Harrison, Michigan: Lexicon for a lowercase great lake


The author and her sister.

The author and her sister.

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

Beach, as we defined it, was a foot-wide strip of mottled sand lining our grandmother’s tiny lot on Budd Lake. Our parents would drag plastic rakes along the length of it, removing clods of asparagus-colored seaweed. We’d sit there until we had octogenarian-wrinkled feet, dribbling dark castles, dodging waves from passing speedboats.

Boat was a tangerine, Seventies pontoon with a sputtering Evinrude. We tried to cram too many people on and it sunk, just a little. The brown, faux leather benches were book-ended by cracked cup-holders that inevitably spent the summer humming with hornet’s nests. One of the boys built a swimming ladder and we bungeed it to the front deck. There are few things higher than the side of a pontoon boat, when you’re standing on the edge and working up the nerve to jump.

Dock was a rotted out wooden mess, boards slippery with algae and stub-toe angled, concluding in a twelve-foot drop-off full of pebble-circled fish beds. There were several modes of travel used to propel oneself into the murky water at the end. First, the old standby, run and jump. Extra points if you were racing somebody else, extra points if you splashed in further out, extra points if you shoved them off the side before they could get there. Then there was the close-your-eyes-and-walk-off, for those of us who liked a little mystery, who liked the feeling of the world disappearing underneath us. There was the spin, the cannonball, the bellyflop, the imaginary-vine-swinging-Tarzan, the shout-a-message-before-you-go-under. I would not recommend the ride-your-bike method, which resulted in a grounding and rust.

Fireworks, at least the good ones, were a crime. We were undeterred. At around 10 p.m. on Independence Day, we’d start competing with the dentist who lived across the way, trying to impress each other with who had been able to sneak back the most dangerous ones from out of state. I learned one of my first lies when the county sheriff’s boat beached silently on our shore: no officer, I think that was somebody else.

Hammock was not only a place to read a good book when the shyer among us were people-tired. No, it was also an open challenge, a place which could be filled with any number of family members, if you worked hard enough. It was a place to see how high you could push a cousin without getting yelled at, a place to see how hard you had to rock to fall out and injure yourself.

Muskie was another name for fear, for shadows that lurked beneath the surface, ancient and big-teethed. I’d see them on the front page of the Clare County Cleaver, heavy in a grinning angler’s arms. I’d think about this while swimming, the fish just beyond my toenails, waiting to chomp me into tiny pieces with his endless teeth.

Parade was two things—the candy-slinging, fire-trucked, horse-led affair on Main Street, and the more important Fourth of July pontoon parade. Most years we watched, but I remember one particular year when we dressed the old orange boat in clashing pink and blue streamers. The aunts made poster board cutouts in the shape of kidney beans and we pinned bedsheets into gigantic diapers over our bathing suits. This was at the height of the Beanie Baby craze, and our family was not one to resist the opportunity for a terrible pun. We won third place and felt cheated for it.

Party was a joint birthday held annually, to celebrate the eight or so of us who were born in late July and early August. We’d circle our lawn chairs and open gifts, all at the same time, shouting thank yous over one another, trying desperately to get the attention of gift-givers. Since time immemorial, we had passed around the same wrapped boxes, reusing them year after year until the wrapping paper ripped or started smelling funny. We each had our own cakes and we lit the candles simultaneously and wished together, then sang: happy birthday Dear Sara-Kristen-Matt-Lauren-Brent-Pam 1-Bob-Pam 2, everyone choose your own order, happy birthday to you.

Toilet, if you were lucky, was smaller than a closet in a parked motor home. You used the bare minimum of tissue and prayed for a working flush. If you were unlucky, it was a trek up a hundred steep stairs, a dash across the road, and a search for a tricky hidden key to our grandparents’ house. If you didn’t make it, or you were drunk/male/lazy the “toilet” was the woods.

Under was quiet, and we would listen to each other speaking, trying to guess which words were said. We would try and try and try, saying it slower, louder, until the listener popped up, triumphant, understanding.

“We” was a word we used when we meant family, when family meant constant and supportive and comforting. “We” was an exclusive club, knit tighter than a potholder, opening only for children and spouses and the occasional trusted friend. “We” does not mean the same thing, not since Alzheimer’s and cancer and geographical distance opened up the seemingly unbreakable knots that held us together. I remember that sometimes, when were out on the lake, we’d forget to put down the anchor. It was not noticeable at first, the drifting, with our eyes closed to the sun or fixed on our bobbers. But then somebody would catch a fish, and we’d realize just how far away we were from where we had intended to be.

