Isle Royale, Michigan: I was an Unexpected Visitor




This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

Isle Royale pokes out of Lake Superior in waves of layered rock that curve deep under the lake and emerge again 45 miles away as the Keweenaw Peninsula.  These slanted rock layers create fingers of stony ridges pointing northeast.  It takes a long ferry ride through Superior’s moody waters or an expensive hop on a seaplane to reach this rustic and least visited National Park. On my only visit to the island, I chose the ferry from Copper Harbor, a tiny tourist town at the northern curve of the peninsula. I didn’t really expect to see any wolves or moose during my one night stay. I wouldn’t have time to hike into the undisturbed interior, the regular stomping grounds for those people-shy species.

Approaching the island after three hours on the choppy lake felt something like that first panoramic view of Jurassic Park.  When I remember it now, the theme song plays in my head. Free standing towers of eroded rusty rock guard the main island like a long string of sentries, each with a tuft of pine growing precariously from its flat top. Something here feels prehistoric and I almost expected to see the long neck of a Brachiosaurus to emerge from the tree line.  Maybe it’s the thick undergrowth or the 612 species of lichens tinting the wind-scoured rocks in furry greens and oranges.

After setting up camp at the Rock Harbor Campground, I headed out for my first hike, a four-mile loop along this “finger” of rock to Suzy’s Cave.  The weather in early September was idyllic for someone used to six months of winter; late season sun and temperatures in the 60s without the black flies and mosquitoes that plague hikers earlier in the season.

I’d been on the trail for less than half a mile, Superior peeking through the trees every now and then, when I decided it was already too warm for a hoodie.  I was leaning down to stuff it into my backpack when some small noise made me glance around. It took me a couple of seconds to figure out that the odd brown shape behind some brush was a bull moose staring right at me from less than ten yards away.

I flashed back to the Forest Service Ranger who forced on us all of the dos and don’ts as we left the ferry.  Don’t drink the water without boiling it first, don’t worry about bears (there aren’t any), and if you find yourself in a potentially dangerous confrontation with a moose, find a large object to hide behind.  The logic being that a moose, although huge and powerful, is not particularly agile—they can’t dodge around obstacles to charge you.  I noted a couple of lichen draped trees just off the trail, but otherwise, I was frozen.  I did note that his larger furry ears (which would have been adorable in more controlled circumstances) were pointed forward rather than laid back. Just like with a horse, this was a good sign.

It was probably only a few seconds before the moose shrugged me off and went back to browsing.  I probably should have ducked behind a nice big tree or boulder until he went away, but I didn’t.  I discovered I was shaking when I leaned down to pull my camera out of my backpack. I was terrified.  I was also exhilarated. I’d been hiking the U.P. for years and had yet to see a moose. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity.MOOSE

My camera makes small noises, clicks and beeps, but he couldn’t have cared less.  He turned to check on me a couple of times during the ten minutes or so that I trailed him as he munched casually from one shrub or another, and each time I froze until my heart started beating again.  When I looked at the pictures later, they were almost all blurry because my hands never did stop shaking.

Despite his size, and the wide rack of antlers, he moved through the forest quietly and precisely, almost gracefully. I calmed down enough to recognize that I was sharing this time and space with an animal that we consider “wild.” It’s something few people get to experience.  It wasn’t just a fox darting off into the woods, or a glimpse of an eagle’s white feathers.  We had decided together, in whatever basic way, that we were okay sharing this space. I’m not anthropomorphizing.  It’s not like we shook on it or anything. I get that he was there in spite of me. Still, in those moments, he decided that maybe I was okay. I guess I made the same decision about him.

Our interaction ended when another solo hiker strode toward us from the other direction, oblivious to the wall of animal he was quickly approaching.  The ranger didn’t cover what to do in this situation. If I yelled to alert the other hiker, I might also startle the moose in his direction.  If I didn’t he could easily push the moose toward me. The lake was blocking a third side. Before I could decide, the moose bounded away from both of us.  And, yes, “bounded” is the right verb. I began to seriously doubt the ranger’s “lack of agility” argument.

I stopped for a few excited words with the other hiker and did the rest of my four-mile loop to the relatively unimpressive cave. Granted, I was distracted. Later that day I packed up my campsite and boarded the outbound ferry. As soon as I had cell phone reception, I started texting everyone in shouty caps, “OMG I SAW A MOOSE!!!”  Though I knew it couldn’t possibly do justice to the experience, that there was no way to really describe how it felt to be part of something primitive for even a few minutes, to feel like I was walking with, rather than running from something, rather than it running from me.

