Author, Screenwriter, and U-M Alum Christopher Cosmos' Debut Novel Covers Characters Caught Up in Greece’s WWII Fight

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Christopher Cosmos and his book Once We Were Here

Author and U-M alum Christopher Cosmos brings alive the historical and personal drama of the Greek resistance during World War II in his new novel, Once We Were Here. When Greece refuses to surrender to Mussolini’s demand for occupation in 1940, the decision sets off a series of events that irrevocably alter the characters’ lives.

The narrative starts in 2014 in Michigan and is told by a grandfather to his grandson. By looking back in time and telling the story, Papou reveals the family’s resilience, romances, losses, and triumphs during the war. The novel is bookended by scenes at this later date. The grandfather starts the tale with a view of what life is like in Agria, Greece on the Aegean Sea before the war. Two friends Alexandros—Alexei —and Constantinos—Costa—have just turned 18, both born on the same night. Alexei is a fisherman and reflects on how a day on his boat feels: 

The characters in Erin Hahn’s coming-of-age novel "Never Saw You Coming" grapple with beliefs and trauma in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Erin Hahn and her novel Never Saw You Coming

Author photo by Hilary Nichols.

The line between right and wrong is not always clear. Erin Hahn’s new young adult novel, Never Saw You Coming, illustrates the dilemmas that people face when they are told one thing and experience another, leaving them to sort out what they believe. 

In the book, 18-year-old Meg Hennessey learns several family secrets at once and goes on a journey to make sense of it all. She grew up in Ann Arbor and travels to Marquette, Michigan, to meet with relatives she previously did not know she had. There, she meets Micah Allen, who likewise has a complicated past. The two of them find an immediate connection complete with witty banter, physical attraction, and outdoor adventures. Chapters alternate between each of their perspectives. 

As young adults going through new situations and developing strong feelings for each other, Meg and Micah face uncertainties about whether to listen to religious advice or to follow their intuitions. Purity and abstinence are highly valued in the church, and the pair meets scrutiny even when trying to support church members and follow their values. 

Meg reflects, “Before Marquette, I was only a sinner in my heart. Now I’m … out there. Like toothpaste all squeezed out of the tube. I can’t be put back in. And I don’t think I want to be.” She reconsiders the good that can come from bad situations. Her parents’ circumstances are among those situations, and she wonders about the concept of sin: 

If God brought my parents together that one time, just to make me, and if it was a blessing planned by God, how could it be a sin? Are sins just blessings being played in God’s long game? 

Both Meg and Micah grow and form their own perspectives as they face numerous challenges. 

Hahn lives in Ann Arbor, and Never Saw You Coming is her third book. I interviewed her about writing this novel, the choices she made in it, and what’s coming up next for her. 

Open Road: Rod Johnson Relishes Cross-Country Adventures on "Looking for a Perfect Trip"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Rod Johnson standing in a field with his acoustic guitar

Rod Johnson credits The Who, David Bowie and Roxy Music as his early musical influences. Photo by Greg Croasdill.

For Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Rod Johnson, a rusty, rattling Ford Econoline van serves as the ideal road-trip companion.

The tank-like vehicle represents carefree, youthful jaunts of the past and promising, independent cross-country journeys of the future on “Telephone Company Surplus Econoline Van" from his latest wanderlust-fueled album, Looking for a Perfect Trip

“I had a friend in high school that had a telephone company surplus Econoline van, and it was just a Michigan Bell van with a logo painted on it," said Johnson, a retired University of Michigan College of Engineering professor. "We spent a lot of time in that van listening to Alice Cooper, and that’s the van that I was thinking of specifically."

“When I do that song, people always laugh when I say the title. They think it’s going to be this jokey song, but it’s not. It’s always fun to watch their expressions change as you go through it.”

Frosting takes the cake in Ann Arbor blogger Bernice Baran’s new book about sugary delights

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Bernice Baran and her book Frosted

Are you a frosting person or a cake person? 