Lauren Boulton is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Bowling Green State University. Her work has appeared in Kenning Journal, Eunoia Review, and Cardinal Sins. 

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Watch a reading of Donna Hoke’s ‘The Spirit of Buffalo’ taped in warmer times

So even though it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, our friends in Buffalo are already buried in a mountain of snow. We here at GLR thought maybe posting a reading from “The Spirit of Buffalo” by Donna Hoke, which was performed in Buffalo during our summer tour (remember summer!), might warm that great city’s spirits.

And for those of you in Buffalo riding out the storms, maybe this will be something to watch to help with the cabin fever.

So without further adieu:

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Munising, Michigan: Chicks with Picks


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

MunisingI’m not a climber.

I married into a family of climbers. Ice climbers.

Ice Fest in Munising, Michigan is their annual family event.

In Pictured Rocks State Park along Lake Superior, there are waterfalls. Water cascades over rocks and trees deep in the woods; water bursts over cliffs and pours down into the largest Great Lake; water spurts beside highways. Water falls everywhere, for half the year, anyway. The other half, the water is frozen solid. Delightful, laughing waterfalls become a thirty or fifty-foot wall of solid, unforgiving ice. Or a round pillar of ice. Or a combination of rock and ice, hanging in large downward spires, threatening to jab you in the head as you walk by.

When I had been dating my Yooper boyfriend for six months, he drove me from our home in Chicago up to Ice Fest. I was overwhelmed by the energy: the whole town of Munising overrun by axe-wielding, Frankenstein-boot-kicking, ramped-up climbers. YAAAAAAAH EEEEEHHHHHH???

I joined the women’s climbing clinic, “Chicks with Picks,” taught by two world-class climbers, Sue Nott and Zoe Hart.

Early in the morning of the climb, we gathered at Ice Fest headquarters: Sydney’s (a restaurant with an Australian theme, which somehow fits the U.P.). I was terrified that I would fall to my death from fifty feet up, or worse – that I wouldn’t be able to get off the ground at all.

We loaded our gear and tromped downstairs to the waiting van. About 20 miles outside of town, we pulled off to a side road next to a fence with a farmhouse and a barn 100 yards beyond. Everything was white. We hauled out gear and started the trek across a large field of snow to where the trees began. The forest was silent with fresh snow on the branches and ground to muffle all sound. We followed a narrow trail, ascending gradually. My confidence was growing by the minute. This was my element. I loved the outdoors in winter. I loved snow and ice and the cold wind. What had I been so worried about?

After a mile, we emerged onto a cliff before a clearing. One by one we saddled up to the edge to look down over the frozen waterfall. It was a long way. The ropes – one purple, one red – wound around trees at the top near us and dangled over, coiling on the flat, snow-covered floor.

At the bottom, Sue gave us a brief demonstration on the ice, teaching the whole way. Make sure to keep three points on the wall at all times. Use your bigger muscles – your legs.  If you hack away too much and try to pull yourself up by your arms, you’re going to tire yourself out.  She pointed out how our bodies are built differently from guys – our stronger muscles are in our legs – so use them. “Keep your hips close to the wall,” she said, “Push with your bush!”

Without a belayer, she climbed the wall with the grace and exuberance of a kid scrambling up a backyard hill. It looked so easy. We watched and cheered when she got to the top.  Then she climbed down and faced us.  “OK, who’s first?”

“I’ll do it,” I said, and approached Sue’s rope. “There you go,” she said.  I took off the down jacket, put on the helmet, tied into the harness and approached the wall.  “On belay?” I called back.  “Belay on,” she replied. “Climbing,” I said. “Climb on,” she answered.

I inhaled and stepped forward. A few inches from my face, the blue ice smelled clean, like wind. I could hear water trickling inside. Panic rose in my chest. I’m climbing a top rope, I reminded myself.  I’m safe.  I knew this was true.  Even if I climbed up halfway and fell, I would dangle in my harness on the top rope.