Rebecca lives and writes from Marquette, Michigan, on the south shore of Lake Superior, where she is also an associate poetry editor for Passages North. Before going back to school, she spent thirteen years working as a zookeeper. Once she was run over by a giraffe, which may suggest that she’s better suited to writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Stone Highway Review, Calliope, Dunes Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Yellow Medicine Review, and Manifest West’s Different Roads Anthology. 

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South Manitou Island, Lake Michigan: The Return

Photo by Andrea Miehls.

Photo by Andrea Miehls


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

A hot summer day seemed perfect for the ferry ride to South Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore. A nice family outing was in store for my parents and me with my daughter, who in the mid-1980s was in first grade.

Temperature about 93. . . pretty boat ride departing from Leeland across Manitou Passage under lumpy, piled clouds. . .a swim in the warm, pellucid water. . .a hike to the lighthouse. Finally, a picnic lunch before the return ferry. The sky looked a bit darkish. Maybe rain?

Like a window shade yanked down, a navy blue sky unrolled from the western horizon and raced over us. The turquoise water turned grey. The boat began to hit waves—slap, slap, bounce, slap. South Manitou receded in the rain.

“The return trip will be quicker with the wind,” said a girl in a crew uniform with forced perkiness. She had come down the ladder to the lower deck where we sat.

Scanning the waves, I saw tornado-like dervishes of water dance not far away. “Water spouts,” the girl announced, as incredibly she pulled down one of the life jackets. My unease ratcheted up to fear.

“Will we need those?”

“One of the passengers is very disturbed,” she said and left.

Chaos had erupted over the lake. Thunder, lightening, and rain bombarded the boat and water began splashing below deck. It was the madness of the marching brooms with their buckets in Fantasia—like Mickey we were caught in a nightmare.

This couldn’t be happening to us! We’re good people for God’s sake, just out for a day on the lake!

Though acknowledging the danger truly terrified me, I put my daughter in her Garfield lifejacket. My elderly parents sat tight together resigned like couples in the ballroom on the Titanic. I glanced between the lifejackets overhead and another family bent in prayer. Should we go above deck where we might escape from a capsize or stay below out of the rain?

The delicious, friendly lake had by now broken into pieces. I watched waves the size of my garage race toward and behind us. It was as beautiful as it was terrible. Hikers standing on the stairs to the upper deck screamed as we crawled up the rollers and tipped down the other side, their hair and shirts plastered to their bodies.

“Look at that one! Hold on!” they yelled over the wind. I tried to pull my daughter to the stairs where it might be safer, but she refused.

Finally, we could see Pyramid Point in the haze, and we entered the slight shelter of Good Harbor Bay. It seemed we might make it. I held my daughter less tightly hoping that from here perhaps she would float to shore.

At the dock a small crowd watched for smaller boats to return, which we later learned all did, despite all the Mayday calls. Wet and weak, we stumbled off the boat giving thanks to the captain. In the rain my family trudged along the dock through Fish Town to the Blue Bird restaurant. A waitress took us in, offering drinks and the restroom for comfort. “You poor, poor people,” she clucked.

About ten years later, an article in the Traverse City Record Eagle about storms included reference to this mid-1980s storm as unusually fierce in a hot summer of bad weather. The captain quoted said he figured the passengers thought we might not make it. Whether he included himself in this opinion wasn’t entirely clear.

The treachery of the Manitou Passage was well known to commerce but was a favored shipping lane because it was shorter route to Chicago. In fact, so many wrecks occurred there that two life-saving stations were built in 1901, one at Sleeping Bear Point and one on South Manitou Island. Today, there’s no need to experience a storm first-hand to understand disaster and rescue. The Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum at Glen Haven has dramatic photos, early equipment, and re-enactments of rescue drills.

Over the years our Manitou trip became a family legend. During a thunderstorm somebody would always say, “How about a little trip to Manitou today?”

Joyce Hicks retired from Valparaiso University, twelve miles from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Much of her fiction centers on the lives of older people and has appeared in Passager, Uncharted Frontier, Still Crazy, Literary Mama, and others. Since her debut novel Escape from Assisted Living appeared in 2014, she has been at work on a sequel. Her love of Lake Michigan, especially in storms, has long competed with her fondness for upstate New York, her childhood home. Find her online at

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Michigan Bestseller list for February 2015

Station11For February 2015, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Alison DeCamp’s My Near-Death Adventures.  Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand has its fourth consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List.