I’ve heard people say that one or the other is the reason to eat cake. Ann Arbor blogger and baker Bernice Baran answers that question with frosting in her new book, Frosted

Thirteen recipes for buttercreams, cream cheese frosting, meringues, Bavarian cream, chocolate ganache, and others are scrumptiously employed to coat and fill layer cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, bars, breads, and tarts throughout the book. The 60 recipes combine flavors like a Frosted Animal Cracker Cake pictured on the book’s cover, the Chocolate Caramel Macchiato Cookies, Almond Raspberry Cupcakes, and Cookies & Cream Sweet Rolls. The base frosting recipes include variations depending on the flavors for each baked good. Baran also embraces classics like Dark Chocolate Marble Cake, Gingerbread House Cookies, and Chocolate Hazelnut Silk Pie. 

Throughout Frosted, Baran nods to her heritage with the recipe for Diplomat Cream from her mother and Hungarian Dobos Torte. Each recipe offers a paragraph about why Baran chose it, how it became part of her repertoire, what is unique about it, or which occasion calls for the treat. With one (or more!) kinds of frosting or sauce, plus the cake or other base, for each recipe, each dessert has many ingredients and steps that appear very worth it from the mouthwatering photographs. 

Baran keeps a website to document her baking and sends out an email newsletter. Pulp interviewed her about how she became a baker, what writing Frosted involved, and what inspires her. 

Modern Soul(s): Vulfpeck collaborator Antwaun Stanley connected with former My Dear Disco/Ella Riot leader Tyler Duncan for a new EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Antwaun Stanley

Antwaun Stanley's powerful voice sounds like it came from another time, cast from the deep grooves of a 1960s R&B record.

That's why it's always a treat when the Ann Arbor singer appears as a featured vocalist with jam-funk-soul stars Vulfpeck or with one of the other bands for which he's associated.

But a new EP, Ascension, shows Stanley taking a big step forward as a solo artist. The record was made in collaboration with Ann Arbor multi-instrumentalist and producer Tyler Duncan. His impressive resume includes leading the Irish crossover group Millish and the dance-rock project My Dear Disco, aka Ella Riot, as well as producing songs for Carly Rae Jepsen and Lake Street Dive.

The EP isn’t technically Stanley's solo debut—he released a gospel album a few years back—but it does showcase his artistic voice in a new way with a modern R&B sound. 

Ascension features three fully developed songs and three largely instrumental interludes. “Speed of Night” recalls old-school R&B, while “Tightrope” offers inspiration through James Blake-like soul-tronica. “Lost in Translation” is the EP's stand-out with its addictive groove, great singing, strong lyrics, and a crackling horn section.

Stanley answered a few questions about the new EP and his other work.

Kim Fairley’s Memoir "Shooting Out the Lights" Tells the Story of Navigating Her First Year of Marriage and an Unwanted Guest

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kim Fairley and her book Shooting Out the Lights

Ann Arbor artist and writer Kim Fairley recalls the early days of her marriage to Vern Fairley and a visit from an unwelcome guest in her new memoir, Shooting Out the Lights. This fast-moving book focuses on what it was like to start a marriage amidst a big age gap, the aftermath of tragedy, and the contentious circumstances of an unrelated child who comes to stay with the couple. Fairley tells the story with humor and tenderness. 

While Fairley quickly becomes pregnant at 25 after they married in 1982, the memories of Ben, Vern’s son who died in an accidental shooting, haunt them. Vern agrees to take in Stanislaus, an 11-year-old son of a friend, and their newlywed days are interrupted. The unwanted responsibility forces the couple to face what happened in the past and look ahead to their growing family. 

A relic of the past is Ben’s bedroom, which had remained largely the same since his death. Fairley considers cleaning out the room in preparation for the new baby. She reflects on the task and its larger implications:

Does it matter to leave a legacy? My mother, jokingly, always said she wanted her endless pile of laundry done before she died. My father wanted to be missed by my mother. Maybe all that mattered was the here and now. Nobody two hundred years in the future would care a whit about any of us. It was the reality of Vern’s age and the recognition that he wouldn’t live forever that was getting to me. 

