Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Gregory A. Fournier - Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel" WDET Interview

On October 27th, I recorded an interview for WDET - Detroit's PBS radio station, located on the campus of Wayne State University. It was the most fun I've had promoting my novel. It aired Monday, November 14th, on The Craig Fahle Show.

Craig has been running a series called "The Things That Divide Us," and I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest on his show to discuss Zug Island and the issue of race in the greater Detroit area.

Craig also asked me about my new project, In the Shadow of the Water Tower, dealing with the John Norman Collins' murder  cases - from July 9th, 1967 until July 23rd, 1969, in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Give a listen to the following link. If you like it - "Google 1" it and share it on Facebook. Comments are always welcome.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Zug Island Author Interview - Gregory A. Fournier

Bruce Harding, managing director of the Los Angeles Book Festival, interviewed me last week about my debut novel which earned an Honorable Mention at their 2011-2012, March 3rd awards ceremony held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel marks the debut of novelist Gregory A. Fournier, who puts his spin on heavy industry in the grimy backwaters of Detroit's steel and iron mills. The story set in 1967, follows white Jake Malone, kicked out of college, and Theo Semple, a black worker at Zug Island. Together they discover a friendship that challenges the conventions of the times, as the cauldron of racial animus bubbles over. We caught up with the author to ask a few questions about the story's creation and its origins in a blue collar world that is rapidly vanishing.

Bruce: How do you feel about Zug Island, the actual location? On the one hand, you must have an affection for the place, given that you've devoted enough focus on it to create a work of art. On the other hand, your book pulls no punches on its aesthetics.

Greg: I am still in awe of the enormity of Zug Island and the raw energy it takes to make iron and steel. The Medieval base elements of fire, earth, water, and air all play their part in the alchemy of steel making. It was the education of my life, and every time I'm in the Detroit area, I make a pilgrimage there. The steam cloud still billows like clockwork from the quenching station.

Bruce: Tell us about the people Zug Island is based on. Are they employed there out of desperation or desire or inevitability, as your character seemed to be?

Greg: People who worked on the labor crew weren't looking for careers; they needed jobs. These guys were working class people with no middle-class pretense. Life at Zug Island was raw and close to the ground, and it had a primal energy about it lacking in the suburbs of Detroit. Most of the characters in my novel are based on my memories of real people.

Bruce: Most novels are escapist in their settings. Yet you chose to look at some ugly truths. Tell us your reasoning.

Greg: Racism is an issue more often swept under the rug than openly discussed these days. But many of the same attitudes and prejudices that created an atmosphere for the race riots of the sixties abound today, more subtle perhaps, but still deeply rooted in white supremacy. Whether you hide it under a sheet or a teabag, racism steeps through.

Bruce: Was Zug Island a hard book to write emotionally?

Greg: No! But when I finally came up with the ending after four attempts, it did break me up some, and it still does each time I read it. Fortunately, many of my readers share that experience with me.

Bruce: Tell us your impressions of Detroit today.

Greg: I believe Detroit is moving in a positive direction after over fifty years. Much of the old city has been razed, but some of the historical architecture can still be seen. It's tough being a Detroiter. It's either boom-or-bust depending on the trends of the automobile business. The Big Three have been reporting strong earnings, but the area needs jobs and diversification. Overall, I'm optimistic that the city is on the rebound thanks to the leadership of Detroit's mayor, ex-Detroit Piston, Dave Bing.

Bruce: What advice is there for someone who is trapped in a Zug Island situation?

Greg: Save your money and look for another job. But this is the reality, there is a class of men who don't mind physical work or getting their hands dirty. The pay and the benefits are good, so the hardships pale in comparison. Zug Island is a world unto itself, and most people seem to tolerate life there pretty well.

Bruce: Would you write about race relations again?

Greg: Yes, and I may. Though this is a topic many people shy away from, it is a fundamental aspect of American society that needs to be explored in a contemporary context. Because of the issues complexity, the story lines are endless. Racism in America is an issue that should be on the trash heap of history, but first it needs to be documented. I think there is an attitude of white supremacy that lingers particularly in people who are socially unsophisticated. That's one of the things that bothered me about the era then and bothers me today. There was a very pronounced color line and there were areas you just don't go into as a black person and areas that white people were not welcome to go in. I was privileged to walk on both sides of that line for a short period of time.

