Monday, February 25, 2013

Michigander Monday: Jack Ridl

I'm delighted to welcome Jack Ridl to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Jack, please tell us a little about yourself.
Jack:  I am the son of a famous basketball coach. Grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania where my father first coached at Westminster College. Then in Pittsburgh where my father was the coach at PITT. I was a point guard and a shortstop growing up. My mother's side of the family had profound interest in the American circus. As a little kid I came to know Emmett Kelly, The Great Walendas, Clyde Beatty, etc. I thought people who walked on wires were normal. After college, I asked the poet Paul Zimmer to teach me poetry. He said he would if I would have my father allow him access to practice and the locker room! He also said that he would tell me when he thought I had written a poem. Six weeks passed and he had not said anything that I showed him was a poem. Six months, still nothing. I asked him, "Should I quit?" He said, "If you want to." I stayed with it and four years later, Paul said, "That is a poem." Taught at Hope College for 35 years and had absolutely amazing students. In fact more than 75 of my students from my last 15 years are now published authors. My new collection is coming out at the same time from the same press as a collection, Earth Again, by one of my former students, Chris Dombrowski. My wife and I founded the college's Visiting Writers Series. I was named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. And the students presented me with the Hope College Outstanding Professor Award. I have had a wonderful time because of poetry, it taking me to readings, workshops, conferences, festivals. And I have friends, deep and abiding friends, who would never have come my way were it not for poems. And to this day, sports wander in my blood. My father was a mentor to John Calipari now the coach at Kentucky. After my father died, John took us all in to his world knowing how much we would miss the wild world of big time basketball. We are always John's guests at any game, even if he and his team make it to the Final Four.

Personal: Married to the writer/artist/amazing knitter Julie Ridl whose blog about living with Lyme disease is called LymeJello. Two years ago, Julie created what she calls "Open Studio." She opens our doors from 9am til 1pm each Sunday and people come and paint, sit, read, draw, write, chat, knit, sew, meditate, create homemade books, etc. It has become a very important stability in the lives of the wonderful many who attend. And anyone can attend and come anytime and one can stay as long or as briefly as one wants. Julie grew up a Navy brat. Her father was the Captain of the lead destroyer heading to Cuba during the missle crisis, the man President Kennedy called to order the ships to turn back. Until Lyme disease took over her life, she was a prominent figure in the design world in west Michigan.

Daughter Meridith is an artist/art teacher. Her work is shown in the La Fontsee Galleries in Grand Rapids and Douglas, MI.  At a Thanksgiving assembly, students offered a list of what they were thankful for. On that list was "the kindness of Ms. Ridl."

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

Jack:  I've published five full collections and three chapbooks. I've also co-authored with Peter Schakel Approaching Literature (Bedford/St. Martin's) and Approaching Poetry (Bedford/St. Martin's). Also with Peter Schakel, I am co-editor of 250 Poems (Bedford/St. Martin's). The first two collections, The Same Ghost and be tween were published by Dawn Valley Press, no longer in existence. The third collection, Broken Symmetry, was from Wayne State University Press and was co-recipient of the Best Book of Poetry Published in 2006 from The Society of Midland Authors. The next collection, Losing Season (CavanKerry Press) was named best sports book of the year by the Institute for International Sport. The book was also featured on public radio's "The Story with Dick Gordon" and "It's Only a Game," was named by Bill Littlefield of the Boston Globe as one of the five best sports books of that year, and it was the subject of an essay by Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff. The latest book, out this month, is Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press). The chapbook Against Elegies was selected by Poet Laureate Billy Collins for the Letterpress Award from the Center for Book Arts in NYC. The other two chapbooks are titled After School and Outside the Center Ring, a collection of circus poems that is also included in the new book.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Jack:  I'll be 69 this year. I give hope to those who say they are too old to do any art!!!  :  )   Also I am a one-poem-at-a-time guy, so if enough poems arrive in the next few years, yes another collection will show up.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jack:  Readings on the way:

Poem on Poetry Daily on Friday, March 1

March 16, reading with Chris Dombrowski, Horizon Books, Traverse City, Michigan, 4 PM

April 1, 7:30 PM, reading at The Book Nook and Java Shop, Montague, MI. This shop, owned by Bryan Uecker in Montague, Mi has selected Practicing to Walk like a Heron for their book of the month for April. The book club members will be reading the book, and it will be discussed on their local TV station.

