Borders a Bummer but Michigan Indies Still Alive and Kicking

In light of the Borders liquidation, I decided to post this indie piece once again. If you are an independent bookstore in Michigan and wish to be included on the list, please feel free to reach out to NLR through Comments or via Contact page. Night Light Revue will be offering a monthly Michigan Indie Feature starting this fall to promote the variety of bookstores that continue to entice readers and promote the written word throughout our state.

While big chain book retailers continue to shimmy, Michigan boasts a solid slew of fabulous independent bookstores throughout the state. An indie worth its salt is staffed with a knowledgable crew that not only loves to shoot the breeze about books, but can often provide you with the perfect pick regardless of your literary appetite.

If you’re headed Up North and are looking for a good read, an independent bookseller is a great way to go. Not only will you be falling into unique establishments that house both fringe and mainstream literary works, but you’ll also be adding much needed fuel to Michigan’s economy and the book industry at large.

While I can’t possibly cover all the indies in northern Michigan, here are a few of my personal favorites. Keep in mind that author events, book signings, and related discussions often go hand with individual bookstores. Also, most progressive booksellers roll with the techno tide and provide related links on their homepage and can be followed on facebook and Twitter.

Independent Booksellers due North

If you’re headed to Petoskey, stop in at McLean and Eakin.

If you’re headed to Gaylord, stop in at Saturn Booksellers.

If you’re headed to Traverse City, stop in at  Horizon Books.

If you’re headed to Glen Arbor, stop in at Cottage Books.

If you’re headed to Northport, stop in at Dog Ears Books.

If you’re headed to Suttons Bay or Traverse City, stop in at Brilliant  Books.

If you know of other bookstores, please feel free to add them in Comments!

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Megan Abbott Brings ‘The End of Everything’ Back to the Burbs

Cover ImageMystery writer Megan Abbott is no stranger to Michigan. The award-winning author grew up in the Detroit area, attended Grosse Pointe North High School and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature. Though Abbott currently makes her home in Queens, New York, she’ll be bringing her latest novel, The End of Everything, back home this week.

Abbott is the Edgar-winning author of the novels Die a Little, The Song Is You and Queenpin. Abbott was already a favorite among fellow writers when her 2009 novel Bury Me Deep swiftly moved her into the mainstream.

The End of Everything is Abbott’s first work to take place in her hometown of Grosse Pointe, and takes place during the 1980’s of Abbott’s adolescence. The End  is a departure from Abbott’s other books, which draw more from history, film and true-crime.

“It’s definitely the world of my hometown,” Abbott shares. “It seemed like the whole summer world was conducted in backyards, sprinklers, Ernie Harwell on the radio, mosquitoes and peering through window and door screens.”

Abbott originally started writing The End of Everything back in the late 1990’s, and admits that returning to her roots for material feels a little risky.

“We are the least reliable narrators of the places we grew up,” Abbott tells Mulholland Books, “and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to write about my hometown. But now, all these years later, I can finally access Grosse Pointe in a different way. My new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, is set in a Grosse Pointe facsimile. Writing it, I came to feel that the stillness I’d once thought of as stasis was precisely the quality that made the big moments of life, when they come, seem larger, bigger, more shocking and more moving. The more I wrote, the more I was able to telescope back, prior to my teen years of bored frustration with the suburbs, back when it was a wooded place of inscrutability and wonder.”

Abbott will be returning to the suburbs for a reading and signing of The End of Everything at Borders in Birmingham on Wednesday, July 20 at 7:00 pm. If you can’t make Abbott’s Birmingham appearance, you can link here for a full schedule of the author’s events.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Scott Sparling Lights it Up in ‘Wire To Wire’

Cover ImageScott Sparling is bringing his hip thriller Wire to Wire home to Michigan.

Sparling’s recent release is the wild, amped-up story of train-hopping Michael Slater, who tries to pull his life together after taking a live wire to the head while riding freight through Detroit.

Wire to Wire is a slick departure to the darker side of northern Michigan. Hardly Pure, Sparling offers up a bevy of vice hidden among the sweet, touristy towns that sprinkle the state’s map. Next to photo-ops and fudge shops, Sparling positions the seductive forces of money and sex which play out in Wire to Wire’s hazy shades, sharp dialogue, and escalating acts of violence.

Sparling will be making a number of Michigan appearances which kick-off this evening at Petosky’s McLean and Eakin as part of their Yellow Chair Series. If you are interested in meeting Sparling, he’ll be making stops at several Michigan indies and will be a bit closer to the Detroit metro area late next week. You can link here for a full schedule of upcoming Wire to Wire events.

