Ann Arbor author Steve Amick never wanted to write about his home state of Michigan. Too commonplace, he figured. But his first published novel that’s gaining wide acclaim is nothing but Michigan—page after page of Wolverine State details that residents recognize and savor.
“I used to keep Michigan out of my writing intentionally because I thought it was so pedestrian. Everybody’s doing that,” he told a crowd Thursday night at Morenci’s Stair Public Library Annex.
“But when the manuscript started getting passed around New York City, they said, ‘It’s so exotic.’”
That surprised Amick, but he was delighted.
“I’d been writing every day and not making any money off it. I’ve written a lot of novels that never saw the light of day. I might be working on three of them now.”
The one that finally made it—“The Lake, the River and the Other Lake”—was just written for fun, he said. After all, who would want to read about life in a small resort town on Lake Michigan?
Lots of people, apparently, and not only those who know the joys of summer days Up North. Critics from across the nation have responded very favorably to Amick’s story.
One member of the Morenci audience told Amick that she really enjoyed the development of his characters.
“There were so many of them,” she said, “and they all seem like people we know. Were they based on people you know?”
Absolutely not, Amick answered, although recollections of people he’s known seep into his mind. Only one incident in the book—a property line dispute—bore any semblance to an actual event of his past, and the people involved.
Amick spoke about the importance of telling his characters’ stories, of how it broadens his perspective of personalities different from his own.
“I really tried to walk around in other people’s shoes,” he said, “to look at others’ points of view. As a novelist, it gives you the opportunity to really listen to other people. Writing about these people forces me to try to empathize.”
Amick was questioned about a segment of the novel that causes many readers to react with disgust. He was asked why the passage was even included.
“I can’t stress enough that I wasn’t driving this train,” he said. “All I did was report what happened in my brain.”
He said he can’t really take credit for making it happen.
Amick said he knows that writers sometimes get into a state of mind where the words just come pouring out.
“I’ve heard about it happening,” he said, “but I’ve never experienced it like that before. I got up from the table and I was surprised myself. It’s really a right brain thing.”
Amick spoke about the excitement and trepidation of the novel becoming a movie. He really hopes the filming takes place in Michigan.
If not, he at least wants the producers to visit the state. It’s important for them to see what Michigan looks like. A sunset over Oregon, for example, doesn’t look like a sunset over Lake Michigan.
The novel, with the big lake to the west and a smaller inland lake nearby, pretty well fits the territory around Manistee, he said, although his fictional community has none of the physical characteristics of Manistee.
He’s excited about showing the world the beauties of Michigan’s Up North, but that prospect also causes some concern. It’s like the urge to keep silent about a secluded beach.
“Part of me wants to hide it from everyone,” Amick said.
“Are you moving to Hollywood?” an audience member asked.
No chance, he answered.
“I’ve lived in Los Angeles and I hated it.”• Amick’s novel is one of 20 books chosen as the Library of Michigan’s 2006 Michigan Notable Books. His visit to Morenci and other libraries in the state is sponsored by the Library of Michigan Foundation, the Michigan Humanities Council and several other organizations and businesses.