Monday, December 15, 2014

Michigander Monday: Barbara Henning

I'm pleased to welcome Barbara Henning to Michigander Monday!

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

Barbara:  I grew up in East Detroit, a suburb of Detroit. I believe it is now called East Pointe. When I was 18 years old I moved into the city and I lived on the Eastside for a few years and then moved downtown to the Cass Corridor where I attended Wayne State University and taught in the English Department. While I was an undergrad and a grad student, I was lucky to work with Charles Baxter and Esther Broner, and a number of other very supportive writers and teachers.  In 1983 I moved to New York City where I have lived ever since – except for a year in India and a few years in Tucson, Arizona.  One of the wonderful things about living in the East Village in NYC is that I am only a few blocks away from St. Marks Poetry Project, a place where I have read many times and listened to some of the best poets in the country. But I started giving poetry readings in Detroit, at Alvin’s Finer and at the Detroit Art Museum series that George Tysh used to run.  I’m a fiction writer and a poet and my writing has been deeply influenced by my childhood and young adult life in Detroit, Michigan.  Michigan is a place that is woven into my way of living and thinking.  It is present in every book I have written.  

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

Barbara:  I have written three novels and nine books of poetry, the most recent are two collections of poetry and prose, A Swift Passage (Quale Press 2013) and Cities & Memory (Chax Press 2010); a novel, Thirty Miles to Rosebud (BlazeVOX 2009); and a collection of object-sonnets, My Autobiography (United Artists 2007). One of my first books, Smoking in the Twilight Bar is a collection of prose poems set in the Cass Corridor.

Thirty Miles to Rosebud is a novel that takes place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in New York City, with a brief drive through Detroit.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Barbara:  A Day Like Today is collection of poems forthcoming from Negative Capability Press in 2015. And I’m working on a new novel.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Barbara:  I read every year in Detroit, but nothing is scheduled right now.  I’m teaching a workshop in Goshen New York for Poetry on the Loose in a few weeks.   Reading in Portland Oregon on March 14, 2015.  Setting up a reading in 2015 with the Poetry Project in NYC.

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

Barbara:  My favorite library in Detroit is the main library on Woodward Avenue.  It is so elegant. They used to have little rooms on the second floor where you could work. I’m not sure if they are still there. When I was living in the Chatsworth Annex, I would hide out there and read and write, day after day.  My favorite bookstore was Marwil Books on the corner of Warren and Cass Ave.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Barbara:  I always loved the downtown Detroit River waterfront, sitting there and looking out at Windsor.  I know it has changed a lot over the years, but my husband, Allen Saperstein, and I used to take old time photographs of people at the Ethnic Festivals. Also he sold lemonade and popcorn there.  We spent a lot of time on the river.  I write about the riverfront (and the despair of Detroit at the time) in my novel, Black Lace.

I also love driving over the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Penninsula. The span of that bridge over the lake is gorgeous. I cross that bridge a few times in Thirty Miles to Rosebud.

When I’m visiting with relatives in Detroit now, at dusk during warm weather, there is the sound of crickets.  I miss the Michigan crickets.

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

Barbara:  In the 70’s Allen and I also worked in many fairs in Southern Michigan.  The one we loved to work the most was the Ann Arbor Art Fair.  I remember when so many hippies came in for that fair and they were sleeping along the edges of the parks.  That time is over now, but as a young person, it was exciting.

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

Barbara:  There are many wonderful writers in Detroit, from Detroit.  But there is one man on my mind right now, a wonderful old man who used to take photographs in front of the Detroit Art Museum—Art Frasier.   He would develop the photos inside an old box camera he had built and sell them for 50 cents.  We bought his camera and that was the camera we used when we traveled in the fairs. When I was a young girl, a man would come by my grandmother’s house on Altar Road on a horse to take your photograph.  I guess Art was the last of that kind of photographer in the city.  He died some years ago and I’m glad to leave his name here. We still have the camera. Here is a link to some of the photos we took in the mid 70’s. Some of the photos were taken on 2nd Avenue on the side of the Bronx Bar, others at the State Fair Grounds (now closed) and some downtown near Cobo Hall.  The one with the triangles was taken by Art before we bought the camera.

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

Barbara:  Michigan is a land of forests, snow and water, a place where I have camped and hiked, a place where industrial cities were vibrant and then desperate.  Now I hear tales of local artists and farmers remaking the landscape of the cities.  In Cities and Memories and A Swift Passage I write about Michigan and Detroit and the violence and the beauty.

