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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: FROZEN MOON

My previous post focused on perils faced by booksellers if they open the door indiscriminately to self-published books. It is only fitting that I now introduce a recent outstanding exception that came my way. My mini-review (250 words) of Frozen Moon appears in this week’s Northern Express, but 250 words cannot begin to encompass all I have to say about this book.

It started with an e-mail from a friend of the author:
I read your MI Bookmark in the last issue of Northern Express Weekly and I wondered if you are interested in looking at a couple of books by a friend of mine – David Greenwald. He is a self-published Michigan author who is writing a series of 3 books based on the search and rescue dogs involved in different missions.
As always, I was leery, but -- Michigan author, dog story? The author’s friend closed her message asking if I would be willing to take a look if the books were sent to me. Again, Michigan author, dog story? How could I say no? I wasn’t promising to read an entire book, if it started off badly, much less review or stock it, just “to take a look.” The book arrived. I opened it and began reading....

Frozen Moon: A Jenny-Dog and the Son of Light Novel,
by D. M. Greenwald
Parker, CO: Outskirts Press, 2013
Paper, 263pp, $14.95

“It was the worst damn winter storm the sheriff had ever seen.” So begins Greenwald’s tale of suspense and outdoor survival in the frozen North.

While adult skiers get in one last run for the day, a resort employee is keeping an eye on three young children at play in the snow. A ringing telephone calls her away for a moment, and six-year-old Kelly Martin vanishes. Panic quickly ensues. Did Kelly wander off into the storm, or could she have been kidnapped? Immediate searches of hotel and grounds turn up nothing.

Faced with a lost child and a fast-building storm, Sheriff Sam Hanson calls the State Police to send in dogs, but also, long before the official police dog handler gives up, Hanson has another tracker and his dogs flying in from Wisconsin. From Wisconsin to Vermont, in severe weather conditions, with airports closed? How can Joshua Travis and his dogs possibly get there and find Kelly in time? Even if the little girl is still alive, outdoors alone, in sub-zero temperatures, lost in the blizzard, how long can she be expected to survive? The nail-biting race against clock and storm begins on page one, and the action and suspense never let up.

Greenwald brings convincing detail to passages dealing with flying, driving, dogs, preparation for rescue, and survival’s practical challenges. He doesn’t neglect the thoughts or emotions of his characters, either. Men and women will be equally spellbound from start to finish.

He also knows how to write about winter.
Outside, the cold hit him with a crack. The wind tried to race through his body. The difference between conditions inside and outside the shelter was incredible. The storm raged on. Snow was coming down in sheets, even in the woods. The frozen tree crowns rocked and shook and sometimes shattered, sending giant wooden shards crashing to the ground. These woods were not a safe place to be....
I was so impressed by this book that I wanted a second opinion and asked a friend to take a look. She brought it back the very next morning, saying, “It’s your fault I didn’t get anything done yesterday! I couldn’t stop reading this book!”

Running parallel to the main story line, the rescue, are a couple of sub-narratives featuring characters in other parts of the country. No spoiler here: you'll have to read the book to learn more. I’ll only say there is a mystical element that may not appeal to all readers but will fascinate some. I read quickly through those passages myself; my friend said they added a lot to her enjoyment of the book.

Bottom line? If you pick this book up and start reading, you’ll find it hard to stop for meals. And when you do reach the last page, you’ll want to share it with a friend. It’s that good. I look forward to meeting the author one of these days.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Reply to Duncan on the Role of Traditional Publishers

This post began as a comment to be published on Duncan‘s blog, but as my intended comment longer and longer it seemed to me that posting it on my own blog, with links, would make more sense. So here’s the post that sparked my response and will give a clearer picture of what follows below.

15 September 2014

Dear Duncan,

As you and I are both booksellers with open shops, and you are in addition a working writer with your own books to sell, I’m always interested in comparing your perspective on publishing and self-publishing with mine. As I’m sure you know, best-selling author Stephen King did experiment with self-publishing an e-book but then turned back to the traditional road. Here’s a link with a brief discussion of why King and others might not want to self-publish.