In a recent email exchange, Mr. Sparling was kind enough to field questions about his new book, its evolution, and the fortunate score of publishing through Tin House.

Scott Sparling on Wire To Wire

Night Light Revue: Where did you grow up in Michigan?

Scott Sparling: I grew up in Jackson, Michigan. I lived in Ann Arbor briefly in the mid-1970’s. A good friend lives in Maple City, northwest of Traverse City. I’ve spent a lot of time there, in his cabin. My time there influenced the book quite a bit.

NLR: What city is Wire to Wire’s Wolverine based on? Was the setting based on actual areas in Michigan?

SS: There’s a real town called Wolverine, but the Wolverine in Wire to Wire is a fictionalized combination of Frankfort and Elberta. I’ve created a fictional version of Northern Michigan that is populated largely by people who are escaping reality. In real life, there are the same kinds of people up north as there are downstate. So you could say the values are fictional, but the geography is fairly accurate to Frankfort and Elberta.

NLR: The premise of Wire to Wire is so incredibly unique. Did you actually know someone who got hit in the head by an electrical wire?

SS: My mom once sent me a clipping about a similar train-powerline accident. It was a news story about high school kids who’d been drinking and climbed up on top of a moving boxcar as a lark. I was riding freights all around the country at the time, so I guess my mom sent me the clip as a kind of warning. In the news clipping, the boy who got hit by the power line was killed.

NLR: The book feels so indie with its curling smoke, flickering tapes, and dark churning Michigan waters. It all seems to unspool to a killer backbeat that sort of pulses in the back of the brain as it reads. Was that your intention? Did you listen to music to pump you up while you were writing?

SS: Early on I used to listen to Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum while I wrote. The drum cuts have a beat but no real melody and you can listen to them for hours. I used to play drums, and some of the cadence and rhythms of the prose are influenced by that in places – or at least it seems that way to me. Later I started listening to more trancy-stuff, particularly Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, while I was writing. During the final edit, I listened to Jon Dee Graham and Alejandro Escoveda.

NLR: Did any particular movies, writers or books influence Wire to Wire?

SS: Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone was a big influence, as well as his earlier book, A Hall of Mirrors. Those books are probably the reason I write in third person. I also tried to learn from the way Stone moves his story forward with very little exposition. Since this is my first book, almost everything I read influenced it.

NLR: The glue-huffing, if that’s the right term, is so dark. Is that where you find parts of forgotten Michigan? Does that reflect the Michigan you know?

SS: The term “huffing” didn’t come into general use until later – so it’s the correct term now, but not during the time of the book. The glue-sniffing doesn’t have anything to do with my view of Michigan. Lane’s using it as a way to dissolve her past. If she were a different character, she’d be drinking or taking drugs.

NLR: I definitely picked up an anti-capitalism vibe in Wire to Wire. An extreme dislike of capitalism and its environmental crush come through loud and clear with both the Whispering Sands complex and the ruination of the legend of Sleeping Bear. Was Wire a message to the masses in the guise of a thriller novel? Was there any political intent on your part?

SS: All the characters in Wire to Wire have difficulty with money and sex. I tried to write about money and sex as if they were elemental forces like fire and water. Fire (or electricity) and water make our lives better when we keep them under control. When they jump channels, they flood us out or burn down the house. At various points during W2W, both money and sex jump their channels, and become forces of destruction for individual characters. Harp doesn’t think of it that analytically though – he simply sees the damage money can cause when it’s out of control, and that shapes his view. Considering the Wall Street meltdown and greed of recent years, it seems like a reasonable take on things.

NLR: Two of my favorite things in the book, oddly, were the sort of yin and yang of the gritty, skull-powdered Tru Balance knife calmed by the soft snapping of fingers by Slater’s ears. Where did you come up with these devices?

SS: Like a lot of the novel, those are little moments stolen from real life and converted into story. When my son was learning to snap his fingers, he walked around the house snapping them constantly. It seemed like an interesting bit of business, and I gave it to Slater. I’m not sure where the hidden handle on the knife came from. I’ve seen scenes in movies where a hero picks up a gun and can tell whether it’s loaded by the weight. That might have influenced my thinking.

NLR: How, with the utmost curiosity, did your research this book?

SS: My friend and I rode freight trains all over Michigan, and later, all over the country and across Canada. Most of the freight sequences in the book stem from trips we really took. By the late 1980’s, I was no longer riding trains much, but I was spending a lot of time in Northern Michigan. I stayed in my friend’s house in Maple City for six weeks one summer, taking notes all the time, reading the weekly newspaper, listening to his stories. Beyond that, it’s invented. I never sniffed glue or tried speed. I can’t throw a knife.