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?

Barbara:  I've always been a Michigander.

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Michigander Monday: Charmi Keranen

I'm pleased to welcome Charmi Keranen to Michigander Monday!

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

Charmi:  I came to Michigan by way of the spoils of marriage, rather than by birth right.  (Who said marriage was dead?!)  My husband’s family was part of the great wave of Finnish immigrants who settled in the Keweenaw Peninsula during the mining boom.  I was raised a Hoosier, but just a mile or so from the Michigan border in an area often referred to as Michiana.  I didn’t know it, but I was already on my way to becoming a Michigan/Indiana hybrid.  The Michigan I knew growing up was the southwest corner, full of fruit hills and vineyards and towering sand dunes, hot enough to scorch a little girl’s feet come the end of summer.  Imagine my surprise the first time I saw my husband’s Michigan, the Keweenaw, when I was 19 years old.   Every last bit of geography was foreign, from the unforgettable blue of Lake Superior (which is never warm enough) to the miles and miles of pine forest.  And abandoned cemeteries!  And black bears!   It’s a grand understatement to say I was bowled over.  My hybrid fate was becoming sealed.

Fast forward a decade or so.  My wonderful in-laws have passed away and my husband and I have suddenly inherited a second home in the Keweenaw.  I have now stretched my Michiana identity all the way to butt up against Canada!  And so it remains.

Today I work as scopist for court reporters, which means that I make court transcripts readable!  I am an editor of sorts, reading everything from murder to malpractice cases.  My job inspires much of my writing.  Because I am self-employed and work from home, I have time to play around a bit.  Aside from writing (of course) I am a home brewer with a big garden (including hops) and for the past two years have been keeping bees.  At parties, people used to ask me about my work and my kids, now it’s all about the beer and the bees!  (Fingers crossed that the bees survive this winter.  Last year wasn’t so hot.  In fact, it was Polar Vortex cold.  The beer, it does just fine with the cold.)

I still talk about my kids, though.  My husband and I have two grown children.  Our son, Tom, is both a musician and a brewer.  What can be better than music and beer, huh?  Our daughter Jocelyn is serving in the Peace Corps in Tanzania.  “Hey Mom, that bird noise outside my window, turns out it was a hyena.”  Gah!  I will be visiting her this winter and gaining an entirely new perspective on life, I’m sure.

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

Charmi:  In 2012 my first poetry chapbook, The Afterlife is a Dry County, was published by Big Wonderful Press.  You can pick it up directly from the publisher, but it is also available from Amazon and on Kindle (instant gratification!)  It’s a fun little book with my hybrid nature on full display.  I am also very excited to be included in the anthology Here, coming out in the spring of 2015, from Michigan State University Press.  Many thanks to Ron Riekki for choosing my work to be included.  I am thrilled!

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Charmi:  Yes!  This summer I finished a found poetry manuscript called So ber.  The poems in So ber are not so much erasures as they are gleanings taken from the novel So Big by Kalamazoo native Edna Ferber, winner of the 1925 Pulitzer Prize.  I began So ber back in 2013 when I took part in a project called the Pulitzer Remix, put together by the editor of the Found Poetry Review.  At that time I wrote 30 poems for National Poetry Month.  Over the summer of 2014 I expanded the manuscript to 55 poems.  So ber is in search of a publisher.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Charmi:  Oh, yes.  Harbinger Books in Calumet, Michigan.  It has so much character and you’ll find everything from wonderful poetry to great Michigan history tomes.  I stumbled upon them one rainy day and came out with more books than one should try to juggle in a downpour.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Charmi:  The Keweenaw AND the fruit hills.

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

Charmi:  Nothing beats the Gay parade on the 4th of July in the little town of Gay, population 60.  It’s the bomb.  Except maybe picking blueberries on the Lake Superior shoreline outside of Gay in August.  That’s also the bomb.  Sometimes a black bear will join you.

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

Charmi:  Oh, gosh.  Read David Dodd Lee’s poetry and Bonnie Jo Campbell’s fiction.  They’re not just top notch Michigan writers, they are top notch American writers.  You will read their work and say, What?!  What?!  You won’t be the same.

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

Charmi:  Michigan is so diverse.  I’ve talked about the places I know, but those places are just a tiny part of Michigan.  There is so much more.  I mean, I haven’t even started talking about the great beer!

