Monday, December 30, 2013

Michigander Monday: Jo Dereske

It's a joy and an honor to have Jo Dereske here today for Michigander Monday.  My love of Jo's books goes back to 1994.  My copy of Miss Zukas and the Library Murders, purchased nearly twenty years ago at a book signing just weeks before I started library school, is inscribed, "For Debbie - Soon-to-be fellow librarian.  Best of luck and have fun!"  Little did I know then that I'd some day be not only a fellow librarian but also a fellow author; and little did I know then how much I'd absolutely adore Miss Zukas and her adventures (twelve in all), as well as all of Jo Dereske's writing.  What a thrill to have Jo Dereske here today for Michigander Monday!

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

Jo:  I grew up east of Ludington, MI, with a strong Lithuanian influence from my father’s side of the family. The potato dish, Kugelis is still my favorite food. After I received my MLS from WMU, I headed for the Pacific Northwest, where I still live, although I can’t help it: I continue to think of Michigan as “home.”

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

Jo:  When I left Michigan, I had every intention of writing  exciting books about the bigger, wider world, not my wee corner of Michigan, but I must be haunted: nearly everything I write either is rooted or set in the same rural area where I grew up. The main characters in the Miss Zukas mystery series (12 books) are from Michigan. The Ruby Crane mysteries (3 books) are about a woman who returns to her rural Michigan home with her brain-injured daughter. There are also three young peoples’ books and a raft of short stories that have been anthologized and collected.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Jo:  I’m currently finishing up a kind of memoir about a year spent where else: in Michigan, taking care of an aunt and uncle who both had dementia. The year follows the seasons on their farm and chronicles the indomitability of love. It’s been a labor of love, a project I work on, put away, then pull out to work on again.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jo:  I frequently speak at libraries and schools, and  I just did a radio interview for KMRE FM that can be heard as a podcast at

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

Jo:  The only bookstore in our area that I knew as a child is long gone, but I fondly recall scavenging through auctions and second hand stores for books – what a treasure hunt!  I still have some of them.

The Mason County Library System was a magical second home for me. The librarians let me range across the collection, never telling me books were too old or not suitable. I was in heaven. Everyone in my family was a voracious reader. The bookmobile stopped in our driveway during the summers.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jo:  That’s a hard one! The Lake Michigan dunes between Ludington and Manistee, anywhere along the Lake’s west coast, Frankfort, the bluffs. I spent a lot of time in and on the Pere Marquette River and when I think of “rivers,” that’s the river I envision.

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

Jo:  This has to be morel mushroom hunting after a warm “mushroom rain” in the spring. All that skulking around in the woods, people parking far from their favorite spots hoping no one can follow them, the smell of the earth with all its new growth,  and oh my, the glorious taste of morels sautéed in butter!

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

Jo:  I feel a zing of kinship when I hear about other writers from Michigan. Jim Harrison has always been a favorite. I’m from rural Michigan and the area is rich in interesting people. My brother Ray is a born storyteller and has introduced me to people who will never be famous but whose lives of bravery, trial and triumphs make me as a writer reach for my pencil in awe and celebration.

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

Jo:  Come visit. Michigan has to be the most varied state in the country. Just to think of Detroit and Copper Harbor being in the same state is mind-boggling. Most people can’t imagine the size of the great lakes (“You have LIGHTHOUSES?”)

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, which is the better term: Michigander or Michiganian?

Jo:  Michigander is what I prefer, although I did recently have a woman tell me she was a “Michigoose.”

Debbie:  Jo, we'll add you to the "Michigander, occasional Michigoose" column.  Thank you so much for being here today for Michigander Monday!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Michigander Monday: Sherri Winston

I'm pleased to welcome Sherri Winston to Michigander Monday!

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

Sherri:  Hi, I have two teen daughters, multiple cats, two turtles and share custody with my sister’s little dog. I love to bake cupcakes and hope to one day create, illustrate and write my own graphic novel.

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

Sherri:  With Little, Brown, I’ve published The Kayla Chronicles and President of the Whole Fifth Grade. The Kayla Chronicles takes place in Florida and follows the story of Mikayala Alicia Dean (MAD), also known as Kayla, as she goes from shy-girl-in-the-corner to a high-stepping, high-kicking kick-butt dancer on her school’s nationally ranked dance team. President of the Whole Fifth Grade takes place in a fictitious Detroit suburb, Orchard Park. It’s imagined based on Redford Township, which I know well. In President, Brianna Justice wants to be President because she sees it as a stepping stone to becoming a millionaire cupcake maker and TV show star. The book was almost as fun to write as the recipes were to test and eat.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Sherri:  I have just received the go-ahead to write President of the Whole Sixth Grade. I’m very excited.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Sherri:  Nothing’s scheduled yet, but I’m going to work on it for the New Year.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

Sherri:  I grew up in Muskegon, Mich., and one of my favorite childhood pastimes was going to the Hackley Library in downtown Muskegon. Also, in 2012 I had the pleasure of visiting a beautiful library in Whitehall with a running trail around it and a fireplace inside. Lovely!

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Sherri:  That’s hard to say, but if I could only pick one place in all of Michigan, it would have to be the campus at Michigan State University! Go Green! Go White!

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

Sherri:  Since I live in Florida now, land of perpetual summer, I love coming home in the fall to photograph the leaves and/or winter to get gorgeous shots of the snow.

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

Sherri:  Author Margaret Wiley was instrumental in bringing me to Michigan last year. Because of her I had a chance to really visit and have an impact on a number of Elementary schools. She is an outstanding person and I am so happy to have gotten to know her.

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

Sherri:  Michigan is filled with tough, smart, creative folks. My father’s family migrated from Mississippi, but to hear my Uncle Mac talk about the virtues of Michigan, you’d surely think he was a native. Non-Michiganders may not understand our deep connection to our state, but those of us blessed to call it home -- be it in residence or in our hearts -- cannot deny the positive impact of growing up Michigan. I love it!

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, which is the better term: Michigander or Michiganian?

Sherri:  I am, without question, a Michigander.

Debbie:  Sherri, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Such a pleasure to have you here today for Michigander Monday.  Thank you!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Michigander Monday: Patricia Clark

I'm pleased to welcome Patricia Clark to Michigander Monday!

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

Patricia:  I've been in Michigan nearly 25 years -- but my roots are in Washington State where I grew up. How did I come to be here? Well, it's all about finding a job when you're a creative writer. I'd left home to go to University of Montana to get an MFA in poetry; and then left for Houston, Texas to get a Ph.D. at the University of Houston. Somehow after that I found myself in Tennessee. But I went on the job market, applied for a job in Western Michigan -- at Grand Valley State University -- and that's where I've ended up. What an adventure! And Michigan is about as watery a state as Washington is, so I feel as though I fit in. Just no saltwater and no mountains.