Fairley is forced to confront change and mortality amidst the joy of starting a family, and she looks back with the clarity of time. She adds, “Vern had contradictory impulses, as we all do, about whether to hang on or let go, preserve or move forward.” The dilemma is relatable, but it doesn’t make the choice any easier.  

Shooting Out the Lights is Fairley's second book. I interviewed her about what it was like to write this story. 

Carmen Bugan's essay collection articulates how poetry is an instrument of resistance

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Carmen Bugan and her book "Poetry and the Language of Oppression"

Carmen Bugan wields writing to understand and push back against the oppression and repression that she suffered while growing up in Romania in the 1970s and '80s and observed in her life and research. In her new book, Poetry and the Language of Oppression: Essays on Politics and Poetics, she writes: 

This personal background experience gave me a first-hand knowledge of the power of language—how it can be used as an instrument of oppression and how it can be used as an instrument of resistance. That knowledge has shaped my voice as a writer.

Language is on the one hand very damaging and on the other very powerful. Bugan’s writing demonstrates her resilience and courage to nevertheless express herself when facing oppression. 

Erin A. Craig’s "Small Favors" conjures dark forces in a reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Erin A. Craig and her book Small Favors

Photo by Cyndi Whipkey

The cover of YA author Erin A. Craig’s new novel, Small Favors, looks deceptively bright with flowers, bees, and honey dripping off of the letters in the title. Yet what sounds too good to be true just might be, as character Ellerie Downing learns in this reimagining of the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin.

The setting of Amity Falls is a small, remote settlement in the Blackspire Mountains where neighbors rely on each other for their various skills, from carpentry to poultry farming. The Downing family are apiarists. They produce honey and also bake delectable honey cakes. 

This well-balanced community starts to fragment when people are killed on trips out of town, crops go bad, and accusations of wrongdoing multiply. Initially thought to be an issue with oversized wolves, it becomes clear that something more sinister is stirring and seeking to control the people, something that gives gifts in exchange for favors. 

Ellerie’s twin brother, Sam, describes an early encounter with the dark creatures to Ellerie:

U-M Professor David Potter looks at history and politics to understand radical change in his new book, "Disruption"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

David Potter and his book Disruption

“How do things change?” asks David Potter, a University of Michigan professor, in his new book, Disruption

This question is the basis for his in-depth examination of five groundbreaking periods in history: Christianity’s growth, the rise of Islam, the Protestant Reformation, popular sovereignty, and the political theorists Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer. The five chapters collectively span thousands of years and Potter sews together history, biography, and political thought to illustrate how ideas disrupt existing beliefs and structures. 

This kind of radical change, according to Potter, arises from fringe ideas that go against the existing state of affairs with a thought leader at the forefront. Many centuries ago, political structures that are foundational to government as we know it now had yet to be defined. For example, amid the rise of Islam when Ali ibn Abi Talib, a relative of the prophet Muhammad, was assassinated in 661, Potter writes:

Kenyatta Rashon explores "The Art of Keeping It Real" on her accomplished debut album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kenyatta Rashon in a green hoodie

Photo by Kyla McGrath

Ypsilanti singer and songwriter Kenyatta Rashon showcases a polished R&B sound spiced up with some hip-hop accents on her terrific debut album, The Art of Keeping It Real.

Rashon has a distinctive singing voice, both expressive and powerful. And her songs are uniformly strong, with memorable melodies and vibrant lyrics. “YoFi” and “W.rong” express regrets for lost love, while “I am” and “H4L” are anthems of self-empowerment. The single “Free” establishes a great summer listening vibe over wistful and wise lyrics: “Some things could change and some things could not / But I made peace with the things I got / I’m free”

Rashon answered a few questions about the album for Pulp.