“There’s a good foothold on your right,” Sue called to me, “Step up on it.” I looked down and saw a natural formation in the ice that made a small step. I’d imagined the wall would be flat, that I would have to use the picks and the toes of my crampons to dig and kick my way up. But actually, the waterfall was frozen with natural footholds and shelves. I followed Sue’s instructions. “Good,” she said, “Now swing your right axe.”  I did. There was a thunk above my head.  “Now your left axe. Kick in with your left boot.”  I did and found myself in a squatting position, with my right foot resting on ice, both axes in the ice above my head, and the toe of my left crampon firmly in the ice.  I had no idea what to do next.

“Stand up,” Sue said.

“Stand up?”

“Stand up.”

Against all logic, I put my weight in my legs and stood. My crampons held. And there I was, two feet above the ground, in the ice.

I’m ice climbing!

I didn’t get to the top that time. My arms turned to butter about ten feet up. I fell a lot groping up those ten feet, but the rope held. I would replace my crampons and try again. Try again became my mantra that day, and eventually I did make it to the top, to the cheers of my fellow climbers below.

Later that afternoon, we hiked out of the woods in the dusk, pink light glowing across the white field. Back at the hotel, exhausted and exhilarated, we celebrated with warm whiskey and the hotel whirlpool and the satisfaction of having ascended the impossible.

 Felicia Schneiderhan used to live on a boat in Lake Michigan. Now she lives on the North Shore of Lake Superior with her husband and three small tsunamis.

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Bestseller Spotlight: Mardi Jo Link

Mardi Jo Link’s memoir Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm was #14 on the Michigan Bestseller List in October. She spoke to us about some of her other projects, too.

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

Wicked Takes the Witness Stand is the true account of a botched murder investigation and the crushing wave of criminal trials that swept up several innocent men up.  In Dec. of 1986, an oilfield worker was found frozen in the back of his pick-up truck in downtown Gaylord. Because of a botched autopsy, a tunnel vision police investigation, a blindly ambitious prosecution, and one extremely crazy so-called witness, five men went to prison for something that was probably a drug overdose.  If you go to Gaylord today and ask about this case, most people will say the men beat a murder rap. They didn’t, they were innocent and their lives were ruined. That’s why I wrote the book.

After my other two crime books, When Evil Came to Good Hart (2008), and Isadore’s Secret (2009) were published, people started contacting me about other unsolved crimes. Police officers, victims, attorneys, etc. This one really grabbed me because of the complexity of the court case and because of how long their defense attorneys worked to vindicate the five men. It took me several years to write and I have to warn readers, the redemption in it is very small.

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

I was born in Detroit, grew up in various Michigan cities – Flint, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Bay City – and studied journalism at Michigan State University. I worked as a newspaper reporter in New England, then moved back to Michigan when I was ready to start a family. I live in Traverse City now, and can’t imagine ever wanting to live anywhere else.

Describe your writing process?

I’m a workhorse. I try to write every day. I’m also an insomniac and the two fit together quite nicely (she said sleepily). I prefer to work on only one project at a time, but that isn’t always possible. I have a memoir out in paperback, Bootstrapper, just turned in a second memoir, The Drummond Girls (about an annual trip to Drummond Island), which will be published sometime in 2015, and I write a column for my local paper, the Traverse City Record-Eagle. I’m thinking I might want to try fiction . . .

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

It would have to be Hemingway. The Nick Adams stories just ooze with love for Michigan and because no one else can say so much with such plain, unadorned language.  I also like Thomas Lynch, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Steve Luxenberg, Anne-Marie Oomen, Ander Monson, and Elmore Leonard.

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Michigan Bestseller list for October 2014

BDFor October 2014, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was John Pollack’s Shortcut, debuting at the #1 slot.  Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit has its fifth consecutive month on the bestseller list.

1) John Pollack—Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas (Gotham) [highest debut]

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

3) Eric James—A Halloween Scare in Michigan (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) [last month #12]

4) Dan Mishkin–Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination (Abrams Books)

5) Andrea Hannah—Of Scars and Stardust (Flux)

6) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books) [last month #9; fifth month on the list]

7) Kate Bassett–Words & Their Meanings (Flux) [last month #2]

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

9) W. Bruce Cameron—The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man (Macmillan/Tor/Forge Books)

9) Julie Lawson Timmer–Five Days Left (Putnam Adult) [last month #3]

11) Thomas R. Dilley—The Art of Memory: Historic Cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Wayne State University Press) [last month #11]

12) John Green—Fault in Our Stars (Dutton Books) [last month #8]

13) John S. Haeussler–Hancock (Arcadia Publishing) [last month #14]

