Monday, February 23, 2015

Michigander Monday: Alison DeCamp

I'm pleased to welcome Alison DeCamp to Michigander Monday!

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

Alison:  I grew up in St. Ignace, Michigan, attended MSU, taught middle school and high school language arts until our second child was born (both children are now teenagers), have had a variety of jobs since (dog walker, bookseller) but have mainly been a stay-at-home wife and mother, and now a writer—what I've secretly wanted to be since I was a kid.

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

Alison:  My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) is basically Diary of a Wimpy Kid set in 1895. Stan is hauled to a lumber camp in the U.P. with his mother and granny. There he is determined to find his long-lost father (the one who, until recently, he thought was “dearly departed.”). He’s foiled at every turn by his slightly older cousin, Geri (who diagnoses him will all sorts of 19th century diseases), Stinky Pete (who may or may not be a cold-blooded killer), and his mama’s unwelcome suitors. He also embellishes his tale with postcards, trading cards, and advertisements from the time period.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Alison:  I have a three book deal with Phoebe Yeh at Crown Books for Young Readers. I just got edits back for the second book. It’s the same characters (mostly) now in St. Ignace. Except Stan’s dad might actually show up. And that could be good, or it could be really bad. I’m not sure what she will want for book three, but I have some other books I’m working on, both middle grade.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Alison:  My launch party will be held at Between the Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs on February 25, and I’ll be signing books on February 28 at 2:00 at Horizon Books in Traverse City. I have some school events scheduled as well.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Alison:  My very favorite bookstore is the one in Harbor Springs: Between the Covers. I also work there part time, but that’s mainly for the discount. Also, I think I was in there so much the owner, Katie Capaldi, just gave up and offered me a job.

Debbie:  A favorite Michigan library?

Alison:  Of course the Harbor Springs Public Library, which is small and quaint and dates back to 1894.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Alison:  I really, really love Harbor Springs and am so happy I get to call it home. It’s true there is no Target, but I’m a small-town girl at heart. Also, I love the lake. (I would take a Target, however.)

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

Alison:  I’m not a huge “event” person, but in 2016 Harbor Springs is beginning its first annual Harbor Springs Festival of the Book, a three day festival that will bring nationally known authors to town to celebrate stories in all forms. I’m crazy excited for this.

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

Alison:  There are so many, aren’t there? My favorite YA writer is Kate Bassett, also my critique partner. Her book, Words and Their Meanings, hit many Michigan best-seller lists and is beautiful writing mixed with a heartfelt story.

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

Alison:  I would love non-Michiganders to know that Michigan is so incredibly beautiful it will take your breath away. The lakes in the summer, the trees in autumn, the snow-covered everything in winter and the relief we all feel with spring make it hard to beat.

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?

Alison:  I’m a Yooper. ;)

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

Find Alison at her web site, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Goodreads.  Signed copies of her book can be ordered from Between the Covers at 231-526-6658 or through its Facebook page

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mr. Fish encountered a shark...

...but lived to tell.

(No fish were harmed in the making of this photo.  Taken by Macmillan staff at Toy Fair 2015.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Michigander Monday: Josh Malerman

I'm pleased to welcome Josh Malerman to Michigander Monday!

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

Josh:  For ten years I was a “failed” novelist. That means I began many of them but never finished one. I had a breakthrough at age 29, wrote a crazy psycho-sexual horror novel in 28 days and in the ten years that have followed I've been finishing them one after another. Of course, there are many things I could tell you about myself. But the middle point of those two decades really means something to me.