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

Patricia:  I've now published four books of poetry, most recently Sunday Rising, which just came out this year. It was published by Michigan State University Press. I feel lucky to have found such a good publisher who really cares about attractive books. Sunday Rising describes my own spiritual journey of the last few years but I call it spiritual with an attitude. I mean to include a little bit of "uprising" in the "rising" part of the title. It's not easy to come into your own and describe your own beliefs. I feel as though I've struggled to do that here.

Plus these are personal poems. Here's what I told the publisher:

"The center that holds here—and it is consistent from the first poem to the last—is Patricia Clark’s intimate relationship with the physical world and her beliefs about what that world can hold for us: what it teaches, consoles, speaks of, and resonates toward. No footsteps are left here to follow in; instead, there is a suggestion of spiritual practice in seeing as well as in taking note. 'Left what we felt / at what we saw' is a line from Wallace Stevens’ poem 'A Postcard from the Volcano.' The poems of Sunday Rising are such 'leavings': wrought, careful, and mined for their resonance, whether jewels or ore, art or something to throw away. There is a sifting, separating the valuable from the dross; the significant moment. Where will the eye land? One joins the writer in her journeys where spiritual exuberance along with suffering becomes a transformative way of shaping and remembering the experience of living in the world."

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Patricia:  Oh sure, (laughter) there is always another book or project on the horizon. I'm working on a fifth book of poetry -- I don't have a title yet or a theme. Stay tuned! It'll be interesting.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Patricia:  Yes, I've been giving some readings in connection with a new poetry anthology, Poetry in Michigan in Poetry. It's a beautiful book and an excellent one at capturing some words celebrating Michigan; also good at capturing visual art. I'll be reading in in East Grand Rapids on Dec 11.  [For event details, contact Patricia.]

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

Patricia:  My fav Michigan bookstore is Schuler Books in Grand Rapids -- both locations are great: 28th Street and also Alpine Avenue. It's a great place for books, music, lunch, and readings. My favorite library is our new campus library at GVSU, the Mary Idema Pew Learning Commons. It's gorgeous! There's a huge fireplace upstairs. I believe there are 28 different kinds of seating for library patrons.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Patricia:  How can I choose 1 favorite place in Michigan? Well, I really love Grand Marais up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That's a pretty cool, secluded place to go. I also love Traverse City and Suttons Bay.

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

Patricia:  A Michigan event to attend? I love GVSU's Poetry Night which takes place every October, 1 night, and usually features two poets. This year we featured Pattiann Rogers and Li-Young Lee. Again, people could email me: next year it will be Thurs night October 16th. We'll have two wonderful poets and it's a free event with a wonderful reception following the readings.

I also love the Kerrytown Book Festival in Ann Arbor, September each year. That's always fun.

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

Patricia:  I think immediately of Michigan painters like Stephen Duren, sculptor Elona Van Gent, or Norwood Viviano. Then writers like Caitlin Horrocks, doing fiction, and teaching for us at GVSU. And musicians like Arthur Campbell who plays a wicked clarinet, his wife Helen Marlais who is a great pianist and also a great teacher of piano teachers. The arts keep us alive, vibrant, and challenged!

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

Patricia:  We're not just a Midwest state to fly over. C'mon people! The Great Lakes are huge freshwater seas. Come see them! We have beautiful sandy beaches and culture too.

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

Patricia:  I vote for Michigander. I really don't know which is correct, or if there is a correct name, but I like the tang of the "gander" part of the word. Lighten up, folks, maybe we can fly a little like the Canada geese who honk by overhead.

Debbie:  Michigander it is!  We'll add you to the tally.  Patricia, thank you so much for being here today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Michigander Monday: Keith Taylor

I'm pleased to welcome Keith Taylor to Michigander Monday!

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

Keith:  Almost forty years ago, I was a young Canadian who had spent most of three years in France and planned to live the rest of my life in that country. When that life plan fell apart, I applied for a graduate school in creative writing and went to the program that gave me the most money. That was Central Michigan University; they had me teach two sections of freshman comp a term and paid me $3000 a year plus tuition. I figured I could live on that, and I did. Since then Michigan has been very good to me. I followed a woman to Ann Arbor in the late 70s, and worked as a bookseller here for most of twenty years. Along the way, I continued to publish in the small presses, and won a few awards. After I was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1991, the University of Michigan asked me to teach a class. I did and apparently didn't do a horrible job, so they asked me again. And again. Fourteen years ago I quit selling books. Now I am the A.L.Becker Collegiate Lecturer in English, the Director of the Bear River Writers' Conference (the summer conference associated with UM), and Associate Editor for Michigan Quarterly Review. This state has been very good to me.

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

Keith:  If I can count chapbooks and co-edited or co-translated volumes (and I do!), I have published fourteen books since 1985. Of those, eight of them have been published by small or university presses in Michigan. Of the 20,000 or so books of mine in print (and this is mostly poetry, remember), I figure that something close to 75% of them must have been sold within the state. Although I didn't set out to become a regional writer, that is indeed what has happened. Although I hope for a larger audience, I am very proud and happy that I've earned the attention of the Michigan audience that I do have. Wayne State University Press published my last full length collection of poems, If the World Becomes So Bright, in 2009. They also did an anthology of contemporary Michigan ghost stories, Ghost Writers, I co-edited with my friend Laura Kasischke in 2011. I have published two chapbooks in the last couple of years -- Marginalia for a Natural History and The Ancient Murrelet.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Keith:  I feel very fortunate that the work keeps presenting itself to me. I am working on several things right now. A new chapbook consisting of travel poems that combine prose and verse is beginning to take shape in my mind. I'm beginning to imagine the next full length collection of poems growing out of these last few chapbooks -- a collection that would center around the necessities and weirdnesses of finding a home (and mine is, of course, here). I've also, just this week, started a new thing -- I've decided to send out a new short poem on Twitter at least once every other day (@keithtaylora2). We'll see how long that lasts, but wouldn't it be cool if I can keep it up for a while!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Keith:  I still have some appearances to help sell the lovely new anthology, Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry, edited by William Olsen and Jack Ridl, published by New Issues Press over in Kalamazoo. I'll have the Bear River Conference up at Walloon Lake at the end of May. And there are certainly several other appearances around the state before then. You could check my web site ( for a list of events that gets updated fairly regularly. In 2013 I have done 57 appearances, all but 4 or 5 of them in Michigan; that is almost certainly too many!

