Monday, August 27, 2012

Michigander Monday: Ann Ingalls

I'm pleased to welcome Ann Ingalls to Michigander Monday!

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

Ann:  My ninth grade English teacher said I had absolutely no talent for writing. I'd like to catch up with her today and let her know I'll have 16 books in print next spring and over 200 poems, short stories and meditations. So there, Sr. Elaine.

It wasn't until I got to Michigan State that my confidence was restored in my ability to write. I'd like to thank whoever that professor was who said I could. If only I could remember his name....

I can hang a spoon on the end of my nose and can make a decent brownie, if I say so myself.

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

Ann:  My first book is Little Piano Girl, the childhood story of Mary Lou Williams, the First Lady of Jazz.  Houghton Mifflin published that in 2010. This past May, Pilgrim Press released Worm Watching and Other Wonderful Ways to Teach Young Children To Pray.  Next summer, Grosset and Dunlap will release Ice Cream Soup, a picture book about a crazy mess in the kitchen.

I have a wonderful agent, Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary. Having her represent my work has been a delight. She's kind and caring and has such good professional sense. Can you tell I'm a fan?

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Ann:  Right now, I am writing 13 read aloud stories for Core Knowledge. Just finished two--one on Jackie Robinson and another on Ruby Bridges. As a former elementary and special education teacher, I think of myself as a "life-long learner." I love the research it takes to put a piece together. (I taught in Lansing, Michigan).

I have eight books on manners, thank you very much, coming out this month. Child's World is the publisher for those. I had two books on Language Arts instruction come out in January (Seth and Savannah Build a Speech and Isabella and Ivan Build An Interview -- Norwood House), and have two coming out on World Traditions (Child's World). I have done a bit of writing for Capstone--Books for English Language learners.

My agent is sending around a couple of books--one on the Underground Railroad and another on Will Rogers. Cross you fingers, please.

I write lots and lots of poems. Mostly sell them to Highlights but also to other publishers. I'm always surprised and delighted when I get that contract in the mail.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Ann:  This fall I'll be speaking at the MOSCBWI's fall conference in Lindenwood, MO--near St. Louis. I'll be sharing what I know about writing nonfiction. I'll also be critiquing picture books at KSSCBWI's fall conference in October. Am looking forward to spending time with many new and established writers.

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

Ann:  My favorite library is the Dearborn Library on Michigan Avenue. My dad took me there numerous times as a child. I so loved the doll house in the Children's section. Can someone tell me if it's still there?

Bookstore? I've never met a bookstore I didn't like.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Ann:  I am wild about Traverse City--lots of trips there as a child. My grandparents are buried there.

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

Ann:  Family reunions. We have had them in South Haven (great!), Plymouth (great!), at Greenfield Village (great!), in Canton (great!). I have seven siblings, six living, and about a hundred other assorted relatives. We put the "fun" in dysfunctional.

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

Ann:  Everyone has a good story to tell.  I don't think I have a favorite.

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

Ann:  Michigan has the world's best blueberries, cherries, peaches, apples, did I say blueberries? can't beat the lakes but I'm pretty sure everyone knows about them.

Debbie:  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"?

Ann:  I have always considered myself to be a Michigander. Rather like the sound of that. Like to think tourists might like to "take a gander" at all Michigan has to offer. Am still doing that myself.

Debbie:  Another mark in the 'gander column!  Thanks, Ann, for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Michigander Monday: Amy Ackley

I'm pleased to welcome Amy Ackley to Michigander Monday

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

Amy:  I’ve lived in Michigan all my life.  I grew up on White Lake in Highland, Michigan, earned my undergraduate degree at Oakland University and my graduate degree at Central Michigan University, and have lived in Brighton with my husband and daughters for the last thirteen years.

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

Amy:  My debut young adult novel, Sign Language, was drawn from the loss of my dad to cancer when I was a teen, and is set in my hometown of Highland, Michigan.  Sign Language was published by Viking Juvenile in August 2011 after winning the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for YA Fiction.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Amy:  My second YA book, tentatively titled Never, Ever Land, is a work of contemporary fiction based on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.  I am represented by New York literary agent Jennifer DeChiara.  Publication news forthcoming!  In the meantime, I am working on two new manuscripts, both young adult fiction, and have more ideas than I have time to write!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Amy:  I list events on my website:  You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@amyackley73).

