my life. I am happy with my current situation and wouldn’t go back and change anything to cause a different life path.

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

Bill:  My two favorite Michigan events are called Spring and Fall. They aren’t numerous but those few perfect May and October days just can’t be beat! Yes, I’m a proud Michigander.

Debbie:  Bill, I share your Michigander pride, and I thank you for being with us today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Bill and his books, stop by his web site, his blog, his Grace & Grit web site, and his publisher's site.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Poetry Friday: The Return

I meant to post this yesterday, but forgot; so here's a slightly belated Poetry Friday.  I've been continuing to play with short poetry forms, and I'm back again to working with the lune (lunes come in several varieties, but I like the 5/3/5 syllable version).  Here's a lune I wrote recently to celebrate the return of an avian favorite to our yard.

The Return

And then, there she is:
Life of the party.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

WNBA Pannell Awards

Congratulations to bookstores Book Beat (in my own state of Michigan) and Monkey See, Monkey Do (in Clarence, NY) for winning the Women's National Book Association's Lucile Micheels Pannell Awards.  The awards (one to a general bookstore, one to a children's specialty bookstore) are given to bookstores "that excel at inspiring the interest of young people in books and reading."

If you live near either of these bookstores, be sure to pop in and congratulate them.  (And buy a book of your choice while you're there, too!  :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday Workout Review: Minireview edition

This week I offer up not a full review but a mention of a couple of segments in a DVD I checked out recently called Shape: Make Over Your Butt, Hips & Thighs.

The main feature of the DVD is a 35-minute dance-style cardio workout.  This part of the DVD I do not do.  There's nothing wrong with it, and for folks with dance-workout inclination/skills (which is to say, for folks much more coordinated than I am) it could be a fun, short workout.  It's just not for me.

There are two additional DVD segments, though, that I recommend:  a short ballet-style leg workout, and a short Pilates/yoga workout.  Neither one is very long (maybe 10 minutes each?) but if you're looking for something quick to tack onto the end of something else, these are really nice.  Gentle but challenging, with some fun variations on the same old same old.  The instructor, Lisa Wheeler, is cheerful but not grating.  I'd love to see a longer workout by this instructor in the style of these two short workouts.

So this DVD might be worth a gander if you're looking for something short in the ballet/yoga/Pilates realm.

Other reviews here, herehere, and here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Michigander Monday

Michigander Monday is taking a vacation day this week.  Catch you back here next week!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Poetry Friday: Thunderstorm Triolet

I've been playing with poetry forms again lately.  After a recent thunderstorm (during which I experienced a squirrelbrain of worry: will-the-roof-leak-will-the-basement-leak-will-the-power-go-out-will-the-tree-get-hit-by-lightning-and-crash-through-the-roof-will-the-roof-leak-will-the-basement-leak etc.), I tried my hand at a triolet.

Thunderstorm Triolet

I used to love storms,
The louder the better.
Fear took other forms.
I used to love storms.
Now I cradle the norms
Of responsible fetter.
But I used to love storms:
The louder the better.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Michigander Monday: Scott Martelle

I'm pleased to welcome Scott Martelle to Michigander Monday!

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

Scott:  I'm a veteran journalist, including nine years at The Detroit News ('86-'95) and about a dozen years at the Los Angeles Times ('97-'08). I live in Irvine, about 45 miles south of Los Angeles, with my schoolteaching wife and our two sons. I work freelance now, and I write books.

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

Scott:  And I'd love to tell you about them. Detroit: A Biography is my third. My first was Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West (2007) about a 1913-14 coal strike that turned into a guerrilla war in which at least 75 people were killed. My second was The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial (2011) about the first of the post-WWII Smith Act trials of the leaders of the Communist Party-USA. Though the case was against communists, the book is about the trampling of civil liberties during times of perceived external stress. Sound familiar?

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Scott:  I'm in the early stages of a book about the century-long search for the body of John Paul Jones, who died and was buried in a hurry in Paris during the French Revolution. He was finally found and ensconced at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1905-06. So the book is a narrative retelling of the efforts to find his grave (by then, covered by buildings). The book should be out in a couple of years.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

ScottAugust 14 in Gaylord, MI. The bulk of my appearances were in April, when Detroit was published.