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

Josh:  Bird Box is about a mother and two kids traveling down a river blindfolded, attempting to escape Infinity. Sounds nuts, yeah? Well we've all heard the idea that man can’t fathom infinity… that our minds aren't equipped for it. Even as a kid this idea worried me. But what scares me more is the idea of infinity personified, a creature capable of scrambling our brains in the same way. I imagine Infinity on the porch-swing, waiting for me to finish my coffee and leave the house. There I’d see him/it and… and who knows, right? What would happen if we encountered this impossibly lofty idea in a sentient form? Well, that’s what’s happened to Malorie in Bird Box. The book alternates between these river scenes and snapshots of Malorie and a half dozen housemates, people trying to figure out how to live with Infinity out on the front porch.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Josh:  Working on the follow up now. I don’t have a title for it yet. Usually I do and usually those few words propel me. Maybe I’ll find it soon. In any event, it’s about members of the army band, sent into the jungle to locate the source of a mysterious, nasty sound. Imagine musician-soldiers on night-watch, wearing headphones, pointing boom-mics into the deep dark woods.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Josh:  February 16th at Literati Books in Ann Arbor. April 11th in San Antonio, TX. Since Bird Box was named one of Michigan’s notable books, I’ll tour a handful of libraries. An appearance at the Ferndale Library on April 2nd, which is especially exciting because the book is featured for the month of March, in which copies are handed out to library members who want it. So that appearance could be a good one.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Josh:  Book World in Marquette is exactly what I love about a bookstore. I lived up there for three months and that’s where I got my magazines (Rue Morgue and Fangoria) plus any new horror novels that came out. Got Breed there. McLean and Eakin in Petoskey is out of this world. Kind of place where you wanna absorb every book in the store. Book Beat in Oak Park is incredible. Just wonderful. The feel in there, the stock, the owners. It’s the kind of place you can walk into and immediately start talking books with people. They turned me on to Philip K. Dick, amongst others. The Library Bookstore in Ferndale has a great horror section, manned by a fella who knows more about the genre than just about anybody I know. When my band was touring I used to call him up on the phone, “Hey, I’m at a Salvation Army in Arizona… found a collection called Dark Forces. Is it a good one?” Bookbug in Kalamazoo is awesome. Nicola's in Ann Arbor. I love love love Schuler Books in Lansing, Okemos, and Grand Rapids. I mean, there are so many good ones. Brilliant Books up north.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Josh:  I love Marquette. My girl is from the UP and her sister lives in Marquette and we spent a season (Autumn) up there. I rented an office from which you could see Lake Superior. It was one of those old detectivey offices; frosted glass windows, creaky wood floors… felt straight out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But there are so many places. One summer Allison and I really experienced Michigan’s west coast. It’s hard to spend time out there and not wanna move there. You know? And yet, how is home not my favorite? Where my family and insane friends live? Where my office is? Where I can hang out with a different invigorating character every night of the week?

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

Josh:  Motor City Nightmares. I love when a conference room becomes a horror market. I love when people dress up scary. You can meet weird filmmakers there, find old horror soundtracks on vinyl. I met Dee Wallace there one year. I was so nervous.

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

Josh:  Ah man. How about the actor Jason Glasgow. And my girl Allison Laakko is a holy-shit artist, actress, singer, too. I not so secretly see her completing a masterpiece one day. Matt Jones. Musician from Ypsilanti. Misty Lynn, also from Ypsilanti. Start there. They’ll blow your minds up the middle and their shows feel like summer camp used to feel; that sense of, But I don’t wanna go home yet! Go Comedy and Planet Ant both have great comedy troupes. Jeff Milo is our music-journalist-hero. The bass player form my band, the High Strung, also plays in a band called the Mythics and they are really good. Gorgeous, delicate, classy, inspiring. The Handgrenades, a rock band who are reinventing themselves as I write this. James Hall, filmmaker, just finished the Harbinger, a great horror short you can find online. He’s another one I anticipate a holy-shit work of art from. Eleanora’s new EP is magnificent. Get Super Rad, filmmakers, editors; these guys are amazing.

In other words, I’m surrounded. We all are. And we love it that way.

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

Josh:  Oh, I don’t know! Come visit Allison and I. Come over to our house and we’ll play you records and we can talk weird books and movies and maybe we’ll even paint ourselves up and build an alien landing pad out in the yard. Maybe aliens will even land on it. We can shoot a movie, eat well, sleep, whatever. But whatever we do, we’re gonna do it with spirit and I think most houses are like that in this area. Let the non-michiganders know that there’s a lot of spirit here. You know how some places, some locales are regarded as “spiritual vortexes”? Michigan is kinda like that. In a less crystally way.

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?

Josh:  Michigander. I’ve never tried the other one on. Maybe I should. Maybe that’ll be like an artistic phase thing. Malerman was a Michigander up until 2015, when he quite suddenly became a Michiganian. Some found it curious, others snooty, but as they say, Life is a wheel that constantly turns, and reinvention is how the old ways burn…

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

Monday, February 9, 2015

Michigander Monday: Jillena Rose

I'm pleased to welcome Jillena Rose to Michigander Monday!  Jillena is one of the five finalists for the U.P. Poet Laureate position.

