NMU Alumnus Jeff Vande Zande’s (’93 BS) has published his latest collection of short stories. The Neighborhood Division travels down the shady lanes of the American neighborhood. From kids egging windows to lost joggers and insomniacs to basement prisoners and Orwellian gated communities, the stories grow ever more surreal, holding a darkened mirror up to that which we are—and may become.
The stories were written over a five-year period more than a decade ago. Upon realizing that the stories play off of one another, as they thematically explore the struggle between acting for oneself and acting for the greater good of a given community, Vande Zande decided to assemble them into one collection.
“I am often exploring the human struggle to balance the needs to preserve the self versus the compulsion to help others or preserve the community,” said Vande Zande. “I believe our most honorable impulse is the recognition that there are suffering people that could use our help. This noble compulsion often bumps up against the natural instinct of looking out for and preserving the self… the self-preserving instinct that says, ‘Don’t get involved.’
“It’s within this grey area of existence that my characters—probably like all of us—truly struggle. Such themes have often held interest for me because they are struggles I see within myself and in people close to me.”
Vande Zande teaches fiction and screenwriting at Delta College in mid-Michigan. He said that his writing and teaching career often go hand-in-hand.
“I am friends with several other author-professors, and I often hear from them that they can only truly write in the summers when they aren’t teaching. I have found it a blessing that not only does my teaching not hamper my writing, but it actually fuels it. As a result, I am able to be productive year-round, whether that be screenwriting, fiction writing or filmmaking.
“Interacting with my students and guiding them through their own projects usually fuels my desire to move forward on my own projects. I try to model for my students that there is no ‘ideal time to be creative.’ Instead, one must simply always be engaging in the act of creation.”
Vande Zande’s late father, John, was a member of the NMU English department faculty for more than 30 years. He retired in 1996 and an NMU annual undergraduate fiction award honors him.
“I grew up in a pretty unique household,” said Jeff Vande Zande. “I remember while watching Saturday morning cartoons that I could hear the clacking of typewriter keys from my father’s home office. My mother would often shush us to say, ‘Your father is writing.’ For a time, I thought that’s what all fathers did. Then I learned that most fathers don’t. But there is no doubt that growing up in a home where books were revered ended up nudging me toward my own writing.
“When I first started writing, it was perhaps an act of rebellion that I wrote poems. My father didn’t so that’s how I thought I would distinguish myself from him, especially as people around me said, ‘Oh, so you want to write… just like your old man, eh?’ My father was a big supporter of my poetry and was often one of my most trusted readers. In time, the rebellion ended, and I turned to fiction writing. I think it was just in the blood.”
Vande Zande’s books include Emergency Stopping, Threatened Species, Into the Desperate Country, Landscape with Fragmented Figures and Detroit Muscle. His novel, American Poet, won a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan in 2012. He said that he is “branching out” as a writer.
“Where I normally write literary fiction, my most recent novel manuscript is what I would call ‘literary horror.’ I am in the process of polishing a final draft of the novel, which is titled The Dance of Rotten Sticks. Sometime in 2021, I’ll start the process of trying to find an agent for the book.”
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