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

Scott:  I love Bookbeat in Oak Park, Nicola's in Ann Arbor and Schuler's in Lansing, but my all-time favorite is King's in downtown Detroit. One of the two best used-books stores I've ever patronized, and it's a must-stop whenever I'm in Detroit. And the Detroit Public Library, even with its budget problems, is a remarkable place.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

ScottHonest? John's Bar and the Anchor Bar (there's a theme there, I know) in Detroit, and Calumet in the U.P. It just feels like a whole different country up there.

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

Scott:  Two things I used to love to do when I lived in Detroit was hit the jazz festival at Hart Plaza, and the Grand Prix on Belle Isle. And Tigers games - even if it IS a new ballpark.

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

ScottM.L. Liebler, the hardest-working man in literature (Detroit-area poet who teaches at Wayne State). Bryan Gruley, who, though he lives in Chicago now, writes great mysteries set in the fictional northern Michigan town of Starvation Lake. Hockey is a recurring theme - unusual in mysteries. And Big Al Lengel, one of the founding editors at Deadline: Detroit.

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

Scott:  It's nothing like what you think. The good things are better, and the bad things are worse. And it's a place that everyone should visit at some point, from the heart of Detroit to the tip of the Keneenaw Peninsula.

Debbie:  Finally, last question:  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: what's the better term, "Michigander" or "Michiganian"?

Scott:  Michigander. I like the avian reference, and also the suggestion of "look around."

Debbie:  Michigander it is!  Scott, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Scott Martelle and his books, stop by his web site, his blog, and his FaceBook page.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Michigander Monday: Fleda Brown

I'm pleased to welcome Fleda Brown to Michigander Monday!

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

Fleda:  My husband and I retired to Traverse City, but we kept our old family cottage at Central Lake. What I love: swimming early in the morning when the lake is still and it’s still foggy, Paddling my little kayak down to the lily pads at the lake and counting turtles on logs, Paddling my new stand-up paddleboard. I’ll be 68 this summer. I write almost every morning—in the summers, I swim first.

I grew up mostly in Arkansas—my father taught for a number of years at the University of Arkansas. There were four children in my family, including a severely brain-damaged brother who had grand mal seizures all his life. I got married the first time when I was 17, not yet out of high school. I wasn’t pregnant, just wanted to leave home. My first husband and I had two children, Kelly and Scott. Kelly and her husband now have four children. They live in London, shortly to move to D.C. Their oldest (my oldest grandchild) is a freshman at Brown University this year. Scott and his wife and two children live in New Jersey. My present husband Jerry has two daughters who each have two children, so we have ten grandchildren between us. They all get to our lake in the summers, some of them every summer.

Back to early years: I got an M.A. and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Arkansas, while getting divorced and remarried, moved to Delaware, was hired on a tenure track line and spent my entire academic career teaching there. During those almost-thirty years, I got divorced again and remarried to the wonderful man I’ve now been married to for over 20 years. In those years, I got to know Delaware pretty well—it’s a small state, and I was poet laureate from 2001-2007 and traveled all over it. I liked many things about Delaware—its downstate beaches, its bird sanctuaries and flyways, its rich history, and our good friends—but I never felt the attachment to the place that I felt for Michigan. My grandparents bought our cottage at Central Lake in 1918, and I spent the summers there all my growing-up years. This state is my real home.

I say all this so much better, with so much love and detail, in my memoir. I feel as if this little paragraph is like a fish skeleton lying on the beach. Not much resemblance to a live fish.

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

Fleda:  As I was finishing my dissertation (not on poetry, by the way), I started sending poems out and had some success, so I started sending more. My first book, Fishing With Blood, came out from Purdue University Press when I was 44. So take heart, young poets. Some of us have a longer incubation period. That book won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, which consists of a reading tour of the schools that belong to the Great Lakes Colleges Association. That was wonderful and scary, since I had done very little public reading before.  And Jane Hamilton had won in fiction and toured before me. Everywhere I went, they told me how wonderful she’d been. Akkk! I met some people—like Jack Ridl and Conrad Hillberry—who became permanent friends. Michigan was tugging at my sleeve even then.