14) Mardi Jo Link—Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm (Vintage)

15) Tom Rath—StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Gallup Press)

This list was compiled from 19 participating bookstores: Leaf Used & Rare Books (79 State Rd, Newaygo; www.bayleafbooks.com), Between the Covers (106 E. Main St., Harbor Springs, www.facebook.com/btcbookstore), Blue Frog Books (3615 E. Grand River, Howell; www.bluefrogbooksandmore.com), Book Bug (3019 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo;http://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/), Book World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette; www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), Grandpa’s Barn (340 South Fourth, Copper Harbor;www.facebook.com/grandpasbarn), Island Bookstore (Main St Centre, PO Box 1298, Mackinac Island; 215 E Central Ave, PO Box 1006, Mackinaw City; www.islandbookstore.com), Kazoo Books (407 N Clarendon St., Kalamazoo; 2413 Parkview, Kalamazoo; www.kazoobooks.com), Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor; www.nicolasbooks.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Saturn Booksellers (133 W Main St, Gaylord; www.saturnbooksellers.com), Schuler Books & Music (1982 W Grand River Ave, Okemos; 2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids; 2820 Towne Center Blvd, Lansing; www.schulerbooks.com), Snowbound Books (118 N 3rd St, Marquette;www.snowboundbooks.com), Squirreled Away Books (22985 W Main St, Armada; www.squirreledawaybooks.com), Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).


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

2) John S. Haeussler–Hancock (Arcadia Publishing) [last month #3]

3) Ellen Airgood–South of Superior (Riverhead Trade) [last month #2; fifth month on the list]

4) Joseph Heywood–Killing a Cold One (Lyons Press) [last month #5]

5) Todd Clements–Haunts of Mackinac: Ghost Stories, Legends, & Tragic Tales of Mackinac Island (House of Hawthorne Publishing) [last month #9]

6) Robert Archibald–Northern Border: History and Lore of the Upper Peninsula and Beyond (Northern Michigan University Press) [last month #5; fifth month on the list]

6) Melanie Dobson–Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan (Summerside) [last month #13]

8) Sonny Longtine–Murder in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (The History Press) [last month #10]

9) Jim Harrison–Brown Dog (Grove Press) [last month tied #11]

10) Loren R. Graham–A Face in the Rock: The Tale of a Grand Island Chippewa (University of California Press) [last month #7; fifth month on the list]

10) Tom North–Mackinac Island (Arcadia Publishing) [highest debut]

12) Abe Sauer–Goodnight Loon (University of Minnesota Press)

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

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

15) Nancy Coco–All Fudged Up: A Candy-Coated Mystery with Recipes (Kensington) [last month tied #11]

15) Steve Hamilton–Let It Burn: An Alex McKnight Novel (Minotaur Books)


This list was complied from 7 storesBook World Marquette (136 W Washington St., Marquette; www.bookworldstores.com), Falling Rock Café & Bookstore (104 E Munising Ave, Munising; www.fallingrockcafe.com), Grandpa’s Barn (340 South Fourth, Copper Harbor; www.facebook.com/grandpasbarn), Island Bookstore (Main St Centre, PO Box 1298, Mackinac Island; 215 E Central Ave, PO Box 1006, Mackinaw City; www.islandbookstore.com), North Wind Books (601 Quincy St, Hancock; https://bookstore.finlandia.edu), Snowbound Books (118 N 3rd St, Marquette; www.snowboundbooks.com), and Up North Books (3362 Interstate 75 Business Spur, Sault Ste. Marie; http://upnorthbooks.com/).

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Announcing the 1st Annual Great Lakes Poetry Prize

Stolen_imageHave a sonnet for Lake Superior? A Lake Erie epic? An ode to Lake Ontario? A Lake Michigan hymn? We’re pleased to announce that we’re hosting the first ever Great Lakes Poetry Prize contest. Submissions are open until Dec. 31, 2014. Details here:

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)  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.

3)  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.

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

5)  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.

6)  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.

7)  Final judge is poet and literary critic Robert Archambeau, whose works include Citation Suite, Home and Variations, Laureates and Heretics, and The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, in addition to a number of edited collections.

8)  Deadline for submissions at Submittable is December 31, 2014.

Submit here. 