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

Keith:  I am indeed fortunate to live in Ann Arbor, a town with good bookstores and fantastic libraries. Of course we all worried when, in a very short period of time, Borders collapsed under its own corporate weight, and the legendary Shaman Drum Bookshop closed for several reasons. I had worked for both of those places, and I still miss them. But Nicola's Bookshop picked up the slack and did a very good job keeping Ann Arbor involved in the swirl of new books. And now a small, beautiful, boutique-y bookshop, Literati, has opened downtown. The young people who own it are working very hard to find and keep up with the right books for their audience. I have great hopes for them. Of course, the Ann Arbor District Library is one of the best public libraries in the country; it would have to be, given the demands of Ann Arbor's over-educated public. And my office is exactly a four minute walk from Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, one of the four or five best libraries on the planet! And with my faculty card I have full access to their services. And now, with my named lectureship, I believe I will have that access for as long as I live! How could a bookish writer ask for more?

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Keith:  Oh, favorite places in Michigan! I have a hundred. Not least of which is my own backyard. For many summers I have taught at UM's Biological Station up on Douglas Lake outside Pellston. That is certainly near the top. The Kingston Plains, the windswept beautifully bleak, ghost forest behind Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. "Disney Land in Hamtramck," folk art hidden in an alley and hard to find. Isle Royale National Park, where I was Artist in Residence in 1991, and where I've returned only once. Thomas Lynch's secret house on a big lake in the north. The Detroit Institute of Arts. Sturgeon Bay and Wagoschaunce Point in Wilderness State Park. Little Cedar Lake Bog and surrounding trails in western Washtenaw County.

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

Keith:  I've gotten to enjoy the Bliss Music Festival a lot, although sometimes I just can't take the crowd. I'm afraid I lost my enjoyment in the Ann Arbor Art Fairs a few decades ago. We've tried several ways to get a book festival going in Ann Arbor, and now the Kerrytown Book Festival in September is going well, and generates excitement and a good crowd. I have hopes they'll keep that going. Some younger writers here in Ann Arbor have tried to start a State of the Book conference about Michigan publishing and writing. We had the second one this last September. It is not yet well attended, but I have hopes that it'll be able to garner a larger, genuinely state-wide audience.

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

Keith:  Oh, Michigan people! Wow. There are thousands of them. Thomas Lynch, undertaker and poet, again and again. Do you know Jerry Dennis, one of our best nature writers, from Traverse City? Terry Blackhawk, who does the essential work down in Detroit? Jamaal May, also from Detroit, one of the best young poets in the country? Alison and David Swan-- she's a wonderful writer, and they have both been fighting the long fight to save the Saugatuck Dunes area, for which they were once named "Michigan Environmentalists of the Year." Do you know of Rolf Peterson, who ran the wolf/moose study on Isle Royale until his recent retirement? Sue William Silverman and Marc Sheehan -- one of the powerhouse literary couples in the state, although not enough people know about them? William Olsen and Nancy Eimers, another power house literary couple? The great Jack Ridl, retired from Hope College, one of the best writing teachers in the world. My colleagues here at UM -- Laura Kasischke, Linda Gregerson, Van Jordan, Khaled Mattawa, Lorna Goodison, Thylias Moss, Nicholas Delbanco, Eileen Pollack, Michael Byers, Peter Ho Davies, Doug Trevor? Yeah, most of them came to Michigan for good jobs, but many of them will stay and become part of the fabric of the literary life in the state. Ray McDaniel, of the exquisite mind. Tom Fricke, chair of the Department of Anthropology at UM. The soft spoken, reserved, exquisite Eric Torgersen of Mount Pleasant. Robert Fanning now has Eric's old job; how lucky they were to find Robert! Detroit's irrepressible M.L.Liebler!  My friend Russ Fimbinger, retired principal from Harrison, and writer for the Hook and Bullet press, one of the finer people I know. Young writers just beginning to publish -- Ann Marie Thornburg, Airea "Dee" Mathews, Elizabeth Schmuhl, Russell Brakefield, Bruce Lack, francine j harris,  etc., etc. I've just been getting to know some really interesting writers who teach at Grand Valley State University. A host of writers in the Upper Peninsula -- Matt Bell, Matt Siegel, Janine Rastell, Julie Brooks Barbour, and others -- who are publishing well, setting up presses, keeping the fires burning. Steve Gillis and Dan Wickett who started Dzanc Books a few years back and have helped shape it into a significant force in American writing.  Oh, see, this is where I live! I love many many people. Someone might be offended that I didn't mention them.

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

Keith:  I wish people would know and understand us by the contrasts of the state. Yes, we have Detroit, the city that led the world into post-industrial decline and now appears to be re-emerging on the other side as a very interesting place. But just 5 hours north, we are on the very edge of the great Northern wilderness, the sub-arctic forest that stretches all the way to the tundra. To the North Pole! I don't think there is another place on the earth that has such dramatic and important contrasts in so small a space.

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

Keith:  I'm a Michigander. But it might be better to say, I'm part of a tiny subset -- Canadian Michiganders. We are indeed a special category.

Debbie:  Canadian Michigander it is!  We'll start a new column.  Keith, thank you so very much for joining us today for Canadian Michigander Monday!  It's been an honor and a pleasure.  Thank you!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Midland author event

I was born and grew up in Midland, MI.  Recently, I was invited to be one of the authors on hand for a local author event at the Midland Barnes & Noble back in October.

After the event, I meant to do a rundown of the array of authors who were there, but I don't think I ever did.  It was wide selection of writers -- some relatively new to writing; some who've been at it a long time; some self-published; some mainstream-published; pretty much every genre represented; a little bit of everything.

Anyway, in the spirit of better-late-than-never, here's a belated rundown of the writers who were there:

Bernie Rabine
Maril Ozanne Garrison
Ruth Gonyaw
Joaquin Guerrero
Barbara Hagler
Charlene Hock
Cooper Kellogg
Bill LaClair
Elizabeth Meyette
Jae W. Oh
Mark Oliver
Cassandra J. Sperry
Jack R. Westbrook

(I think I've included everyone who was there in this list, but if I've overlooked anyone, let me know.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Michigander Monday: Matthew Thorburn

I'm pleased to welcome Matthew Thorburn to Michigander Monday!

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

Matthew:  I’m a misplaced Michigander. I grew up in the Lansing area, when to college in Ann Arbor, worked in Detroit for a few years, then moved to New York for grad school. I thought that would be a good way to try out the city and see if I liked it. I did—and still do. I’ve lived here almost 15 years now. But of course I keep going back to Michigan to see my parents, family, old friends. And even now, if someone asks me where I’m from, the answer is Michigan. (Of course hardly anyone I know in New York is actually from New York….)

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

Matthew:  I’m the author of three books of poems. My most recent book is This Time Tomorrow, published in Spring 2013 by the Waywiser Press both here in the U.S. and in the U.K.

