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!