Monday, April 18, 2011

Made In Michigan Writers in Traverse City, Michigan

I will be in Traverse City from April 26th through the 29th as part of the Traverse City National Writers Series. It's a pretty amazing series started by best-selling author and Traverse City resident Doug Stanton. This series is already becoming quite popular with writers, this year alone featuring incredible authors like Richard Ford, Roy Blount, Peter Matthiessen, Jeffery Eugenides, Tom Perrotta and many others.

I'll be up there along with Christopher Leland, author of the story collection Love/Imperfect, (also my friend and former writing advisor at Wayne State University), National Book Award finalist Bonnie Jo Campbell (American Salvage), and other writers, poets and essayists from the Wayne State University Press Made In Michigan Series. We'll be talking to students at schools, doing readings and more.

Chris Leland and I will be reading and signing at Traverse City's wonderful independent bookstore, Horizon Books on Tuesday the 26th, and at Brilliant Books in nearby Suttons Bay on Wednesday the 27th. I'll be reading from my story collection The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit.

On Thursday the 28th, there will be a special event at the Traverse City Opera House. WSU writer Michael Delp will conduct a conversation with Bonnie Jo, Jack Driscoll and I on writing, creative collaboration and the life of the artist. It should be pretty cool.

For more information on future events in the series, go here.

For a complete listing of all the WSU Press events at the Traverse City National Writers Series, go here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Appearance at the Kerrytown BookFest and Random Blatherings

A few things to share:

-I'll be appearing at the Kerrytown BookFest in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Sunday, September 12th. I'll be part of a special "Michigan Lit" panel along with National Book Award finalist Bonnie Jo Campbell, Kristina Riggle and Wendy Webb. It will be moderated by "Detroit Noir" co-editor Eric Olsen. The event is at noon at the Kerrytown Concert House. It should be pretty interesting. If you're at the festival, stop by. Also appearing at the BookFest: Thomas Lynch (I'm looking forward to seeing him), Loren Estelman, Toby Barlow, and a lot of other great people.

-A while back, I did a radio interview with Barbara DeMarco for PEN ON FIRE, her show about Writers and Writing. Typical radio interviews that I've done have been five to fifteen minutes, and have often been my elevator spiel about one of my books. This one is considerably longer. And while I did talk about The Leisure Seeker quite a bit, It was interesting also to talk about craft, getting published, the business of writing, social networking and other subjects. Who knows? It was right before I got sick, so there may some fever-dream, ill-livered, psychotic rantings thrown in there too.

-I'll be reading at the Canton, Michigan Public Library this month. September 22nd at 7pm to be exact. I'll be flying in from Washington D.C. that day. I'm hoping my flight is on time. If I'm a no-show, you'll know why. (I'm talking to you, Delta Airlines.)

-In other news (you mean news that doesn't have anything to do with you, Michael?), I saw some fantastic music this past weekend. My friend Luis Resto, an extraordinarily talented keyboardist, (as well as an Oscar and Grammy winner for his work with Marshall Mathers), played with his band, the Combo De Momento over at the Majestic Cafe in Detroit. A fantastic show, with Luis playing all original music from his new CD. The music is a greasy, fonky combination plate of jazz, salsa, and R&B. Check it out. He did the gig at Majestic before playing back-up at the massive Eminem/Jay Z show at Tiger Stadium (Comerica Park) on Thursday and Friday. Rock on, Luis.

-I also saw John Holk and the Sequins play a wonderful set of real country music at Arts, Beats & Eats. John is a local sound engineer that I've worked with many times. He's a purist when it comes to country music and it shows in his performances with his various bands. You'll hear songs from Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Buck Owens and many from the pantheon of country music, plus his own originals. John gigs all over Michigan and beyond. If he's ever in your town, do yourself a favor and go see him. You won't be disappointed. Here's his MySpace page.