NLR: How long did it take you to write Wire to Wire? Was it difficult to translate the mental version onto paper?

SS: It took 20 years and it was insanely difficult, only because I’m a slow learner. And I did a lot of other things along the way, like raise a family. The first finished version was done in 1991. I got that draft to Jim Harrison and he said he liked it. He actually passed it along to his agent, but the agent didn’t think it could be sold. After that I just kept re-writing. There was another finished version in 1996, and another in 2001 and so on. I just kept working on it until a publisher finally bought it.

NLR: Wire to Wire is a totally different read and exquisitely dirty. Did you choose Tin House to push the book? How did you find your publisher or did your publisher find you?

SS: A friend told me Tin House would like the book. But I’d heard things like that before, and I forgot about it. About six months went by, and then I ran into my friend again. She asked me what Tin House thought of the manuscript. I had to admit that I’d completely forgotten about her advice. So she gave it to them. I call this story The Miracle of My Incompetence, because Tin House has been tremendous to work with. Tony Perez, who edited the book, helped me tremendously with structure and narrative flow. From my point of view, it’s been a perfect match. Obviously, I owe my friend a lot.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Detroit’s Kevin Boyle Reviews New Darrow Biographies in New York Times

Cover ImageIt’s not surprising to find author and Detroit native Kevin Boyle handling reviews of the new Clarence Darrow biographies in this week’s New York Times Book Review. As a history professor and author of the nonfiction work Arc of Justice:  A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, Boyle has crossed literary paths with defender Clarence Darrow many times before, and has become a go-to for input surrounding American history’s best-known trial lawyer.

In his New York Times review Clarence Darrow, Equal Opportunity Defender, Boyle lists a slew of Darrow’s notorious clients including famed union militants, anarchists, corrupt politicians, “homicidal socialites” and other high-profile defendants. To Boyle’s credit, however, he only hints at the mention of Darrow’s case involving African-American physician Ossian Sweet who “dared to move into a white neighborhood in 1920’s Detroit.”

The quick mention of Ossian Sweet is a testament to Boyle’s own humility. Sweet sits at the center of Boyle’s compelling book Arc of Justice, which has been selected by the Michigan Humanities Council as this year’s featured title for the 2011-2012 Great Michigan Read.

Published in 2004, Boyle’s Arc of Justice was released to high praise. Called “electrifying” and “powerful” by critics, Arc of Justice snagged several coveted literary prizes such as the 2004 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, and was nominated as a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Arc of Justice tells the story of Ossian Sweet and the chain of events that occurred after the African-American physician purchased a home for his family in a completely white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. After Sweet has an altercation with his new, enraged neighbors, Clarence Darrow steps in to act as his defender in what would become the famous Sweet Trials. Ultimately, Sweet’s life and the course of Detroit’s racial history  are forever altered.

“Four decades of courtroom battles,” writes Boyle, “- one trial of the century after another. The best of them turned into great dramas of systemic injustice and human frailty, with Darrow always at the center, basking in the spotlight.”

Knowledge is power, and it often rounds out the reading experience when you can bring a bit more with you to a title. If you’re planning on reading Boyle’s Arc of Justice, you might want to check out his take on authors Andrew E. Kersten and John A. Farrell’s new Darrow biographies. For a much briefer but thorough article on Clarence Darrow, try The New Yorker piece Objection, which quotes from Kersten’s new work.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s ‘Once Upon A River’ Sets Sail

Things are looking way up for Kalamzaoo author Bonnie Jo Campbell. This week W.W. Norton & Company released Campbell’s much anticipated new novel, Once Upon A River, to the reading world at large.

Due to early buzz and glowing reviews, Once Upon A River  has managed to position itself onto a number of notable summer reading lists (prior to its release, mind you), and  serve to establish Campbell as one of the nation’s new literary darlings.

I haven’t yet cracked the spine of Campbell’s latest, but with recent favorable features in  publications such as Poets & Writers, the Detroit Free Press, and the Wall Street Journal, Once Upon A River promises good things to come.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Campbell at a National Writers Series event where she eloquently spoke of the integral role that Michigan plays in her writing process. The winsome author has done much for Michigan’s artistic reputation and has no doubt been a key player in prominently situating the state on the larger literary landscape.

No fancy release parties are planned for this author though. Campbell will celebrate the launching of her book with friends and family. Her tribe. “One thing I’ve learned about the writing business is that you can be up and you can be down, but you’re still the same person,” (via Free Press).

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer