Vern Smith’s novel "The Green Ghetto" aims to be an urban Western set in Detroit

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Vern Smith, The Green Ghetto

“Overnight I found my love affair with Detroit slipping away. My worldview changed," said author Vern Smith, speaking of his experience in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, Smith said, “Detroit was my second hometown. I started sneaking over the border when I was 11 and found my culture there.  Can’t tell you how many live shows I’ve seen there because it was so easy to access pre-9/11. Then it changed so abruptly and [the two cities] were being kept apart.”

Smith’s novel The Green Ghetto takes place a year after the New York attacks, which was about the same time the former journalist and broadcaster started working on short stories.

A Genuine Act of Discovery: U-M's Juan Cole on his book "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Juan Cole and his book Muhammad

Dr. Juan Cole has spent his life dedicated to the study of the Middle East, Muslim South Asia, and religion. He’s been at University of Michigan since 1984, quoted in papers from the L.A. Times to the Baltimore Sun, and appeared on PBS Newshour, Nightline, and The Colbert Report. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for research on Shiite Muslim thought and history, published translations of Arabic literature by Kahlil Gibran (and later, sponsored an exhibit of Gibran’s paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts), acted as the director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at U-M, served as editor in chief of the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and wrote or translated nearly 20 books. 

This past October, Bold Type Books published Cole’s most recent book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. The book’s publication at this particular time is in response to recent events around the world. “Extremist groups are misusing or using religious text in dishonest ways," Cole says. "North America and Europe have seen a rise in Islamophobia and the smearing of the prophet Muhammad.”

Cole originally studied early Islam and its foundations while in graduate school in Cairo and later at UCLA. “I got pulled away from the medieval studies," Cole says, "and pulled into writing about modern and contemporary issues in the Middle East by several events,” including the Iranian Revolution. “Although I had this earlier training, I didn’t put it to use in a whole book until now. I tried to tell the story as a response to this moment that we find ourselves in.”

Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s "Dying Well" looks at his wife's well-lived life and how she handled the end

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bill Kellerman and his book Dying Well

We are a society that doesn’t talk much about dying well -- heck, we don’t really like to talk about dying, period.

But Bill Wylie-Kellermann ponders both in a loving memoir about his wife, Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, which he will discuss at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on Thursday, January 24 at 7 pm.

The love story began when Bill met Jeanie in 1982. Both were arrested and charged with conspiracy charges after protest actions at Williams International in Walled Lake, Michigan.

“We were both nonviolent community activists,” says Bill. “And we both were held at the Oakland County jail after the arrests. We had to go back and forth to court pretty regularly. We always tried to make sure we were handcuffed side by side in the van that took us to circuit court.”

Those close quarters eventually led to love and marriage as the couple continued their work in Detroit, where Bill was born and where he attended Cooley High School. Jeanie served as a journalist, filmmaker, and writer. Bill grew into roles as a writer, teacher, United Methodist minister, and community activist. They had children, settled into a meaningful life together.

But then in 1998, something happened.

Queer Eye for the "Gurl Groups and Boi Bands": Out Loud Chorus sings the hits

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Out Loud Chorus

You've got the girl groups, from The Supremes to En Vogue.

And you've got the boy bands, from The Temptations to The Backstreet Boys.

But for the Out Loud Chorus' annual winter concerts, you've got the “Gurl Groups and Boi Bands,” a program of music that plays to the ensemble's unique nature.

“We are unusual because a lot of gay and lesbian choirs are all men or all women,” says Out Loud Chorus board member Tim Hamann. “We have always been a mixed group, truly a community chorus.” 

During the January 18 and 19 performances, expect to hear music from Motown groups, '90s boy bands, Destiny’s Child, The Andrews Sisters, The King’s Singers, and more.

"'Gurl Groups and Boi Bands' will be set up like an episode of The Voice," says Hamann. “But we are calling it The Queer Voice. Then we will have skits peppered throughout the program.”

August Heat: Stephen Mack Jones' ex-detective solves crimes in multifaceted Detroit

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Stephen Mack Jones and his book Lives Laid Away

The Motor City is as much of a character as ex-police detective August Snow in Lives Laid Away, and author Stephen Mack Jones had many reasons for setting the story in Motown.

“Detroit is a very diverse city -- most people outside of Detroit don’t realize how diverse it is. They see only in terms of black and white. But … a variety of people from all over who wound up here," Jones says. "I wanted to create a character that was representative of the two largest minorities in Detroit: African-American and Mexican-American. These are two minority groups that have never really seen eye to eye. And for August, I wanted him to be the product of two cultures that have often clashed but feel no personal dichotomy. He feels he has the best of both worlds ... he has pride in both cultures. And he’s comfortable with himself. I wanted people to know that is achievable -- that you can be a product of two cultures, two peoples and be at peace with who you are.”

C.A. Collins’ "Sunshine Through the Rain" follows a feminist teen in the Deep South '60s

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

CA Collins and her book Sunshine in the Rain

Before the Civil Rights era, women couldn’t go to most Ivy League schools, get credit cards in their own names, or serve on juries in all 50 states.