This Time Tomorrow is a collection of poems about traveling and finding your way in other cultures and landscapes. All of the poems take place in Japan, Iceland and China, countries my wife and I were fortunate to visit some years ago. The book is built around “Disappears in the Rain,” a long poem written loosely in the shape of a renga, that describes a journey around Japan. That’s preceded by a sequence of poems set in Iceland, and followed by a group of poems that move between China, Japan, and home again (New York, New Jersey and very briefly Michigan).

As I noted a while back on The Best American Poetry Blog, I wrote about being in China, Japan and Iceland to create “verbal devices” (as Philip Larkin once described his poems) to enable me to go back to these places, if only for a few moments, and only in my imagination. It’s my hope that interested readers may want to do the same. The experience of writing these poems was one of remembering, but also re-imagining, what it was like to be there—and so the poems are a mix of memory and imagination. You can read a couple of poems from the book in the excellent literary journals Linebreak and Memorious.

My previous books, also poetry collections, are Every Possible Blue, published by CW Books in 2012, and Subject to Change, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose (a.k.a. Western Michigan University Press) in 2004.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Matthew:  I’ve been working on two new poetry book manuscripts for the past couple of years, which are slowly taking shape. One is a collection of poems that I’m discovering revolves around thoughts on spirituality—losing faith, and in some ways finding it again—and death. As a poet, it can be very interesting to write a few dozen poems over several years without some larger project in mind, and then lay out all the poems on the table and see how they might fit together as a book. As the shape of the manuscript emerges you may suddenly realize, Ah, so these are the things I’ve been mulling over all this time!

My other project is a book-length poem that takes place over the course of a year, from one spring to the next. Part travelogue, part book of days, part meditative prayer, it has to do with a couple’s struggle to “deal with” a miscarriage: how do we grieve for someone we never knew, exactly, someone we loved but never met? The poem is about 60 pages in manuscript, and probably the closest I’ll ever come to writing a novel.

As I answer this question, it occurs to me these both sound like pretty depressing books! But both end in a kind of hope, in a renewed, older-but-wiser sense of promise and possibility… or will when I’ve finished them. And this second project has a happy sequel that takes place off the page: I actually haven’t been doing much writing just lately, being happily busy taking care of my son, who was born this summer.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Matthew:  I did a number of readings when This Time Tomorrow was published, including at the AWP Conference in Boston, at McNally Jackson Books in New York, at the wonderful Art House in New Jersey, and of course back home in Michigan – at the Delta Township District Library in Lansing and at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.

I’ve been lying low this summer and fall, busy being a dad, but plan to do more readings in 2014. I’d love to read in Massachusetts again, and maybe read in Washington, D.C., and am working on putting some plans together. I’m also always up for class visits, either in person or via skype, if there are teachers out there who would be interested.

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

Matthew:  Some of my favorite Michigan bookstores are just memories now. As a high-schooler I loved going to Jocundry’s in East Lansing. I bought my copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Howl there – a pivotal experience for the young poet I was in the early 1990s. That store seemed a world away from the mall’s Waldenbooks, or any other bookstore I’d experienced.

And as a college student I loved Shaman Drum in Ann Arbor. I bought a lot of books there, browsed through many more, and attended lots of readings. It’s where I bought my first copy of The American Poetry Review – with Charles Simic on the cover – and first discovered the world of literary magazines. And when Subject to Change was published in 2004, it was a wonderful treat for me to come back to Ann Arbor and give a reading there (introduced by Ray McDaniel!) to a store packed with old friends.

This is not to say that all good bookstores are in the past, though – no way. When I’m home for a visit, I always like going to Schuler Books. It’s easy to lose a few hours there. And I had a great time reading at Nicola’s, and just wished I had longer to browse their shelves.

My favorite Michigan library is the new-ish Delta Township District Library. It’s beautiful – what a wonderful space in which to read and think. I loved learning that they intentionally built it larger than their collection of books – meaning at first the shelves might have looked a little bare – so that they’d have room to grow. As I mentioned, I was thrilled to give a reading there for National Poetry Month in 2013, and share poems from This Time Tomorrow with a great local audience (including lots of family and old friends).

I wish this library had been around when I was a kid! The library I used to hang out in back then, which I believe had previously been a school, is now the Delta Township Enrichment Center. I had a chance to go back there recently and felt a strong sense of déjà vu. It looks very different, but is still a patch of hallowed ground for this writer-reader.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Matthew:  There are lots. But one area I love is up around Crystal Lake, and the villages of Beulah, and Frankfurt, and Leeland—that whole area is gorgeous in the summer, and filled with good memories for me. We used to rent a cottage on the lake there when I was a kid, and I had the chance to take my wife up there for a few days not long after we were married—a sort of second honeymoon. The one-two punch of the Cherry Hut restaurant and the Cherry Bowl Drive-in is hard to beat!

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

Matthew:  The thing I think of immediately is the Ann Arbor Art Fair, though I haven’t been there in quite a few years. My college orientation at U-M took place during the Art Fair, which made my first real taste of Ann Arbor that much more surprising and overwhelming.

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

Matthew:  I was happy to learn recently, when my dad sent me a clipping from the State Journal, that Wally Pleasant is still writing songs and playing shows now and then.  In high school, my friends and I used to go see him play in East Lansing—and he actually performed at one friend’s graduation open house, out on the back deck. 

This is also the perfect place to mention a wonderful anthology called Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry, edited by Jack Ridl and William Olsen, and published in Fall 2013 by New Issues. It brings together poems by dozens of wonderful poets, as well as beautiful reproductions of visual works by Michigan artists. It’s a gorgeous and hefty volume—and the perfect introduction to many poets who live in or are from Michigan. I’m proud to appear in this book alongside so many poets I admire, like Keith Taylor, Diane Wakoski, Richard Tillinghast, Jim Daniels, Mary Ann Samyn, and the late Herb Scott (who founded New Issues and published my first book) – to name just a few Michigan poets readers should know about.

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

Matthew:  Well, if you’re a writer looking to attend an MFA program, you need to know about the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. If I wasn’t from Michigan, and hadn’t gone to U-M as an undergrad, and hadn’t felt the need to try finding my way in a new city—well, all those Ifs aside I would have applied to the U-M MFA program in a heartbeat. Amazing faculty, incredible funding, a beautiful campus in Ann Arbor, hanging out in the Hopwood Room—really it’s just about perfect.

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

Matthew:  I’m with you: “Michiganders” is what we are. What a wonderful word! I wrote a poem about looking back and feeling nostalgia for earlier days in my home state. It’s in my book Every Possible Blue and is called – what else? – “When We were Michiganders.”

Debbie:  Once a Michigander, always a Michigander!  Matthew, thank you so very much for joining us today!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pout-Pout Pumpkin!

Olivia in Texas recently made this fabulous Pout-Pout pumpkin for a class contest:

 Here's Olivia with her pumpkin.

