Monday, April 22, 2013

Michigander Monday: Laura Ellen

I'm pleased to welcome Laura Ellen to Michigander Monday!

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

Laura:  I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, and have lived all over the US, including 11 years in Ann Arbor, MI. I write YA mysteries and thrillers. My debut YA thriller Blind Spot (Harcourt Children's Books) came out this past fall.

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

LauraBlind Spot is marketed as a thriller/mystery, but it's also about accepting one's self. 16 year old Roz has juvenile macular degeneration which robs her of her central vision and she is struggling to prove she's capable to everyone, but mostly herself. This obsession however gets her into trouble and is the 'blind spot' she must overcome to find the truth about the night her classmate Tricia was killed -- the night Roz fought with her and can't remember.

I used my own experiences growing up as a teen with juvenile macular degeneration to make Roz's character authentic.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Laura:  I don't yet have a publication date, but my next one is (for now!) titled In Blood and is about 17 year old Kat Walters who, after accidentally killing her mother, travels to Alaska to meet the father she thought was dead -- only to discover he's accused of murder.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Laura:  I just came back from an author visit at Hesperia Middle School in Hesperia, MI -- what a blast that was! I'll also be selling Blind Spot during the SCBWI Wild, Wild Midwest conference in Ft. Wayne, IN May 3-5, will be on the debut author panel at ThrillerFest in NYC July 10-13, and will be signing at Houston BookRave 2013 in Houston, TX November 2, 2013.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

LauraNicola's in Ann Arbor. I had my launch there in October and it was a blast!

Debbie:  How about a favorite Michigan library?

Laura:  We frequented Malletts Creek, but the Ann Arbor Main is my favorite.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Laura:  I love Boyne - but not for the skiing. I head into the woods and write. I also adore Mackinac Island, but who doesn't?

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

Laura:  I attend every SCBWI Michigan conference. SCBWI-MI was my first official writing community and if it weren't for everyone in it, I wouldn't be published :)

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

Laura:  I have to mention my wonderful critique group: Sharon Blankenship, Todd Gerring, Jacqui Robbins, Katena Presutti, Diane Telgen, and Kim Valice.

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

Laura:  I've lived in several states in my lifetime, but hands-down the nicest people live in Michigan -- especially those in the writing community. I love how devoted people are to reading and writing and how willing Michigan authors are to sit and chat with readers or fellow writers.

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

Laura:  :) Michigander.

Debbie:  Laura, we'll add you to the Michigander column.  Thank you so much for being here for Michigander Monday!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Michigander Monday: Lori A. May

I'm pleased to welcome Lori A. May to Michigander Monday!

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

Lori:  Thanks for having me, Debbie. First, I love what you’re doing here with Michigander Monday. I moved to Michigan a little more than four years ago, when I married my Detroit-based husband. I grew up close by, though, in various locales across Southwestern Ontario. So, I’ve always had a connection, by land and by water, to this area. More and more, I find myself writing about place and now that I live in Michigan, much of my writing is influenced by my ‘new’ surroundings. It’s wonderful to have a fish-out-of-water experience to inspire new work. Michigan is full of interesting stories and I love how often I discover something new-to-me.

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

Lori:  My most recent book is a guide for emerging writers. The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum, 2011) offers practical research, tips, and advice to writers considering a creative writing graduate degree. I had written about the various programs and opportunities available in low-res format for years and I had a positive response to these articles, published in magazines such as The Writer and Writer’s Digest. One day it occurred to me there was a market for a larger, more detailed resource and that’s how this book was born. The response has been wonderful and I’m so pleased to help others research the possibilities for seeing their writing dreams come to life.

Not long before that, I also had a poetry book published. It’s called stains and offers a bit of free verse in a coming-of-age arc that looks into and outside of the self. I write across the genres and am always multi-tasking between fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Lori:  I have two pieces of good news! I have a new poetry book coming out sometime between December 2013 and January 2014. Square Feet will be published by Accents Publishing. They’re based out of Lexington, Kentucky, and I have been so fortunate to work with the wonderful team there. This full-length collection explores the domestic spaces—emotional, psychological, and physical—within a wounded relationship. We’re in the end stages of editing now and it’s such a joy to work on with a really talented team.

I’m also knee-deep in a new nonfiction book. American Drive is a travel/writing/culture memoir in linked essays. The stories explore my emigration from small-town Canada to the US where I married a Detroit cop; compares cultures and traditions between my two countries; offers immersion stories of road-tripping across my new homeland covering 30,000+ miles per year, for several years, in which I discover towns and people off the interstate; and documents how a small town Canadian writer married a Detroit homicide detective and survived (so far). I’m really thrilled about this work-in-progress and hope to have it ready to send to an editor soon.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Lori:  I’m always offering a variety of writing workshops at community colleges across Michigan. Right now I have some scheduled for Delta near Bay City, Washtenaw in Ann Arbor, and Macomb in Warren. I invite readers to visit my website where I have upcoming events and workshops listed.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Lori:  Every one of them! I love books and so does my husband, and when we roadtrip we always pop into the local indies. One of my favorites is McLean and Eakin, in Petoskey. There is such a warm, inviting atmosphere there and I love how often they host writers and readings. This is truly a book lover’s paradise. We also frequent Horizon Books in Traverse City. This seems to be a regular pit stop for us on roadtrips as Traverse City is so central to our travels. Their selection is incredible, the staff is friendly, and the coffee shop is always a favorite destination. I can get joyfully lost in their bargain basement, too.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Lori:  This is the hardest question. My husband and I really do have so many areas we enjoy getting away to, and do so any chance we get. We have what I call “the whitefish tour” that takes us along the eastern side of the UP from Whitefish Point into Snug Harbor, from the Sault through to St. Ignace and down into Mackinac, and then over to Cross Village where we dine at Leg’s Inn before heading down the 119 through Good Hart, Harbor Springs, Charlevoix, and finally into Traverse City. I love fish, so we eat in all of these towns, nibbling on whitefish and more, until we’re tired and full.

But we have so many favorite places to travel. I adore the coastal trip from Sleeping Bear Dunes into Frankfort, down into Manistee and Ludington, and all along the shore. Those small towns offer so much to do as far as dining and exploring. This past summer we went to the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven and spent the day soaking in the sun, watching the parade, and having a great time along the water.

My husband and I take any chance we get to hit the road and we’ve driven through every county except one—Delta County, the home of Escanaba—but we plan on ticking that off our list very soon.

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

Lori:  Everyone should know about Loreen Niewenhuis, a Michigan author who writes about her impressive walks along the Great Lakes. She’s walked around the entirety of Lake Michigan and wrote about it in her book, A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach. Then Loreen set out to walk another thousand miles around the other Great Lakes and writes about that in her very hot-off-the-press book, A 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Walk. Loreen has such an amazing connection to Michigan—its land, its water, its people—and she is an inspiration on so many levels.

I also recommend readers check out The Smoking Poet, a journal edited by Zinta Astairs. She’s a wonderful author in her own right, from the Hopkins area, and she does such a beautiful job sharing works of other writers through The Smoking Poet. They publish work from Michigan and beyond, but Zinta is so supportive of our local authors and communities. Readers and writers will appreciate both the journal and Zinta’s own writing, which they can learn more about on her website.

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

Lori:  What I am really fascinated by is the diversity of areas in Michigan. We have lakefront towns and big cities; there are amazing produce farms and ranches sprawling across the land; then we have quaint neighborhoods bordering on the metro areas that offer so much local flavor by way of independent shops, eateries, and services. Whether you’re an outdoorsy type or a city lover, there’s so much to see and do—and you can do it all. My husband and I switch up our roadtrips and will spend concentrated time in each of these areas just to remind us that there is so much to see and do here. In an hour or two drive, you can feel a world away—and yet so close to home, because it is home.

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?

Lori:  Ha! Most people around here refer me to as “the Canuck” because I still sound like my Canadian roots. Yet my accent has transformed, admittedly, and I have a strange combination of Ontario-Michigan dialect. When called upon, though, I proudly say I am a Michigander.

Debbie:  Lori, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday, Canuck edition!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Michigander Monday: Alison Swan

I'm pleased to welcome Alison Swan to Michigander Monday!
Debbie:  Alison, please tell us a little about yourself.
Alison:  Almost everything gets me thinking, imagining . . .  I think I had to become a writer so that I could make that habit useful.
I've been writing poems and essays almost as long as I've been reading books, which I started when I was four years old. I wrote my first (and last!) play when I was nine, ill, home from school, and very bored.
I love books. Compelling words, printed or handwritten, on paper, are among my favorite humanmade things on earth. Images hand-drawn are too. I can't imagine a world without art.
At the same time, I love being outside away from the built world. I'm especially fond of hikes through forests and mountains, and on beaches. I think if I were really honest with myself, I'd admit that the main reason I moved to Saugatuck, Michigan, in 1997, is that there are dune and forest trails here, and I can actually climb up and down, if not necessarily up and up. I love walking in cities, too; Marquette and Ann Arbor are two of my favorites. I like to walk through my grandparents' 1960s and 70s Detroit neighborhood in my memory. It was lovely.
My very first home was in Detroit (where my dad's from), my very first summer vacation was to the U.P. (were my mom's from), and those two places have quite a lot to do with the person I've become. Although I've lived in Michigan most of my life, in the 1980s I lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Seattle, Washington—not at the same time!--and I do find myself returning to Florida and Washington often. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 1990s. That was perhaps not the best fit, but I did love the trees and the bookstores. I still remember the huge old copper beech I went out of my way to walk by and the black-and-white warbler I added to my life list while living on Maple Ave.
I flat out adore the Olympic Mountains and London. I try not to be greedy for more travel, but I am.
I'm also an environmental activist and I teach writing and literature in the Environmental Studies Program at Western Michigan University. These things feed my writing less directly than you might think. In fact, it's probably more accurate to say that my reading and writing feed those roles directly and daily.
Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your books.