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?

Charmi:  A billion pages ago I said I was a hybrid.  I guess that’s what I remain.  I am a Michianite.  Truly.  Check my DNA.

Debbie:  Charmi, we'll put you in the Michianite column!  Thank you for joining us today for Michianite Monday!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Especially for Teachers!

Teacher friends, I'm happy to share word that there are now two discussion and activity guides for my and Dan Santat's picture book Picture Day Perfection.

One guide is for K-2 Classes; the other is for Grades 3-5.  Both guides are Common Core State Standards Aligned and include classroom activities and projects.  The upper elementary guide includes a Readers Theatre script.

To download the free guides, head on over to my web site:  You can find the links on the Picture Day Perfection page.

The guides were developed by Debbie Gonzales, who does fabulous guides for all sorts of books.  You can find more of her guides at her web site.

If you use Picture Day Perfection in your classroom, please let me know -- I would love to hear about it!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Michigander Monday: Julie Lawson Timmer

I'm pleased to welcome Julie Lawson Timmer to Michigander Monday!

Julie:  Thank you for having me, Debbie!

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

Julie:  I live in Ann Arbor with my husband and our four teenagers (we’re a blended family) and two labs. I work full-time as an auto industry lawyer, and I write from 4-6 am every morning.

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

Julie:  Five Days Left tells the story of two people who have five days left with the ones they love. Mara is a Type A lawyer living in Plano, Texas, with her adopted daughter and her husband. She’s been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, and she’s considering taking her own life in five days, to spare herself and her family from the horrible future the illness will bring. Meanwhile, in Royal Oak, Michigan, Scott is a middle school basketball coach who has five days left with Curtis, the eight-year-old boy who’s been living with Scott and his wife for the past year while Curtis’s mother is in jail. Scott and Mara are both members of an anonymous Internet parenting forum, and they have become friends, even though they don’t know each other’s names. The book explores the limits of human endurance, the things we do for love and the friendships that sustain us.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Julie:  Yes! I recently sold my second book, Untethered, to Putnam, and it’s currently scheduled for publication in 2016. It touches on step parenting, foster care, adoption and the question of what makes a family. Between working on edits for that book, I've been drafting a third and outlining a fourth. I need more hours in the day!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Julie:  With the holidays coming up, I don’t have anything big scheduled. Writers might want to come to a panel I’m doing with Lori Nelson Spielman at Write on the Red Cedar on January 16/17, in Lansing. For readers, my next scheduled Michigan appearance isn't until April. But I’d love to see Michigan readers there! I’ll be at the Spring Lake Distric Library on Thursday, April 16 at 7 pm. I’m also very happy to attend book club meetings via Skype, so if anyone’s book club has plans to discuss Five Days Left, they should feel free to contact me via my website ( and set that up. I love talking to readers.

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

Julie:  Oh boy--impossible to pick a single bookstore. We are lucky to have so many terrific ones in Michigan, and I’ve been so fortunate to spend time in each, and to get to know their terrific owners and staff. I love Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, as well as Literati and Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor and Horizon Books in Traverse City. My family has spent countless hours in the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, and it will always be one of my favorite places in town.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Julie:  We have a cottage on a small, no-motor lake in Gladwin county and it’s the most peaceful place in the world. We have made many wonderful family memories there. I also love Ann Arbor and can’t imagine ever living anyplace else. (Except in winter, when I can quite easily imagine living on Maui!)

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

Julie:  I love the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Our family also loves attending Michigan football and basketball games. The former have been a little tougher to take this year, though!

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

Julie:  As a result of writing Five Days Left, I have become friends with two lovely, talented Michigan authors--Camille Noe Pagan of Ann Arbor and Lori Nelson Spielman of Lansing. They both have one book out already (The Art of Forgetting for Camille and The Life List for Lori) and they each have a second coming soon (Sweet Forgiveness by Lori, coming June 2015).

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

Julie:  Well, I recently learned that non-Michiganders are under the incorrect impression that Big Boy is a thing of the past. So, I’d like to announce: we still have Big Boys here, and many of them! I’ve actually never been to one, but I love seeing the cute little guy rotating on the top of the restaurant signs in almost every town we drive past on I-75.

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?

Julie:  I’m a Michigander.

Debbie:  Julie, we'll add you to the Michigander column.  Thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Michigander Monday: Richard Katrovas

I'm pleased to welcome Richard Katrovas to Michigander Monday.

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

Richard:  I grew up on the road. My father, through the fifties and into the sixties, kited checks and scammed car dealers. He was wanted in forty-seven states when he was finally caught. I’m the oldest of five, all born over the course of our parents’ protracted road trip. My family lived on welfare both times my father was incarcerated in federal prisons (five-to-ten out in three), the second time in the Norfolk, Virginia, federal housing projects. I was adopted into a navy family in my early teens, moved to Sasebo, Japan, where I earned a second-degree black belt in Sho-bu-kan Okinawa-te. I put myself through college primarily by teaching karate and working in restaurants. I graduated from San Diego State University, and then attended the University of Virginia on a Hoyns fellowship. I subsequently attended the MFA program at the University of Arkansas for two years, but graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop. I taught for twenty years at the University of New Orleans, taking early retirement in 2002. I've taught for twelve years at Western Michigan University. I’m the founding director of the Prague Summer Program, which is going into its twenty-second year. I witnessed Prague’s Velvet Revolution on a Fulbright fellowship in 1989. I have three Czech-American daughters. My oldest, Ema, twenty-four, is an opera singer in Europe.

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

Richard:  I've published fifteen books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. My first three books were published by Wesleyan University Press (my first won the Wesleyan New Poets Series in 1982), and Carnegie Mellon University Press has published six. My newest books are Raising Girls in Bohemia: Meditations of an American Father (Three Rooms Press, New York: 2014) and a poetry collection, Swastika to Lotus (forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon in late 2015). My books have been nominated for all the big awards, but nominations are no big deal. My books have been widely and positively reviewed over the years. My poems, stories and essays have appeared in scores of the most respected literary journals and anthologies.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Richard:  I’m putting finishing touches on a novel, Confessions of a Waiter, and a story collection, The Great Czech Navy.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Richard:  I attended my book launch in New York a couple weeks ago, and read and lectured in the Meachem Literary Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn., a few days. On November 20, I read in WMU’s Frostic Reading Series. I’ll read at University of Mississippi in the spring, and in New Orleans while I’m down there.

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

Richard:  I’m very proud of the Kalamazoo Public Library. I love the Michigan News Agency. It’s owned and run by an angel. K’zoo Books is also terrific.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Richard:  I love to walks around Asylum Lake, in Kalamazoo, with my wife. I love South Haven. I must say that my life is such that I really don’t have many opportunities to travel around the state. Most of what I know about Michigan I've learned from my students’ stories, essays and poems. Just today, a young woman put up for critique a story set in Battle Creek, where she grew up. I learned a lot about the working-class youth culture there, about the effects of the cereal industry moving away. The story of course needs a lot of editing, a lot of work, but it’s full of wisdom, and full of wary love for the writer’s hometown. I have to say that I love my Michigan students. I can love Michigan through them.

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

Richard:  Spring. I love the hell out of spring.

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

Richard:  Arnie and Deborah Johnston are state treasures. Deb grew up here, raised a family here, in her short fiction writes gloriously about southwest Michigan. Arnie came here decades ago and is a true Renaissance man. They collaborate on terrific plays that get produced all over, even in New York.

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

Richard:  The term “pure Michigan” is unfortunate on several levels, but the landscape of this state is as stunning, in its way, as that of any other.

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?

Richard:  I’m neither. I've not earned the right to call myself a Michigander (my favorite of the two). I spend too much time traveling around the country and living in Europe to feel genuinely rooted here. But, like I said earlier, I feel connected to this place primarily through my Michigander students.

Debbie:  Richard, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Michigander Monday: Jo Anne Normile

I'm pleased to welcome Jo Anne Normile to Michigander Monday!  This post includes a book giveaway -- check for details at the end of the entry.

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

Jo Anne:  I am lifelong resident of Michigan.  I currently live in Plymouth, between Ann Arbor and Detroit, on a small horse farm. I was one of those girls who always loved horses but grew up in a tiny two-bedroom tract house in the suburbs and then lived the first 16 years of my marriage in Westland. In a kind of I Love Lucy moment, I convinced my husband to move from our bustling suburb to a house in the country. At age 36 I got my first horse, a beautiful black Quarter Horse that I named Beauty, after Black Beauty. A few months later, she was followed by a sweet, docile orangey/mahogany horse I named Pumpkin.  She was skinny and sickly when I first brought her home on Christmas Eve, but by the next spring, her beautiful ginger highlights were shining.

