January 18, 2017

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Field Trip

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, celebrated annually on the first Saturday of December by over 800 bookstores on 5 continents–and watch out, Antarctica–we’re coming!–has been a labor of my heart since 2010. You can read about how it all began on the website and in other posts, but for now I want to tell you about TYCBD Field Trips!

That’s right–field trips to the bookstore–how cool is that? If we had had these back when I was in school, I would’ve liked going to school a lot more. Expanding TYCBD was always a dream of mine. I wanted to bring the Day to people who might not ordinarily get to go to a bookstore. TYCBD Field Trips identify schools in at-risk areas, raise funds to sponsor the trip, then send schoolkids to the bookstore, where each one gets to go home with his or her very own book. This program is just getting off the ground, with a pilot program at Mysteries on Main Bookstore in Johnstown, NY, thanks to two great minds and some GREAT booksellers.

Schoolteacher and author Heidi Sprouse put together a program of activities–ranging from story time to Mad Libs to tote bag decorating–for her pre-kindergarten class, while author Daniel Barrett, who is also a professional grant writer, helped steer fundraising efforts. In the end, 34 pre-K students were able to go home with their very own hardcover picture book–in some cases the first one the child had ever owned! A great time was had by all–just take a look below.



and a short movie of the fun:

July 16, 2012

How to be an Indie Sensation, and also Have a Sensational Life: by Rick Murcer

Filed under: Declaration of Independents,The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:20 am

The Killing Sands

We’ve all heard the stories. John Locke! EL James!

Amazon now features them on their homepage. “Indie author sells one million copies!” “After six years of rejection, self-publishing brings book to wide audience!” I could write a dozen of these without half-trying.

Not that a dozen is a lot. I had the privilege of talking with author MJ Rose at ThrillerFest this past weekend. MJ was arguably  the first pioneer of the indie publishing movement, and now traditionally publishes her novels of suspense and sensuality with great success. At the conference MJ said something very wise, which amounted to this:

Winning the literary lottery is rare no matter how you publish.

How true. Whether published by a major, the smallest micro press, or by yourself, the chances of writing a book that hits and speaks to a very wide audience is small. It’s good to know that going in.

So that when it does happen–as Rick Murcer is about to tell you–you’ll be all the more thrilled and surprised.

Rick’s Made It Moment appears here.

Rick And Carrie Murcer

A lot has happened to me, to us, on this journey since Jenny first asked me to talk about my “made it moment” just about a year ago. But before I get started, I want to thank Jenny for having me back to talk about the last twelve. She’s had quite a year herself. Congrats, Miss Jenny!

Man. Where did that year go? Some things have improved more than others over the last 365 days. We’ve got more books out, and a short story… and I think my picture’s better and I’ve lost weight, so my butt must be smaller!

Firstly, I must say how much God has blessed us this past year. It’s been beyond anything I could have imagined. No one makes it without some help in this business, and no one helps like God. A very close second is my wife, Carrie. She’s amazing, in spite of what she’s got to work with!

It’s been a whirlwind of activity, a lot of highs, and a good bit of nose-to-the-grindstone hard work since my e-books, Caribbean Moon and Deceitful Moon, hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller’s lists. Talk about pinching yourself over and over. It still looks strange to see that in print. But I soon realized that you can’t live in that fairy tale world forever, so I’ve since managed to stick to a writing routine.

I’ve released two more full-length novels, Emerald Moon and Caribbean Rain, one short story/novella, Capital Murder, and something else that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside…a murder/mystery anthology, The Killing Sands. More on that a little later.

We entered this whole publishing realm as naïve as a preacher in a casino, but came out the better for it. A little scarred in a place or two, but exposed to far more positive than negative.

The Indie world had much to teach us. We’ve figured out how to navigate the minefield of “Hollywood” screenplay offers, trad publishing, paperback publishing, book signing agendas, agents, foreign rights, pirating, audio offers too good to be true, marketing, protecting our e-book rights, and that there are almost as many editors out there as ways to edit a manuscript. But through it all, we learned two things were true and consistent; my readers are nothing short of amazing, and there are an absolute plethora of wonderful people in this business. I want to talk about those two segments of folks.