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

Jillena:  My parents moved up to Hancock, Michigan when I was seven . I grew up there and after moving away (1986) for a few years and having a family, I returned to the Sault Sainte Marie area with my then husband and three children in 1997. I did my undergraduate work at LSSU and received my MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina in 2006. I’ve been teaching as full-time faculty since 2009—mostly Freshman Composition and Creative Writing. My colleagues and I founded the Creative Writing Program in 2010 and we have a terrific, talented and diverse faculty. I’m non-fiction Editor for our International Journal, Border Crossing. I write my own work when I can and enjoy more than I can say, growing our writers both on campus and in the community.

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

Jillena:  I write mostly poetry and some creative non-fiction. I’ve been published in several print and online publications. I suppose the poem with the most history is "Taos," which was chosen by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser to appear in his syndicated column. From there, it was picked up by a Syrian Professor and translated into Arabic and released to papers in Jordan and Iraq—the poem that went around the world. I have one small chapbook of poems, Cedar Cathedral,  is available locally.

I was pleased to be part of a community project in St. Ignace three years ago. I participated in nine months of conversations between local Catholic and tribal communities in an effort to re-vise and re-shape the historic Father Marquette Pageant to more accurately reflect the early relationship between the Anishnabe and Jesuit communities in that area. The result of these historic and challenging talks is a small booklet,  Walking the Quill of the Feather: a short reflection of the spiritual history of the Anishnabe and the Jesuits at St. Ignace. It represents the beginning of a long overdue healing conversation that continues today.

Debbie:  Other publications and projects on the horizon?

Jillena:  My chapbook, Light As Sparrows, is forthcoming in 2015 from Aldrich Press. The book is a collection of ekphrastic narrative poems in the voices of  Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz.  I’m editing a small cross-genre book, Adoration in Ordinary Times, and am preparing to send it to some small presses. I’m also in the process of translating a wonderful little 19th century handwritten journal from the original French.  It’s full of poems and songs and prayers—a treasure picked up by a friend at a dollar a bag book sale at one of our UP Libraries!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jillena:  I have no appearances planned at this time.

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

Jillena:  My favorite Michigan bookstore might surprise you. There’s a tremendously huge consignment shop in Laurium, Michigan called the Yard Sale. It’s in a wonderful old wood and marble bank building. The entire first floor is full, top to bottom, of used books of every kind you can imagine. I spend hours there every time I visit the Keweenaw.  My favorite libraries are the ones closest to my home and heart. Bayliss Community Library was willing to work with me to begin a writers group almost ten years ago and a reading series to highlight local and regional poets. Both are still going strong today.  Pickford Community Library is relatively new on the scene. They began as a grassroots, from scratch community project, raising money through fall harvest days and hamburger bashes. They are now part of the Superior District Library. Programming for the community at this little library is phenomenal, providing opportunities in a rural area unheard of in most of the UP. The director, Ann Marie Smith, along with her cadre of dedicated volunteers is a powerhouse.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jillena:  My favorite place in Michigan is the Upper Peninsula. I can’t believe the grace and good fortune that allow me to work at what I love in the place I love.  As for the rest, please see the next answer.

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

Jillena:  I attend the shore of Lake Superior year round to watch the changes in the shoreline, the rising and setting of the sun, the passage of seasons over the waters and storms with winds and waves singing louder than any symphony ever could. I attend the silent woods in winter, the busy woods in Spring, and the brilliant woods in Autumn. I sit or stand perfectly still until a snowy owl  or a soaring hawk  appears in a flash, swoops down then disappears up into the sky. I frequent the parks along the St. Mary’s River in summer and listen to the tourists shout the names of the freighters up-bound or down and guess at what they’re carrying. I drive through Blaney Park every chance I get. It’s a vintage resort from the 20’s and 30’s, now almost a ghost town. You can almost hear an old wind-up victrola playing from the old dining hall when you drive through.  I return to the Keweenaw at least once a year to walk among the ruins of copper mines, eat at the Suomi Bakery and seek out the old outdoor rinks where my sisters and I skated in winter, heedless of the cold. I attend the backyards of friends on long summer nights to sing and listen to them play music while crickets chirp, bats flit overhead and a fire burns in an old stove to hold-back the inevitable chill. Once a year, just before school starts again, I travel to Whitefish Point and stand at what I thought of when I was a little girl as the tip of real world. I would find it on the map and cover it with my finger and close my eyes.  Now I got to that sacred place, the place where we commemorate the hard working freighter crews of the Great Lakes and beyond.  I think back over the past year and cast my hopes for the new one out into the lake.