Bruce: Where were you when the Detroit riots happened? Has your perspective on its causes changed?

Greg: If you haven't guessed, Jake is a representation of myself, and I was with my buddy from work, Otis, wandering around 12th St. a few hours before the riots began when a blind pig was raided by Detroit police. That part of my novel is directly based on personal experience, as is most of it. When I returned to college a year later, I was able to place the riots in a larger sociological context.

Bruce: Was writing the book harder than you believed it would be?

Greg: Compared to book promotion, writing seems easy. Once I retired from teaching, I cobbled together several short stories I had worked on for the previous five summers. Then I researched Zug Island, wrote an introduction, and the project took off. The ending was the hardest part for me, and I wrote four different ones until the final ending revealed itself to me in an epiphany. All-in-all, I enjoyed writing Zug Island, so it didn't seem like work to me.

Bruce: Although Zug Island is a difficult place to work, you have to wonder if there are not enough "Zug Islands" anymore....

Greg: Not everyone can become a celebrity or a professional athlete. There has to be something for people who are not particularly motivated to be white collar workers or service employees. There are people who prefer physical work - there is a certain Zen to it. But most of those jobs are permanently gone.The world is rapidly changing and so must the people in it.

Bruce: What's next for you?

Greg: My next project has the working title, The Water Tower. It is the true crime story of John Norman Collins, the alleged co-ed killer in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan, between the summers of 1967-1969. This case fell through the cracks nationally because of the Charles Manson case which broke open at the same time. I'm discovering some interesting things about the Collins case.

Available on and Kindle ebook.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Grandma's French-Canadian Meat Pie

Tortiere - Traditional Christmas Meat Pie
When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, my French-Canadian grandmother would make French meat pie that tasted like nothing I have ever had before or since. There was something about the spices and the texture that I have been craving for years.

These pies were a Christmas tradition in our family as grandma would make one for each family of her seven children, and of course, serve the rest up for the holiday repast. These pies freeze up well for later use and make great pot pies also.

I asked the women in my family if anyone had grandma's recipe, but nobody had a copy of it. Then it struck me, like so many women of her day, she didn't need a blueprint; she just knew how to make it. My mother tried to make it several times, but it never lived up to grandma's.

Looks great on the plate!
My grandmother met my grandfather while she was working as a young cook and baker for a bunch of lumberjacks who cut Canadian timber for box framing in the copper mines of Sudbury, Ontario.

Coincidentally, they both shared the same last name - Fournier. They met, married, and eventually moved to the states. My grandfather was the first of my family to work at Zug Island outside of Detroit.

After years of trying to get a family recipe, it finally struck me to just google it. I found over a dozen recipes with the same basic ingredients but with some variation of the spices used. It may take me some time to sample several of these recipes, but I'm coming closer to finding the one that tastes like grandma's.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Detroit-Windsor International Trade Crossing

Artist's rendering of International Trade Crossing

Ten years of negotiations between Michigan and Ontario has resulted in an agreement to build a new bridge for commercial traffic between the United States and Canada. The bridge will create jobs, save cartage time, and relieve overcrowding on the Ambassador Bridge and in the Detroit/Windsor tunnel.

The new bridge will touchdown in Delray just north of Zug Island and only two miles south of the current international bridge which will continue to serve the general public of both countries. The bridge will conveniently link north/south I-75 in Michigan with east/west Highway 401 in Windsor.

The all but extinct neighborhood of Delray has needed a face lift for a long while, and the U.S. Customs plaza planned for there should help the abandoned area. I can't think of a better use for this depressed but once proud neighborhood. The view looking down onto Zug Island will become an industrial icon welcoming commerce into the country. The contrast between the modern bridge and the rust belt behemoth will be striking to see.

Details about the international agreement, the cost, financing, jobs, and economic impact are in the Crain's Detroit Business link below. This enterprise should give the local economies of Windsor and Detroit a long term boost.

Zug Island where the Rouge and the Detroit Rivers meet.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Schlock Golfer Wins on Nineteenth Hole

Golf is less of a sport to me than a casual hobby. Usually hitting a bucket of balls or playing putt-putt miniature golf is enough to amuse me, but occasionally I make it out to a golf course to play in educational fund raisers with my friend, Dr. Mary Lawlor. She and I were paired with a couple of ringers, Larry and Dave, and we shot four under par in the shotgun tournament - four strokes over the lead score.