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

Jo Anne:  The book is called Saving Baby and was just released in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press. I started out self-publishing it in paperback because no publisher thought it would sell. But the book received some excellent reviews (I wrote it with New York Times bestselling writer Larry Lindner) and in early January, I brought it to a new agent, and within three weeks it had gone to auction with the bids going up and up. In the end, St. Martin’s Press beat out Simon & Schuster. Now it’s available in all the bookstores as well as online and will soon be out in audio. Readers Digest picked it up for an adaptation this coming February so it has been a very exciting year.

The book is about my star-crossed entry into racing. I had two well-bred Thoroughbreds: one, a granddaughter of Secretariat, and the other, Baby of the book’s title. He, too, came from fine racing lineage. I had no intention to race but got pulled in by a fluke. Then I saw that racing is not kind to horses, to say the least, so I did an about-face and started a horse rescue called CANTER. It was the first rescue to take horses directly from the track to safe havens. In time, CANTER had operations at tracks in more than 10 states, and I ended up responsible for saving more than 4,000 equines – more than any other horse rescue. I was given an award for my work that needed the approval of Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, so in a certain way things came full circle. It was because of Penny Chenery that I ended up having a granddaughter of Secretariat in the first place! I could have potentially made a considerable amount if I let her continue to race, but I realized by degrees that racing is not a blanket of red roses thrown over a horse, not all mint juleps and large hats. The racing industry treats “spent” horses like a bent deck of cards, treating them in the harshest ways possible, and I couldn't be part of that.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Jo Anne:  No books right now, although I've been asked repeatedly by my readers when my next book is coming out.  The ultimate honor!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jo Anne:  I’ll be at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on November 19 at 7:00 o’clock  and at Barnes & Noble in Northville on November 22 at 2:00 o’clock.

Debbie:  Is there anything unique about this book that readers should know?

Jo Anne:  Most definitely! A portion of the proceeds of each and every book helps fund Saving Baby Equine Charity so that readers actually become directly involved in horse rescue and can go on the website under Success Stories and see the horses they have helped. They can also follow the rescue on its Facebook page if they prefer.

Debbie:  How can readers stay in touch with you?

Jo Anne:  I love interaction with readers because they have truly shared my life with me through my book's pages and we have also become partners in horse rescue and promoting change. Readers can stay in touch with me on Facebook at my book's page Saving Baby - How One Woman's Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption

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

Jo Anne:  It would be hard to pick a favorite library. I love every one I've been in.  I personally visited many of them when my book was self-published, and they were all extremely supportive of a Michigan writer.  They hosted “Meet the Author” days, advertised the events, put up posters, and kept in touch with me afterwards.  One was even responsible for having me be the guest speaker at an equine event not related to the library.

I received similar enthusiastic support from Nicola’s Books, an independent store that likes to promote Michigan authors. The special people at Nicola’s have asked me back for a second “Meet the Author” evening.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jo Anne:  My parents were both born in Keweenaw, known as Michigan’s Copper Country, located in the far west of the Upper Peninsula and 600 miles away from the Detroit area.  As a child we vacationed there every summer.  Heavily forested, with high cliffs, a historic fort, wild blueberries to pick for fresh pie, swimming in Lake Superior (brrrrrr) and lots of wildlife  – even bears, oh, my! Spectacular!

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

Jo Anne:  Right now! Michigan autumns!  The magnificence of the trees as they put on their show of colors brings people from other states for fall leaf tours.  Autumn means the opening of all the apple cider mills.  There’s nothing like a trail ride at this time of year to enjoy fresh cider, homemade donuts and, of course, apples for your horse.

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

Jo Anne:  I love the compassionate people of Michigan that I have worked with my lifetime here.   We have two large humane societies for animals, special wildlife rehabilitation centers, and large numbers of dog and cat rescues and horse rescues. They know our work is not over so all strive to keep improving the welfare of all beings we share this earth with.

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

Jo Anne:  We have the full change of seasons so something for everyone. Autumn, as I mentioned, is stunning.  For summer, we are surrounded by the Great Lakes with thousands of inland lakes for unlimited summer fun.  Winter brings lots of snow for downhill and cross country skiers and snowmobilers or just making a giant snowman. Another great time to trail ride—no bugs!!   Spring comes in with a vibrant burst of color when the yellow forsythia bloom in landscaped yards, and here in Michigan it grows wild in nearly every field.

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?

Jo Anne:  Michigander.

Debbie:  Jo Anne, we'll add you to the Michigander column.  Thank you so much for joining us today!

Jo Anne's publisher has generously provided three copies of Saving Baby as a giveaway.  First three to claim one in the comments section, they're yours!  (Leave your name in the comments; I'll get your address by email so that the publisher can send your book.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Michigander Monday: Laura Lee

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

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

Laura:  I’m a full time author, or more accurately a half-time author. I divide my time between producing ballet educational tours, which has me on the road five months a year, and writing. The division is not neat. I often write while on the road. Between tours I am working to set them up. But those are the two sides of my career.

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

Laura:  I've published 15 books. Mostly humorous non-fiction. My biggest seller was The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation which sold 85,000 copies or so. It is about the science behind annoying things. It’s part of my “negative things” series. The most recent is Don’t Screw It Up published by Reader’s Digest. It is about how to avoid various common screw ups. There is also Broke is Beautiful about the joys of being broke, 100 Most Dangerous Things and How to Avoid Them, and Schadenfreude, Baby. I've also written one children’s book, A Child’s Introduction to Ballet, The Elvis Impersonation Kit and various other things.

My first novel was Angel, which has just come out in audio format. It has been really interesting to hear characters I created voiced by an actor. Shea Taylor, the narrator, did a great job with the dialogue.

I wrote Angel to explore themes of beauty, identity and inspiration. Some people consider its plot to be controversial, as it is about a Christian minister who becomes attracted to another man, but my purpose was not to be shocking or political. It is much less controversial a topic today than it was when I was writing it a number of years ago.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Laura:  I've just successfully crowdsourced my second novel. It will be the first independent fiction I have put out. I am glad I crowdsourced it because it does not feel as if I am out there all alone. It is great to have a team. The novel is called Identity Theft. It tells the story of a young man who works in a rock star’s office handling the social media. He decides to pose as his boss and flirt with a fan. This sets off a chain of events he can’t control. It is sometimes comic and sometimes chilling as he tries to fix what he has broken without revealing what he has done.

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

Laura:  My favorite Michigan bookstore is John K. King in Detroit. I could explore there for hours, although it has been some time since I have. I’m a starving artist after all. I am much more of a library person these days. I am a power user of Melcat, the interlibrary loan system.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Laura:  I've always had good experiences when I visited the U.P.

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

Laura:  I’m very involved in the Birmingham Unitarian Church’s twice-a-year rummage sales. They fall in between my two ballet tours. I like the camaraderie, the hard work and the treasure hunting.

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

Laura:  Have you heard of Ric Carver?  He’s a local actor and a fixture at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. He is a multi-talented variety performer and one of the most genuine people you could hope to meet. I really admire him and the naturalness of his ability as a performer. There are few people who can connect to an audience on a personal level like he can. He is the real deal.

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

Laura:  If you ask someone from Michigan where he lives he will instinctively raise his right hand, hold it as if it were in a mitten and point to a spot on the palm. This amuses people from outside the state, but it is actually useful. The other day, I was watching Orange is the New Black with my mother and a character was supposed to be from Michigan. “Where are you from?” “Muskegon.” “Where is that?” She did the hand thing, pointing to the center of the hand near Mt. Pleasant.  My mother and I both turned to each other and said, “That’s not Muskegon.” Michiganders know where they live on the hand. They also know where other cities are on the hand. You can’t just point at random. It’s a real map.

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?

Laura:  Michigander.

Debbie:  Laura, we'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Michigander Monday: Elinor Benedict

I'm pleased to welcome Elinor Benedict to Michigander Monday!

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

Elinor:  I have about three states to my name now.  Born and grew up in East Tennessee, mountain country. Lived there until I married another Tennessean, Sam Benedict, and went to seek our fortune in Ohio until we moved with his company, Mead Paper Corp, which ultimately took us to Escanaba, Michigan, in the UP!

We've lived there for almost 40 years, so we are really Yoopers now. Except we now spend the winters in Florida. But most of my poems are about the UP. If you heard me talk, you'd say: "Why does she have a Southern accent?"  Now you know.

Debbie:  And please tell us about your books.

Elinor:  My first complete collection of poems (after some chapbooks) was All That Divides Us. It's about China and an aunt who married a Chinese man who was studying in America back in the 30's. So I have Chinese cousins, and the book is about how that is. Of course the book has a lot of history and cultural interplay in it. My second collection is about the Upper Peninsula mostly, and family.  It's called Late News from the Wilderness. Several kinds of wildernesses. I'm trying now to put together a third collection, probably called  Early Girl, if I last that long to put it together.

I don't want to forgot the most important thing--the forthcoming anthology Here, with work by UP women writers. What a dynamo that Ron Riekki is, who put the whole thing together in a work-intensive process!  I just got through going over the proof, and I think it will be a credit to our region and state--and anywhere.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Elinor:  I'm going to Florida in a few days for the winter. That doesn't mean I'm a turncoat. It means I'm getting old and need to avoid freezing. I have given a few readings there--but hope to work on the next book and not gallivant around too much.

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

Elinor:  My favorite bookstore is Canterbury Bookstore in Escanaba, but I hear there's a super  one up in Munising now--one that has a delightful ambience. The library in Escanaba is wonderful, though. It's got amazingly fine collections and personnel. Also they have sponsored readings from time to time.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Elinor:  Well, my home is my favorite location in Michigan. We're on the top of Lake Michigan and so we have water AND trees. The trees were beautiful here this fall--but winter is coming fast.

US Highway 2 and Interstate 75 all the way to the Ohio border.

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

Elinor:  Oh, yeah--when family (including Great-Grandaughter Norah) comes to visit us at our home, described above.

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

Elinor:  Wendy Irish is a good person to know. She just hiked the John Muir Trail (alone!) in California and is a true nature girl.  She now lives in Munising and is painting her house tomorrow.

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

Elinor:  There are a lot of different kind of scenes and places in Michigan, and lots of people from other places that live here now. Cities and wild lands both.

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?

Elinor:  I am a mixed-breed. North and South. Maybe a Michi-goose. Something like that.

Debbie:  Elinor, we will add you to the Michi-goose column.  Thank you so much for joining us for Michi-goose Monday!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Using "Picture Day Perfection" in the classroom!

My and Dan Santat's book Picture Day Perfection is not just for Picture Day!

Picture Day Perfection is a fun story with an unexpected ending, and it's appropriate for all elementary school ages, including upper elementary.  (In fact, due to its subtle humor, it's particularly appealing to students in the 3rd through 5th grade range.)

Use of the story can be a launching point for a teaching lesson or other classroom activity, at any time during the year.  Possible classroom connections include reading, writing, technology, art, and more.

Resources for classroom use of the story include:

And some examples of real life classroom use of Picture Day Perfection include:
If you use Picture Day Perfection in your classroom, I'd love to hear about it!  Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.  And if you blog or post to your web site about your classroom use, let me know so I can add your post to the list above.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Poetry Friday

I've heard zenos are all the rage right now, so I thought I'd try one.

October Celebration

Dropping down to dance on the lawn.
Bustling party,
room for
Sunny descent;
Each of the leaves
knows the

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pout-Pout Fish Costume Character visit this Monday 10/13! Tour wrap-up photos. Web site news. All in one overdue blog post.

Several bits of news to share:

First, for those of you in the Lansing area:  The costume character of The Pout-Pout Fish will be visiting the Okemos/Meridian Mall location of Schuler Books at 7 PM on Monday, October 13.  I'll be there as well to read The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School.  Bring your kids, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, and come get your photo taken with The Pout-Pout Fish!

Second, I'm pleased to let you know that my web site has recently had an overhaul.  If you want to take a look, it's at

Finally, I thought I'd share some of the photos that I took during the second half of my and Dan Hanna's recent book tour.  The second week of our travels took us to PS 31 in Brooklyn; the Flatiron Building in NYC (home of our publisher); Maderia Elementary in Cincinnati, OH; Elm Primary School in Wyoming, OH; Blue Manatee Books in Cincinnati; College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur; the WXIA TV studio in Atlanta; Glennwood Elementary in Decatur; Little Shop of Stories in Decatur; Discovery Place Kids in Rockingham, NC; Sandhills Classical Christian School in Southern Pines, NC; Country Bookshop in Southern Pines; Montessori School of Raleigh, NC; Millbrook Elementary in Raleigh; and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.  A wonderful trip!