I was terrified that the first book was some sort of miraculous fluke, but Gerald Stern chose the second one, Do Not Peel the Birches (poems mostly about Michigan), also for Purdue. I think their poetry series is now defunct.

The third and fourth books were from Carnegie Mellon and were written almost simultaneously. This is weird, because they’re exact opposites. Maybe that’s the point. The Devil’s Child is a true story of a woman who was raised in a satanic cult and developed multiple personalities because of the terrible mental and sexual abuse she suffered. This book was the hardest I’ve ever written and may be the one I’m proudest of. At the same time I was working on The Women Who Loved Elvis All Their Lives, which was a pure joy to write—although the poems don’t flatter Elvis particularly. They show him for what he was (from biographies), but at the same time, I hope, are full of love and admiration for a man whose whole existence was his music. I went to Graceland (a “research trip,” of course) and wrote a poem series on being there.

Breathing in, Breathing Out was chosen by Phillip Levine as the first winner of the Levine Prize and published by Anhinga Press in 2001. The poems are ones that didn’t fit any of the above two categories, ones I’d been working on for years off and on. It includes a longer poem, “Einstein on Mercer Street” that was the libretto for a piece for orchestra and voice written by my nephew Kevin Puts, who just won the Pulitzer Prize in music this year! Yea, Kevin! Kevin has set a number of my poems to music and has one in the works at the moment.

Reunion won the 2007 Felix Pollack Prize from Wisconsin. I had thought this book would center on my high school reunion. I left for Arkansas armed with notebook and pen, but not many poems came out of that trip. The book ended up being more about Michigan, and a little about Delaware. Michigan was beginning to get a stronger grip on me and certainly gave me more poems.

So in 2010, I put together a benefit book for The Watershed Center, a non-profit organization that monitors water quality in the entire watershed area of Grand Traverse Bay. ALL of the price of Loon Cry goes to support the Watershed Center. The book includes Michigan poems from all my other books.

I’d been writing and publishing a few essays all along, and these turned into my memoir-in-essays, Driving With Dvorak, published by University of Nebraska Press in 2010. I hadn’t intended to write this book, but the essays piled up and I saw that together, they made the story of my life. I’d say it’s the story of my life and Michigan, mainly. You can see how our cottage and our lake have been the wellspring of my writing. I wrote an essay about living with my poor retarded brother that remains for me my definitive story of how it was. And I began to understand my brilliant and strange father, in the course of the essays. So it was a very satisfying book to write.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Fleda:  Oh yes, retirement is a wonderful thing. I have a book of poems, No Need of Sympathy, coming out from BOA Editions in 2013. And I’ve written a book of essays based on interviews with homeless people. I am pretty excited about this book, but it’s under consideration by a press at the moment, so I don’t feel like saying much right now. I’m holding my breath and hoping for the best. But all of us who write get used to rejection and know how to pick ourselves up and try again.

And then for the past year I’ve been working on a book of essays with my dear friend Sydney Lea, who’s currently the poet laureate of Vermont. Syd and I are picking topics—books, children, food, sex, clothes, etc.—and each writing an essay on that subject from our old geezer’s (can a woman be a geezer?) point of view. The essays are sort of “how it once was, for us, compared to how things are now.” We’re having great fun with this and will both be sad when it’s done. We haven’t started looking for a publisher yet.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Fleda:  I’ll be one of the TEDx speakers at Millikan Auditorium of the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City on May 16th. My talk will be “How Poetry and Meditation Can Save the World.” How bold is that? Then I’ll be in Charlevoix for the Zonta Women’s Club on May 19th. On June 21, I’ll be on a panel called “Up in Michigan” for the International Hemingway Society’s Convention in Petosky. On June 22nd, I’m reading at Dog Ears Books in Northport. On June 27th I’ll be at McLean & Eakin’s Bookstore in Petoskey. I fill in details on my website as soon as I have them. After that, we have family at the lake until I leave in August to teach in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program in Tacoma, WA. I’m there for ten days. 