April 3, reading in Grand Rapids at 7:30 PM at the former Literary Life Bookstore building on Wealthy Street

April 10,
Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mi. Time TBA

April 13, 10am, reading at Lansing Writer’s Conference, A Rally of Writers

May 17, Launch celebration for Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, Detroit (details TBD)

May 18, Launch celebration Bus Tour – Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids (details TBD)

Others are in the works.

I'll be teaching a course at the Ox-Bow School of the Arts in June. June 10-13. The title of the course is "You Call THAT a Poem???!!???"   Come take it!!!  Ox-Bow is in Saugatuck. It's the 100 year old art school/colony under the direction of The Art Institute of Chicago. There is not a twitch of anything that would feel intimidating in the course, or for that matter at Ox-Bow.

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

Jack:  Tell ya a story: When Meridith, our daughter, was four she one day requested, "Can we as a family never use the word favorite?"  33 years later I am still complying. Any store or library that supports the art of literature is in a tie for favorite with all the others that do.

Debbie:  How about a favorite -- I mean, tied-for-favorite -- place in Michigan?

Jack:  We live in Douglas. We love it here in Douglas. The town feels as if it was founded on unqualified acceptance. It's a gentle town where you hear about your fellow townpersons' illnesses from Kathy and Joe at the Post Office. It has an old school feel with a progressive sensibility. One little main street holds terrific shops, galleries, restaurants, the library, and that magical post office.

My wife grew up on Burt Lake. That is another favorite place. We were married at the top of Boyne Mountain. Growing up in the hills of Pennsylvania, I have missed those hills and curving roads for more than 40 years. When we are "up north" some of that spirit returns. And duh, of course Lake Michigan. My absolute favorite place is within the pines that surround our home where we can watch our little waterfall tumbling into our little koi pond. 

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

Jack:  The Christmas Parade in Saugatuck: Anyone and everyone shows up either to march in some zany manner or to cheer on the marchers. After that, I'm all over the map with what I/we love to attend: art openings/concerts/history lectures/theater both film and live/antique shops/studios/fiber festivals/knitting festivals with Julie. And of course, Open Studio!  :  )

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

Jack:  I don't dare single out any of my writer/artist friends for fear of overlooking someone. But I'll tell ya one of the most fascinating people is Brent Birkholz. This guy, a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, captains huge ships, and yet loves his town of Saugatuck so much that 14 years ago he found a WWII land/water vehicle, fixed it up, and since then has been taking people on a comedic tour of Saugatuck, Douglas, and into the Kalamazoo waterways. Its name is "The Harbor Duck," or "The Duck." Everyone knows "The Duck" and "The Duckman." Along the way he creates characters of the people he passes by. He pulls in everyone on board, talks with everyone. Kids love the guy. We love the guy. As he passes by, and he takes about six tours daily, people laugh, wave, even shopkeepers out their windows. And he's the kindest, gentlest guy you can imagine. Friends who live in NYC and "do" Broadway all year long, came, rode "The Duck" and told us, "That's by far the funniest guy we've come across in years." And on top of that, he saved Christmas for our two little towns this year. The 50 year old star atop Mt Baldy was vandalized. Brent went to work, charged not a penny, designed, led a team of engineers and electricians and anyone else he could round up and built a new, huge, LED lit star. One of the most thoughtful things he did was have the kids in the industrial arts class at the local high school do the welding. Hearts melted when the kids said, "One day I can tell my kids that I built that star."

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

Jack:  It is many states in one. It is many cultures in one state. In the arts it is well deserving of its title as "The Third Coast." Turn a corner and there's a painter, turn another and there's a potter, another and there's a writer, a dancer, a musician, a theater member.

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?

Jack:  I'm a "Pennsylvanian." Those hills, those farms, those rust belt towns, my home city of Pittsburgh, nope those are in me through and through.  But if I had to choose, I'd choose "Michigander." Why? I like taking a gander at most anything. Har. Har.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Pennsylvanian column!  Jack, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you here today for Michigander Monday.  Thank you!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Michigander Monday: Leslie Helakoski

I'm thrilled to have Leslie Helakoski here for Michigander Monday!  Long-time followers of Jumping The Candlestick may recall Leslie from her 2008 interview.  In the years since, Leslie has been busy writing and illustrating more fabulous books.  Her latest book will be out next month.  Let's catch up with Leslie and find out what's new!