Thank you, Olivia, for making my day with your photos, and for making your marvelously pouty creation.  I hope you and your classmates will keep on exploring and experiencing the joy and fun of books and reading, every day!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Just Launched" entry over at CLN

The Children's Literature Network has a great feature called "Just Launched," which profiles new children's books by CLN members.

I had the privilege of writing a piece for Just Launched, about my and Dan Santat's Picture Day Perfection.  Follow the link to read it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mortimer Minute

I was recently tagged by the fabulous Buffy Silverman for a Mortimer Minute post.  After hitting the bunny snooze alarm a few times, here goes with my (overdue) Mortimer Minute!

Mortimer:  Are you aware that this post is two weeks overdue?

Debbie:  Does that count as my first question?

Mortimer:  Do you always answer questions with questions?  (sigh) (hop)  To answer your question, No.  Now please leave the questions to me.  And your first question is....  Are you a poet?

Debbie:  I think of myself as someone who is interested in poetry, and someone who enjoys poetry, and someone who likes to write stories in rhyme, but "poet" is still something I aspire to rather than embody.  Being a poet is, I believe, not so much a condition as a work in progress.  So I figure I'm a very early draft of a poet.  Maybe someday.

Mortimer:  A poem you wish you'd written?

Debbie:  Probably if you asked this question of me a thousand times, you'd get a thousand different answers.  But today I'll pick something from the category of short, fun, funny, and memorable, and go with Richard Armour's poem about ketchup:  Shake and shake / the catsup bottle / first none'll come / and then a lot'll.  (Note:  The poem has several slight variations ((and I personally prefer the rhythm of "first a little" which is often substituted in line three)), and it is frequently attributed to Ogden Nash; but I believe Richard Armour is the original author of it?  If you know otherwise, let me know.)

Mortimer:  Favorite resource for writing in rhyme?

Debbie:  Sue Young's The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary.

Mortimer:  Anything else you'd like us to know?

Debbie:  Isn't that your fifth question?

Mortimer:  Do you really think bunnies know how to count?

Debbie:  Do I really think bunnies know how to talk?

Mortimer:  I think what you meant to say was, "Thanks for the interview, Mortimer."

Debbie:  Thanks for the interview, Mortimer!

Mortimer:  You're welcome.  Now go work on that poet draft of yours.

Debbie:  Will do.  (Hops away to resume reading Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled.)  Bye Mortimer!  Catch you around!

hop, hop, hop

Monday, October 28, 2013

Michigander Monday

Don't worry - the Michigander Monday feature hasn't ended!  It's just been a fairly busy fall for me, so I haven't been keeping up with weekly interviews.  The feature will resume soon.

In the meantime, I've drawn a winner in the Jean Alicia Elster book giveaway, and the winner is...  Angie Karcher!  Angie, I'll be in touch about getting the book to you.  Thanks to all who entered!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bunny Snooze Button

Many of you have been following the Mortimer Minute blog hop.  I'm participating, but didn't quite get my entry ready for today.  So I'm hitting the snooze button -- look for my entry next Friday.

In the meantime, here are links to two of the recent Mortimer Minute entries, by two of my favorite poets:

Buffy Silverman

Renée LaTulippe

Oh, and another snooze button I inadvertently hit:  I haven't drawn the winner in the recent book giveaway for Jean Alicia Elster's book The Colored Car.  I'll be drawing and announcing that winner on Monday, so if you're interested in entering and haven't yet, see the original post and sign up before Monday 10/21/13.  Thanks!

Hoppy Friday!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Michigander Monday: Skaidrite Sparks

I'm pleased to welcome Skaidrite Sparks to Michigander Monday.

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

Rita:  I was actually born in two countries separated by the Atlantic Ocean.  My mother originally gave birth to me in Latvia which is located on the Baltic Sea across from Sweden.  Latvia's landscape is very much like Michigan with colorful changing seasons and a water wonderland with many rivers and lakes, dunes, orchards, blooming meadows, forests, farmland, and cities where educational and cultural institutions flourish.  Exactly on my twentieth birthday I was re-born in Michigan as an American citizen and was renamed "Rita" which is easier to pronounce and by which I am better known in my professional life. Because I witnessed so much violence, genocide, and discrimination during WWII, it became my quest to try to make the world a better place.  Education, children's welfare, and human rights have featured prominently in my professional and volunteer work.  In 2006 I was honored as Lutheran Woman of the Year for my work in support of disadvantaged children. My multicultural experiences provided me with multifaceted career experiences as a librarian, university professor, human resource professional and medical practice manager.  I also spent several years as a Cub Scout Den Mother when my three sons were in scouting. I enjoy travel and learning about different peoples and customs in all parts of the world.
Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book.

RitaFrom Flames to Freedom: Faith Rides the Rails is a memoir, based on my diaries, which recounts from a child's perspective the seldom addressed topic of how war affects refugees and children in particular.  I was catapulted from a sunny childhood into the turmoil of Soviet and Nazi occupations during World War II. My childhood was engulfed in flames as our entire city burned to the ground and our family was driven from Latvia to German labor camps in cold and filthy cattle cars.  Many of the civilians who were deported by force did not survive the hunger and suffering and were buried in unmarked graves along the railroad tracks. My personal witnessing of the Soviet mass round-up of thousands of Latvians for imprisonment in the Russian Gulag and watching in horror as masses of Jewish people are marched to their death by armed SS men left a permanent impression on me.  I never forgave the dictators of these horrible genocides.  Near the end of the war, I personally encountered Adolf Hitler face to face when he made a whistle-stop visit in an Austrian town and my classmates and I were commanded to welcome him with the Nazi salute of "Heil Hitler."  I refused to raise my arm to salute this evil man who was responsible for the Holocaust and whom I certainly did not consider to be my "Fuehrer."  At age ten I was not aware of the consequences my family might have to suffer as a result of my civil disobedience.  But God was just, and we were saved by a miracle when American bombers leveled our town the next morning. We sought shelter in a shepherd's hut in the Austrian hills and I never had to return to the school again to face certain punishment.

Despite the bloodshed and horror I witnessed while living in trenches, cellars, and riding the rails, my story is not a tale of terror and a damaged psyche.  My account written in retrospect tells of the faith, courage, and resiliency of my parents and the many angels who came to our aid in the persons of American and even enemy soldiers to help our family survive and start a new life all over again after we came to America when I was thirteen.  Unfortunately history keeps repeating itself and thousands of refugees are left homeless today as a result of genocides as well as natural disasters. I hope that my story can give hope to other refugees and motivate the more fortunate among us to help others in need.

The book can be viewed at my website: and is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble  and major bookstores.
Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Rita:  I am always working on some photo essay and poems to commemorate somebody's life ranging from honoring my mother on her 90th birthday, contributing pictures to a grandchild's graduation show, to a tale of the  first magic years of a great-great-granddaughter. Currently I am putting together a photo book of the amazing colors of nature weaving through the four changing seasons in Oceana County where our family has our own little woodland retreat.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Rita:  I have given talks in church and school organizations and am starting to arrange readings in libraries.

I will have a book signing at the Lutheran Child and Family Service Auxiliary Convention on October 17 at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Birmingham.

In April, 2014 I will be the speaker at the Luitheran Women's Missionary League Spring Rally.

The locations are posted on my Author Page on

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

Rita:  I have never encountered a bookstore I did not like or one that I left without buying a book. I particularly like The Book Nook in Montague where I also recently did a book talk.  As a former librarian, I am partial to all libraries, particularly Madison Heights Public Library where I first started library work, my home town Royal Oak Public Library, and the University of Michigan and Oakland University Libraries where I had the privilege of working and teaching research skills. Since I have loved books all my life, I was pleased that when we took our grandson along on a trip to Australia, he picked the Library in Melbourne as one of the venues to visit though we never did see the books on deposit--the entire first floor was filled with computer stations.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Rita:  Michigan is blessed with being a real Water Wonderland from coast to coast and our family has enjoyed camping in many diverse State Parks and campgrounds.  If I had to pick just one place, I would pick the Lake Michigan shoreline as it most reminds me of the Baltic Sea with the beautiful dunes and magnificent sunsets.

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

Rita:  Michigan has so many exciting events, that again it would be difficult to pick a particular favorite.  The International Fireworks on the Detroit River are spectacular, but we also never miss the fireworks on Silver Lake, Hart Lake and Hesperia in Oceana County and have enjoyed watching fireworks from a boat on Lake Michigan in Ludington.  From listening to summer band concerts on the lawn of the Royal Oak Library, to small-town celebrations like the Ferry Ghost Town Days, and from cheering for the Wolverines at U-M Homecoming and Marching Band activities with fans reaching a hundred thousand, to the solitary and quiet beauty of gliding through snow-covered woods while pulled on a dogsled by a team of huskies--Michigan has unending opportunities for everyone's enjoyment.

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

Rita:  One of my favorite persons in Michigan is Ray Scott of Ypsilanti.  Ray is a former Detroit Pistons basketball player and coach and currently serves as Ambassador for Children and Families at Wellspring Lutheran Services. This big bear of a man is filled with genuine interest in helping bring hope to children and families facing difficult circumstances.  Whether it is in giving advice to a professional athlete, encouraging young children, speaking against discrimination and abuse, raising funds for foster children, giving witness to his faith in God, or putting an arm around the frail shoulders of a senior citizen, Ray's compassionate soul shines through his eyes.  He makes people in all walks of life feel welcome and safe when he greets them with a big bear hug and makes everyone feel like a long-time friend.

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

Rita:  When I initially came to Michigan from New York in 1949, my classmates had warned me with stories of this being the Wild West where Cowboys and Indians were the majority population.  I found Michiganders to be friendly and willing to extend a helping hand to a foreigner and a refugee like me, but it was confusing for me to read headlines about warring teams apparently made up of beasts and men beating each other on football fields while frenzied fans cheered for their favorite Wolverines, Spartans, Grizzlies, Crusaders, Tigers, Lions, Chippewas, or Ravens. Oh My!  Michiganders are fiercely loyal.

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

Rita:  One of my favorite places is Camp Michigania on Walloon Lake.  This would make me a Michiganian.

Debbie:  Michiganian it is!  Rita, thank you so much for being here today for Michiganian Monday!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Michigander Monday: Jean Alicia Elster

This post includes a giveaway!

(Thought I'd work that in right away.  Details at the end of the post.)

I am so very pleased to welcome Jean Alicia Elster back to Michigander Monday.  Jean stopped by here a few years back and she's returned to update us and to tell us about her brand new book, The Colored Car.

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

Jean:  A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit School of Law, I am formerly a practicing attorney and still licensed by the State Bar of Michigan if you can believe that. I’m now a professional writer and the founder and president of Write Word LLC. In addition to the youth lit books I’ve written, I’ve also edited several books including The Death Penalty and The Outbreak of the Civil War –I know, pretty heavy topics—published by Greenhaven Press. Some of the other titles I’ve edited are Building Up Zion’s Walls: Ministry for Empowering the African American Family and Playbook for Christian Manhood: 12 Key Plays for Black Teen Boys, published by Judson Press. In addition, my essays have appeared in national publications including Ms., World Vision, Black Child, and Christian Science Sentinel magazines. I was thrilled to collaborate in the preparation of the manuscript for Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialog with Today’s Youth, by civil rights icon Rosa Parks (Lee and Low, 1996), which was honored with four awards including the NAACP Image Award and the Teachers’ Choice Award.

I am frequently invited to speak at schools, libraries, and conferences throughout the state of Michigan. Last year, I was selected as the inaugural visiting author for The Lori Lutz Visiting Artist Series at The Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

My husband and I live in Detroit, Michigan, and we are the very proud parents of two adult children.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your newest book, The Colored Car.

JeanThe Colored Car was released just last week by Wayne State University Press. The main character is a twelve-year-old African American girl named Patsy. During the summer of 1937, her entire worldview changes in unexpected ways after a train trip down south to Clarksville, Tennessee.

The Colored Car is based on real events in my maternal family’s history. My grandparents, Douglas and “May” Ford, came to Detroit in 1922 and my grandfather started a wood business, the Douglas Ford Wood Company. My grandmother was an integral part of that business—taking orders, keeping the books—but she also managed the household with canning, sewing and caring for their five children. My grandparents were also central to the stability of their neighborhood. This book explores their relationship within the community while their oldest daughter, Patsy, experiences events foreign to the world as she knows it.

(See these websites for more info on The Colored Car: and )

Debbie:  What about your other books?

Jean:  I am the author of the novel Who’s Jim Hines?—for ages 8 and older—and published by Wayne State University Press. It was released in August 2008 and is in its second printing. Also based upon my family’s history, the main character, twelve-year-old Doug Ford Jr., comes to terms with the racial realities of Detroit in 1935. Who’s Jim Hines? was selected as one of the Library of Michigan’s 2009 Michigan Notable Books. In addition, the Michigan Reading Association placed Who’s Jim Hines? on the Great Lakes Great Books Award 2009-2010 ballot for grades 4-5. Who’s Jim Hines? was also a ForeWord Magazine 2008 Book of the Year Award Finalist in the category of Juvenile Fiction.

I am also the author of the children’s book series Joe Joe in the City, which includes the books Just Call Me Joe Joe (2001), I Have A Dream, Too! (2002), I’ll Fly My Own Plane (2002), and I’ll Do the Right Thing (2003), all published by Judson Press. In each volume, ten-year-old Joe Joe learns some important life lessons when he reads about heroes from African American history.  I was awarded the 2002 Governors’ Emerging Artist Award by ArtServe Michigan in recognition of the series and in 2004, I’ll Do the Right Thing received the Atlanta Daily World Choice Award in the category of children’s books.

(See my website  for more info on these books.)

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jean:  I’d be thrilled to see some of your readers at these events—

Wayne State University Press’ 10th Annual Celebration of Books, Thursday September 26, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Metropolitan United Methodist Church Library, Sunday October 6, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Leon & Lulu’s annual Books & Authors event, Sunday October 27, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Novi Public Library, Monday January 20, 7 p.m.

Lyon Township Public Library, Saturday February 8, 2 p.m.

(See my continually updated calendar for more events at )

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Jean:  My favorite bookstore in the lower peninsula is The Book Beat in Oak Park. They deserve hearty congratulations for celebrating their 30th anniversary in business last year! My favorite bookstore in the upper peninsula is Snowbound Books in Marquette. It’s our first stop when hubby and I vacation near the shores of Lake Superior each summer.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jean:  Detroit’s Dequindre Cut Greenway is my new favorite place. Formerly a below street level railroad line, it starts just south of the Eastern Market and ends in Milliken State Park at the Detroit River. It’s a marvelous mile-long path past some of the best examples of urban graffiti you’re see anywhere as well as lush trees and wildflower patches. Walk, bike, jog, rollerblade—anyway you choose to enjoy it, you’ll want to return again and again!

Debbie:  What do you do when you’re not writing books?

Jean:  I’m a grant writer for a nonprofit agency, based in Detroit, that provides shelter for homeless youth and young adults. I like to walk and hike with my husband in Michigan’s beautiful parks. We also visit museums and galleries as we travel throughout the state. I’ve been known to go on knitting binges. And, doing my part to keep the Ford family tradition alive, I have made one quilt.

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

Jean:  I recommend you stop and chat with any of the farmers and vendors at Detroit’s Eastern Market. I’ve been buying locally grown fruits and veggies from some of these folks for years and years. They arrive each Saturday morning from all parts of the state, near and far, and have some amazing food facts to share as well as being super nice folks.

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

Jean:  Michigan is home to some of the finest university presses in the country. And, of course, I place my publisher—Wayne State University Press—at the top of the list!

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

Jean:  Michiganians rule!!

Debbie:  Jean, we'll add you to the Michiganian column.  Thank you so much for being here today for Michigander, I mean, Michiganian Monday!

To be entered for a chance to win a copy of Jean Alicia Elster's book The Colored Car, leave a comment below or drop me an email at deborah[at]

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sep 28 Story Time at Schuler Books Lansing (Eastwood)

Lansing area folks, I'll be at the Eastwood Schuler Books on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 1:00 PM for a story time and signing.

Hope to see you there!

(You might even get a complimentary comb.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Michigander Monday: K. A. Barson

I'm pleased to welcome Kelly A. Barson to Michigander Monday!

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

Kelly:  I’m a Michigan girl through and through. I was born and raised here, and so were my parents and grandparents, as well as my husband, his parents, and grandparents. I’ve been a member of SCBWI since I started writing seriously in 2005. I graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in January 2011. Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, Inc. is my agent. I’m also a part-time adjunct writing instructor at Spring Arbor University. Mostly, though, I like to be home reading or writing in my tiny office with my little dogs.

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

Kelly45 Pounds (More or Less) is a contemporary YA novel. It released in July from Viking (Penguin), and is available wherever books are sold.
Here are the numbers of Ann Galardi's life:
She is 16.
And a size 17.
Her perfect mother is a size 6.
Her aunt Jackie is getting married in 10 weeks and wants Ann to be the bridesmaid.
So Ann makes up her mind:
Time to lose 45 pounds (more or less)
in two and a half months.

Welcome to the world of infomercial diet plans, endless wedding dance lessons, embarrassing run-ins with the cutest guy Ann's ever seen--and some surprises about her not-so-perfect mother.
And don't forget the last part of the equation: It's all about feeling comfortable in your own skin--no matter how you add it up! 

(See books tab at for more information.)

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Kelly:  Yes, my second book, also a YA contemporary and also from Viking, is due out around summer 2015. It’s about a high school cosmetology student who thinks she has her life all planned out and under control—until it falls apart.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Kelly:  Northern Ohio SCBWI conference in Cleveland, OH – Sept. 20-21
Schuler Books in Lansing, MI (Eastwood Towne Center) – Thurs. Sept. 26 at 6:00
Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, MI – Tues. Oct. 8 at 6:30
Perry Literary Festival in Perry, OH – Sat. Oct. 19
Horizon Books in Traverse City, MI – Sat. Nov. 2
Blue Phoenix Books in Alpena, MI – Sat. Nov. 9
Great Lakes Book & Supply in Big Rapids, MI – Sat. Nov. 16

(See events tab at for more details.)

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

Kelly:  Bookstore: I love Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor. As for libraries, Jackson District Library’s Carnegie Branch, downtown. I spent so much time there as a kid that when I go there now, I can almost see and hear my childhood self in the auditorium watching movies, climbing the marble steps to the children’s department, and waiting in the lobby to check out my stack of books. Just the smell of the books and the gorgeous old building takes me back to a happy place.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Kelly:  I love Mackinac! The Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac Island, and Mackinaw City. The bridge is majestic and beautiful. The island is quaint and historic. I often travel to the city in the off-season to write where it’s quiet and peaceful. (It’s not nearly as quiet during the tourist season, but that’s fun, too.)

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

Kelly:  Our family collects antique steam tractors. There are a lot of steam tractor shows in Michigan, and we travel to quite a few of them. We even help put one on in Tompkins Center, Michigan every third weekend in September. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to keep history alive.

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

Kelly:  Ed Spicer is a pretty fun, interesting Michigan person. He’s a first grade teacher in Allegan by day, but other than that, he’s a superhero book guy. He reads, he reviews, and talks to people. He’s a friend to authors, librarians, educators, and anyone who cares about kids and reading. His passion is contagious.

Debbie:  I agree -- Ed's great!  Definitely a Michigan treasure.

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

Kelly:  It’s a beautiful place to visit. If you haven’t seen the Great Lakes, it’s hard to imagine them. They are not just big lakes; they are inland freshwater seas. 

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

Kelly:  Michigander, definitely. As a kid, I had an old out-of-print book called Michigan My Michigan. That book, along with my elementary school teachers who taught Michigan history, all said Michigander. That has stuck.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Michigander column!  Kelly, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Michigander Monday: Suzanne Kamata

I'm pleased to welcome Suzanne Kamata to Michigander Monday!

