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Last week, I attended the American Booksellers Winter Institute, which is the conference where booksellers gather to see what’s new for 2011. I am very very grateful to have been asked by my new publisher, Algonquin Books, to attend the event. The Winter Institute was a really great event. You know how everybody is always saying the book is dead? Well, it’s hard to believe that when you’re in a room full of booksellers, brimming with excitement about the written word, written on paper.
Being there was quite an education. I have blogged before about why you should buy your books from independent bookstores, but after attending the Winter Institute, I am more committed. Booksellers are women and men who help connect readers with the best books. They attend this Institute to meet the writers, to see what we’re all about. One woman said to me on the elevator, “I want to get your book in people’s hands.” I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t want to seem crazy.
But seriously. The indies represent resistance to the homogenization of our country. They call them “indies” because they are independent. Buying decisions are made in-house, not from some corporate entity that knows nothing about the community. You may remember my big box store horror story—I was in Arizona and I went to a big chain to sign my stock. I was told that they wouldn’t carry my book because there are not enough black people in Arizona. This decision didn’t come from the community, but from some big corporation that underestimated me—and the local citizens. The independents in Arizona carried my book because they know that book people read.
The economy is tough right now and I know that the chains offer deep discounts. It’s tricky because technically a big chain offering 30% off is selling the exact same merchandise as an indie that sell the book at full retail. However, although the book is the same, what the indie offers is a level of quality service that you can’t really see. Indie booksellers act as curators. They read everything to bring you books they love that you will love too. (I know you have heard this before, but if you were at the conference last week, you would see how true this is.)
I get lots of email from folks complaining that they can’t find my books in the big box stores. They say all they see are books with half-naked women on the cover. Who is making the decision that these are the only books that African American readers want to see? Not the indies.
I know that sometimes the one-click convenience is irresistable. But please make a point to buy from the indies, too. We need them. And right now, more than ever, they need us.
In the comments, please leave the name of your local bookstore. And if you love it, tell us why.
Anyone who has ever taken a workshop from me knows that I have this thing about significant objects as a way to ground a story and build characters. In SILVER SPARROW, there is a crystal punchbowl that is dear to a character named Laverne.
In the novel, this punchbowl is the most elegant thing that she has ever seen in her life. Keep in mind that the year is 1958 and she is only 14 years old. She’s a poor girl living in a country town and this pretty crystal bowl is something that a rich family gave the maid because a couple of the matching cups were broken. Picture Laverne over at some boys’ house and they have mixed spiked punch in the bowl. She’s sipping this punch, enjoying the way the light plays on the faceted glass, she’s got her pinky out the way she learned in home ec. glass. The punch is sweet and a little warm from rum. She feels so pretty and it’s so nice to be kissed….
I am in Seaside, Oregon this week, teaching a class. I was visiting a local antique shop and I saw a punch bowl that looked a lot like the one that so enchanted Laverne. I bought it, even though I have no idea where I will put it in my little apartment.
I know Laverne is not a real person, but in a way she is. So this is a gift to her. An offering a sorts. On my pub date, I am going to invite some friends over for champagne punch. Just a little homemade ritual to honor an imaginary girl.
Snowed in, here in Jersey, I was cruising the blogs and ran across this short entry by my publicist and friend, Lauren Cerand:
Tonight, between glasses of champagne, I let an oyster slip down my throat. It’s been so long since I did anything for the first time.
I smiled because I love Lauren to pieces and I also admire her rhetorical stances. But then as I was thinking about the new year ahead, I couldn’t think of something that I wanted to do for the first time. Even as I write this, I am coming up with nothing.
This represents a serious failure of imagination on my part. I suspect it comes from being very very goal focused for the last five years or so. When I met Lauren, I was living in Illinois. THE UNTELLING was in galleys. She asked me what was next and together we came up with a really short list– Move to New York and Write Another Book. And this is basically what I have done and it took all personal resources to do it. So now what?
I don’t know. Of course, I have the never ending writer’s goal– write another book. But in 2011, I want to do something that I haven’t even thought of yet. It’s going to be tricky following the call of — not “the wild” exactly,but whatever it is. I’m going to working like crazy to support my new novel, SILVER SPARROW. There will be tour dates all year (Lord say the same.) It’s real easy to get caught up in the new book hustle and forget that life is about growing and changing, not about checking your amazon rating.
Although I don’t have kids, I enjoy the company of children. I think this is because every day they see something for the first time and they lose their little minds behind it. I saw a baby taste butterscotch for the first time and she lit up like a Christmas tree. The treat that gave her this damn-near out of body experience was a penny candy I pulled from the bottom of my purse.
The world is large and amazing. I turned forty in 2010, so I am no spring chicken, but there is a lot left to do and see. I love knowing that in the bottom of the Universe’s purse, there is something that is going to rock my world.
You probably know that I have been trying to raise money to help bring my first novel, LEAVING ATLANTA, to the big screen. We have set up a Kickstarter page that features a trailer and more information about the project.
I am writing this post to ask for your help in one of two ways– You can either give a donation to the cause– $5 or $10 is groovy. Or, you can leave a comment on our Kickstater page.
Here’s why– When we take this project to big backers, you know that we are going to have to prove that this project has a market. If we have lots of comments on our Kickstarter page, then that is proof that people want REAL STORIES, about REAL PEOPLE.
Giving or even commenting is really easy. You sign in with your email and if you choose to give, it uses your amazon account. Easy peasy. When it comes to making movies, it takes a village. (at least.)
The holidays are here in full effect. Do you have a plan to keep your writing on track? If you think it’s hard to demand personal time during the rest of the year,then you know that the holidays are not cute. Over at She Writes, I have just posted a column about managing your writing time during the “most wonderful time of the year.” Go check it out.
And while you’re checking, don’t you love the stationery on the picture here? I ordered a set. If you click the photo you’ll see info on how to contact Mielle, the woman, who designs and sell these adorable cards. Tell her I sent you!
Today is my birthday– my fortieth. I’m feeling pretty good today, not having any “What’s it all about, Alfie” moments and I am grateful for that. I’ve got a sparkly day planned– spa in the morning, and El Debarge concert tonight.
People have been asking me what I want as a birthday gift. Besides “Silver Sparrow” themed jewelry? I would like you to make a donation to Leaving Atlanta, the film.
So far, our fundraising efforts have been amazing. We have raised over $10,000! What we would like to do now is to raise the number of backers. When we take our short film to potential funders we want to show how many people believe in this project. Giving a donation– as little as five dollars– is a way to say that you believe in indie art and you believe in this project and reclaiming this history. And for today, all $5 donors will get a LEAVING ATLANTA postcard signed by the birthday girl. (And it’s so easy to give! Kickstarter uses your amazon account!)
And if you can’t afford to chip in, that’s alright. Support comes in many forms. If you can, post our Kickstarter link on your facebook page. Urge your friends to kick in five bucks. This is grassroots, for real.
And it’s my birthday!
Several folks on twitter have asked me for advice regarding applying for an MFA program. Here is the best advice I have.
I think I’ll do another post about what to do once you’re accepted, but let’s go about this one step at a time. If you have questions, leave them in comments.