I have the best readers on the planet, I think! I have been humbled, amazed, and even brought to tears by the generosity of readers who take time to send messages about how they interpret my stories or how certain parts of the plots have touched their lives. Their encouragement, honesty, kind words, and interaction were far more than I’d anticipated. There were days that I’d receive 60-70 e-mails. Never asking for anything, but always giving upbeat input that made me want to work harder. I’m still pretty new to this writing revelry, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

If I got something wrong, they let me know in a gentle, positive way. “Greatly appreciated” became my personal thank you to them all. And, BTW, I answer every e-mail personally. If those wonderful folks take the time to talk to me, you can bet I want to talk to them. They deserve it, and I’m still having a ball doing it. Thank you so much for sharing your “moments” with me, readers. Each one of you is special.

One of the greatest things I’ve discovered about this writing gig is the camaraderie of other authors. They encourage, critique, support, even laugh and cry with you. If you’ve never written a book, it’s hard to understand the euphoria of “the end” or the task of the rewriting and editing process, so meeting all of these fine folks along the way has helped the journey.

In January of this year, I decided to approach a few authors I’d come into contact with and ask if they’d be willing to join me in producing a summer mystery anthology. I was pleasantly surprised when they all accepted. Let me introduce six wonderful writers and tell you what a joy it has been to work with people who understand the “writing” world

Dani Amore, Tim Ellis, Traci Hohenstein, Lawrence Kelter, Gary Ponzo, and Rebecca Stroud each agreed to write a short story with the central theme of “murder on the beach.” Because we hail from different parts of the world, including Great Britain, the settings for the seven stories in The Killing Sands include beaches in California, Florida, Michigan, Georgia, and Wales. Each story has a distinct voice and an exciting plot. The authors have sometimes incorporated characters from their mainstream novels as well. I’d encourage readers to enjoy these stories on the beach this summer…if they dare!

Through this anthology process, I’ve taken on a bit of the publisher role through Murcer Press. It’s time consuming, but I’ve certainly enjoyed it and the opportunity to learn about a different end of the business.

I guess I’m getting windy, again, so I’ll wrap this up. The last 16 months have changed my life, my perspective, and my goals. Interacting with people, good and challenging alike, has added to that and I’m more than grateful.

I’m also excited to see what the next twelve months might bring because, well…one never knows.

Thanks again, Jenny. It’s always a privilege to be heard at the Made it Moment.

Rick Murcer lives in Michigan and has been married longer than his wife likes to admit. They two wonderful children, three amazing grandkids, and a blind black Lab, Max, who serves as his “writing” dog.

Rick lost his real job two years ago, and after sending out 550 resumes with no luck, decided he was going to make it as a writer. Caribbean Moon was a labor of love, and writing it taught him more about himself than he cared to know.

July 11, 2012

Made It Moment: Dicy McCullough

Filed under: Declaration of Independents,Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:56 am

Tired Of My Bath

Here is one more independent author to round out what has been for me a truly celebratory week here on the blog. So much is going on in the e-volution of publishing, that it’s hard to keep up. Whether you want to go west, young writer, and pioneer entirely new territory, or rely on the spirit of independence captured in one of the most established presses in the country, there is something worth exploring in the independent realm for many emerging writers.

Another holiday that celebrates independence is Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. Whether the bookstore is a tiny mom and pop or one of a massive chain, bookstores represent independence to me. Every time we walk into a bricks and mortar stores, vote with our dollars, and walk around on our own legs–darn it–we are declaring something.

A belief in Main Street. A desire to connect physically in this virtual world, even if it’s “just” a smile traded with a clerk. The understanding that dollars spent in the community nourish that community in a way online shopping never will.

So it’s fitting to make today’s guest a children’s author who will be bringing Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day to her part of the country this December 1st. Please celebrate Dicy’s Made It Moment–and all our independence today, tomorrow, and every day.

Thank you for being a part.

Dicy McCullough

Six years ago I began writing poetry as a way of dealing with grief when my dad passed away.  Retiring from teaching that same year, writing soon filled extra time.  Attending workshops with talented writers and authors, I learned new tools for writing, and discovered I especially enjoyed writing human interest stories. That enjoyment developed into a weekly column for a North Carolina newspaper, The Salisbury Post.

As an elementary school teacher for thirty years, I saw life through the eyes of my students. Hearing their complaints about being tired of school, riding the school bus or homework, I thought that theme would make a wonderful children’s book series someday, not realizing I would be the author.  From that idea came Tired of My Bath, Tired of School and Tired of Being Different. The fourth book, Tired of Being a Bully, now in the editing process, will deal with the issue of bullies in a non-threatening way through the eyes of two dogs, Rocky and Lucky.