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

Jillena:  To be honest, the interesting people I know in the UP would rather I talk about what they give to our communities than who they are themselves, because these people, more than any others, make a community rich in opportunities and resources  so young families and artists want to stay and make this their home. I think there is a misperception that the UP is a wasteland devoid of culture and “good things” that enrich life elsewhere. This just isn’t so. Here are a few things you should know: We have breweries like Soo Brew, Upper Hand Brewery  and the Keweenaw Brewing Company  that provide not only terrific ale, but are also venues for live entertainment. We have wineries producing award winning estate grown wine like Northern Sun Winery in Bark River. We have locally owned restaurants that try to use locally grown  produce and meat like Bobaloon’s in Escanaba and Upper Crust Pizza in Sault Sainte Marie. Most larger towns have farmer’s markets that run summer and winter. We have terrific musicians in the area who often run a circuit of free to the public music in the park events during the summer months. The Errant Late Night Gardeners are a terrific early Jazz trio. No Strings Attached is an all female trio that plays lovely country music and ballads. Lise White and friends play everything  from jazz to Bob Dylan  to traditional French Canadian folksongs. Finally, a nod to Places Like the  Vertin’s Gallery in Calumet, and Sault Realism and the Alberta House Art gallery in Sault Sainte Marie for highlighting local art, and non-profit ventures like the Sault Theater Arts Project (STARS) which is training and inspiring a whole new generation of fine and performing artists here in the UP.

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

Jillena:  Since I know the Upper Peninsula best, I think I’ll respond strictly about this area. I want those who’ve never been here, or those who pass through too quickly on their way to somewhere else, to know that it’s a wild treasure not quickly uncovered or easily categorized. It’s a rich store of history to be both proud of and a little embarrassed about (the Anishnabe culture is rich in wisdom and art and needs to be foregrounded more so those of us who aren’t first nation can learn how to interact with the world around us in more genuine ways). It’s a gift of largely untouched pristine nature highly valued and fiercely protected by those who’ve taken the time to know it well.  The people of the Upper Peninsula are warm, thoughtful and often come here determined to lead an authentic life away from distractions. Very often this life includes some form of art or expression that enriches the communities in which they find themselves. We don’t have a lot of instant entertainment here, so we make our own—and from music, to photography, to visual art, writing, traditional native ceremony  and fiber arts, the results are stunningly, simply beautiful. Knowing the UP takes time; it takes slowing down; it takes getting quiet, but this place and the people who choose it for their home are well worth the effort. It will take your breath away.

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?

Jillena:  I fall firmly into the “Michigander” camp.

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Guest Blog Post by Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison

Today I'm happy to share with you a guest blog post by Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison.

Leslie is a picture book author and illustrator and co-RA of SCBWI-Michigan; Darcy is an author of fiction and non-fiction and a writing teacher who leads revision retreats.  Together they will be faculty for the Highlights Foundation workshop PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz, April 23-26 in Honesdale, PA (registration info here).

To give you a taste of their workshop, what follows is a brief exploration of nine popular picture book topics that absolutely require a fresh approach if you're going to write about them.  Take it away, Leslie and Darcy!


9 Picture Book Topics to Avoid (Or Be Ready for Stiff Competition and Write a Story with a Fresh Take)
-- by Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison

When people think about writing a children’s picture book, clich├ęd topics pop up. These classic themes are based on universal childhood experiences. It’s not that these topics are taboo. Instead, they are so common that competition is fierce. As they say, children’s publishing is a bunny-eat-bunny world.

Here are the top 9 topics to avoid. Also listed is a children’s book, published within the last 5 years, that is a fresh take on the topic. If you are considering writing a picture book about one of these topics, it will be a harder sale unless you can find an original way to approach it.

1. First Day of School. Everyone wants to get kids ready for the first day of school, and it’s hard to find a fresh approach.

Updated Title that Works:
Dad’s First Day (July, 2015), written and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

2. Tooth fairy. People have 32 teeth, and losing baby teeth in early elementary school is a universal experience. The tooth fairy often has a place in a family story, which makes it a perennial topic for a children’s book.

Updated Title that Works:
The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy (2013) by Martha Brockenbrough, illustrated by Israel Sanchez

3. Christmas/Halloween. Major holidays are often the focus on children’s books.

Updated Titles that Work:
Christmas Parade (2012) written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
Smudge and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story (2013), by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Stephen Costanza.