1) Alison DeCamp—My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) (Crown Books for Young Readers)

2) Mario Impemba—If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers (Triumph Books)

3) Jim Harrison—The Big Seven (Grove Press) [last month #2]

4) Mardi Link—Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press) [last month #1; 4th month on the list]

5) john a. powell—Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society (Indiana University Press)

6) Patrick Evans—Grand Rapids Beer: An Intoxicating History of River City Brewing (The History Press)

7) Emily St. John Mandel—Station Eleven: A Novel (Knopf)

8) Charles Baxter—There’s Something I Want You to Do: stories (Pantheon)

9) Jerry Dennis—The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin’s Griffin) [last month #6]

10) John Green—Looking for Alaska (Speak) [last month #3]

11) Richelle Mead—The Ruby Circle: A Bloodlines Novel (Razorbill/Penguin Books USA)

12) Josh Malerman—Bird Box (Ecco)

13) Kate Bassett—Words and Their Meanings (Flux)

14) Debbie Diesen—The Pout-Pout Fish (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

15) Tom Daldin, Jim Edelman, and Eric Tremonti—Under the Radar Michigan: The First 50 (Scribe Publishing Company)

The Michigan Bestseller List includes 14 participating bookstores: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo;, Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs,, Blue Frog Books (3615 E. Grand River, Howell;, Bookbug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo;, Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette;, Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising;, Kazoo Books (407 N Clarendon St., Kalamazoo; 2413 Parkview, Kalamazoo;, Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor;, North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock;, Saturn Booksellers (133 W Main St, Gaylord;, and Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing;


1) Tom Daldin, Jim Edelman, and Eric Tremonti—Under the Radar Michigan: The First 50 (Scribe Publishing Company)

2) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books) [last month #1; 8th month on the list]

3) Joseph Heywood—Harder Ground: More Woods Cop Stories (Lyons Press)

4) Sonny Longtine—Murder in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (The History Press)

5) Emily St. John Mandel—Station Eleven: A Novel (Knopf)

6) Josh Malerman—Bird Box (Ecco)

7) Bob Cary—Born to Pull: The Glory of Sled Dogs (University of Minnesota Press)

8) Mikel B. Classen—Teddy Roosevelt & the Marquette Libel Trial (The History Press)

9) Robert F. Jones—The Run to Gitche Gumee, A Novel (Skyhorse Publishing) [last month #3]

10) Michael Schumacher—November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913 (University of Minnesota Press)

The Upper Peninsula Bestseller List for February 2015 includes 4 participating bookstores: Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette;, Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising;, North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock;, and Snowbound Books (118 N 3rd St, Marquette;

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Bestseller spotlight: Ellen Airgood

Ellen_AirgoodEllen Airgood’s 2012 novel South of Superior has come in at numerous slots on the Michigan bestseller list over the past few months.

Tell us a little about your book and how it came to be?

When I started writing South of Superior, I wanted to convey a sense of place–the  place I’ve lived and worked for the last twenty four years, a small village on the shore of Lake Superior–more than almost anything.  I wanted to evoke the mood and spirit of the Upper Peninsula.  It’s a fascinating, beautiful, hardscrabble place, a rare place.  I hoped to share that.  I began work on the novel on a sleety day in April, 2004, and after at least twelve major revisions, in the spring of 2010 my wonderful agent phoned to say that the Penguin Group’s Riverhead Books wanted to publish the novel.

What is your background? Specifically, what are your ties to the Great Lakes region?

I was born in Caro, Michigan, and grew up on a small farm a few miles out of town.  I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and earned a B.S. in Natural Resources.  I worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Motor Vehicle Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor for a couple of years after I graduated, in the Air Programs Branch.  Then I took a fateful camping trip to the Upper Peninsula with my sister.  I met my husband on that trip–he owned a small cafe in Grand Marais, at the edge of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore–and six months later returned to marry him.

Describe your writing process?

My writing process is messy and slow.  It’s often agonizing.  I like to work in the morning, very early, when it’s quiet and the day hasn’t yet begun.  I will work whenever I can find the opportunity.  I put in long hours on every project–sometimes to its benefit, sometimes to its detriment.   Very rarely, I’ll hear a narrator’s voice in my head.  That was the case with my second novel, Prairie Evers.  I  was sitting on my bed, listening to the rain on our tin roof and Prairie Home Companion on the radio when a young girl’s voice said in my head, Folks said it could not be done, but I did it.  Writing is magic then, and I wish it was always that way, but it isn’t.  Often a small moment sparks a novel or story.  For South of Superior, the ideas that were milling around in my head came into focus when I received a postcard from my sister, an old black and white photo of two elderly women sitting on a lawn, leaned toward one another, talking.  For The Education of Ivy Blake, my third novel (due out this June), the image that kept me moving forward was of Ivy tugging on her braid, frowning, thinking.   I could see how brave and optimistic she was when she had every right not to be; I had to try and discover her fate.