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

AmyNicola’s Books in Ann Arbor is very supportive of Michigan authors and hosts fantastic events for both well-known and debut authors from around the country.  The owner and staff are incredibly fun, knowledgeable, and helpful people, and the bookstore is so cozy and yet carries a wider variety of titles than the bigger chain stores. 

The Book Beat in Oak Park is another favorite.  The Book Beat was recently awarded the prestigious Pannell award for promoting literacy in young people, and the owners are also very supportive of Michigan authors.

As for libraries, I’d have to say that the Highland Township Library has the coolest, most welcoming staff, and they host great events for both young people and adults.
Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Amy:  The Leelanau Peninsula, hands down.  My brother owns two cottages in Glen Arbor and lets me sneak up when he has a rare vacancy.  Leelanau has everything for an outdoorsy girl like me – lots of places to hike, bike, kayak and canoe – and I believe has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world.  A couple of years ago, while hiking the South Manitou Island I climbed to the top of the perched dunes and knew it would be the perfect setting for the Peter Pan book that had been trying to form in my mind.  Suddenly everything came together – Leelanau Peninsula’s lakes, sand dunes, shipwrecks, Indian reservation - it was Neverland come to life.  I’m so excited to get Never, Ever Land into the hands of my fellow Michiganders, and hopefully get the stamp of approval.

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

Amy:  Nothing compares to autumn in Michigan.  I love the changing colors, the crisp air, picking apples and eating fresh doughnuts and cider at local orchards.  My favorite thing to do is take my kids to Crossroads Village in Genesee County where they can trick-or-treat, see a magic show, and ride the Huckleberry Ghost Train.  A rule in my house is that no one is allowed to get too old to dress up in costume for Crossroads Village.

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

Amy:  Since my book was released last summer I’ve met some fantastic authors and was surprised to find so many that live here in Michigan!  I recently participated in an author panel with three Michigan-based young adult authors that I was so glad to meet: Lara Zielin, author of Donut Days, The Implosion of Aggie Winchester, and The Waiting Sky, Tracy Bilen, author of What She Left Behind, and Beth Neff, author of Getting Somewhere.  I was thrilled to connect with others that write for young adults.

Darci Hannah, author of The Exile of Sara Stevenson and The Angel of Blythe Hall, is an amazing author of historical fiction and just the funniest, sweetest person.  She’s a great speaker and a popular book club pick and blogs on behalf of her dog, Barkley, otherwise known as The Yard Panda (

Ellen Airgood, author of South of Superior (a Michigan Notable Book) and middle grade novel Prairie Evers, runs a diner in Grand Marais with her husband and is a refreshingly down-to-earth, talented author.

I appreciate the arts in all forms.  Thanks to my daughters, when I’m not writing I am surrounded by music and dance, and I’d love to draw attention to the Michigan Dance Project, a non-profit professional contemporary dance company based in southeast Michigan.  Kathy King, founder and director of the Michigan Dance Project, is a creative, fun, and inspiring person who is passionate about strengthening the dance community throughout Michigan.  Check out their upcoming events:

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

Amy:  In Michigan, we drink “pop”, not “soda”. We buy it at a “party store”, and never throw away the “empties” – you can use the cash to fill up your tank to drive “Up North”, where most of us vacation.  If you’re going all the way to the “U.P.”, where the “Yoopers” live and you can buy “pasties”, you drive across “The Bridge”.  To travel internationally, you can take “The Lodge” to “The Tunnel”.  During construction season (otherwise known as not-winter), you may have to exit the freeway.  If you have to detour and a left turn is not permitted, don’t worry; you can take a right and then a “Michigan Left”.  If you need a visual of any of this I could show you on my hands.

Also, we love the Lions, no matter what.

Debbie:  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"?

Amy:  Michigander, though it makes us sound like a regional breed of male geese.

Debbie:  Amy, thank you for being here today for Michigander Monday!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Michigander Monday: Matthew Gavin Frank

I'm pleased to welcome Matthew Gavin Frank to Michigander Monday!