Several experiences in my life could be classified as ‘made it’ moments, such as receiving the first copy of each of my books, being voted Teacher of the Year, and being inducted into the Gallery of Distinguished Alumni at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC. While these are proud achievements,  my ‘made it moment’ happened this spring.

In April, I was invited to speak to fourth grade students at an elementary school forty miles from my home.  While signing in at the office, the secretary told the teacher who invited me I had arrived. Before long, several students came to help carry books and materials.

Opening the door to the classroom,  I immediately heard whispers of, “There she is, there she is.”  That phrase was like music to my ears and in an instant, I felt a connection.

The forty-five minute presentation was held in the library so other fourth grade classes could participate. Sharing information about my books and journey as a writer, I allotted time at the end for questions. Some seemed really excited about the process of writing, raising their hands to ask more about publishing and marketing a book. At the conclusion, the same students helped me move materials and books back to the classroom, where  the teacher gave me index cards, which I autographed and included a personal message for each student.

Most of the children in this community could not afford to buy a book, however, the love I felt was worth more than any books I might have sold.  The children appreciated me for being there for them, as I appreciated them for being there for me. I will never forget the feeling I had from the time I entered the room until the very last autograph was signed. That was truly my Made It Moment.

Dicy McCullough , author of three children’s picture books, writes a human interest column for her local newspaper, The Salisbury Post. She is a published poet and a contributing author for the book, This One’s for the Birds! A retired teacher, she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education from Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, N.C., and a Master of Education Degree from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Charlotte, NC. In 2011 she was inducted into the Gallery of Distinguished Alumni at Gardner-Webb University.

Her books are Tired of My Bath, Tired of School and Tired of Being Different.

July 9, 2012

Made It Moment: Steven Clifford

Filed under: Declaration of Independents,Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:20 am

Fools And Knaves

I promised all of you beloved readers that we’d meet some independent authors during this celebration. Here is one who brings to life the very reasons we needed an e-volution. Steven Clifford’s book is one of those unusual hybrids that doesn’t fall into an established niche, and which traditional publishing traditionally has a hard time with. It’s also…gasp, humorous. I can just see the rejections mounting up, stating that humor is a hard sell.

As indeed it is. But that doesn’t make it any less funny. The thing that many people decrying traditional publishing don’t speak as loudly about is that the people in traditional publishing are some of the most brilliant and talented around. When they say something is hard-to-sell or needs to be turned down for some other reason, they are usually right–by the standards and demands of this model. Traditional publishing has high costs and high volume and it can’t hang around in the so-called long tail.

But that doesn’t mean that books they can’t take on won’t find loyal readers. Or make someone laugh.

There’s another reason I’m showcasing Steven Clifford today (besides the fact that I learned of his work through another very independently-minded writer you may soon be hearing about). Stephen’s definition of ‘making it’ is probably the most independent I’ve read yet.

Writing can be a long, lonely road. We’d better be happy while we’re walking.

Steven Clifford

Until recently I did not consider myself a writer. Business was my career. I was the CEO for two companies in Seattle.

I strove for the CEO positions because I yearned to be a success.  Then I didn’t enjoy being a CEO.  I was subject to random anxiety attacks and fears that some minor error would expose my incompetence.  Nonetheless, I worked as a CEO for fourteen years until I clenched enough money to retire in comfort.

In retirement, I began writing humorous pieces, first short letters to my family and friends. Over a few years, this evolved to a weekly humor blog published successively on SeattlePI.com, crosscut.com, and the Huffington Post.  At this point writing was a hobby, similar to tennis, except easier, safer, and less expensive.  To write I needed neither a partner nor a court reservation; I could write whenever and wherever I wanted.  Writing risked few injuries and, though unpaid, required no expenses beyond replacing ink cartridges.

Two years ago I decided to write a book.  Having done weekly blogs for years, my motive was to try a different, and more challenging, form of writing.

“I can’t lose,” I explained to friends.  “I like to write. If the book never gets published I will still have enjoyed the experience.”

This was when I realized I had “made it” as a writer.  Chasing success in the business world, I had “made it” only to my discomfort.  For me, “making it” as a writer was simply the realization that I liked writing and would continue to pursue it with or without conventional success.