Who is your favorite writer from the Great Lakes region? Why?

This is an unanswerable question!  Many names come to mind, and there’ll be as many I should have thought of and didn’t.

I admire Mildred Walker’s work a great deal.  (Her U.P. novel is Fireweed.)  I’m inspired by Bonnie Jo Campbell’s ferocious talent and heart.  I was fascinated and delighted by Ingrid Hill’s Ursula, Under.  I read Gordon Young’s memoir about growing up in Flint, Tear Down, with feeling–much of my family is from Flint–and pleasure.   Joseph Heywood is a great mentor and friend.  This is the tip of the iceberg, there isn’t time to list them all.  I’ll close by mentioning two short stories I reread recently and sort of wish I’d written:  Janice Repka’s “Tug” and  Jonathon Johnson’s “Notes from the End of my Occupational Life.”  (They’re both included in The Way North, Wayne State University’s 2013 anthology of new Upper Peninsula writing.)  Why are all these writers my favorites?  They’re unique, they’re inventive, they’re real without being bleak.


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Midlothian, Illinois: Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

Bachelors_grove“Located near the southwest suburb of Midlothian is the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve, an island of trees and shadows nestled in the urban sprawl of the Chicago area. The rambling refuge creates an illusion that it is secluded from the crowded city that threatens its borders, and perhaps it is. On the edge of the forest is a small graveyard that many believe may be the most haunted place in the region. The name of this cemetery is Bachelor’s Grove and this ramshackle burial ground may be infested with more ghosts than most can imagine.” —

The dashboard clock read 12:34 pm as we sped off on his tour of the weirdest places in Chicago: the Starr Hotel on Madison Avenue; Indian Boundary Park on the northwest side, to see the chickens with Beatle haircuts; and then the leaning tower of Niles, half the size of the real one, and in Niles.  We were speeding around so much it felt like one of those Italian jet-set movies, where the woman is wearing big sunglasses and a scarf and the guy drives a red sports car (except we were in an orange Rabbit).  Our last stop, a cemetery.

“Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery,” he announced, putting the car in park.  ”The most haunted cemetery in the entire Midwest.  Nobody’s been buried in it since the ’40′s, and it’s all overgrown and mysterious.  All the headstones have been moved, but nobody knows how.”

We got out and started up a gravel path that became less gravel and more dirt the farther we walked.  The cut grass became tall, prairie-type grass and shrubs, and little trees became bigger trees that obscured the hot sun.  The alternating patches of sunshine and shade that we were walking through, with him leading the way, made me a little dizzy.  I could hear birds high up in the trees, and bugs buzzing.

“This was the original entrance,” he said, as we passed between two worn-down pillars, “from the 1800′s.  This path we’re on was made by people just walking through.  That’s how many people have walked here.  Both living and dead — ha-ha!”

The overgrown grass made a dry sssh-ing sound as we walked past the half-hidden tombstones.  Some had been pushed over, others looked like a sledgehammer had demolished them.  I could hear the wind in the tops of the trees: like in movies when people walk through wheat fields at the height of summer, and the sun is all around but the wind is far away.  We walked silently for a while, stopping when he would point out bigger stones too heavy to push over.  We’d read the names, pause for a second, move on.  Then the path curved to the left, and when we came around we saw a big fallen tree with leaves still on it, blocking our way.

“Must’ve been struck by lightning,” he said.  “Oh, yeah — look.”  He pointed at the blackened trunk to the right of the path.  As we came up on the tree, I looked to see if there was some way to walk around it, off the path, because I didn’t want to have to climb over it and make a fool of myself (and there wasn’t enough space to crawl underneath).  He just put one hand on the trunk and hopped nimbly right over it.  Then he turned around, waiting for me to follow.

“I’ll never be able to do that,” I said.  He just laughed a little and held out his hand.  I thought:  If I take it, how will I let go? Because there was only one thing that holding hands meant. But I had to take it, or walk around the tree, through the branches and high, tangled bushes, and that wasn’t an option.

“Just step up on the tree,” he said, “and then jump.”

“What if I fall?”

“I’ll catch you.”