Two years ago, I played at Salt Creek Links in Chula Vista, CA, in the Eastlake High School Football Booster Club Golf Tournament, and something incredible happened. I hit a hole in one, my first and probably my last, and won a trip for two to Cabo San Lucas. Talk about lucky!  My ball bounced and rolled up to the green, hit the flag, and fell into the hole. It was an embarrassing triumph, but everyone treated it like it was a great achievement.

Last Friday, I returned to the scene of the crime for another go round. Despite playing better golf this year, I didn't get another hole in one. Where I shined was at the raffle after the dinner. Each participant received twenty-five tickets, and I won two out of the first three draws.

My first prize was a set of rechargeable DeWalt 12 volt tools: a drill and an impact driver. When my second number came up, I won a huge shopping bag from Trader Joe's, stuffed full of gourmet snack items: salami, candy, nuts, BBQ sauce, granola, trail mix, and a coupon for a free hybrid golf club. When I walked out to my car afterwards, my feed bag was almost as heavy as my golf bag.

Maybe there is something to this game!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Santee Lakes - Best Staycation in Santee, California

Santee, California, is located eighteen miles west of La Jolla, just east of the foothills. True, we don't have the Pacific ocean, but we do have the Santee Lakes. What began as a grey water reclamation project for irrigation quickly evolved into a recreation and campground facility which was opened to the public in 1961. This spring, The Santee Patch, a local activities website, ran a poll naming Santee Lakes "The Best Staycation" in East County.

Park and Recreation supervisor, Cindy Smith, is excited about the park renovations made over the last several years. There is a sidewalk that circuits four of the lakes in the "day use" part of the park, which local walkers and moms with strollers make daily use of, as well as children learning to ride their bikes. There are three new picnic shelters under construction, and a new playground is being built on Lake 1 to supplement the modern playground between Lakes 3 and 4 built five years ago.

Ms. Smith proudly reports that the Santee Lakes staff  has an aggressive facility improvement blueprint called the 21/21 Plan that will position the park for continued success in the twenty-first century. There are twenty-one projects planned at an estimated combined cost of ten million dollars.

Admission to the park is $3 per car on weekdays and $5 on the weekends. Fishing is a popular pastime with youngsters and adults alike. Several of the lakes are stocked regularly with trout and catfish. A one day adult permit for ages 16 and over is $9/day, while a junior permit is $6/day. An annual permit is also available for avid fisherman.

A kid favorite at the park is the Sprayground. This recent addition is a great way for children under thirteen to beat the summer heat. A $2 wrist band for each child can be purchased from the entrance kiosk. Paddle boats and canoes are available for rental at the General Store and can be found on Lake 5. Picnic areas are popular and can be reserved for family use or for group events. They get heavy use on the weekends. The park also has something that reminds me of my youth - horseshoe pits.

Santee Lakes also provides overnight and weekly recreational vehicle and tent sites which get steady use from out of town visitors and "snowbirds" in the winter. Three floating cabins and seven lakefront cabins, built last year on Lake 7, have become so popular that there is a six month waiting list for reservations, so plan ahead.

To contact Santee Lakes, call (619) 596-3141 or email them at Check out their link below for more information.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Preparing for Natural Disasters - Red Cross Advisory

Everywhere on Earth, natural disasters occur. Of course, they are only disasters from the point-of-view of humans who often choose to live in disaster prone areas. Native Americans have a saying: Where nature has gone, nature will return. It is the cycle of life.

Some places are susceptible to a particular type of disaster. In the United States, the Midwest has tornado alley, the Southern and Eastern seaboards are at the mercy of hurricanes, the Mississippi Delta is prone to catastrophic flooding, and the West Coast has the triple threat: earthquakes, brush fires, and tsunamis. In every instance, the American Red Cross is there to help the stricken and needy.

The Red Cross link below offers specific advice for every type of natural disaster. Generally, families should store emergency supplies (especially water), have a household evacuation plan, and establish a meeting place for family members to gather after an emergency. Take a few minutes to view their safety and wellness tips.