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

Fleda:  My favorite bookstore is Brilliant Books in Traverse City. Peter Makin, the owner, makes writers feel welcome and celebrated. He values poetry when most bookstores hide it in the dusty back shelves. He’s even hired a poetry curator, Holly Wren Spaulding, a poet who teaches at NMC. And he throws a great party for book launches and other celebrations.

My favorite library is the Traverse Area District Library. It’s an amazing and beautiful library overlooking Boardman Lake, with many different offerings, such a good collection. And my husband is the President of the Board of Trustees (!).

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Fleda:  I dearly love our cottage at Central Lake, but the truth is, Traverse City is my favorite place. I adore living here. It’s kind of magical. It has everything a big city would have without being a big city. Go away, people. Don’t move here.

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

Fleda:  I think it’s great fun to sit on the end of our dock at the lake and watch the July 4th fireworks from the high school football field across the lake. We counted 52 boats in front of our cottage a couple of years ago, all there to watch the fireworks. You thought I’d say the TC Film Festival, didn’t you? Or the Cherry Festival? We’re at the lake with our families during that time and don’t get in for those.

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

Fleda:  You probably already know the ones I might name, and I fear leaving someone out. When I moved to Traverse City, I was asked immediately to be on the board of a group called “Michigan Writers.” I found out quickly what a lively and supportive climate this is for writers. I will only single out Aaron Stander, whose selfless devotion to the writing world is evident in his Interlochen Public Radio show, “Michigan Writers on the Air.” The show is one of the best I’ve ever heard. As well as being a popular mystery writer himself, Aaron’s as good an interviewer as Terry Gross. (disclaimer: I do a 10 minute review of poetry books on the show). As for other writers, I was at a packed-house poetry reading at Brilliant Books recently, looked around me at the writers and passionate readers and thought, this is a Golden Age.

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

Fleda:  We invite our east coast friends to visit and their mouths fall open in wonder. They have no idea there’s so much beauty here. I like the fact that it’s kind of a secret.

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

Fleda:  Michigander. “Gander” makes me think of geese, which makes me think of ducks. I like ducks. We have two in our front yard at the moment, and we’re in the middle of town.

Debbie:  Michigander it is!  Fleda, thank you so much for being here today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Fleda, stop by her web site and blog.  And be sure to visit her books page for more about her books, and her events page to find out when she'll be in your area.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nut-free dipped pretzels without the fuss

Occasionally on this blog, I share a recipe.  (OK, so, by occasionally, I mean "once in a blue moon."  I'll admit that cooking skills are not my strong suit!)

This recipe is not a gourmet creation, but it's an easy way to make nut-free dipped pretzels.  We've got coated-pretzel lovers in the family; but we've also got nut-allergies in the family.  And in my experience, most commercially available chocolate or candy-coated pretzels have ingredient lists that indicate the possibility of nut ingredients.  Hence the motivation to figure out how to make our own (despite my "please don't make me go into the kitchen!" tendencies).

To make the slacker version of individually dipped pretzels, you'll need about 1/2 lb. of nut-free pretzels and 1/2 lb. nut-free vanilla or chocolate candy coating.  (If you've got a big enough bowl, you can use 1 lb. each, but I go with 1/2 bags.)

Put the pretzels in a big bowl.  In a separate bowl, melt the candy coating according to package directions.  (We go with one minute in the microwave, stir, 15 seconds, stir, 15 seconds, stir, etc.)

Pour the coating over the pretzels. Stir gently but thoroughly.  I use a flexible spatula so I can scrape and scoop the bottom of the bowl as I stir.  You want the coating on the pretzels, not the bowl.

Spread the coated pretzels out on a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper.

After the coating has set for about 3 or 4 minutes (so that it's no longer shiny, but not yet entirely hard), separate the pretzels from one another.

Makes approximately ten or twelve or so snack servings.

That's it!  You're done!  Go eat them!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Beat Goes On; Or, How To Be A Meter Reader

Today I'm over on Julie Hedlund's wonderful blog "Write Up My Life," with a guest blog post about identifying troublespots in your rhyming picture book manuscript.  I had fun writing the post and have been thoroughly enjoying the comments on the post today.  I hope you'll stop by Julie's blog and check out all the great writing resources and support that her blog provides!