“What if I fall backwards?”

“You won’t.  Just keep moving forward.”

He stuck his hand out farther.  This time I took it, and he guided me over.

“Sorry.  I’ve never been camping.”

“No need to apologize.”  He let go of my hand.  “You wanna keep goin’?”

“Of course.  Why wouldn’t I?”

There’s the most mysterious part of the place.”  In front of us was a lagoon, covered in bright green algae.  The path ended there.  Surrounding the lagoon was a chain-link fence, with a section cut and pulled back.  In the half-shade, half-sun, the pulled-back part looked like a sheer green veil.

“It’s the waters of Lethe,” he said. “If you drink from it, you’ll forget everything.  But there’s another river, and if you drink from that one you’ll remember everything.  Which would you choose?”

Our shoulders were almost touching.  I looked back at the pond.  I was nervous, didn’t want to look at him and wanted him to stop looking at me. But he kept looking, calmly, as if he were trying to communicate that he wasn’t going to touch me.  I wanted him to, and I didn’t.

“I think I would want to remember,” I shrugged.  ”What about you?”

“Hmm.  There are definitely some things I wish I could forget.”

There was something serious in his voice that wasn’t there before — something bad must’ve happened.  Well, he was eleven years older than me, and nothing had happened to me. Yet.  The day before, in journalism class, Sister Irene had told us to be aware of what we were doing today at 12:34 pm, because it was May 6, 1978, and the numbers would all add up: 12:34, 5/6. ’78.

“Were you in Vietnam?”

He laughed hard, and I got mad.

“Are you laughing at me?”

“No, I’m laughing next to you!  No, I wasn’t in Vietnam.”

That’s so funny?”

“Yeah, ’cause . . . never mind.  It’s not that interesting.”

“Hey, did you bring any drugs with you?”

He did a double-take, then laughed — again!  He’d laughed at me twice!

“Oh, fuck you,” I yelled, turning away.  I was going back to the car and that would be the end of —

But the stupid tree was in my way.

I stopped short; he crashed into me.  Then he was holding me, keeping me from falling.  Then he backed off.  And then I took a step toward him, and put my arms around his waist.

“Are you sure?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, and closed my eyes.

He’d picked me up at 12:34.  It was 5/6/’78.  I knew I’d want to remember that. One year later, he was dead.

Sharon Mesmer is the author of two short fiction collections, both from Hanging Loose Press, and a collection of fiction in French translation from Hachette. She is also the author of three poetry collections, with one forthcoming this fall. She teaches creative writing — fiction and poetry — at New York University and the New School. She has been a recipient of a Fulbright Specialist grant and two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships. Four of her poems appear in the second edition of Postmodern Poetry: A Norton Anthology, published in 2012. 

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Michigan Bestseller list for January 2015

For January 2015, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Harrison’s The Big Seven.  Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand has its third consecutive month on the Michigan Bestseller List with its first time in the #1 slot.

Jerry_dennis1) Mardi Link–Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press) [last month #2]

2) Jim Harrison—The Big Seven (Grove Press)

3) John Green—Looking for Alaska (Speak)

4) Chris Van Allsburg—The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie (HMH Books for Young Readers) [last month #9]

5) Jon Milan—Grand River Avenue: From Detroit to Lake Michigan (Arcadia Publishing)

6) Jerry Dennis—The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin’s Griffin) [last month #13]

7) Joshua G. Cohen—A Field Guide to the Natural Communities of Michigan (Michigan State University Press)

8) David D. Finney, Jr. and Judith L. McIntosh—Howell (Arcadia Publishing)

9) John Green—Paper Towns (Speak) [last month #11]

10) Melissa Gilbert—Prairie Tale: A Memoir (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster)

11) Jim DuFresne—Explorer’s Guides: 50 Hikes in Michigan (Countryman Press/W. W. Norton & Company)

12) Denise Brennan-Nelson—Teach Me to Love (Sleeping Bear Press)

13) Martha Aladjem Bloomfield—Hmong Americans in Michigan (Michigan State University Press)

14) Tobin T. Buhk—Poisoning the Pecks of Grand Rapids: The Scandalous 1916 Murder Plot (The History Press)

15) Denise Brennan-Nelson—Little Michigan (Sleeping Bear Press)

The January 2015 Michigan Bestseller List includes 15 participating bookstores: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo;, Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs,, Blue Frog Books (3615 E. Grand River, Howell;, Bookbug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo;, Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette;, Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising;, Kazoo Books (407 N Clarendon St., Kalamazoo; 2413 Parkview, Kalamazoo;, Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor;, North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock;, Saturn Booksellers (133 W Main St, Gaylord;, Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing;, and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie;