I play golf.  Even though I will never make the PGA tour, I indulge in daydreams of great rounds and continual improvement.  But it is the enjoyment of the sport and not illusory dreams that keep me going.   Similarly, I entertain daydreams of winning the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for Humor Writing, even though neither exists.  I hope everyone will read my book, FOOLS AND KNAVES: THE TRUE STORY OF MY HISTORIC PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN.  But if they don’t, I will keep writing because I have already “made it.”

Steven Clifford writes a humor blog for The Huffington Post, a skill he acquired while serving as CEO of King Broadcasting Company, Deputy Comptroller of New York City during the City’s fiscal crisis, and other misguided adventures. This picture, shot ten years ago, is the last he allowed to be taken.

July 7, 2012

Press ‘I’ for Independent: Bill Allen’s Made It Moment

Filed under: Declaration of Independents,Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:12 am

How To Slay A Dragon

Today we feature an author who’s with another interesting independent, the newer kid on the block, Belle Bridge Books. This one is definitely worth checking out if you think your work might be a good fit for a small press. And Bill Allen’s delightful book is worth checking out if you can relate to the tale of a scrawny middle school kid who’s always getting picked last, and finds out that the popular way is not always the way to go.

And who can’t relate to that?

Bill Allen is scheduled to be Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal on Monday. A great time to discover his work!

Bill Allen

How did I know I’d made it?
I remember quite clearly: I have a near Made It Moment when a fellow conference attendee asks agent Elizabeth Pomada whether it was worth flying across the country to find new talent. She says yes, because she found me. I’m ecstatic.

This turns out to be just one of several near misses of my career. Years later I meet Debra Dixon (a.k.a. DD) at the 2010 SCWG conference in Melbourne, Florida. Bell Bridge Books (BBB) is considering handling a few YA titles, so DD asks to see a manuscript, even though they “have no interest in boy books.”

Obviously I hold little hope. Six months pass with no word. Then an email from DD. Someone’s finally reading my story and enjoying it–“a good sign.” I decide against reminding her they aren’t interested in boy books.

A week later, another email. DD’s on her way out of town but says when she returns she’ll mail out a contract. Everyone read my manuscript and is excited to work with me. An obvious Made It Moment, but I’ve been burned too many times to start celebrating just yet.

When I sign the contract I can’t help but focus on the clause that states BBB can back out if they find me difficult to work with. Every time I question a revision I worry the ax is about to fall. Finally How to Slay a Dragon is released. I feel . . . uncertain. Will anyone read it? It hits #1 in children’s fiction. I still have doubts.

Obviously I’m not good at defining success. How about this? My Made It Moment was when a fellow author thought I had accomplished enough that people would want to hear about my Made It Moment. My advice to authors waiting for theirs. Learn the craft, find your voice, and don’t give up until you make it. It will happen in time.

Bill Allen is the author of The Journals of Myrth, a three book fantasy series from Bell Bridge Books, and Orson Buggy’s Lessons for Losers, the first of a new non-fantasy series called The Bumpy Daze of Orson Buggy. While Bill claims to write humorous fiction “for kids age nine to ninety” he mostly strives to reach those reluctant readers in the crossover realm between middle-grade and YA.

A lot of authors do this quite successfully through the use of “gross” humor. Bill likes to go a different route, placing his characters in absurd situations and throwing in a lot of word play, witty humor and sarcastic dialog. In other words, humor you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy.

July 5, 2012

Press ‘I’ for Independent: Ann Littlewood’s Made It Moment

Filed under: Declaration of Independents,Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:21 am


You can publish independently as an author–we’ll be hearing from some who do later during this celebration. And you can pursue an offer from a major publishing house, e.g. one of the Big 6. Or, there’s a third path, and today’s Moment-er represents the best of it.

I’m talking about independent presses, a publishing avenue that encompasses a wide range of options in of itself. There are tiny, new upstart presses, at risk of disappearing, but also offering the latest innovation in this  daily-changing industry. And there are long-established independents, such as Algonquin, with a barrier to entry as difficult to penetrate as that of any major house.

Ann Littlewood’s press represents the best in mystery publishing. I’ve read Poisoned Pen releases for years, as well as posts extolling the genius of editor Barbara Peters. Please read on for Ann Littlewood’s bird’s (or camel’s) eye view about one slice of her publishing path.

Ann Littlewood

I’m on my third zoo mystery (Endangered, just out from Poisoned Pen Press), and I’m still waiting for the best-seller lists and fat royalty checks. But I’ve had more than my share of made-it moments. Here’s a few of the high points and the attendant emotion.