So what was it like for a smart, headstrong young woman in 1960s era Deep South growing up in a family that wants her to either be a “Southern belle” or a tomboy?

C.A. Collins’ book Sunshine Through the Rain examines at that very question in the character of Christie Ann Cook, a wise-beyond-her-years teenager who speaks her truth as she comes of age during a period of extreme social change.

While the Concordia University grad and Michigan-based writer didn’t grow up in that era, Collins says, “I have always had an interest in those tumultuous years in the South. I raised in Louisiana where the 'n' word was the norm, but my parents taught me to judge someone by their character, not the color of their skin. In this book, I really wanted to show a young girl who had diverse people in her life that she loved and cared for and how she was torn between her small insular world and the uncertain bigger world around her.”

Justified: Peter Leonard's new novel brings his dad's Raylan Givens character to Detroit

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Peter Leonard and his book Raylan Goes to Detroit

Raylan Givens has been to a lot of places: Miami, Florida; Harlan County, Kentucky; Glynco, Georgia. And now he’s come to the Motor City in the riveting Raylan Goes to Detroit by Michigan-based author Peter Leonard

After an altercation with his boss, Raylan is given two choices: retire or take a job on the fugitive task force in Detroit. “His former boss gets him reinstated but the only opening is in Detroit and he takes it,” Leonard says. “Raylan’s been in a lot of places, so I decided to do something different. I live in the Detroit area, let’s bring him here.” 

Casting Drama: Michael Byers' Empire Podcasting brings an old art form into the present

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Michael Byers & Empire Podcasting

From the 1930s and into the 1940s, people tuned their radios to hear the ongoing adventures of The Lone Ranger, The Whistler, and Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. Radio dramas fell out of fashion with the rise of television in the 1950s, but with the rise of Sirius and podcasting, it only makes sense that some clever person would revive the spirit of radio plays and marry it to today’s technology. Ann Arbor's Empire Podcasting offers the best of the old and the new in its podcast, Mary From Michigan Saves the World, which is the brainchild of Michael Byers.

“I’ve been a huge fan of radio my whole life,” says Byers, who worked on a skit show in college. “I never lost the love for radio, its art form, its history.” Byers teachers creative writing and radio drama and comedy classes at the University of Michigan where his students perform and produce their own skits similar to those heard on Mary. “I’d been thinking about this project for a long time," he says. "I finally jumped in last year” by incorporating Empire Podcasting. 

Tall Tales: Steve Hughes spins surreal stories in "Stiff"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Steve Hughes and his book Stiff

Longtime Hamtramck resident Steve Hughes is a force of nature in his hometown. For over half a decade, Hughes curated the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts’ Festival where artists opened up the studios in their homes and attendees went on an “art crawl.” Hughes is also a founding member of Public Pool, an art cooperative that formed in 2010 with the goal of creating and supporting a wide range of art experiences. A year later, Hughes then decided that a literary component of the visual arts events was needed and so he created the Good Tyme Writers Buffet.

The literary series began with a dozen authors reading for about 10 minutes; it has since cut the number of readers and added a DJ. Hughes received a grant through the Knight Foundation and shaped the project into what it is today: a space for audiences to enjoy an evening of reading based on a theme. “We get people from the neighborhood, friends of the authors, readers," Hughes says. "A good mix of people who come out on a Saturday to hear the readers, listen to music, eat and drink.”

The readings are connected to the visual arts show in the space. “This month the show is called Bread and Clutter,” Hughes says. “So our six authors will read about food.”

For each event, Hughes writes a short story that connects to the theme. “I give myself an assignment every month,” he says. “And the only constraint is that it has to be read within a 10-15 minute time frame.”

This series and these stories led to the book, Stiff.

An excerpt from "Head Over Feet in Love," the first novel by Ann Arbor's Patti F. Smith

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Patti Smith's Head Over Feet

Patti F. Smith is the author of the history books "Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor," "A People’s History of the People’s Food Co-op," and the forthcoming "Forgotten Ann Arbor" (spring 2019). (She's also a regular contributor to Pulp.) Her debut fiction novel, "Head Over Feet in Love," comes out as an ebook on November 14 and as a print edition in February 2019. Smith gives us some background on the book, followed by an excerpt from the novel.

The first draft featured protagonist Rebecca Slater as a famous author who got six-figure advances, whose book was being made into a movie, who employed several assistants to help her with fan mail. The second draft saw Becca as a famous author who got six-figure advances but no mention of movie deals or assistants. The third draft found Becca as an author with a cult following; she still made a living from it but no more talk of hefty advances or net worth. The fourth draft presented Becca as a teacher who wrote books on the side, making money but not enough to live on.

In the final version, Becca hasn’t even gotten published yet.

Many things changed in the years that I wrote and rewrote Head Over Feet in Love  -- Becca and her friends went from flip phones to smartphones, DSL to wi-fi, having a million dollars in the bank to scraping by as a teacher. But through it all Becca lived with bipolar disorder and anxiety.

Just like me.