For January 2015, the largest rise on the U.P. Bestseller List was Bassett’s Words and Their Meanings.  Airgood’s South of Superior and Archibald’s Northern Border have their eighth consecutive month on the U.P. Bestseller List.  Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit has its seventh consecutive month as the number one bestselling book for the Upper Peninsula.  (May 2015, Michigan State University Press releases Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

1) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books) [last month #1; 7th month at the #1 slot]

2) Joseph Heywood—Killing a Cold One (Lyons Press) [last month #3]

3) Robert F. Jones—Run to Gitche Gumee (Skyhorse Publishing) [last month #4]

4) Ellen Airgood—South of Superior (Riverhead Trade) [last month #6]

5) Kate Bassett–Words & their Meanings (Flux)

6) Bonnie Jo Campbell–Once Upon A River: a Novel (W. W. Norton & Company)

7) Jerome Pohlen—Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places (Chicago Review Press)

8) Robert Archibald—Northern Border: History and Lore of the Upper Peninsula and Beyond (NMU Press) [last month #9]

9) Steve Hamilton—A Cold Day in Paradise (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press)

10) Robert Traver—Anatomy of a Murder (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Griffin)

The Upper Peninsula Bestseller List for January 2015  includes 5 participating bookstores: Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette;, Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising;, North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock;, Snowbound Books (118 N 3rd St, Marquette;, and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie;


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Bestseller spotlight: Tobin Buhk

Tobin Buhk is at #14 on the Michigan bestseller list for his true crime book Poisoning the Pecks of Grand Rapids. 

BuhkAuthorPhoto Tell us a little about your book and how it came to be?

Poisoning the Pecks of Grand Rapids details Arthur Warren Waite’s convoluted get-rich-quick scheme to do away with his in-laws and thus gain control of his wife’s inheritance. Waite first tried an ingenious stratagem to infect John and Hannah Peck with virulent diseases, but when this failed, he turned to the more reliable poison, arsenic. His plan began to fall apart when a telegram under the mysterious pseudonym “K. Adams” arrived in Grand Rapids and warned of possible foul play.

Although the case took place nearly a century ago, it remains one of the most fascinating and twisted cases in West Michigan history. Waite’s duplicity was incredibly complex. He told his wife that he spent his days conducting tricky oral surgery, but in fact, he ran around Manhattan procuring dangerous germs and spending afternoons at the Plaza with a married cabaret dancer.

What is your background? Specifically, what are your ties to the Great Lakes region?

I was born and raised in West Michigan, and I’ve spent the last twenty years as a teacher in the Grand Rapids area. My first two books—Cause of Death (Prometheus Books, 2007) and Skeletons in the Closet (Prometheus, 2008) were collaborations with the Kent County Medical Examiner, Dr. Stephen D. Cohle.

Describe your writing process?

When writing about a historic true crime, I try to recreate the events, so readers may eyewitness the crime, follow the police as they follow the clues, and listen in on the trial. Therefore, my writing process typically involves constructing a chronology of events. Once I’ve pinned down a timeline, I will begin to visualize the best way to tell the story. Sometimes this will lead to an outline, but most often, once I’ve decided on an approach and direction, I will begin drafting. My writing process then becomes like a pencil sketch. As I draft, I’m constantly adding some things while erasing others and re-rendering them.

Who is your favorite writer from the Great Lakes region? Why?

I’m particularly fond of Elmore Leonard and the way that he is able to capture the essence of his characters.


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Traverse City, Michigan: Original Winter


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“There are three things you need to survive winter here,” Lynda said, yanking the zipper of her puffy down coat up to her chin. We were walking along Front Street in Traverse City, making our way back to the office after our lunch break. A snowy north wind was blasting off the bay, and we both winced as the little granules stung our faces.

She continued: “One: A good pair of cross-country skis. Two: A membership to the Park Place Hotel pool; they’ve got a hot tub. And three,” — we scooted into the office foyer, cheeks flaming, and stomped the snow from our boots — “a plane ticket somewhere warm for a week in February. Trust me, you’ll want to get outta here by then.”

It was December 2007, my first year with a career job, my first year Up North. I’d arrived in time to see the trilliums in May and had spent the summer well, if the sand still in my car’s floor mats was any indication. Autumn had been beautiful but brief, and the locals I’d met by then were full of wisdom and warnings about the long, cold, dark days ahead: Invest in snow tires. Get a warmer coat. Show up early to the annual ski swap for the best deals.

A co-worker even explained the trick to peeing outside while wearing ski gear if nature called while I was on the cross-country trails. She looked ridiculous pantomiming it to me in her business-casual attire, substituting her office’s door frame for a tree, but even though we were giggling, inside my head I was solemnly filing the image away with all the other tips.

In the flat and clay-soiled southeastern corner of the state, where I’m originally from, people love to hate winter. They don’t know how to drive in snow, much less skillfully pee in it. They throw up their hands at the weatherman’s predictions and complain about the cold, the roads, the endless cloud cover. Back in April, when I announced I’d landed a new job and was moving to Traverse City, my friends had laughed at my snowy fate. “Good luck with that whole winter thing!”

I didn’t need luck. Maybe I needed a better coat or to regularly peel off all the layers and soak in a hot tub, but “that whole winter thing” was part of the reason I wanted to live Up North in the first place. As a kid growing up in the suburbs, I’d had a hunch that our Detroit winters were more like a facsimile of what winter was supposed to be. The light snow dustings that would snarl traffic then melt a day later: these were Xeroxed copies, faint and gray, of the real thing. I wanted the original, with its message clearly legible in the deep drifts, deep cold, deep quiet: You are alive. I was moving Up North for a job, sure, but also in search of a life that reflected, not rejected, the natural world. I wanted to live where all the seasons had an equal place at the table, where the seam between civilization and the elements was blurred, like the bay’s horizon when lake effect snow rolls in.

I didn’t get the snow tires that year but I did invest in cross-country skis. Honestly, my first time out on the trail was more misery than magic: I fell every few feet, until finally I clicked out of the skis in frustration and hoofed it back to the trailhead, blistered heels burning in my spiffy new boots. But by the time I got to my car, a light snow was falling and evening had settled in. All was hushed and lovely. It was pretty hard to stay upset.

Despite the fact that I never really got the hang of skiing, always windmilling into at least one big face-plant per outing, I was still grateful for the places my skis took me that first winter: out into cathedrals of red pine, across whipped-cream meadows that turned lavender when dusk fell, through hills where bare trees looked like brushstrokes against the oyster-shell sky. The sounds of snow sifting through branches or waves of crushed ice rolling in the bay — they were exciting and new. But even the familiar murmur of the heat kicking on in my crummy apartment, when I was home and thawing out after each adventure, took on a different significance. It was the sound of contentment.

I didn’t buy that ticket to somewhere warm in February or even March, by which time the city’s plows were running out of places to push the mountains of snow. Sure, there would be Florida-bound mid-winter getaways in subsequent years, because my friend was right: When you live in a place where there’s snow on the ground for up to six month, you need skis, hot tub access, and every once in awhile, a damn break. But that first winter? I marinated in the solitude and kept hitting the trails and reveled in what I felt was the making of a badge of honor. Here was winter, the original. And I was right there with it, earning my stripes as a Northerner, shedding my downstate skin and buttoning up into a puffy down coat of my own.

It’s been seven years since my first winter Up North. I hear the Park Place isn’t offering pool memberships anymore, which is just as well for me; I live downstate again now, having moved for another adventure, and I’ve long since passed my skis to another Northern newbie. People down here ask me if I miss the Traverse City summers. Sure, I say, thinking of my once-sandy floor mats. But the truth is, I miss the winters just as much. I try to explain it to my friends here, describing the particular beauty of a winter beach, the way the wind whips the sand and snow together until the shoreline is as crackly and caramel-colored as crème brûlée. An Up North winter is not the glinting-white, unyielding edge of a knife, as people down here seem to believe; it is the cold, soft, silver bowl of a spoon. It feeds us, if we want to be fed.

Emily Bingham is a writer and editor living in Ann Arbor. She’s also co-creator of Found Michigan a small-batch screenprinting studio that celebrates Michigan life and lore.

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Great Lakes Poetry Prize deadline extended until March 31

Stolen_imageThe deadline for the Great Lakes Poetry Prize has been extended until March 31.

Here are the details:

1)  Three Great Lakes Poetry Prizes will be awarded each to a single poem written about the Great Lakes region or written by a poet from the Great Lakes region: First Place will receive $500; Second Place $250; and Third Place $100. All three poems will be published in the spring 2015 issue of the Great Lakes Review.

2)  Deadline for submissions here at Submittable is March 31, 2015.

3)  We tend to consider the “Great Lakes region” to mean the Canadian-American vicinity including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario, but we’re prepared to be convinced otherwise.