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

Suzanne:  I was born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan, and I attended Kalamazoo College for a year. I came to Japan after college to teach English "for one year" and wound up meeting a guy. I now live in the prefecture of Tokushima, which has a Sister City relationship with Saginaw, Michigan, with my Japanese husband and our teen-aged twins.

I have wanted to be a writer since childhood. As a kid I wrote stories for my classmates, and you might say that my career was launched at a conference for young writers at Hope College back in the day. My participation in that landed me in the Grand Haven Tribune! I got my first check for a piece of writing for an article I wrote while in high school about young people going into the military for the Grand Rapids Press.

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

Suzanne:  Most of my books, so far, have something to do with Japan or being an expatriate or motherhood. My first novel, Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008) and my short story collection, The Beautiful One Has Come (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2011), were about all three! My most recent book is a young adult novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible (GemmaMedia, May 2013), and takes place partly in Michigan. It's about Aiko Cassidy, a biracial girl with cerebral palsy who aspires to be a manga artist, and also about her complicated relationship with her white, single mother who has become a successful sculptor using her daughter as a model. They go to Paris when Laina, the mother, wins a prize for her art, and Aiko begins to find her place in the world.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Suzanne:  Many! A young adult novel for older readers, Screaming Divas, about an all-grrl rock band in 1980s South Carolina, with a nod to Motown, will be published late next year by Jacquelyn Mitchard's Merit Press. I'm also working on a book about traveling around the world with my daughter, who is a wheelchair user. I was recently awarded a grant by the Sustainable Arts Foundation for this project. I'm tinkering with  a Japanese baseball novel for young readers, and I've just started a sequel to Gadget Girl, which will be set in Japan. I was thrilled to receive a Multicultural Work-in-Progress Award for that. So yes, I will be busy!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Suzanne:  Not yet, but hopefully within the next year. I would love to visit schools to talk about Gadget Girl in Western Michigan in, say, March. Teachers! Email me!

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

Suzanne:  I spent many happy hours in Grand Haven Public Library (now Loutit Library).

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

SuzanneGrand Haven. When I was growing up there, I was eager to get out and go to the Big City and become a famous writer. My ninth grade Geometry teacher told us students that someday we would appreciate the city we lived in, and we'd want to live there. Now I can see how lucky I was!

I think Sleeping Bear Dunes is pretty special, too.

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

Suzanne:  The Coast Guard Festival and the Musical Fountain in Grand Haven. The Tulip Festival in Holland.

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

Suzanne:  Well, pretty soon I think you'll be hearing about Helene Dunbar, who was my freshman year roommate at Kalamazoo College. She has written a beautiful, intense book called These Gentle Wounds which will be published by Flux next year. Here's a link to her blog:

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

Suzanne:  I call myself a Michigander.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you, Suzanne, for being here today for Michigander Monday!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I'll be at the Kerrytown BookFest on Sunday 9/8/13

Those of you in the mid-Michigan area, be sure to head to the Kerrytown BookFest in Ann Arbor on Sunday, September 8.  An amazing array of author panels, kids' events, and book-related activities.

At the BookFest, I have a story time at 1:00 followed by a signing at 2:00.  So if you come to the BookFest, stop by and say hi!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

Michigander Monday: Alan L. Lee

I'm pleased to welcome Alan Lee to Michigander Monday!

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

Alan:  I’ve been a journalist for over 30 years. I started out covering sports, having not fulfilled the pipe dream of becoming a professional athlete. The farthest I got on that front was playing semi-pro baseball in the Caribbean for a year.

My sports director days ended when Washington, DC came calling.  I was up for two jobs at the same time.  One, a sports director job in Austin, Texas, and the other meant switching to news for the NBC owned and operated station in DC, WRC-TV.  Even the news director in Austin told me it was a no brainer so off to Washington it was.

While in DC, I got to cover at times one of my beloved passions, the intelligence community.  The CIA, NSA, FBI, Secret Service, I couldn’t get enough of it. It certainly helped me gain some contacts and insight into the various government agencies.

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

AlanSandstorm is loosely based on a real-life collaborative effort by the U.S. and Israel aimed at derailing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. The goal was to frustrate Tehran and force it to spend mass quantities of wealth, thus hopefully making the Iranians realize such goals were too costly and deadly to pursue.

In Sandstorm, I take that idea and run with it a bit.  CIA agent Nora Mossa is on the run because of what her late mentor discovered.  Now with her life in danger and nowhere to turn, she seeks the help of an ex-lover and former spy.  Problem is, their relationship ended badly and Alex Koves swore he wanted nothing to do with her ever again.  They must find a way to work together in order to avoid a Middle East catastrophe.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Alan:  Yes, working on book two in the series.  Sandstorm has been optioned to be a major motion picture so hopefully this is only the beginning of many more to come.

Book two brings back my protagonist Alex Koves, as he’s out to settle a score that painfully came to light in Sandstorm.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Alan:  At the moment, I’m scheduled to appear at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on Oct. 27th for its “Books & Authors” program.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Alan:  I’d have to say my favorite Michigan bookstore is Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.  It’s a quaint place that just feels so cozy.  The employees are knowledgeable about authors and their work and they really seem to be into books.  I’ve been in some bookstores where it’s obviously just a job for some people.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Alan:  I’m a city kind of guy so I enjoy the pavement and haunts that a big city has to offer so I’d have to say Detroit or one of the surrounding suburbs.  I also like to golf so any location with a scenic 18 holes gets a gold star from me.

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

Alan:  I love jazz.  It’s been my pleasure for the past several years to MC the opening night of the Detroit International Jazz Festival.  This free event attracts a vast array of legendary names in the world of jazz.  It’s a wonderful Labor Day weekend event.

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

Alan:  In terms of writers, of course Elmore Leonard comes to mind.  It’s so tragic that he recently passed away. A true Michigan icon, his writing has stood the test of time. He started out writing westerns in the early 1950s.  I interviewed him a number of times for TV and he was kind enough to provide a blurb for Sandstorm. If you want to learn a few things about the writing craft, go read a few of his books!

I’m privileged to call Aretha Franklin a friend.  The first time she called me on the phone, I was convinced it was a prank call from one of my friends.  Delighted that it wasn’t.

Michigan also has a great ambassador so to speak in Kid Rock.  He’s always pumping up the state and is conscious about giving back to the people who helped him become the performer he is today.

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

Alan:  It’s not nearly as bad as those who don’t live here portray it.  There’s a wealth of resources available and a spirit among the people that’s infectious.

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

Alan:  I’m originally from Chicago, but if I had to go with one, I’d choose Michigander.  It sounds more intimidating and mysterious.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Michigander column.  Alan, thank you for being here today for Michigander Monday!