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

Matthew:  I grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois on the outskirts of Chicago.  I left home at 17, embraced a vagabond lifestyle that lent itself to restaurant work. I was a spry young man when I was flipping eggs at the Channel Bowl Cafe in Juneau, Alaska, plopping them onto plates alongside reindeer sausage.  I don’t think my aged forearms could take so much spatula-handling these days.  I was offered work through some serpentine channels picking wine grapes and mopping cantina floors in Barolo, Italy, in the Piedmont region.  I lived there for six months out of a tent, using the shower in a local farmhouse.  I was paid in food and wine.  Key West followed.  I remember this as a blur of restaurant work, booze, drugs, kayaking into mangroves, getting attacked by overprotective motherly ospreys, and meeting my wife in a Latin jazz bar at 3:00am over too many of perhaps my least favorite drink in the world—mudslides.  We then traveled to New Mexico together where I worked for a chef whose food Julia Roberts loved (she lived on a ranch on the outskirts of town).  Through him, I got hooked up designing menus for her private parties.  I dealt mostly with her “people.”  I remember that her husband was pathologically nice.  I remember her eating a lot of salad, never the dishes I came up with.  After that, I shoehorned grad. school at Arizona State University into the mix, then returned to Chicago for a year to help my family through my mother’s battle with cancer.  It was toward the tail-end of her battle (which she won) that my wife and I lit out for a medical marijuana farm in Northern California, believing that it would help us to regain our sanctuary and identity as “married couple in love.”  I’m not sure what we were thinking. I’m now teaching at Northern Michigan University, and editing for the literary journal, Passages North.  I’m still struggling to turn smoked whitefish into a palatable ice cream.

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

Matthew:  Many of these misadventures have served as fodder for my writing.   I’ve written two books of nonfiction—Pot Farm (a behind-the-scenes exposé about the goings-on on the medical marijuana farm) and Barolol (about my work in the Italian Piemontese food and wine industry)—and three book of poetry—Saggitarius AgitpropWarranty in Zulu, and The Morrow Plots, the latter of which is forthcoming. When I lived in Upstate New York—way up on the Canadian border—during the badass winter, I became obsessed with The Morrow Plots, an experimental cornfield on the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign campus that, upon researching old newspaper articles, I found were often the site for violent crime, or a dumping ground for bodies.  It’s now a National Historical Landmark.  So dealing with that discrepancy, consumed me for a while.  This is a great, if nauseating, way to sink into the comfort of the winter blues.  But I was so glad to reemerge after that one.  See some light after all the murder. I had to temper a lot of the darkness by reading Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s sumptuous At the Drive-In Volcano that winter.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Matthew:  Yes. It’s a book-length single lyric essay dealing with Newfoundland Reverend Moses Harvey, the guy who secured and photographed, for the first time, an intact specimen of the giant squid, forever altering the ways in which we engage the construct of the sea monster.  When I saw the photograph in the Smithsonian, captioned with like two or three lines of inadequate explanation, I began my obsession with Harvey, and his own fevered obsession with the then-mythological giant squid. When Harvey, in 1874, took that first-ever photograph of the giant squid, he rescued the beast from mythology and proved its existence.  To take the photo, Harvey transported the squid from one bay to another, and then finally to his home where he proceeded to drape it over his bathtub's curtain rack so its full size could be displayed.  No one has yet traced the logistics of his undertaking and connected said logistics to the peculiarities of Harvey’s personal life.  To flesh out the story behind the photograph, I’m researching the various aspects of 19th century Newfoundland that influenced Harvey and his journey from bay to bathtub and beyond.  Such aspects include, but are not limited to, the period fishing equipment, politics, religious practices, and Harvey family history that informed and contextualized Moses Harvey's obsessions.  I’m coupling such research with lyrical meditations on the nature(s) of mythology, and some personal narrative (including aspects of the life of my grandfather, a big Dixieland jazz band saxophonist who wrote a single song called “Squid Jump,” attempting, and failing, to start a new dance craze) with the aim to uncover, through inquisition and analysis, a larger statement about our human need to mythologize.  I got out to Newfoundland this summer to poke around—walked the walk Harvey walked from his Devon Row home in St. John’s, the three miles to Logy Bay where he found that squid entangled in herring nets, surrounded by fishermen in orange slickers.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Matthew:  In Chicago, I’ll be reading at Quimby’s Bookstore September 7th at 7pm, and at The Book Cellar September 22 at 7pm.  In Evanston, IL, I’ll be reading at the Evanston Public Library Sept. 23 at 1:30pm.  I’ve done a bunch of Pot Farm readings in Michigan already, and will read in Michigan again come January 2013 and beyond, once The Morrow Plots comes out.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Matthew:  It used to be Literary Life Bookstore in Grand Rapids, but they’ve sadly just closed their doors.  So now I’ll say Snowbound Books in Marquette, Michigan.  It’s tiny and serpentine.  A great combo.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Matthew:  There’s this bench where the woods meet the Lake Superior beach in Marquette (just off the Lakeshore bike trail across the street from this restaurant called Coco’s, which has good pie).  I sit there and read, and critique student poems and essays, and watch the lake.  I love this spot.  I know I’ve just given fairly specific directions, but don’t take my bench.