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

Leslie:  I like to write and sometimes illustrate funny picture books. I'm one of Michigan's Regional Advisors for SCBWI and live near Kalamazoo.

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

Leslie:  My newest book comes out March 1 and is called Doggone Feet! It's told from a dog's point of view from under the table as the number of feet at the table grows and grows and grows. This is the second book that I've both written and illustrated. Here is a link to a book trailer I created for it:

Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?

Leslie:  I'm also working on illustrating my next book, Big Pigs, which is due out in 2014. That book is about sibling rivalry as young pigs compete to see who is the piggiest.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

LeslieMichigan Reading Association, Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 9-10

Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 12, 6:30 pm

Barnes and Nobles, Lafayette, Louisiana, March 30, 11am

SCBWI Eastern PA Pocono Retreat--teaching picture book track

Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

LesliePaw Paw District Library, Paw Paw, Michigan. They just moved into a new building last summer and it is warm, friendly, cozy and beautiful. I often work there when I feel like getting out of the house to write.

Debbie:  How about a favorite Michigan bookstore?

LeslieBookbug, Kalamazoo. 3019 Oakland Drive, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Fun, funky insides with all you can dream about as a book lover.

Runner up: Schuler's in Grand Rapids on 28th Street. This is where my illustrator book group meets with two of my favorite Michigan people/illustrators, Lori Eslick and Ruth Barshaw. They make it a real treat to be there every time and help me believe I can do this illustration thing.

Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?

LeslieSleeping Bear Dunes. I can't get enough of that area of sand and water.

Debbie:  Finally, for our ongoing tally:  "Michigander" or "Michiganian"?

Leslie:  I am still a Michigander!

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

Monday, February 11, 2013

Michigander Monday: Marcy Blesy

I'm pleased to welcome Marcy Blesy to Michigander Monday.

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

Marcy:  I am a certified elementary school teacher. Currently I run an elementary school library after having taken a decade break from teaching to be home with my kids. I started writing a few years ago to see if this lifelong dream could amount to anything. I have had some success freelancing locally in Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana. I had an essay published in 2010 in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers. In fall 2011 I was offered a contract for my first children's book, Am I Like My Daddy?, by university publisher Bronze Man Books in Illinois. The book was released in December 2012.

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

Marcy:  In the book, seven-year-old Grace asks the question, "Am I Like My Daddy?," as her memories are incomplete about the man that died when she was only five.  In this book of hope Grace learns things about her Dad that give her not only answers, but peace. She also learns hard lessons about grief and how people grieve differently. Ultimately she learns that her Dad loved her and lives on through her life. My dad died when I was 13, so my own memories are limited. Most books in this genre deal with the time immediately after a loved one dies, while this book focuses on the time years later when a child is reprocessing her grief and asking more questions. I am a volunteer grief facilitator at Lory's Place in St. Joseph, Michigan. I finally feel, after 27 years, that my life has come full circle and I can give back to others. There is an educational component to the book, too, which gives children tips for getting the answers to questions they have.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Marcy:  I just released a middle grade novel direct to Kindle.  It's called Confessions of a Corn Kid and is about a small town girl's big dreams.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Marcy:  In March or April the publisher is planning an event with the grief community in Illinois that will feature Am I Like My Daddy? I will also be returning to my hometown elementary school in Illinois to talk about being an author.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

MarcyBridgman Public Library in Bridgman, Michigan has been very supportive of my dreams to be a writer. When I took my first class there from another writer, I told the director, Carol Richardson, that someday I would have an event there for my own book.  I did!  My first local book signing event was held there in November with 50 people in attendance!

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Marcy:  I grew up in central Illinois with nothing but flat land.  When we moved to Michigan a decade ago I fell in love with the beaches of Lake Michigan. Weko Beach in Bridgman is my favorite, most relaxing place to be. Looking for beach glass is very therapeutic.

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

Marcy:  I love to attend the spring MI SCBWI event if I can. I also love looking for beach glass on those early spring days after the snow has melted, but before visitors hit the beach.

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

Marcy:  There is a lot of beauty and peace in the small lake town communities along Lake Michigan.

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"?

Marcy:  I feel like I am a transplant, though I have been here a decade. But if I were to vote, I'd say "Michigander."

Debbie:  Michigander it is!  Marcy, thank you for being here today for Michigander Monday!

To learn more about Marcy and her books, stop by her web site and her FaceBook page.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Michigander Monday: Joseph Heywood

I'm pleased to welcome Joseph Heywood to Michigander Monday!