4)  Send up to three poems per entry, each poem beginning on a new page. All lengths, styles, and forms are welcome. Multiple entries by a single poet are accepted, but each group of three poems must be treated as a separate entry with its own $10.00 entry fee.

5)  All entries to the Great Lakes Poetry Prize will be considered for publication at Great Lakes Review.

6)  All poems submitted for consideration must be previously unpublished. Simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please notify Great Lakes Review immediately should any poems be accepted elsewhere.

7)  Please include all pertinent contact information in the cover letter you submit here at Submittable and remove any identifying information from the poems that you submit.

8)  Final judge is poet and literary critic Robert Archambeau, whose works include Citation SuiteHome and VariationsLaureates and Heretics, and The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, in addition to a number of edited collections




The Lake in Winter 010 (1)


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

A brisk wind stings my face as I get out of the car. Blowing snow shears across the dunes and swirls around the parking lot. I tuck my chin inside my scarf and start walking. When I reach the top of the ridge, I stop to look, expecting to see the lake. But there is no lake, only a frozen landscape of jagged ridges and snow-covered valleys do I see. Waves caught in the freeze-frame of February resemble the arctic tundra, not my lake.

I wrap my scarf tightly over my mouth and head for the breakwater. Nobody walks on the breakwater in February, but I want to get closer. I have to get closer. To better see what I can’t believe I’m seeing.

At first glance the entire expanse appeared frozen solid, but with a closer look the undulating movement of the surface in sync with the swells of the inland sea becomes apparent. It is not solid but shiftless, like the sands of Dune. The whole thing is heaving with the power of what lies beneath.

I walk out on the wooden planks and watch the wave action, for that is what it is, though there is no water, no crashing surf. The lake breathes like a ventilator but silently. So silent. There are no shore birds, no tourists, no power boats or lake freighters. I hunch my shoulders against the wind and look to the horizon, a distance of twenty-six miles. There is open water out there and jagged ice floes peak the sky like sailboats. This monster of a lake with the reach of an ocean has a changeable face. And I see I am not alone.

An ice fisherman walks the shore with his backpack and his pail and walking stick. He tramps carefully in cleated boots. He is prepared, bundled up like a Sherpa guide.  I am not. I don’t have gloves, I don’t have my long underwear, and I don’t have my boots. What I have is a new haircut with caramel highlights still damp from the salon, hidden by the scarf now wound tight around my head for this impromptu walk on the breakwater.

When I realized I was only three miles from the lake, I knew I would keep going. From earliest memory, my siblings and I strained for that first glimpse of blue through the trees on Sunday outings in our father’s station wagon.

I walk along the railing of the breakwater until the drifted sand turns to ice and the railing ends. With no railing, I stop. I’m afraid to go further, afraid I’ll slip, or my scarf will blow away and I’ll be tempted to chase it, afraid I’ll fall off the edge onto the shifting ice. All my life I’ve been drawn to this water, yet I fear it.

His name is Fred Bear. It said so on the back window of the pickup truck I parked alongside. Ours are the only two vehicles in the parking lot. Just drill that hole his bumper sticker said. Ice fishing is popular. It doesn’t cost anything to bring dinner home. He has this stretch of shore to himself. I’m not in his way. He doesn’t even see me.

I like a man bullish on winter, one who can bring dinner home. There are only the two of us out here. If I get in trouble, will he save me? If I get frostbit, will he unthaw me?

I start back to the car. I can’t keep up with him. He’s going where I’m not prepared to go. I walk past park benches and frozen fountains. I walk past the restaurant that used to be the summer hot spot. The view was destroyed when they built the marina and extended the breakwater and now it’s shuttered, like the dancehall and the roller rink. Only the lake is still here.

I walk past his truck with the bumper sticker and climb in my car and turn on the heat. I take off the scarf and shake out my hair. The damp tendrils at my neck are frozen stiff, proof of my walk on the breakwater. But I feel like a mere spectator, having done nothing to effect change, a fisherman with no bait. I couldn’t bring dinner home.

Yvonne Osborne lives and writes in the Thumb of Michigan. She has an organic vegetable business in the summer and writes in the winter. She has been published in numerous literary reviews, most recently in Steam Ticket, Third Coast Review and Pure Francis and her short stories have appeared in several anthologies. The Great Lakes region plays a prominent role in her writing, whether it be fiction (embedded in the psyche of her characters), creative nonfiction, or poetry. She is currently working on a memoir.

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