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Ann Arbor, Michigan: A Love Letter to Woody Plants


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

APpicTo the woman in the parking lot of the park, who has found me crushing leaves, smelling them, and looking at the willows: I am giddy because I have identified a poison sumac. It grows on the trail by the water. They happen in Southeastern Michigan, and here are some ways to tell: Shrub or small tree; leaflets compound, sessile, with scarlet midribs; drupes white, persisting in winter.

I have been learning the names of woody plants this fall thanks to a special course at the college in town, a historic course, and sometimes I am overwhelmed with the trees. The distinctions between oaks, the tips of their leaves sometimes bristled, their buds sometimes tomentose, their acorns brimmed with fringe, where they are and aren’t on a hill. And the maples. “Something like Acer,” the graduate instructor says of them, meaning something common, mundane, easy to define. Silver, red, sugar, and box elder, they do their own thing. Thankfully, the Hawthorns one cannot tell apart, by the species at least. They have a thorny, suckering habit. They are part of one another. It is true that they have thorns and haws.

The shrubs that creep and climb beneath, I had not noticed. The vines with their special lifestyle, a specialist explains. They adapt; survive in high winds; have special structures. Sometimes, they get a bad rep. A man comes to talk about soil, its micro-biome with elements that outnumber stars. He throws acorns at the students to get their attention. A student asks how we could count the stars; the man explains.

I drive to somewhere by Highland Township, and towards Detroit, and to the border with Ohio, to find the right plants. There are places in Ann Arbor I had not considered. Their glacial features. The forest changes. A place that felt common, felt familiar, is not the same place. I’ve only visited the class for weeks, which is to say, I know not much at all. Still, that is all it takes to make the forest strange and lovely, a place to touch and explore.

Often the forest is a backdrop. Now, as I walk and scan the paths for bark patterns, and then the understory, the leaves on everything, the way they move with wind, I become the backdrop to the forest. By the end, my senses have exhausted, and I listen. It is the time of year when I can hear the acorns drop, a time of year I hadn’t noticed until now. I am not particularly spiritual, but I am quiet. I think: Once I was an addict. Maybe I still am.

In the Mary Karr memoir Lit, she conveys a familiar situation. When in traffic, inching bit by bit, we don’t think of ourselves as it. Traffic is the other humans. Prickles, spines, thorns, I touch plants with all of them. What else can we learn from the woods? I crush leaves, I rub at bud scales.

There’s a saying that encapsulates advice for winter identification, after the leaves have dropped: “Trust the bud.” My instinct is to walk away from the forest, the way it’s changed me in weeks. My instinct is not to trust it. I am hoping instead to find a place where I can. A forest in town, perhaps.

Anna Prushinskaya’s writing has appeared in Redivider and Sonora Review, and on The Millions and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among other places. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and she is also the Midwest editor of Joyland Magazine. Find out even more about her here:http://annavpru.tumblr.com/.


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Beulah, Michigan: Racing to the water


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

How do you explain a place that lives so much in our imagination and memories?

michigan2Anyone can tell you about the sharpness of the water in the aptly-named Crystal Lake in Beulah, Michigan. They can tell you of the pungent taste of those late summer cherries, delicious even though you never thought you liked cherries, of the long canoe trips along the Platte River that ended at Lake Michigan, where you stayed in the water until you turned blue.

What makes it special to us, as sisters, is harder to define. For roughly 10 years we went every summer to a cottage that had a bunk bed with orange comforters, a television with two stations and a temperamental toilet. No one cared, especially because the owners had a Vizsla named Peaches whom Elizabeth adored. There’s a picture of the two of them, the dog being held by Elizabeth, who is wearing the uniform of a 15-year-old: blue jeans, a denim shirt and a denim hat with a flower pin. The cottage we rented sat on a slight hill above the lake. Most mornings the two of us raced to the water, where we spent all day interspersing swimming, playing in the sand, exploring and reading.

Given our five- year age difference, Beulah means a time when we not only had stuff in common, but actually enjoyed being with each other, and with our parents. We were the Four Leis (for lease, get it?). We later learned our father would sneak out each morning to find a pay phone to call into the office, but overall it was a time when there was nothing to do but to be present, whether it was diving into the water or talking to your family. In the evenings there was mini-golf, and millions of pictures taken of the sunset, and ice cream, and lots of meals at The Cherry Hut. One year our father bought a small inflatable boat that was called Albie, short for Albatross, short for our mother saying, “That thing is a fucking albatross.” We gleefully used it around the lake, and we’re still sad he eventually sold it. One year we insisted on bringing back an entire suitcase of rocks from Lake Michigan, some of which are still floating around our homes in Chicago and Boston, and likely in the crevices of our long-sold childhood home in Virginia.