  • Awe when I saw my first mystery, Night Kill, in hardcover. It looked good, it felt good, it smelled good. It looks even better on the L shelf in the mystery section at Powell’s Books, our huge Portland bookstore. The second in the series, Did Not Survive, looks just as fine next to it.
  • Gratitude every time I receive a fan letter or someone tells me how much they enjoy my books. Do you readers realize how much this means to an author? Heaps!
  • Astonishment when I stepped out of a little plane onto a dirt airstrip in Kenya. Me, in Africa. In Kenya. Grant’s zebras and impalas trotting away in the distance. I would never have made it to Kenya if I hadn’t published zoo mysteries. Because of them, my husband and I were invited to join a zoo keeper tour of a rhino sanctuary last March. How cool is that? Totally, that’s how cool. We saw black rhino, elephant, bustards, hyena… the list goes on.
  • Surprise when a woman at an event in the tiny library in the tiny town of Ruch, Oregon, quoted—from memory—one of my sentences that she particularly liked. How to charm an author…!
  • Delight every time I research the next book. People are so open and helpful when you ask them about the work they do, whether it’s law enforcement, bail bonding, macaw rescue, or turtle conservation. I tell them I’m writing a book and want to get that part right, to be true to their work. They help me beyond all expectation.

Publishing the third mystery, Endangered, feels like a miracle all by itself. Those made-it moments keep coming, thank goodness!

Ann Littlewood worked as a zoo keeper at the Oregon Zoo for twelve years. She has been scratched, bitten, pecked, stepped on, and taloned. See her website for proof and for pretty pictures of animals. Go to her blog for her Deep Thoughts about Life and more pictures. Ann spends many hours at Finley Memorial Zoo, engrossed in exciting adventures with any animal she wants while channeling Iris Oakley, her mystery-solving protagonist.

July 4, 2012

A Resource for Independent Authors

Filed under: Declaration of Independents — jenny @ 10:32 am

If there is a greater fan of independence in authorship than Jasha Levi, I haven’t met him. And Jasha’s background, which spans 90 years and counting, including a stint as a refugee of war, perhaps uniquely suits him to a task of nearly epic proportions.

A task that is growing more epic by the day. Which one do I mean? That of whittling down the volume of self-published books to showcase the ones that deserve to shine.

We’ve most of us read these numbers, right? 300,000 books published in 2003. 3,000,000 in 2011. A staggering leap. But in 2012 the number of ISBNs sold is projected to hit 15,000,000.

I’m going to come right out and say that there are not 15,000,000 people capable of writing a book that deserves to be published. I may get slammed for saying so. But writing a book is hard, darn it. The plain truth is that more people think they can write than actually can.

But that doesn’t mean that many of those 15,000,000 books aren’t deserving. And that they may not have found readers through traditional publishing channels. That such books are out there is worth celebrating…if we can find them to celebrate.

I may not agree with Jasha’s every conclusion–in fact, I’ve had many experiences with traditional book publishing that run counter to the assessment you’re about to read.

But I’m still glad that when it comes to establishing a system for filtering indie book releases Jasha Levi intends to help.

At 90, I have finally reduced my concerns to three main ones:

  • Explaining my survival in WWII Italy
  • Speaking about genocides in Bosnia and elsewhere
  • Gaining access for self-published authors in bookstores and libraries

I owe my long life to the fact that, as a young Jew on the periphery of the Holocaust, I was saved by being a civilian internee of war (Geneva Convention speak) in Asolo, a small hamlet north of Venice. This was followed by  nine months spent hiding as fugitive in Rome, until American troops liberated the Eternal City in June 1944.

Recently, Angelina Jolie directed a movie: The Land of Blood and Honey. In it, she attempted to describe the roots of the 1990’s genocide in Bosnia. It made me even more aware how difficult is my attempt to explain the previous Bosnian genocide, in 1941, from which I escaped. In both of them, neighbors turned against neighbors, lovers left each other, brothers fought against brothers. They made the prophetic Bosnian saying true: If you don’t have an enemy, your mother will give birth to one.

The publishing model as we know it is…heralding a makeover of the industry.  The economics of the marketplace have affected our literature, which is perhaps the strongest pillar of civil society, standing right next to democracy. Publishers, once a haven for new talent, have been shrinking into a few conglomerates listed on the Stock Exchanges.  Nowadays, they must look first at their bottom line, and no one can blame them for it. In the shrinking field of publishers, literary agents, once the talent scouts and discoverers of emerging writers, have fewer sources of income, while more and more people self-proclaim themselves  writers based on no one’s judgement but their own. This is bad news.