4. Wanting a pet. From gerbils to dogs, cats to chinchillas—humans love their pets. It’s a natural topic for a children’s book.

Updated Titles that Work:
I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay (2015) by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Ewa O’Neill
I Want a Cat: My Opinion Essay (2015) by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Ewa O’Neill

5. Dealing with a disability. With today’s cultural emphasis on diversity (#WeNeedDiversity), libraries are looking for stories with disabled characters.

Updated Title that Works:
My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay (2015) by Cari Best, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

6. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa. Who buys books for children? Grandparents! And of course, grandparents want to encourage a close relationship with their grandchildren. Do this topic with humor and honest emotion and you’ll have a winner.

Updated Titles that Work:
How to Babysit a Grandpa (2012) by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish
How to Babysit a Grandma (2014) by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish

7. New baby in the family. Young children often have to move over and make room for a new sibling. Books helps them work through the complicated emotions when a new baby arrives.

Updated Title that Works:
You Were the First (2013) by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

8. Barnyard stories/rural nostalgia. The rural roots of America are ever-present in children’s books. One of the first things kids learn is the sounds made by farm animals. From there, chickens and pigs rule!

Updated Title that Works:
Big Pigs (2014), written and illustrated by Leslie Helakoski

9. Bedtime stories. Kids who are read to become better readers. What better time to read than bedtime? And if the story ends on a quiet note that encourages the kids to go to sleep faster, parents will love you.

Updated Title that Works:
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (2012) by Sherry Duskey Rinker,
illustrated by Tom Lictenheld

Not convinced that you should avoid these topics? Then put on your A-Game! Because the competition for children’s picture books about these topics is fierce. Yet, if you write a fantastic story about one of these topics, it might just become a classic.


Thank you, Leslie and Darcy!

If you're interested in Leslie and Darcy's workshop, find info here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Michigander Monday, Mini-Edition: Kristen Remenar

Today’s Michigander Monday interview is a special mini-edition.  The fabulous Kristen Remenar will be back here later in the year for a full-length Michigander Monday interview, but for reasons that we’ll get to momentarily, I thought today would be a great day to introduce you to Kris and her forthcoming book.  And since the date today is 2/2, let’s go with a 2 theme for the questions!

Debbie:  Kris, please tell us two things about your forthcoming book.

1. My editor called me on Groundhog's Day to tell me she wanted to acquire my book about Groundhog's Day, a lovely bit of kismet she arranged, which shows you how awesome my editor is.
2. Groundhog's Dilemma is illustrated by Matt Faulkner, an award-winning author/illustrator and a fabulous husband (mine).

Debbie:  And two things about you!

1. I was born on Groundhog's Day.
2. Every year I wish the groundhog would make Spring come early, but I live in Michigan, so long winters are kind of a given.

Debbie:  How about two things about Matt Faulkner?

1. Groundhog's Dilemma is the 39th book Matt has illustrated.
Sample sketches by Matt Faulkner
2. Like the squirrel in our book, Matt is fond of nuts, especially walnuts. (If you really want to win him over, bake the walnuts in chocolate chip cookies.)

Debbie:  Two things we probably don’t know about Groundhog’s Day.

1. People in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania have been celebrating Groundhog's Day for over 125 years.
2. Groundhogs whistle when they are scared, so in some parts of America they are called "whistle pigs."

Debbie:  Two fun facts about your library.

1. I've been a children's librarian at the Orion Township Public Library for over a decade.
2. Our town, Lake Orion, is probably the only place in the world where O-r-i-o-n is properly pronounced "ORE-ee-un".

Debbie:  Two words that rhyme with Remenar.  

1. Seminar! I've been teaching seminars on early literacy and the best books to build reading skills for five years. I can't wait for the first seminar when I get to feature my very own picture book!
2. Phlegm-enar (a nickname I did not like in middle school)

Debbie:  Your two favorite knock-knock jokes.

1. Knock knock.
Who's there?
Sam and Janet.
Sam and Janet who?
Sam-and-Janet evening, when you find your true love....

2. Knock knock
Who's there?
Juno who?
Juno I'm out here, so let me in!

Debbie:  And finally, two places we can find out more about you.

2. On Facebook as Kristen Remenar

Debbie:  Kris, thank you so much for being here today.  Happy Groundhog's Day, and Happy Birthday!  We're all looking forward to the publication of Groundhog's Dilemma.  Can't wait!