It was a natural extension to not want to leave Crystal Lake or Beulah, ever, and so we extended the escape by going to Crystalaire Camp, even though we went in different years. For Elizabeth, the first year she went, in 1992, was the first time she met other people whose parents were Democrats and voting for Clinton. She met other weird girls who liked to write and wear tie-dye shirts instead of doing sports, and who also loved big floppy hats, flannel and jeans. It was the first time anyone had ever mentioned the Indigo Girls or Joni Mitchell, and even today if she hears “The Circle Game” or “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-dah” she’ll flash back to Fuzz, the guitar player leading the campers in songs around a campfire. She thought he had invented that latter song, and had taught everyone in previous years to sing it, and that it was a nice tune.

It’s rare we are back in Virginia, as our parents moved a decade ago to Illinois, but it’s fair to say every trip there brings back the exact same feelings of exasperation and not-belonging that existed when we grew up. It’s harder to go back to Beulah; the expectations are higher. Virginia is the ex-husband who is always going to be on the periphery of your life, like it or not, and Beulah is the One That Got Away.

The first year Elizabeth started dating her future husband, she brought him along on a family trip to Crystal Lake. Julia arrived a few days in, almost directly from studying abroad in India. It was a fine trip, but impossible to convey to an outsider what it all meant, or to acknowledge that while Beulah hadn’t changed, we had. The cottage where we had stayed as children was long gone, and the camp had been sold.michigan3

When Elizabeth excitedly takes Justin back to where the original Crystalaire Camp sat, the words don’t appear to tell how, 20 years earlier, the feeling of hiding on a hill almost vertically during a massive all-camp color war, or to spend hours riding a horse along the back trails, or to get up at 8 a.m. to run out and yell “Polar Bear” as you jump into the lake. It’s hard to admit there was a summer where Elizabeth made no friends and still thought Crystal Lake and the camp was magical. It’s hard to explain those cracks in the foundation and how much nostalgia may cloud what actually happened. But that’s only the adult journalist (Elizabeth) or international aid worker (Julia) pushing objectivity on the girls who wrote poetry or played soccer or swam in the lake and dreamed. Who is to say that we didn’t become corporate drones because Crystalaire and the town of Beulah made us want to push for a better world? In our minds, the good of the town will always outweigh the bad. It’s the point of reference for every book involving a camp, or any time someone mentions a lake. In our minds, we see Crystalaire, in Beulah, Michigan, a place where everyone knows the same songs, the air is sharp and clear, and counselors tell you that great things are in store for you. And it is magical.

Julia Leis works in international relief and development. She lives in Manila, Philippines. 

Elizabeth Leis-Newman is a writer and editor. She lives in Chicago.

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Michigan bestseller list for September 2014

For September 2014, the largest rise on the Michigan Bestseller List was Kim Harrison’s The Witch with No Name, debuting at the #1 slot.  Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit and Ellen Airgood’s South of Superior have their fourth consecutive month on the bestseller list.

1Bestse) Kim Harrison – The Witch with No Name (Harper Voyager) [highest debut]

2) Kate Bassett – Words and Their Meanings (Flux)

3) Julie Lawson Timmer – Five Days Left: A Novel (Putnam Adult)

4) Tom Shanahan – Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the Integration of College Football, and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans (August Publications)

5) Patricia Polacco – The Bee Tree (Puffin) [last month #1]

6) Deborah Diesen – The Pout Pout Fish Goes to School (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

7) Rachel DeWoskin – Blind (Viking Juvenile)

8) John Green – The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton Books) [last month #4]

9) Charlie LeDuff – Detroit: An American Autopsy — (Penguin Press) [fourth month on the list; last month #2]

10) Ellen Airgood – South of Superior (Riverhead Trade) [fourth month on the list; last month #3]

11) Thomas R. Dilley – The Art of Memory: Historic Cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Painted Turtle/Wayne State University Press)

12) Eric James – A Halloween Scare in Michigan (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

13) Jerry Dennis – Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin’s Griffin) [last month #8]

14) John S. Haeussler – Hancock (Arcadia Publishing)

15) Philip C. Stead – A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Book Press/Macmillan)