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

Joe:  Grew up in USAF family, lived overseas, and all around the U.S.  Graduated from Rudyard HS, in Chippewa Co (eastern UP), 1961; Michigan State University (BA Journalism), 1965. USAF KC-135 Navigator, 1965-1970. Vietnam vet, honorably discharged as Captain. Attended grad school, Western Michigan University, mid-70s, English Literature.  For the past 12 years I’ve spent about one month a year in trucks on patrol with Michigan Conservation Officers, mostly in the UP. But have also patrolled downtown Detroit and Lansing. This equates to roughly one year in a patrol truck. My wife, our dog Shaksper (authentic spelling from one of a handful of extant signatures) and I live in Deer Park, 35 miles north of Newberry for six months each year and winter “south” in Portage (SW Michigan). Our leased cabin is 288-square feet. We’re outside a lot.

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

JoeTaxi Dancer (Berkley, 1985); The Berkut (Random House, 1987); The Domino Conspiracy (Random House, 1992); The Snowfly  (Lyons Press, 2000); Ice Hunter (Lyons, 2001);  Blue Wolf in Green Fire (Lyons, 2003); Chasing a Blond Moon (Lyons, 2003); Running Dark (Lyons, 2005); Strike Dog (Lyons, 2007); Death Roe (Lyons, 2009); Shadow of the Wolf Tree (Lyons, 2010); Force of Blood (Lyons, 2012); Red Jacket (Lyons, 2012). A Memoir was published by Lyons in 2003, Covered Waters: Tempests of a Nomadic Trouter. And there was The ABCs of Snowmobiling in the late 60s, a cartoon book.  Eight of the books focus on the life of a Michigan Conservation Officer who lives and works in the UP. A second series launched last fall with Red Jacket, set in the Keweenaw Peninsula during the violent and tragic 1913 copper mine strike. The series will track the character’s life through the teens, including the period encompassing World War I.  My books are translated into 15 languages.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Joe:  March, 2013:  two short stories as “singlets” offered via Amazon. April, 2013, short story collection, entitled Hard Ground, Woods Cop Stories. And The Snowfly. September, 2013, Killing A Cold One, No 9 in the Woods Cop series.  Also September 2013, softcover Red Jacket. Right now working on second book in the new series, entitled Mountains of the Misbegotten, out September 2014, and another novel outside all the rest, called Brown Ball.  Also working with a friend and colleague on Secondhand Highway, a lighthearted nonfiction piece on US-41, which runs from Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to Miami, Florida.

Debbie:  Tell us more about what you write about.

Joe:  I’ve written about Vietnam, the end of World War II, the summit between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and a fable about a giant fly that hatches in winter, never on the same river. My love has always been outside, with nature, and most of my work since 2001 has focused on the Upper Peninsula and a culture that worships the open woods and loathes fences, a place where individuals want to feel free to roam, not arbitrarily tied to discreet territory.

Wallace Stegner wrote “Lawlessness, like wilderness is attractive.” It seemed to me that the life and work  of conservation officers (called game wardens in some places) merges the magnets of  lawlessness and wilderness. The series is still going a dozen years later.

Most of my stuff since 2001 has focused on the Upper Peninsula. Why? I went to high school up there in the “eastern end,” and fell in love with it. I also spent four years in the Air Force there after graduating from Navigation training in California. Been going up there every year for more than 50 years, for up to six months, and over time I’ve gotten to know it far more intimately than most folks. It’s the physical size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, with the population of Grand Rapids.  Sparse in people, and in deep economic trouble, it’s a place used to being raped commercially:  furs, copper, iron, timber. The people who live there are tough by necessity and I adopted the U.P. as “my territory.”  Critic B.R. Myers once wrote, “A wild landscape can bestow epic significance on the lives of its inhabitants.” And a  reviewer once wrote “That knowing your territory like a native is the best gift a writer can be granted, short of a miserable childhood.”  My stories happen outdoors, require energy, involve individualism, competition, physical, mental and emotional strength, stoicism, recklessness, a distaste for close control and direction, and characters value hard work with goals for their own sake, not rewards. Officers believe in the resources they protect and what they do is more a calling than simple employment.