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

Matthew:  In Grand Rapids, I really enjoy Art Prize.   It’s very populist—sort of a fusion of citywide art exhibition with an American Idol style of judging and critical sensibility—which means it’s this odd fusion of wonderful and horrible, which lends the event a real energy.  People who typically don’t give a shit about art fill the streets in droves.  And, of course, there’s the Humungous Fungus Fest in Crystal Falls in the U.P., a celebration of the world’s largest mushroom.  The fest culminates with the communal feasting on the Humungous Pizza—topped with mushrooms, of course, and 10 feet by 10 feet.  It takes six grown men to carry it.

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

Matthew:  Okay.  Writers.  I’ll mention some younger or lesser-known ones (compared to say, Bonnie Jo Campbell) who are putting out fabulous stuff.  (I apologize in advance for the Oscar speechiness of this list, but I don’t want to leave anyone out!)

In Kalamazoo: Doug Jones, Elizabyth Hiscox, Traci Brimhall, Brandon Davis Jennings.  In Grand Rapids: Todd Kaneko, Caitlin Horrocks, Linda Nemec Foster, L.S. Klatt, Emma Ramey.  In Marquette: Jennifer Howard, Austin Hummell, Beverly Matherne, Alex Gubbins, John Gubbins, Josh MacIvor-Andersen, Matt Bell, Marty Achatz, Richard Hackler, Molly Anderson, Laura Mead, Justin Daugherty.  Elsewhere in the state: Darrin Doyle, Adam Schuitema, Saleem Peeradina, Vievee Francis, Laura Kasischke, Robert Fanning, and many, many others...

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

Matthew:  In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, from 1843 through the 1920’s, pure native copper just about leaked from the earth, exploded from it, and towns were established and boomed, and folks ate food and drank liquor and men spread their legs and women spread their legs and with food and liquor and spread legs made descendants who can visit these towns in the name of communion and reunion and union and none, and we call these gatherings heartfelt and we call these gatherings historical, and we use words like ancestry and inheritance and we stand on the rock piles and bluffs and tailings of Central Mine and Gay and Mandan and Cliff and Delaware and Phoenix and we eat pasties not because we need to, but because they are some sort of souvenir, some kind of shaft that leads, definitively down, toward something like heritage or lake-bed, something makeshift, but geologic and collapsible, and we pretend that these towns are not popularly preceded by the word ghost.

Debbie:  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"?

Matthew:  I’m a Michigander.  My wife’s a Michigoose.  Together, we honk like the dickens.

Debbie:  We'll add you both to the tally!  Matthew, thank you for being here today for Michigander Monday!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Poetry Friday: Mooncap

Though I didn't set out to do so, this is my second week in a row of moon poems, and both have been in a 3/5/3 format, so I guess I'm on a moon lune kick.  This one is about a daytime moon, which makes it a noon moon lune.  If you hum while you read it, you'll have a noon moon lune tune.  And if all that humming combined with all this pointless rhyming makes you dizzy, that's a noon moon lune tune swoon.

Without further oon...


Midday moon
afloat in the blue:
wisp of night.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The House of Gort

I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch a short documentary film about my friends Gina and Tim Gort and their kids Gwen, Violet, and Eliza.  In the course of the film's 16 minutes, you'll have moments of smiling and moments of crying; but what will endure is the quiet inspiration of two ordinary parents facing extraordinary circumstances and carrying forward with heart and head, with creativity and commitment, and with unwavering devotion to their kids.

The doors are open over at the House of Gort.  Please stop by for a visit.

Friday, August 3, 2012