That's all for now.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Essay about Italy from the Detroit Metro Times

As promised, here's the essay about my experiences as a writer, publishing and touring in Italy. It was just published yesterday in the Detroit Metro Times. I think they did a nice job with it. I love how they recognized that overseas popularity is an actual Detroit phenomenon. Consequently, they have some cool sidebar stories about painters (the fantastic Glenn Barr, who is also mentioned in my story) as well as D.J.'s, jazz artists and other interesting and talented Detroiters who have found success in Europe. Be sure to follow the link to that part of the story after the essay.

Finally, an apologetic shout-out to my friend John Roe, who did not get a byline for the coolass photo he took of me at Hamtramck Disneyland that was featured in the article. Sorry, John. I swear I gave them your name.

I don't think the folks at Metro Times will mind if I copy the essay in it's entirety. Hopefully, I won't hear from their lawyers. Of course, you may very well prefer to read it at the Metro Times website, so here it is.

FAMOUS BUT NOT AT HOME: When your biggest fans are an ocean away


Every Memorial Day, European tourists swarm Detroit for the annual Movement electronic music festival to lay laurels at the birthplace of techno and give thanks to its progenitors: Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Though these men walk the streets mostly unrecognized here, mere mortals in their home city, in Europe they are exalted, stadium-filling Gods of Thunder. I mean, they really love those guys there. L-O-V-E them.

Strange? Not really. A lot of Detroit musicians survive by touring overseas where they play to packed houses. It's an odd phenomenon being more popular in Rotterdam than your hometown, yet it's something Detroit artists are used to.

What was strange was when some of that twisted foreign popularity happened to me, a fiction writer. Three years ago, I found myself at a particularly low point of my literary career. It had been seven years since my first novel came out, and my second one had failed to find a home. I was without a publisher, an editor or a literary agent. I was thinking, "OK, I guess that's it. Career over." I was still writing, mind you, but somehow I had become that guy: Johnny One-Book.

Luckily, I still had my day job, writing copy at one of the few surviving automotive advertising agencies here in town. Still, I was pretty depressed about the whole book thing. Finally I told myself: Time to shake off the literary malaise and suck it up. We are made of stronger stuff in this rusty burg. Where are those darn bootstraps?

Shortly afterward, from out of nowhere, a timid little e-mail popped up on my machine. Yet it really wasn't from out of nowhere. It was from Italy. Three lines, asking me in slightly awkward English, if the Italian Rights to Second Hand (the aforementioned first novel) were still available. At first I thought it was a joke, but it wouldn't have been a very funny joke. I mean, Italy? It's not where you expect literary salvation to happen. (Not that you shouldn't. I mean, come on: Alighieri, Calvino, Eco. The Italians are doing fine, thank you.) I checked it out and discovered that Marcos Y Marcos, the publishing company that had contacted me, was a small, well-respected house that not only published Italian writers, but had also been successfully publishing translations of Richard Brautigan, John Fante, William Saroyan, Jhumpa Lahiri, John Kennedy Toole, Heinrich Boll and others.

After I realized that it wasn't a joke, I thought: "Are the Italian rights available?" Actually, at that point, I was pretty sure that the American rights were available. Originally published by W.W. Norton, Second Hand is a quirky, comic novel about loss and love for a Detroit junk-store owner. It's a cult favorite in some circles, and it continues to produce an infinitesimal, but steady trickle of sales each year, because thrifters and bloggers keep discovering it and writing about it. Even though Marcos Y Marcos publisher Marco Zapparoli told me that they didn't even have anything remotely like a thrift shop in Italy, he just had a feeling about the book. And besides, he said, Italians were very interested in Detroit.

Interested in Detroit? Sign me up. At that point, I already loved the Italians.

But what could the Italians possibly love about my hometown? After all, America mocks and derides Detroit. On those rare occasions when they even think of us, we're constantly held up as the model of all that is wrong with the American city — violent, corrupt, depressing, ugly, dying, racially polarized and fat. If it's bad, we're it.

Yet not so for the Italians. For one thing, they're a culture that appreciates ruins and art. We have plenty of both of those here in Detroit. Although we are no Venice, nobly crumbling and sinking into the sea, Detroit is full of amazing art and artists of all disciplines, and I think some people would agree with me that this place is not without its shattered beauty. And often our artists devote their work to same. So is it a surprise that Glenn Barr's funky, surreal, high-low-culture paintings of Detroit's abandoned buildings and ghetto saloons sell well overseas? The same with Stephen Magsig, yet another artist that lives just down the street from me here in Ferndale. Magsig's Hopperesque tableaus of boarded-up street scenes, graffitied factories and collapsing Victorian homes also move in countries like France and Germany.

Alessandro Cosmelli, an expatriate Italian photographer based in Brooklyn who often shoots in Detroit, believes the city is "a magic place." He has visited the Heidelberg Project -— Tyree Guyton's block-long art installation of polka dot houses, trees festooned with shoes and backyards filled with discarded vacuum cleaners — and finds it to be incredible. He photographs everything from the shuttered factories in the city to the manicured auto baron estates of Grosse Pointe.

Of course, Italians really love Detroit because of the music. Europe is ravenous for that Detroit sound. Everything from proto-punk bands like the MC5 and the Stooges to modern Detroit garage rock. Amy Gore of the band Gorevette has toured Italy a number of times. Same with other groups like the Hard Lessons, the Detroit Cobras, Blanche and a whole lot of others. Gore says, "Detroit artists are very well received overseas." A far cry from America, where these fine bands often tour and toil in relative anonymity.

Everywhere in Italy, people gush about Motown music. In the '60s, Motown was so popular in Italy that Berry Gordy had his artists record translated versions of their songs specifically for the Italian market. Back then, the transistor radios of teens from Turin to Palermo were blaring such hits as The Supremes' "Se il filo spezzerai" ("You Keep Me Hanging On"), Stevie Wonder's "Solo te, solo me, solo noi" ("Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday") or even The Four Tops' "Gira Gira" ("Reach Out I'll Be There").

OK, so maybe Detroit is still riding the emotional coattails of music made almost a half-century ago. Who cares? I was just happy the Italians wanted me. And when Marcos Y Marcos published Second Hand: Una storia d'amore in 2008, it sold. Surprisingly well. I find myself forever indebted to them for breaking what had officially become known as "the long, dry spell" in my literary career. That e-mail from Italy was the first attention my writing had gotten in a fair number of years. It wasn't long after that I acquired a new literary agent and soon received word that William Morrow was going to publish my second book, The Leisure Seeker, a road novel about a pair of delinquent senior citizens who run away from home against the wishes of their doctors and middle-aged progeny. A day later, Wayne State University Press snapped up my story collection, The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit.

Molte grazie, Italiani.

When Marcos Y Marcos published their translation of The Leisure Seeker (In Viaggio Contromano, as it's known there) in 2009, mere months after it was published in America, I was thrilled when it, too, sold well and received a ton of publicity. There were write-ups in the Italian versions of Marie Claire, Rolling Stone and Elle, as well as reviews and interviews in a goodly number of fashion, music and culture glossies with such names as Pulp and Mucchio, often accompanied by alarmingly large photographs of me. This was unfamiliar territory, seeing myself look up at myself from the pages of a slick magazine, tucked between semi-nude cologne ads and photos of sallow indie bands. There were big reviews of my novel in national newspapers, such as Il giornale, L'Espresso, Il Sole 24 ore, including a downright ebullient review in Corriere della sera by one of Italy's most popular writers, Paolo Giordano. (His book, The Solitude of Prime Numbers has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.)

What the hell was going on? Most of my friends thought it was hilarious. They called me "The Jerry Lewis of Italy." But my musician friends saw it differently: "Dude, you're huge there!" I laughed, because I wasn't really "huge," in any sort of rock star sense, but still, it was pretty damn cool. And when the all-expense-paid invitation came from Festivaletteratura, one of Italy's largest literary festivals, which takes place each September in the medieval town of Mantua, I was starting to think, in the words of Ron Burgundy, that I was "kind of a big deal" over there.

I have never been to anything like Festivaletteratura in America. Four days devoted to the complete and utter worship of writers and writing. It's a love-fest for writers from all over the world. All types of media — TV, film, radio, print and online — all there just to glorify writers. As far as I know, I was the only Detroiter. Within 20 minutes of meeting my Italian publicist, I had five paparazzi backing me up against ancient stone walls, barking out orders, pantomiming literary poses for me to parrot. ("Now, hand on face!" "Touch your glasses!" "Cross the arms!") I was really wishing I had an ascot, a pipe and a patched tweed jacket.

I don't have to tell you that nothing even remotely like that has ever happened to me in Detroit. Or America. Or anywhere, for that matter. I should also say that I don't think those paps truly had much idea who I was. Their job is to photograph all the writers they can and hope later that they can sell the images. Still, it was a heady experience. I remember glancing over at my wife while it was happening, giving her a "Can you believe this?" look. And her just laughing uncontrollably at me. I wish she had taken a photograph because no one ever believes me when I tell this story.

Despite all that, I was still a little worried that no one was going to show up at my event, which was an interview by Patrizio Roversi, an Italian television personality. Turned out that I didn't need to worry. There were more than 600 people in attendance. Just so you know, for the lion's share of literary events in America, mine included, if your turnout is in the double digits, it's considered wildly successful. Come si dice "WTF?" in Italian?

And recently, on the eve of the Marcos Y Marcos publication of my story collection, The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit (Il mondo delle cosa), I found myself at my little house in Ferndale being interviewed and photographed by Italian Vanity Fair. I think you know that we here in the Motor City are not accustomed to visits by anyone from any edition of Vanity Fair — American, Italian, Lithuanian, you name it. I'm not sure we even exist in the world according to Vanity Fair. That is, unless Graydon Carter has actually heard of this place, and he's still working on that very special Detroit issue. I'm not holding my breath.

I was interviewed and photographed extensively and couldn't help but think how strange it all was, and how lucky I was for these things to be happening to me. Of course, as an American writer, you want Americans to read your books, and that's happened for me. My work has been received well here. I've gotten good reviews, support from bookstores and libraries and awards — I have nothing to complain about. But Italy was something extra, something special.

Detroiters are rarely appreciated in America. Tell someone you're from Detroit and you either get a look of pity or they wait for you to pull a gun on them. Pathos or badass, that's pretty much all we get. But here in a city where even the artists, musicians and writers have a Midwestern factory town work ethic, you gotta like it when someone, anyone, appreciates your work. It doesn't matter if they're not in your hometown or home state or even home country. And even if no more of my books are published in Italy, I will be eternally grateful to the Italians for their kindness and their interest in my hometown.

I can't help but think that maybe America could take a hint from Italy when it comes to Detroit. Americans have always looked to Europe for cues on art, fashion, film, design and food. We understand that they have a talent for recognizing beauty, for appreciating culture, for knowing what's good. Maybe it's time for other people to see Detroit the way that the Italians see it, the way that many of us who live around here see it: a place weary and oft-broken, but full of energy, creativity and good people strong of soul and spirit.

A few Detroiters who give thanks to "angels" abroad

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Italian Vanity Fair

Here's the deal: a few months back, before I got sick, I was profiled in Italian Vanity Fair. Yes, strange I know. "Michael," you might say, "I don't believe you've been featured in any publication like that in America." If you said that, you'd be right. The thing is, I have a strange and wonderful relationship with Italy. They seem to really like my work a lot there. And while my books have done just fine here in the states, it's different there for me. My work is popular enough there to justify a eight day/eight city book tour and an all-expenses paid trip to Festivalletturatura, an incredible annual literary festival in Mantua, Italy. When I was invited there last year, it ultimately resulted in this profile.

Since I've had some requests to see it, I thought I'd post it here. Okay, it was one request, but since I'm trying to reestablish this blog, I thought I might as well. After all, it's pretty damn cool.

Honestly, I don't really know what much it says. Obviously there's a lot in it about Detroit and how it features in my writing, as well as my penchant for old things. And of course, questions about the books. I also get busted for driving a foreign car. (I know, I know...) Despite that, an Italian friend told me that it was favorable, so I chose to believe him. I still haven't gotten a complete translation though. I suppose I could do it on Google Translate, but that would take forever, plus it would still come out sounding like the label of a can of Pickled Cuttlefish. I think I'm afraid to know. So if you speak Italian and realize that it says a lot of mean things, don't tell me. Let me quietly continue to live a lie. Anyway, here it is.

That shot was taken at the Heidelberg Project, a site familiar to many Detroiters. It's a pretty wondrous place, emblematic of a not uncommon Detroit aesthetic, art made from broken and discarded objects. If you want to know more, check out the Heidelberg website. It's amazing. Here's page two.

The book at the top is the Italian edition of my story collection, The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit. The photo is my study at home. It looks much bigger there. It's basically a closet of books with a desk at the end. Page three.

Yours truly on the couch where I was destined to spend much, much more time after my surgery. So that's it. I've written an essay on my whole crazy Italian experience. I'm hoping to get it published somewhere. If and when it happens, I'll be sure to link to it. Or, it could just end up on this blog...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blog Resuscitation, Illness, and planning your day around "Friends."

A lot has happened since I last wrote in this blog four months ago. The main thing that happened was that I got sick. Very sick. Hospital sick. Surgery sick. Stay at home for two months and recuperate sick. This kind of sick is bad, though certainly not as bad as many sicks, this one was definitely no fun.

It started off like the flu, but was actually a bacterial infection, Strep, to be exact, resulting in a massive abscess in my liver. We still don't know where I picked up the infection. Usually it's from dental work. Often these kinds of abscesses can be taken care of with a drain and a boatload of IV antibiotics for a couple of months. Unless you have the disagreeable kind of giant, multi-located abscess that I had. When that's the case, you stay in the hospital for two weeks while they try to figure out what to do, then they cut you open like a freshly-snagged Walleye and lop off half your liver. My recommendation? Don't get that kind.

That's how I spent my April, May and June. There was a lot of lying around, followed by more lying around, easing very slowly into sitting around. There was also a lot of television that apparently needed to be watched. Oh, the television I watched. But here's the thing: when you're a writer, everyone thinks that you spend most of your waking hours, if not writing, then reading. Mostly stuff like Joyce, Beckett, Proust. You know, typical before-bedtime fare.

As ashamed as I am to admit this, I am not really one of those writers. Don't get me wrong, I'm an avid reader and have read at least some of the work of those three writers, but I'm not the kind of omnivorous reader with an eidetic memory that people so often expect of a novelist. Damn, I wish that I was, but I'm not. Not by a long shot.

So when people said, "You must have got a lot of reading done in the hospital," hoping to at least find something positive in a shitty situation, I had to let them down easy. "No," I said. "I was too busy watching Cash Cab, the E! True Hollywood story of Anna Nicole Smith, and reruns of M*A*S*H that I had already seen fifteen times." I couldn't help thinking that I had deflated their idea of how a writer should properly behave. Turns out most of them were relieved to hear that writers apparently do the same stupid shit as everyone else.

Let's face it, I was either in pain, doped to the gills on Morphine, Dilaudid or Vicodin, or just severely depressed and trying not to weep in front of the nurses. (Especially the male nurses, many of whom are surprisingly macho.) Not to mention the fact that in the hospital, someone is popping in every five minutes to ask about "BMs" (Oy, the incessant bodily function conversations grow tiresome) or to inflict some modern/medieval form of pain or humiliation upon your already wretched, punctured corpus.

When all this is happening, it's not really the time to finally pick up that copy of Swann's Way. Instead you turn on the boob tube, trying desperately to distract yourself from the fact that the guy in the bed next to you is there for Necrotizing Fasciitis, i.e., Flesh-Eating Bacteria. (And that dude was my favorite of all my roommates. Much preferable to The Farter and The Groaner.)

When I got home from the hospital four days after surgery, I didn't move much from the couch. It was just me and my girdle and my couch. (I was told that the girdle doesn't really do much but keep you from feeling as though your guts are going to fall out. Which you're pretty sure is going to happen when you sneeze.) In a few days, after all the narcotics started to wear off, I did regain my attention span and was able to pick up a book again. And I did read quite a bit, but damn it, there was still plenty of TV that needed watching. The fatigue, you know.

The morning shows were a big attraction for me: The Early Show, Today and Good Morning America, in particular. Perhaps since they're live broadcasts, those shows give the shut-in some sense of connection to everyday life. All those current events and all those witless, happy tourists waving their signs for their doomed online businesses behind Al Roker. (! That's a real one, btw.) Somehow, it's cheering. It helps you to believe that you're still a part of the whole mad parade, however pathetic much of it is. I also started watching Ellen religiously, and I developed a serious jones for the innumerable daily reruns of Friends. You know you're inhabiting some bizarre state of ultra-convalescence when you start to plan your whole day around the wacky hijinks of the gang at Central Perk.

The thing is, it made the time pass. And when you're trying to recover from being cut open, the only thing that will make you better is time. Time itself takes on a eerie liquidity. When your days are filled with nothing but lying around, regardless of whether you're reading or sleeping or watching dumb television shows, you quickly lose track of time as the weeks start to pool around you. Suddenly you realize that you've been riding that couch for four weeks, then six. But each day, you feel infinitesimally better. Then you start to feel noticeably better. Then you just feel better.

There you have the best thing about all this: I got better. Cutting me open worked. Except for this massive twelve inch sickle-shaped scar on my belly and abdomen, I'm pretty much normal again. I realize how glad I am to be walking around. I also feel okay about the fact that even when I was in the hospital, at my lowest point, having a big ol' pity party, I knew things could have been so much worse. It's hard not to know this when your doctors keep looking for cancer, but darn it all, just can't seem to find any. Which makes me a lucky guy with a big-ass scar.

Anyway, I have to go. Ellen's just about to dance.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Leisure Seeker in the Boston Globe

A very nice, very thoughtful piece about THE LEISURE SEEKER in Sunday's Boston Globe by Beverly Beckham.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blog Silence No Longer In Effect

Well, this is the longest I've gone without blogging since I started this thing. I'm ashamed, but ignoring one's blog gets easier the longer you go without doing it. So I thought I'd just write a short entry about something cool. And only give myself 10 minutes to write it, while I waited for Rita to get ready for our trip to Eastern Market downtown. So I'm writing about the the above graphic review by Marco Rufus Petrella of the Italian edition of my story collection, THE LOST TIKI PALACES OF DETROIT. It's pretty damn cool. Marco has done reviews of all my translations into Italian and it's always interesting.

As far as I can tell, with the help of Google Translate, which isn't particularly helpful, the text is something like "In Italian, the title is 'The World of Things' (which is the name of one of the stories in the collection), but the original title is 'The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit.' Zadoorian is the writer of things nostalgic, of the Sixties, when the city was prosperous from the auto industry. Each chapter is named after a different section of the city. It is about post-industrial times and garage sales. And about the world of nerds and mono-maniacs, you know?" Whew. This is difficult.

The second panel looks like it's about someone named Arturo, who maybe works at a bookstore and looks forward to the release of the new book by Zadoorian, a sympathetic American writer." My guess is that Arturo is one of the aforementioned nerds to whom my work appeals. Frankly, that sounds about right.

I had the pleasure of meeting Marco when I was in Rome last year on my Italian book tour and I just loved the guy right off. First, he's got a vintage Vespa which sounds amazing. Second, he's obsessed with Charles Schultz. When I told him that I had been to the Charles Schultz museum in Santa Rosa, California (for I too, have a bit of a thing for "Peanuts"), it was like I had told him about a trip to Mecca. So funny. Anyway, Marco sent me this review on Facebook. I'm thinking that it may be showing up in a newspaper in Italy sometime this weekend, but I don't know for sure.

Okay, my ten minutes is almost up. I'll write again soon. Actually, I'm supposed to be in Italian Vanity Fair, but I haven't heard anything about it yet. Still, they came to our house in Ferndale to interview and photograph me, so unless it was an elaborate gag on some wily Italian's part, it very well may happen. We'll see...