Paraphrasing Bernard DeVoto talking about mountain men in the mid Nineteenth century there was an astonishing breadth and depth of knowledge needed just to survive. E.g., DeVoto talked about reading formal sign being one thing, but the interpretation of observed circumstances too minute to be called sign, and even higher art and skill: a branch floats down a stream – is it natural, or the work of animals, or weather or man? On the edge of a field, blurred by mirage or the sky or low light, something moves. Man, wind, animal? If man or animal, what and why is it moving and toward what or away from what? Five eagles in a single tree: Why? A wolf’s howl is cut short, why? COs must learn their law enforcement craft AND outdoor craft on top of that. COs learn to read people and the world around them in sophisticated ways, which affords a different perspective of life and earth than may visit the rest of us.  Their “situational awareness” skills push supernatural limits.

Place, geographers tell us, is defined as somewhere things have happened and these things are what we call history. In addition to actual events, parts of a place’s history are its fiction. And there are levels of history: the formal stuff written in books by academics, the folk-tales told in communities, and yet another level of highly personal history known only to families and friends. COs must know all the levels in order to do their jobs and remain safe. Woods cops know and live histories of places not on maps, know through their senses, guts, can intuit menace and trickery, know well the history of shady families and stories formal historians cannot or are not likely to ever know.

Why the mystery genre? Who knows. Gertrude Stein once quipped that the detective novel was the only really modern novel form that had come into existence in the 20th century. Not sure she’s right, but mysteries certainly afford  their writers a lot of room to develop character and explore the social fabric of lives in a context somewhat different than the reader might otherwise be exposed to.  I never read detective stories before starting to write them. But when you get right down to it, every novel is a mystery. Something happens and the author then explicates the how and why as the main frame of the story structure.

Canadian author Robertson Davies says the Canadian National Anthem is “Oh God, give me a mediocre life. Do not let me be disturbed by any great thing,” and he tells us this is “pretty much the attitude, and it is rooted in history. The lot of Canadian immigrants was a very tough one. They had a rotten time in the old land and lack the buoyance and exuberance found in the United States. Perhaps that’s because America had its national beginning in a revolution; we had ours in the immigration of bitterly dispossessed and unhappy people.”  Ironically the Upper Peninsula was settled by Canadians far more than any other nationality, and I surmise that perhaps they were already accustomed to being taken advantage of.  Thus the people up there can absorb huge amounts of punishment and they learnt to fight back as the Russians say, On the Left.” Upper peninsula people do not welcome intrusive government at any level.

Debbie:  Joe, do you have any upcoming appearances?

Joe:  Wednesday, February 20,  7- 9 p.m., Big Rapids Public Library, part of the Big Rapids Festival of the Arts (in conjunction with Ferris State University); Thursday, April 25, Fremont District Library, 7-9 P.m.  More, not yet scheduled will occur in the UP and northern Michigan spring through fall, 2013.

Debbie:  Favorite places in Michigan?

Joe:  My favorite place in the state is anywhere there are no other people.  But my favorite places to stay are Gates Au Sable Lodge outside Grayling and Brown’s Deer Park Lodge in Deer Park, Michigan. And the Chicaugon Inn, between Crystal Falls and Iron River, in Iron County. Loathe crowds, organized group gropes and the like, thus no festivals or such staged follies and Let’s-Arbitrarily-All-Be-Jolly-Now-Folderol. Okay, mayhaps a farmers market now and then, but such pickings are slim in the U.P., the growing season being so brief.  I prefer to be alone in the woods and swamps, fishing, looking around, or out on a Lake Superior beach looking for agates.  My wife is a painter/jeweler who makes jewelry from items we find in the wild. She teaches art at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

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

Joe:  The very few, rarely found trout we have here are very, very small. And cannibals dwell near all of our trout streams, which keeps the fish populations up and angler populations down. Just saying?

Debbie:  Good to know!  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"?

Joe:  Neither Michigander nor Michiganian: I prefer Upper Rustbeltoid or Yooper-Below-The-Bridge.  Or, having lived and traveled extensively outside the United States, long time citizen of the world.

Debbie:  We'll add a new column to our tally.  Joe, thank you very much for being here today for Citizen of the World Monday!

To learn more about author Joseph Heywood, please stop by his web site at  And be sure to stop back here next Monday for the next installment of Michigander Monday!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Michigander Monday returns!

The hiatus is over -- I'm happy to say that Michigander Monday is back!

Not today, of course.  Today is Saturday.  But in two days, it'll be Monday again, and it'll be a Monday on which the Michigan author profiles will resume.

See you then!!