Alison:  Most recently, Alice Greene & Co., published my first chapbook of poems Dog Heart. This thrills me because poems were my first love and poem-making has been the one continuous thread in my creative life since I was very young. The literal dog of the title is our late golden retriever Keweenaw (named for the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula) who died in 2010 at 13. She and I roamed all over Michigan's woods and fields together. For a woman who likes to be alone in the woods, the company of a protective dog is priceless. Kewee was also special because she didn't chase deer. She sat silently while we listened to owls.
In 2006, Michigan State University Press published my book Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes. It's a collection of true stories about the lakes by women writers, some of whom didn't get to know a Great Lake until they were well into adulthood. For most of the contributors, however, the lakes have been a centerpiece of their lives. I am very grateful to everyone who participated in the project because it was definitely a labor of love. The Library of Michigan named it a Michigan Notable Book and so I got to tour Michigan libraries and talk to people about the book and the lakes. We had some memorable conversations. I write in Fresh Water about trying to break into an old family cabin and steal a tea kettle that I couldn't bear to lose. On the Notable Book tour, a woman told me about her sister who had succeeded in breaking into an old family cabin and stealing a chair. That chair now has a place of honor at all family gatherings.
I also had a hand in making the coffee-table book, The Saugatuck Dunes: Artists Respond to a Freshwater Landscape, happen. The talented Saugatuck painter Anne Corlett and my husband David Swan were my co-editors on that project. All of the artwork was donated.
In the highly technological, largely indoors life we live in the twenty-first century, storytelling, especially about sacred places, might be one of the most important things we do together.
Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?
Alison:  I've a got a few different book manuscripts in progress, including a new collection of poems and a book I'm going to keep quiet about for now, except to say that it has to do with the sort of wildness Gary Snyder writes about in The Practice of the Wild.
I've just re-launched my newly redesigned blog, Forage, where I'll be writing about books, art, wild nature, and other provisions. Last week I wrote about a display of poems by seventh graders that I stumbled upon in Gobles, Michigan.
Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?
Alison:  I'll be reading with the poet Patricia Clark on Wednesday, April 24, at 7:30, 758 Wealthy Street (the old Literary Life Bookstore space), Grand Rapids. She'll be celebrating her new book Sunday Rising and I'll be celebrating my new poetry chapbook Dog Heart. The event marks the launch of a new literary nonprofit, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters.  Then on Saturday, May 18, I'll be teaching a poetry-writing intensive, at The Box Factory in St. Joseph, Michigan (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Alison:  My favorite Michigan bookstores no longer exist, but my memories of them continue to inspire me: Jocundry's Books (East Lansing) and Shaman Drum Bookshop (Ann Arbor). I try to do as much book shopping as I possibly can at independent bookstores because browsing for books that aren't necessarily bestsellers, actually holding them in my hands and flipping through them while rubbing shoulders with others who are doing the same, is one of my favorite things to do. I love Brilliant Books' (Traverse City) tagline: "Quality facts and literary fiction for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Exactly. Hats off, too, to Singapore Bank Bookstore in my hometown of Saugatuck, to Book Beat in Oak Park, Nicola's Books and Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor, and Snowbound Books in Marquette. Literati Bookstore just opened in downtown Ann Arbor (and they've already launched their children's story hour). Literati plans to complement the selections of nearby Aunt Agatha's (mystery) and Crazy Wisdom (spirituality and living mindfully). I'd say that trio is worth a road trip.  But really? Any bookstore that's invested in offering up quality facts and literary fiction for life is a priceless treasure to a community—and in my experience that's most independent bookstores.
As for libraries, the graduate library on the University of Michigan's campus feels like a treasure trove to me. I think my heart rate actually increases when I walk up the marble staircases from the lobby. And I still feel completely at home in the library at Michigan State University.
Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Alison:  My favorite place in Michigan is anyplace where wild nature seems to be in charge, for example, on the beach, off season, at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and in some secret family spots in the U.P.; or in front of a painting at the DIA or GRAM or KIA. I still get a lump in my throat when I cross the Mackinac Bridge after at least a hundred and fifty crossings, but I admit I wish I could travel back in time to see what the straits looked like without it.
Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Alison:  Well, I do look forward to the cardinals beginning to sing their hearts out from the tops of trees again each February, and I've always adored the first day of school. But music concerts in Detroit will always be some of my favorite Michigan events. The audiences really are better there. I could tell you about the INXS concert I went to in a certain large West Coast city. (This was when Michael Hutchence was still alive.) We had ninth-row seats and the large group behind us kept telling us to sit down. I also love: Penny Stamps lectures at the Michigan Theater and UICA, and poetry readings—whenever, wherever. Most recently I heard Patricia Clark read from her new book of poems at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids. Fine poet. Fine bookstore.
Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Alison:  One of the fun-est was certainly Mary Beth Doyle, the whippersnapper environmental activist from Ann Arbor who was killed in a car accident when she was far too young. I know and love so many people in Michigan, and I keep meeting cool ones all the time. . . I just wrote a blog post about a talented public school teacher in Gobles, Michigan, Loriann Harbaugh.
Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Alison:  Michigan is probably much larger and more ecologically diverse than you realize, and surrounded by bodies of water that are also probably much larger than any lake you've ever seen (unless you've been to Lake Baikal or Lake Victoria). People from all walks of life here love the Great Lakes and don't just say they do. We get that everything's connected because the water that feeds those lakes literally flows around us and under our feet all the time.
Also, generally speaking, Michiganders really do like people. We don't just pretend to.
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?
Alison:  What's a Michiganian? I grew up in Michigan with parents and grandparents who'd grown up in Michigan, and I didn't encounter the term, "Michiganian," until I was well into adulthood. I think that maybe someone with overly refined aesthetics tried to resurrect it.  (I did a little research into Michiganian and learned that for a time in the 1800s it was used.) One of the authors you interviewed raised the question of "Michigoose"—love that. I'd be a Michigoose because I'm certainly not a male! I'm fine with that. If you look up "gander" in the dictionary you'll see that one of the definitions of gander is "ninny." That's funny! People from Michigan aren't ninnies, but most of us do have a sense of humor.
Debbie:  Michigoose it is!  Alison, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander/Michigoose Monday!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Michigander Monday: Shanda Trent

I'm very pleased to welcome Shanda Trent to Michigander Monday!!