The perception of self-published books as lesser in quality remains, even though it is as obsolete as the system that brought it about.

Intent on making a change, and with my editor, Julia Petrakis, equally fired up, I  started indiePENdents, aimed at changing how the world looks at independent authors.  Our website carries a list of authors who in their day couldn’t find agents or publishers; it is an exciting roster. Should we all end up as successful as they have with the public!

However, as self-published authors, we can’t reach our public  unless we gain access to bookstores and libraries, which are often not welcoming. Barnes and Noble lists books by indie authors on its website and on Nook, but does not carry them  on its shelves.  We feel that, to achieve access, we must first erase the perception that our books are second rate.

To even the playing field, we are establishing a set of standards by which we will judge or validate a book. Our volunteer review panels will issue The indiePENdents Seal to published books, bringing about a much needed change to the publishing industry and the standing of authors on which it depends for its livelihood.

In the next 10 years I will be supervising the translation of my books into Italian, complete The Balkan Pot, a cookbook started by my late wife Slava, and work to gain recognition for independent authors everywhere.

Jasha Levi is a ninety year-old Sarajevo survivor, the author of Requiem for a Country and The Last Exile, and an advocate of indie authors everywhere. Read his blog or visit him on his website.

July 2, 2012

Declaration of Independents: An Anthem for Bookstores

Filed under: Declaration of Independents — jenny @ 4:47 pm

I can think of no better way to kick off Independents Week on my blog than with an anthem for bookstores.

After all, don’t bookstores exemplify the independence that made this country what it is, the reason behind us having a July 4th celebration at all?

Talk about a David & Goliath struggle. Or to reference another biblical story, independent bookstores have faced more trials than Job. Chains. Online vendors. What’s next, locusts?

Now don’t get me wrong–I love a trip to Barnes & Noble. 60,000 SF of books–plus snacks–is like nirvana to me. No one can fill an events room like B&N and they do a wonderful job. While Amazon has brought me books I can’t find any other way–not to mention authors no one would have been able to find either.

Still…there’s something about an independent bookstore. A place you know you’ll never see anywhere else, reflecting its unique location, the unique tastes of the staff that buys for it, and the unique customers who frequent the place.

Every summer we drive cross-country, and as thrilling as it is to see the geological vastness of our country, one rock formation transmuting into the next, badlands in South Dakota giving way to buttes into Montana, another thing that has impressed us is the awful sameness of it all.

Olive Garden in Missouri tastes just like Olive Garden in New Jersey. It’s harder to ferret out that Swedish burger–boy, was it good, Swiss cheese, some kind of sauce, and house-cured pickles–in Minnesota these days. Harder even to know that Minnesota has such a heritage.

But the Fourth of July is a happy time, and so is this week on my blog. Likewise, there is good news on the bookstore front. Another thing we’ve seen as we’ve made our way across the country is that the dreary reports may not be an accurate reflection of what is happening.

How else can you explain the second branches of beloved stores opening up, such as Left Bank Books in St. Louis? Or independents coming in to fill massive Borders spaces that were sitting empty? Or the crush of customers we’ve found at nearly every store and their rosters of exciting events?

You can’t go to such an event online. Not if you want to feel the author’s actual palm, nervous with sweat, because this is one of his first readings. OK, you may not want to feel that precisely, though the author I’m referencing here is definitely one worth seeing and reading. But what about seeing the warmth in a big star’s eyes as he greets each and every one of three hundred fans?

I’m not the only one who suspects there might be a reversal of our expectations where independent bookstores are concerned.

It was thriller writer Thomas Pluck who first alerted me to the fact that my local bookstore is expanding. That’s right, expanding. The place we’ve packed a hundred guests into for a Writing Matters panel is going to increase in size during this time of economic downsizing. You can read about it–and take a gander at Thomas Pluck’s intriguing books–here.

There is a convergence of factors right now that may work on the side of the independents. Locavore has become a term many know. There isn’t just slow food, but also slow money, slow schooling, slow travel. A whole slow living movement. Can slow reading be far behind?

Oh my goodness. Here’s slow books. I swear I wrote the above before discovering this. No, really. I did.

When independent bookstores are threatened, a whole way of life is, too. But perhaps we value that way of life more than the big corporations would have us think, even more than we realize. For the independents continue to rise up singing, raising a flag for what is really a mainstay of our country.