My own bookstore experience with a majority of self-published authors continues to be fraught with difficulties. Not always—the self-published titles I carry in my shop are clearly exceptions!--and more often than not I give self-published books, whether brought to me in person or hawked to me by e-mail, a cool reception. For me as a bookseller, there are two big large, distinct problems, and here they are:

First (and labeling one “first” and the other “second” is completely arbitrary), all too many self-published book authors want to be writers but don’t realize that by self-publishing they are also going into business. Let me repeat: Publishing is a business. If you’re going to self-publish, you’re going into business. Instead, most of the authors who come to me (there are exceptions, thank heaven) are neither prepared for nor interested in accounting, advertising, bookkeeping, distribution, marketing, publicity, or any of the myriad other business aspects of getting their books into readers’ hands and keeping track of even the most modest paperwork. “I just want to write books.” And so they bring their books into my bookstore without any kind of basic written consignment forms or invoice forms. The serious writers among them do better or quickly learn their lessons, but as the wannabes increase in number, the problem grows rather than diminishing. You suggest that a distributor take on this problem – who would want to? Herding cats and taking on responsibility for litter boxes? Distributors, like publishers, like booksellers, need their businesses to survive. The writer who has an agent as well as a publicist still has to do a lot of personal appearances and other kinds of marketing these days, but being with a legitimate publishing house smoothes the way.

My second (or should I say simply “other”?) problem with self-published books, be they fiction or nonfiction, is that way too many  are very poorly edited, even in cases where the author has paid someone for “professional” editing. Yes, I use the scare quotes intentionally, because I often wonder, other than charging for editing a manuscript, what other professional qualifications were brought to the job? Editing problems range from the level of words and sentences (e.g., misspellings, inappropriate word use, run-on sentences, bad punctuation) to the level of narrative (e.g., undeveloped characters, confusing transitions, or even a “story” in which little if anything happens at all).

Your own willingness to rewrite and rewrite, tightening up your stories and bringing your characters to life (as I read in many of your blog posts) is admirable. If only this willingness were more widely shared among those who dream of becoming book authors! (Readers, Duncan writes very forthrightly about his own writing, as will evident to you if you read some of the older posts on his blog.)

It’s child's play these days to have a book "designed" and those dearly beloved pages bound – easier still, perhaps, and probably cheaper, to throw it out into the world in e-format. Regardless of investment, however, most self-published authors don’t want only to see their book in the marketplace. They also want readers. And that’s where offering a product that has recognizable value, along with offering it in a professional, businesslike manner to make it worth the while of intermediaries, makes all the difference. As a bookseller, I am much more comfortable dealing with traditional publishers through traditional book distributors, whenever possible, for these reasons. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014


A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany, by Sigrid MacRae
NY: Viking, 2014

Someone at Viking made quite an understatement in writing the tip sheet accompanying the review copy of this book: “This shows the side of the [sic] WWII rarely seen.” A World Elsewhere is much more complicated than a story of “ordinary, decent people.” I was somewhat prepared for the author’s mother’s story, having hosted in 2006 another author whose family had survived repeated escapes in the same era--from Russia to Estonia to Poland to East Germany, West Germany, and finally to the United States.

Following the event with Sigrid von Bremen, I also heard another friend’s history of a complicated and harrowing World War II escape from the Germany of her birthplace, a third’s story of parents who survived both exile in Siberia and imprisonment in concentration camps, and a fourth’s telling me of many family members who died in those camps. But all of these were “decent, ordinary people.”

Sigrid MacRae’s parents’ story is unique in my own reading experience in two ways: first, that her mother was American (the other stories of fleeing Germany were all of Europeans), and second, that her father was a German officer.

In her prologue, MacRae tells of being given by her 85-year-old mother a box of her father’s letters, a box she was “reluctant” to open.
Opening the box—resurrecting him—would mean finding not only the man who became my father, but also the man responsible for the “Nazi!” a first-grade classmate had yelled at me as a six-year-old, newly arrived in the States from Germany. I didn’t know then what that was, but whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t good. The taunt stayed with me. It was thrown at me in many other guises, and eventually I blamed my father.
Eventually, after finally reading the letters, she undertakes extensive family and wartime research to be able to write her parents’ story. For the record, I'll note here that her father, while he   became an officer, was not a Nazi and not a member of the S.S. When he died, he was in the infantry, and most of his "action" consisted of marching through countries (France, Russia) Hitler hoped to conquer.

The book begins with the unlikely event of her parents’ first meeting and then, as MacRae tells of their getting to know one another, gives the very different backgrounds of her mother and father, Aimée and Heinrich. Aimée had lost her mother when only three years old; her father was cold and distant, her older brother anything but a protector. As if this weren’t enough, the girl spent years in a body cast to correct scoliosis. Thus Aimée’s girlhood and adolescence were spent in relative isolation, her education haphazard. Heinrich, by contrast, came from a large, close Baltic German family attached, before the Revolution, to the Russian court. He was confident, charming, and worldly in the best sense of the word. The two fell deeply in love, and when Aimée returned to Europe to marry him after a trip home, she expected to spend the rest of her life in Europe. When asked when she would be returning home, she replied confidently and emphatically, “Never!” For her, America was her father’s cold home, Europe her husband’s warm family.

A typical young married story begins: Heinrich immerses himself in studies, and Aimée begins having babies. They have the troubles and worries of any young couple trying to establish family and career but fewer financial worries than most, thanks to quarterly checks from Aimée’s trust fund in America.

But this is Germany between two world wars, and so along come unemployment, inflation, a weak government, and, eventually, the coming to power of Hitler. Heinrich’s family members and friends were not well disposed toward Hitler but did not imagine he would rise very high, be in power for long, or prove a great danger. That he was not a Communist something they saw in his favor.

At this point in the book a reader with historical hindsight begins to feel a chill.

Somehow the subtitle, An American Woman in Wartime Germany, did not prepare me to follow Aimée’s husband into occupied France as an infantry lieutenant. Imagining herself in her father’s shoes (helped by the letters he wrote to her mother during this time), MacRae paints a picture of French peasants clinging to their traditional hatred of the English and philosophically accepting the German invaders—until, too late, they realized that the Germans were making war not only against the English but also against the people of France. Eventually Heinrich, once a refugee himself when his family had to flee St. Petersburg for their estate in Baltic Germany, was put in charge of a POW camp and charged with helping refugees return home. He writes to his wife, “The misery in which these unhappy refugees live—here, there, wherever they find a place—is terrible.” Mostly, however, rather than dwelling on the ugliness of war, Heinrich writes home of the beauty of the French countryside and of his love for his family.

Almost all of my own European experience, as well as what foreign language competence I possess, relates to France, and the same was true for my father, a veteran of World War II—all the more reason I found myself in strange territory, accompanying, as it were, the German Army as it invaded France. It seems unlikely that the author’s father had any kind of vision of Germany taking over the world. Still, knowing what was to come in the Occupation, I could not take his letters at face value.

Then in June of 1941 came Operation Barbarossa, a three-pronged German military push into Russia. Despite what had become of Napoleon and his army in 1812,
...Hitler was confident, claiming that he had only to “kick in the door” and the behemoth would crumble. Heinrich was with Army Group Center, the largest of the three prongs of the operation, meant to deliver a lightning strike and bring the quick victory Hitler predicted would be his before fall.
Heinrich can’t help thinking that a German victory in western Russia might enable him to return to his happy childhood place, the family estate in Ottenhof. Odds seemed to favor them in that the disparate peoples of Russia had never become unified under Soviet rule, and the “defenders of the Motherland were hungry and hollow-eyed,” often throwing down their weapons “in panic and exhaustion.”

Like his friend and fellow officer, Alexis von Roene, Heinrich had little sympathy with Hitler’s values and goals. But he was a Baltic German, with strong Russian roots.
The Russians had been set up on the bank of the Dnieper in 1812 just as they were now. If an awareness that this time Heinrich was in the role of invader, not defender, cast any shadow or brought a frisson of unease, it was quickly banished. He mentions no burned villages, no ruthless brutality. He was no alien invader; he was returning to land defended over the years by forefathers. This was a liberation, a return home.
He was killed at Mogilev on July 23, 1941. From that date forward his children, including the baby girl who never had a chance to know her father, had to depend on the resourcefulness and ingenuity of their American mother to preserve their lives and insure their future, and the remainder of the book is faithful to its subtitle.

From an isolated girlhood, interrupted by surgeries and immobilizations in a body cast and followed by an unhappy boarding school experience, the widow Aimée, American-born mother of six children born in Germany to a German father, finds within herself enormous reserves of strength because – she had no choice. Residents had been forbidden to leave East Prussia, but the roads were seething with fleeing refugees, Berlin was under siege, and if the family stayed put as ordered, Aimée’s oldest son, 16-year-old Friedrich, would be taken into a German army desperate for men.
She gave each child a small chamois bag with [her brother’s] Chicago address to hang around their necks. Putting any hope at all into such a fragile vessel seemed absurd, but she felt compelled to do it. They were headed into the unknown, and the thought of being separated in the maelstrom ahead was terrifying.
They had a wagon and a horse. They had, for a while, potatoes. At last they reach British lines, where Aimée persuades a British officer not to send them back into Russian-held territory.

After a series of refugee and displaced person camps, the family at last settles “permanently” in the traditional farming village of Grosseelheim, where the doctor friend who has attached herself to the family hopes to set up in practice, but the villagers and farmers are poor and cannot afford much doctoring. Then the doctor herself dies of cancer, and the family turns to relatives in America, hoping to emigrate.

Once safe in New England the family faces new struggles: an abandoned farmhouse that needs almost everything essential to it replaced; a deportation threat; the necessity of moving from a house they thought they would never leave when the property is condemned for expansion of a U.S. Navy airfield. But of course we know, from the beginning of the book, that mother and children flourish in America.

For me, it was not so much the story of  “an American woman in wartime Germany” that held me spellbound but the individual stories of young Aimée and Friedrich, their love story, and the unsettling view of the invasion of France through the eyes of a German officer, along with the grit and determination Aimée demonstrated in building a new life in America.

A World Elsewhere is beautifully but simply written. Much of the words on the page come directly from letters, the author allowing her parents to speak for themselves. The accumulated facts of the story are haunting, simply by being true. I doubt that very many postwar American women have ever imagined themselves wives of German officers. In hindsight and from an American perspective, such a vision is unthinkable. And yet, here were two young people, previously tossed about by life, who fell in love and did what lovers all over the world have always done--they married and began a family—little realizing the tossing about that lay ahead of them in the future.

The author writes in her epilogue that researching this book
...taught me that there is not one history, but many; that context is everything, and life is far more complex than we ever imagine, especially when history writ large intervenes. I found that despite the stiff-armed Nazi salutes and gutteral “Achtungs” that came my way, I was not the devil’s spawn after all, just the product of two people in a particular time and place, enmeshed in circumstance, their hopes upended.
MacRae’s parents’ story is not one familiar from hundreds of others from World War II, but the author conveys its truth and poignancy in such a way that the lives of Heinrich and Aimée will remain with readers long after the book has been closed.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Crabapples in Northport

Between the colorful, spectacular reigns of summer and fall comes a quieter time. The last cutting of hay is being baled, but we’re still far from field corn harvest, and the countryside and villages seem to draw deep breaths and sigh contentedly. Images in today’s post come primarily from home and from country roads between home and Northport. This is one week in my life, September 3-10, much of it told in words only.

The chairs are exhausted from so much fun
A week ago, while Bruce took care of bookselling in Northport. I had an afternoon under the linden tree in our side yard, sitting at the outdoor table with David and friends visiting from afar, drinking beer and feasting on bread and cheese, pistachios and almonds, tiny tomatoes and tinier cucumbers. Two days later, with another group of friends Up North for a few weeks of vacation, after my work day our dinner party group gathered in the shelter of the front porch, leaving the cold and damp outdoors, enjoying an Ethiopian menu with rich, decadent, un-Ethiopian dessert and drinking wine and singing (well, two of the five sang for the rest of us) as darkness fell. 

Michaeleen at the piano in Eastport
Then along came Sunday, a gorgeous day and my first Sunday off since the week before Memorial Day! David and I had a good little visit with friends in Suttons Bay and then drove around Grand Traverse Bay—unbelievably, I hadn’t made that drive for two years—for a private piano recital, poetry reading, and Greek dinner with other friends we don’t see often enough, way over in Eastport. (Oh, for a car ferry between Northport and Eastport!) On our way home, we detoured through Elk Rapids, thinking we might find Northport friends in the marina, but there were too many boats, and we were too tired to walk the docks in search of Bill and Sally.

Monday, September 8, was my first Monday off since the week before Memorial Day (yes, the bookstore is now closed both Sundays and Mondays, and as a result I get a 2-day “weekend” now that summer is over), and I drove to Traverse City early to pick up my custom t-shirts at Jen-Tees. It was another gorgeous, gorgeous day, and I took back roads through Cedar in both directions, almost singing out loud at the beauty of the day, but by midafternoon both David and I were so worn out with looking (he’d gone to Glen Arbor while I was doing the Traverse City round trip) that we had no energy to go out for dinner and made do with hot dogs and homemade potato salad.

Tuesday was gorgeous again, all day. I was in the bookstore from 10 to 5, but when I got home David proposed going out to dinner, and we trekked all the way down to the bottom of Lake Leelanau, to Perrin’s Landing, to have cheeseburgers and beer on the deck of the funky little waterside tiki bar. It reminded us of Florida, but without palm trees, and with no grouper or stone crabs on the menu. The sunset was spectacular, but I’d left my camera in the car. When we arrived back at the farm, the moonrise—the full moon of September, the harvest moon—was even more spectacular.

I love my little plum tree
On our drive south through Leelanau County on Tuesday evening, joy kept bursting out of me: “I love September!” “I love bracken fern!” Listening to a music CD: “I love that song!” Remembering music I’d been playing that day in the bookstore: “I love ‘Phantom of the Opera!’” On the road down the west side of south Lake Leelanau: “I love cows!” “You’re full of love tonight,” David observed. Yes, and it felt so good!

Wednesday was another day off. (Three in one week!) Bruce was at the store, so I got up early and headed out with Sarah on my morning rounds: take the garbage out to the road, find a place to walk with Sarah, go to the bank, stop at the Enterprise office to arrange for an ad for the Lynne Rae Perkins event, and have a long latte-and-croissant session at Pedaling Beans, working on a Facebook event and press release for Perkins. (“Day off” does not always mean no work. Sometimes it just means a chance to get work done.) Sarah and I took our morning walk in just in time, before the rain began. No big noisy storm today, just gentle rain. It was nice.

Viburnum showing first hint of fall
I was home by noon and made myself a lunch of leftovers before plunging into the writing of a book review. Have a second review begun, but the book was in Northport, so I treated myself to reading a little philosophy, a recent book passed along to me from my friend in Eastport, philosopher and poet and musician Michaeleen Kelly. She had already done a lot of underlining in the book and said I could keep it, so I underlined fiercely and wrote all kinds of notes in the margin. I may do a post on this book in the near future (which will probably be of interest to one or two of my readers).

There are many more pictures in my memory of the past week than there are on my camera’s memory card. I didn’t get the camera out for the beer garden afternoon ... for the Ethiopian dinner ... for the drive to Traverse City and back or the drive to the tiki bar and home again. I captured a few images in Eastport but nothing on the way over and back.

So what are the images in my mind?

Asters coming into bloom – the tiny, light lavender ones, the ones that look almost like daisy fleabane. (No big deep purple ones yet.) A hawk on an electric line along the road. Holstein cows lying in the grass; elsewhere, feeder calves grazing contentedly (their tails like ropes). In warm late afternoon light, a hay crew slinging rectangular bales up onto a red wagon. Six sandhill cranes: a pair flying over Swede Road, another pair down by Lake Leelanau, a third pair nearer Cedar. Friends’ dear faces. On the way home around Grand Traverse Bay, the surface of the water changing from turquoise and gold to copper to platinum and back to gold. A female mallard near the deck of the tiki bar, and a while later the setting sun stained the clouds a deep crimson purple. A roadside stand heaped with fresh tomatoes; another with ears of sweet corn. Goldenrod bright as the sun, even in the rain.

Then the sounds: the clattering of the cranes’ call, raucous jeering of crows, voices and laughter of friends, beautiful, swelling piano chords and arpeggios, rain pattering on the metal roof of our front porch.

Warm kiss of the afternoon sun, caress of a September breeze through an open window, contentment from seeing dear friends happy with what life has brought them.

Me, too.

Cloudy and chilly but still beautiful

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Murder on the Île Sordou, by M. L. Longworth (NY: Penguin, 2014), $15 paper

This is the fourth book in a series and the first I have read. For me it has what David and I like to call “all the elephants” (serious film people say “all the elements,” but we are sillier at our house), being set on a fictional French island in the Mediterranean, the two main characters an investigating judge and his law professor girlfriend [sic]. Judge Antoine Verlaque and Professor Marine Bonnet from Aix-en-Provence have come to the small, remote island offshore from Marseilles for a vacation getaway, accompanied by Marine’s best friend, Sylvie. Perhaps the third party makes sense in light of the previous three books? Anyway, there they are, the judge’s position supposedly under wraps, although the hotel staff are all aware of his identity.

The small hotel is also a holiday destination for a retired bachelor teacher-poet from Aix, Eric Monnier; an American couple, Shirley and Bill Hobbs; Alain Denis, a has-been French film star now reduced to acting in dog food commercials, traveling with his wife and stepson; and another French couple who are, we learn, major investors in the hotel.

Then there are the hotel’s principal owners, an ambitious manager with a troubled background, an inventive young chef, an experienced bartender, an inexperienced waitress, and a quiet older woman who does the hotel laundry and befriends the young waitress but otherwise keeps to herself. The man hired as a gardener also serves as a boatman and general handyman.

As for inhabitants outside the hotel staff, there is only one: the aging son of the former lighthouse keeper, kept on out of courtesy to keep the windows clean on the now-automated lighthouse.We have here a classic setup for a murder mystery, worthy of Agatha Christie: the island is remote from the mainland, powered only by a generator, and without reliable Internet access or cell phone coverage, so unless he or she arrived by sea and left the same way, the murderer can only be someone already on the island. Meanwhile the meals are sublime, the wine endlessly flowing. “All the elephants,” as I said before, brought together by an experienced, professional American author who has lived in Aix-en-Provence since 1997.

And yet I was disappointed. Here’s why:

(1) The body doesn’t show up until halfway through the novel, and that severely tried my patience, already strained by lengthy expositions introducing the cast of characters. Given all the expository background and the number of chapters in which nothing happens, the story moved slowly, bogging down again and again, and it was hard for me to keep the characters straight. Had they been revealed more through interaction with each other rather than exposition, their personalities would have been clearer and the buildup to the crime less tedious.

(2) There was a lot of awkward sentence structure, so much that my inner editor got more of a workout than I like her to get when I’m reading for pleasure. Parentheses are oddly placed, and word order is frequently strange. This sentence will serve as an example:
“Small gun at close range?” Verlaque asked, trying not to too obviously stare into Dr. Cohen’s dark eyes.
Why not “trying not to stare too obviously”? I’m not simply objecting to a split infinitive. Sometimes there are good reasons to split an infinitive. But here? I don’t think so. “To-too” is distracting. I found many such distracting spots in the novel and wondered why some copy editor had not eliminated the pesky little problems. I don’t usually see this kind of thing in Penguin titles.

(3) I never want to put spoilers in my reviews, so won’t say who gets killed or by whom, but I will say that when the body is finally found, the victim is no surprise. The identity of the murderer is somewhat trickier but no huge surprise, either. The real mystery to me was the explanation for the crime. The author herself seems to have realized how much she was asking us to believe, as Verlaque and Bonnet are troubled by the outcome of the investigation.
“Perhaps the next murderer will be a horrible person,” Marine said, trying to smile. 
“Yes, let’s hope,” Verlaque answered. “Someone we both detest.”
I recommend this book with the above qualifications. No rave; overall I give it a B+. But the relationship between Verlaque and Bonnet might lead me to read earlier books in the series and even look forward to the continuation of their story past Murder on the Île Sordou. The two have been dating for a couple of years, and both have begun to have occasional thoughts of marriage and family, though they have not reached the discussion stage. (She hasn’t even met his parents. But wouldn’t she think of him as her lover rather than her boyfriend, though? These are French adults, not Americans.) So, yes, I might enjoy getting to know this couple better. I’d be interested in their professional lives when they are not on vacation, as well as their romantic relationship. And a day of two of escape to the south of France? Sure, why not?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is, Part II (Another Unveiling): A Mission for Safety and Courtesy

Mystery plant on West Street -- still wanting identification

We’ve all heard and been given and sometimes even repeated the advice: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. “Let it go.” “Get over it.” “Move on.” Etc. “People aren’t going to change.” So I tried for years to stop getting annoyed at drivers who fail to signal turns, either turning in front of me when I didn’t expect it or causing me to wait unnecessarily because I thought they might turn in front of me. All that. It’s the law, but it’s a law that is almost never enforced and one that the majority of American drivers don’t seem to feel is all that important. I signal my turns, and I talk to people about the importance of signaling turns. But nada. No change. No dice.

No one likes to be scolded. (That goes for me as much as for anyone else.) People don’t like to be nagged. (Ugh!)  But it’s impossible to “lead by example” if no one follows. Hmmm. Problem....

What to do?

Late this summer--too late to hit the major tourist season--I had what seemed like a brain wave. (Whether it was or not, time will tell.) My brain wave is to mount a new kind of campaign – a positive campaign, a bandwagon I think my friends and neighbors and even strangers visiting Leelanau County for the first time may be eager to board: SIGNAL TURNS IF YOU LOVE LEELANAU -- or --

I'm on a mission! This is my campaign!
“We worry about people talking on their cell phones while driving, and we should worry about that,” said a friend who works as an accident reconstructionist, “but we should worry about turn signals, too.” My friend said failure to signal causes many more accidents than cell phones. A 2012 website I found gave the figure back then at 2 million accidents a year caused by neglected or improperly signaled turns and stated:

“All states require drivers to use directional signals to indicate their intention to turn, change lanes or pass a vehicle.”

[If anyone is interested, the relevant Michigan law is Public Act 300 of 1949, as amended, the Michigan Vehicle Code,

Okay, the name of my local accident reconstructionist friend is Mark Gallo, who is also editor of “Reference Points,” the professional journal of the Michigan Association of Traffic Accident Investigators. The journal is not available online, but Mark kindly e-mailed me a recent copy, which includes a feature on accidents caused by texting while driving (which is no safer in voice-to-text mode, I’m sorry to tell you) and accidents caused by failure to signal. The same article cites a paper from SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) titled “Turn Signal Usage Rate Results: A Comprehensive Field Study of 12,000 Observed Turning Vehicles.” While texting is thought to be responsible for 950,000 crashes a year, failure to signal is estimated to be a factor in two million accidents. Thank you, Mark, for this information source, as well as for providing details on the Michigan law governing signaling turns. 

Back to me. I admit that Northport has particularly confusing intersections, but that’s all the more reason to use turn signals. The highway turns and turns and turns again, and many drivers, local and visiting, believe they don’t have to signal if they’re “following the highway.” The fact is, a signal is required when making these turns, and when you stop and think about it for half a minute, the reason is clear: Who knows you’re going to follow the highway? Instead of turning left from Nagonaba onto Mill, you might be going straight (to the post office or the harbor) or turning right into the parking lot of Tom’s Market.

Similarly, many drivers think a signal is not required if they’re in a turn-only lane, but have you ever gotten yourself or seen another driver get by accident into a turn lane and then go straight ahead? When I’m behind someone in a turn lane and see the signal, I feel more confident that the driver ahead of me knows what he’s doing.

The little courtesies of the road have always pleased me. We don’t have to know one another personally to extend these courtesies: they work even at night, in the dark, and it’s self-care and consideration for others, all wrapped up in one simple, educated adult practice. It's civilized to the max.

This morning I stood for a while on the northeast corner of Mill and Nagonaba (wearing one of the new t-shirts), making a tally of left-turners who signaled vs. those who did not. Things started out badly, with four unsignaled turns in a row. At one point the score was 17:4, with fewer than 25% of turns signaled. Sad! Then things began to change.

Two Northport school buses made the turn, their buses full of kids, and I was very happy that both drivers signaled, keeping the kids safe. Then it seemed that if the lead driver in a line of three or four cars and trucks signaled (some waved at me, having read my message), the ones behind often followed suit. I didn’t stand there much longer but quit when signaled turns (17) outnumbered unsignaled (14), glad things had turned around for a while, for one morning, at least.

Northwest corner of Mill & Nagonaba
Maybe leading by example will work. Maybe all it takes is for more of us to be leaders. How about you?

A limited number of these t-shirts are currently available at Dog Ears Books for $18.87 plus tax, i.e., $20. This is not a patented idea. I’d love to see it spread.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Look and Feel of Summer's End (Letter to Ellen)

Sunset, Grand Marais

August 31, 2014

Dear Ellen,

Ellen at work
A friend here in Leelanau County asked if David and I had Grand Marais on our minds, after our long working summer. Well, of course. How could we not be U.P. dreaming as Labor Day weekend rolls around? Just this morning (Sunday) I finished reading your wonderful novel, South of Superior, for the fourth time, which set me to wondering how you and Rick are faring after your long working summer in the West Bay Diner. It was the perfect time for me to re-read South of Superior (although I’m hard pressed to think of what wouldn’t be a perfect time to read that novel), with summer drawing to a close and another winter staring at us down the gun barrel. Madeline’s story gives me courage. It isn’t “happily ever after” but taking one step at a time, dealing with challenges as they come along and enjoying every little joy life brings. It’s real life, the way so many of us live it.

This past week I also read one of the best self-published books that has ever come my way, Frozen Moon, by D. M. Greenwald, and wrote up a little review for the Northern Express. More later on this, when I get copies in the store by the end of next week, but I’m pretty sure you and Rick would both find Frozen Moon a gripping tale. I’m ordering Greenwald’s second novel, too, another fictional tale of rescue dogs at work. Michigan writer and former dog trainer Greenwald knows winter!

Anyway, as I started out to say before becoming diverted, I wish I could say we’ll be seeing you soon, but the September calendar is filling up fast, and there is a lot that needs to be done that is not yet scheduled. But you guys will understand that better than anyone else I know.

My truck, the one that broke down in Grand Marais two years ago, vastly multiplying the cost of that particular U.P. vacation, is going into the shop for brake work on Tuesday, but it’s okay, really, that the bookstore won’t be closing soon for a long vacation, because the third printing of the Ice Caves of Leelanau book only arrived last Wednesday. I’ll also be getting ready for a fun book event with Lynne Rae Perkins, who will read from and sign copies of her new book, Nuts to You, on Friday, September 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. And, of course, the second Leelanau UnCaged street fair, with art and music throughout the village, is scheduled for Saturday, September 27.

Banner up!
And that’s only the Northport side of life. Projects on the home front also clamor for attention. But you know how that is, too, don't you?

Pile of weeds, mostly wild grapevine -- a big morning's work
And yet, astonishingly, we have managed a couple evenings out. We went to the annual Sousa concert on Saturday night at the Northport Community Arts Center, and it was fantastic, as always. David and I were commenting to each other how far the village band has come since its first days. Ken Bloomquist got it off to a great start before yielding the podium and baton to Don Wilcox. Both Bloomquist and Wilcox brought years of university band conducting to Northport. Saturday evening’s guest conductor, on his third working visit to Northport, was another accomplished musician. Director Emeritus Colonel John R. Bourgeois, USMC (retired), who was the 25th director of the U.S. Marine Band from the Eisenhower Administration through Bill Clinton’s presidency. Little Northport! Astonishing!

(David commented that the band in its long-ago first year sounded “like a high school band.” Ha! Maybe like your high school band, I told him, but not like mine. Now they sound like my high school band! I played violin in the high school orchestra, not band, but our entire music program was outstanding in Joliet, Illinois, in the 1960s. During Saturday evening’s concert, I thought several times of fellow blogger Dawn King and how much she would have enjoyed being in the audience – or onstage!)

And earlier in the week we’d gone out to the movies, something we don’t do often. “The Hundred Foot Journey” at the Bay Theatre was all I’d hoped it would be. I recommended it enthusiastically to friends who went on Friday night and were not disappointed. Where is the nearest movie theatre to Grand Marais, Ellen?

What else? Oh, take a look at this modest little plant (above), turning from summer green to fall gold. I see it along West Street when I come the back way into town, and it never fails to remind me of Seney, where I first noticed the plant. But what is it? Do you know? I would be glad to be informed.

Oh, and after pulling all those wild grapevines and other weeds in the pile above, we took a lunch break at the Narrows -- a vacation hour in August! Nothing is more peaceful than waterlilies, don't you think? (Do you think? Which?)

Yellow-gold straw is being cut and baled on the back roads in Leelanau County. Goldenrod blooms along roadsides and across fallow fields, and in low spots Joe-Pye-weed has come into its own. No asters yet. They are still to come. In my meadow at home, for now, coneflowers reign supreme.

For teachers, this is the time of year that life speeds up, but for those of us in business in tourist areas, a considerable slow-down coincides with cooler nights and mornings -- and doesn’t it always feels as if we couldn’t have gone one more week at summer’s pace? Not true, I’m sure. I think it’s being in sight of “the barn” that brings on the exhaustion, and if we knew we had another month to go, we’d summon up the resources to handle it. Oh, but it’s delicious, the feeling of September coupled with not going back to school!

There's never enough time with friends, but you are on my mind more than you know.