Debbie:  Shanda, please tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

Shanda:  I have worked with young children for over 30 years. Reading to children is the favorite part of my work.  I've always been an avid reader and writer. Combine that with being "in the toddler trenches," I have had lots of experiences...and "issues," that NEED a book!  So I try to fill "book-less" niches. (There's an answer to any dilemma in a book!)  One of my first pieces was You Can't Bite Me, a result of my daughter's friend biting her. Uh-Oh, I'm Gonna Be Sick was inspired by a G.I. bug that swept our household. I have several other unpublished manuscripts that revolve around a city bus, noodles, holidays and the earth. Not all in the same manuscript, though that might be a fun exercise in writing!

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

Shanda:  Sometimes my day to day life leads to a fun-filled manuscript. Believe it or not, my just published book Farmers' Market Day started out as a grocery list!  My inner storyteller quickly told me that the grocery store wouldn't be nearly as much fun as a Farmers' Market. As both a preschool teacher and mother, we visited the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market often, stocking up on fresh produce, delicious baked goods, and great gifts. And the people-watching couldn't be better. I've seen many exuberant children like my character that illustrator Jane Dippold brought to life. Kudos to tiger tales books for pairing Jane & I.

In 2002, FMD took on an urgency to complete; I submitted it to an SCBWI-MI conference as my entry in a contest. I did not win the mentorship that year. But two years later I did win, with a manuscript called Tumbleweed Twins. I was incredibly lucky to work with fellow Michigan author, Rhonda Gowler-Green. My wild-west brothers evolved into Buckaroo Bandits, which I am submitting around. I have so many other Michigan authors and illustrators to thank for helping me to become a better writer. My monthly critique group includes Nancy Shaw, Hope Vestergaard, Shutta Crum, Tracy Gallup, Deb Pilutti, Lisa Wheeler and several other accomplished Michigan writers.

Debbie:  Favorite bookstores and libraries and other favorite places in Michigan?

ShandaNicola's Books is my favorite local indy bookstore in Ann Arbor. And I can't pass up a bookstore on any trip. In Grand Marais, Michigan, there's a very cool vintage diner with an attached bookstore. You can have your cake and read about it, too!  My first library experience was a bookmobile, which came to Cannonsburg once a week. So I was delighted to find a bookmobile when I moved to Ann Arbor in the mid 1980's. In fact, driving the bookmobile is my dream "retirement job."  Last summer, I was in Petoskey, Michigan. While the rest of my family window-shopped, I explored the library. (This says a lot about me, as I'm beach bum at heart.) Land-locked in Ann Arbor, I drag my family to Lake Michigan every summer. My husband calls this my religious pilgrimage. My idea of heaven is a quiet beach, like PJ Hoffmaster State Park near Muskegon. Back in Petoskey, my cousin told me that if I described this library as the "Mercedes Benz" of small town libraries, the library in nearby Harbor Springs is the "Rolls-Royce."

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Shanda:  I will be doing a signing / story time at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on June 1 at 11 AM.  For details, check my website ( I'm currently cutting my teeth visiting school groups in teacher-friends' classrooms. I look forward to school and library visits and other events...certainly including appearances at Farmers' Markets!

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

Shanda:  One can vacation in Michigan for 365 days and still not finish soaking up all the wonders Michigan has to offer. Have I mentioned the beach? We are surrounded by 4 of the Great Lakes.  Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes go on for majestic miles. You can't miss the tall virgin pines of Hartwick Pines State Park. Nor Tahquamenon Falls, nested deep in the woods. Michigan isn't only about "nature." The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan offer a feast of early Americana. And speaking of feasts, make sure you hit iconic Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor. And itty-bitty Pekadill's in Whitehall, Michigan. Part "old fashioned ice cream parlor," part sandwich shop, tucked into a secret garden eating area.

Debbie:  That all sounds fabulous!  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?

Shanda:  The only thing that would make me an even happier "Michigander" would be a couple hundred more days of sunshine.

Debbie:  Hear, hear!  Shanda, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!