Main Street. The idea that someone could have a passion for something and make the selling of that something a pursuit for life. The community store we frequent, doing our shopping when we have shopping to do, wiling away hours for fun and diversion when we don’t. The human contact and connection that form the web, strong as spider thread, between the people we live amongst.

In “This Old Town” Nanci Griffith sings:

When my children’s children
Ask me why didn’t I go
They say the heart of any town
Is the people that you’ve known
They’ll always call you home.

I want to see a bookstore in every town.

They will always call me home.

July 23, 2011

Declaration of Independents

Filed under: Declaration of Independents,The Writing Life — jenny @ 4:58 pm

And now for something completely different. While there may be nothing to do for Borders but mourn, I am happy to say that what we found on the wider bookstore front, traveling cross country, is that things are not only thriving, but proliferating.

I don’t mean that bookstores are opening second–and third–branches, though that is indeed happening. But also that the purpose of bookstores, their role in the community, is becoming more complex and multi-faceted.

In Midway, Utah, a small gem of a town in which I would love to vacation, a bookseller named Judith runs ReBook. The setting is a turn-of-the-last-century house that’s been added onto at least three times, and Judith has books in all of the additions as well as the house proper. The former kitchen is filled with cookbooks and volumes of cooking lore! It is a truly marvelous place.

Judith told me that not only does she host author events and book clubs, but she also has a mahjong circle, which meets regularly for an ongoing competition in her store. And in this largely LDS community, community meetings are held at–where else? The bookstore.

When a large bookstore recently closed, I was told that its owner hung a sign in the window: Need a bathroom? Try Amazon.

But as a commenter yesterday said on this blog, in order for bookstores to survive, they must do more than offer a clean bathroom.

Amazon has its place, and bookstores have theirs.

Booksellers like Judith–and Whitney and Bruce at Rediscovered Books in Boise; Rachel and Jennifer at The King’s English in Salt Lake City; Paul and Meg at Prairie City Lights in Iowa City; the folks at The Tattered Cover in Denver; Murder by the Book here in Portland (more on these good folks and others to come)–understand this. And they are making their stores into places where people come together over not just a shared love of reading–but a shared love of living.

Western Bookstore Collage
I was corresponding with a writer recently, and he feels that from the number of e readers he sees on planes, plus his sense of the industry, digital reading will vanquish print fairly soon.

My take is a little different. Perhaps Kindles abound on planes–a pretty good use for them, I’d agree, though as you know from yesterday’s post, I travel with books even when they weigh me down some–but bookstores all across the country abound with something else.

Not readers (e or otherwise). People.

April 2, 2011

Declaration of Independents

Filed under: Declaration of Independents — jenny @ 7:35 am

Most of you know I love bookstores, especially independent, charming, nooky, quirky ones like this and this and this. And of course, this.

But fewer of you might know that I love independent radio as well. I’m a member of WFUV out of Fordham. And WNTI out of nearby Centenary College.

Just recently I had an encounter that shows better than anything why we need to cherish and support independents of all sorts.

I heard this fantastic song driving home. It was the sort of song you would never hear on commercial radio–and don’t worry, I’m going to link to it so you can hear for yourself the soaring voice on the female vocalist, the potential of this up and coming band–but I didn’t get its name.

So when I got home, I emailed the station, and within an hour got a response from the Music Director himself, Spider Glenn, a guy who seems to me like a celebrity at this station, which sets so much of my life to  soundtrack.

The DJ got back to me that very night. I felt like Rob Lowe had just shown up in my in box. Or Charlie Sheen–before he went nuts. (Dating myself here).

Anyway, he didn’t know the name of the song, but based on my vague hints, and umm, umm’s, it went kinda like this (I mean, I was basically humming bars here) he made a couple of suggestions.

Then he went into the station and wrote me a fourth time.

He’d found the song.

Can you imagine a world where corporations drive the playlists and you don’t even need a human body to spin them? A world where corporate chooses which books appear on shelves, as opposed to the passionate editor who falls in love with one?

I can.  [Shudder.]

And I’ll work to oppose both in whatever small ways I can.

Please join me. Support the independents around you. Search out your local bookstore and radio station. If you can, shop at the former, make a donation to the latter. If you can’t, volunteer to read a book to the kids whose parents might like to browse, or staff the phones during fundraiser week.

Declare your independence.

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