1) Charlie LeDuff – Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Press) [last month #1; third month at the #1 spot]

2) Ellen Airgood – South of Superior (Riverhead Trade) [last month #2; fourth month on the list]

3) John S. Haeussler – Hancock (Arcadia Publishing) [highest debut]

4) Karen S. Johnson and Deborah K. Frontiera – Picturing the Past: Finlandia University, 1896 to the Present – (Finlandia University)

5) Robert Archibald – Northern Border: History and Lore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Beyond (NMU Press) [last month #5; fourth month on the list] [tied]

5) Joseph Heywood – Killing a Cold One (Globe Pequot Press) [tied]

7) Loren Graham – A Face in the Rock: The Tale of a Grand Island Chippewa (University of California Press) [last month #7; fourth month on the list]

8) William Kent Krueger – Windigo Island: A Novel (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster) [last month #8]

9) Todd Clements – Haunts of Mackinac: Ghost Stories, Legends, & Tragic Tales of Mackinac Island (Hawthorne Books)

10) Sonny Longtine – Murder in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (The History Press) [last month #14]

11) Nancy Coco – All Fudged Up: A Candy-Coated Mystery with Recipes (Kensington) – [tied]

11) Jim Harrison – Brown Dog: Novellas (Grove Press) — [last month #12] [tied]

13) Melanie Dobson – Love Finds you in Mackinac Island, Michigan (Summerside)

14) Peter Geye – The Lighthouse Road: A Novel (Unbridled Books)

15) Joseph Heywood – Red Jacket: A Lute Bapcat Mystery (Globe Pequot Press) [last month #8]

For September 2014, the largest rise on the Upper Peninsula Bestseller List was John S. Haeussler’s Hancock.  Ellen Airgood’s South of Superior, Robert Archibald’sNorthern Border, and Loren Graham’s A Face in the Rock have their fourth consecutive month on the bestseller list.

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Bestseller spotlight: Julie Lawson Timmer


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

Five Days Left tells the story of two people who have five days left with the ones they love. Mara is a Type A lawyer living in Plano, Texas, with her adopted daughter and her husband. She’s been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, and she’s considering taking her own life in five days, to spare herself and her family from the horrible future the illness will bring. Meanwhile, in Royal Oak, Michigan, Scott is a middle school basketball coach who has five days left with Curtis, the eight-year-old boy who’s been living with Scott and his wife for the past year while Curtis’s mother is in jail. Scott and Mara are both members of an anonymous Internet parenting forum, and they have become friends, even though they don’t know each other’s names. The book explores the limits of human endurance, the things we do for love and the friendships that sustain us.

A few years ago, a friend of mine died after a long struggle with cancer. She was in hospice for the last several months of her life and she was spectacularly brave in facing what she knew would be her last months, weeks and days. I was consumed with outrage at what she went through, and I thought writing about someone in a similar situation might be a way for me to work out my feelings and honor my friend. I chose Huntington’s because I didn’t want (or believe I had any right) to write my friend’s story. Five Days Left is not biographical in any sense.

I had a milestone birthday in 2011 and a few months before, I told myself I would have a first draft of a novel by my birthday. I’d always wanted to try to write a novel and see if I could get it published. My impending “big” birthday, and the thought of my friend’s name on the dedication page, were the things that motivated me to finish the draft and seek an agent.

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

I grew up in Stratford, Ontario, and attended undergrad at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (located on Lake Ontario). I now live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I see Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie on a regular basis.

Describe your writing process?

I have four teenagers, two large dogs and a full-time legal career. Because of those things, I’m a 4 a.m -6 a.m. writer. I’m a big outliner, and I like to have characters fully fleshed out and the plot framed in great detail before I start to write. I start each writing session spending a few minutes revising what I wrote the day before. I try to limit the time I spend doing this–enough to get back into the story, but not so much that I end up revising for two hours and not putting down any new words. I’m a big believer in getting to “The End” as fast as possible, before I lose my grasp on the story, so I set fairly aggressive deadlines for myself and stick to them, allowing myself to crank out a terrible first draft. I try to let the first draft sit for a few weeks or more, and then I start on revisions, usually with aggressive deadlines again. These are the things that work for me–I don’t think there are any “rules” that every writer needs to follow.

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

I love Lori Nelson Spielman (The Life List) and Camille Noe Pagan (The Art of Forgetting). They’re both fantastic writers and lovely people.