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!!


Ann Holt said...

I loved this interview with Jo Dereske! As a retired librarian, I can point to Miss Zukas as a personal inspiration in performing the job correctly while still finding time to solve mysteries.

historywriter said...

Jo's a wonderful writer and a wonderful friend. So nice to see her here. We love the Miss Zuka books. Here's to all librarians. I just got hosted by several for a community read.

Now I'll have to pay attention here at your blog as I'm a K College grad, though now a long time Pacific NW citizen.

Ann Finkelstein said...

What an interesting interview. I'll have to check out Jo's books.