Sunday, November 23, 2014

Opinion — A Tale Of Two Bookstores, Indie Bookstore Celebration On November 29

As I’ve mentioned a number of times in the past, bookstores and libraries are sacred places — all that knowledge and art and ideas, not to mention adventure.   The only other human-made places that provided that kind of inspiration for me were movie theaters.  One of the benefits of living in San Francisco is that most every neighborhood has a bookstore — at least one.

Also, as discussed a lot lately, the bookstore business, as a business, has and is facing major challenges. Years ago, the big box bookstores came through our cities and towns like glaciers during the ice age.  It was tough.  Some bookstores regrouped and survived. Others vanished. Then, if I can extend the climate metaphor, came global warming in the form of Amazon. An over reach on my part perhaps, but the point is technology surged on two fronts.  On-line ordering, unlimited inventory combined with the new instant and portable e-book formats have made life for traditional, independent booksellers and those of us who love them very difficult.

What can bookstores do to deal with changes in the marketplace? I’d love to hear from owners of those stores who have met the challenge. As a writer, and much like independent bookstores, I’m working on my own way to say relevant in this publishing environment.  My only advice to bookstores, unasked for as it is, as both a customer and a writer, is what not to do.  Here is a short, personal story.

When some of my earlier books went out of print, I decided to do something about it.  I found a talented graphic designer and published them myself.  I also published a mystery novella, too short for the traditional publishers to even consider. While regular distribution channels were next to impossible for me monetarily, I wanted the novella, which I set in San Francisco, to be on local bookshelves.  I went around, on foot, to the city’s independent bookstores to peddle my books and was met, generally speaking, with a less than enthusiastic welcome.  I managed to place some on consignment. 

The experience was interesting.  I found that the stores in a small, local chain, Books Inc., to be among the most knowledgeable, most helpful and most welcoming.  When I peddled my little trade paperback Mascara – Death In The Tenderloin to the Books Inc. store on San Francisco’s Chestnut Street, the buyer took five and had me fill out a form. This happened at a few other stores.  What made the Chestnut store different, though, was that a few days later l received an email from the buyer. “We sold out.  Bring over more books.  A check is in the mail.” I did. And it happened again.  Another e-mail, another check and another request for more books. The cycle repeated a few more times before the expected lag in interest occurred. They had put my books in the local writers section of their mystery bookshelves. They also ordered some other books from by my usual publisher through traditional channels. The experience was a good one. When I buy books, I do so at bookstores that reflect the city and the neighborhoods they serve.  I also recommend the best to my friends.  All the Books Inc. stores I’ve been to – four of them – have a staff who seems to like readers and writers and books. The Books Inc. store on California which also actively supports local writers set up a book signing and ordered a bunch of my books even though the publisher had a “no return” policy on hardbacks.

There was another bookstore.  I won’t name it.  It is located in a dynamic neighborhood, an area I regularly frequent.  The place looks good. I came in with my books and talked to the guy who decides what to do with local writers looking for a consignment agreement.  He eyed me with suspicion.  He examined the book as if I was selling a fake Louis Vuitton handbag.  He took two books, I believe.  I didn’t hear from him or anyone for a while so I stopped in to see where I was put.  I couldn’t find my books — not in mysteries, not in plain view anywhere. Perhaps they had sold, I thought.  I didn’t want to be a hovering, pestering writer. I already felt as if I were unwelcomed, and today’s employee was busy checking backpacks and bags.  I left and called later.  They didn’t sell any I was told and because I didn’t come in during the required time, the books were disposed of. I didn’t argue. The terms were probably on the slip of paper I signed, the one with my phone number and e-mail address. I didn’t go back.  Ever.

It wasn’t the money that bothered me.  It was the attitude. I no longer buy books from them, I steer people away. There are a number of warm and friendly bookstores to recommend — some listed below. No need to encourage people to visit a store that treats local writers and customers in such a cold, robotic way. It’s a shame.  At a time when independent bookstores are incredibly challenged and have to be at their best to survive, I would think that personal relationships and local connections would be important.  After all, these are things Amazon is unable to do.

An Update On The Upside:

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco
While San Francisco, like many other places, has lost many fine bookstores in the last few years, all is not lost.  Here, the legendary City Lights in North beach thrives, as does the incomparable Green Apple in The Richmond. Green Apple has also put a branch on the other side of the park in the Sunset. The fantastic (in more ways than one) Borderlands is on eclectic Valencia Street in the Mission. The bookstore, which was well known for science fiction, fantasy and horror, now offers a comprehensive selection of crime fiction as well. Also a café! The Alexander Book Company occupies three floors in the city’s financial district near the SOMA district. The renowned Book Passage from Corte Madera operates a small, but lively branch, popular with commuters and tourists, in the bustling Ferry Building.  The busy West Portal Book Shop is, where else, on West Portal Avenue in West Portal. Browser Books has been on trendy Fillmore since 1976. And the charming Christopher’s Books anchors Potrero Hill’s charming 18th Street.  Barnes & Noble recently closed its last store in the city.  Borders is long gone. Where can readers go for the kind of warmth and inspiration as well as being the company of likeminded souls? It strikes me that for smaller, independent bookstores willing to relate to their communities and their neighborhoods, the future is bright.

On Saturday, November 29 independent bookstores across the country will celebrate with author and illustrator appearances.  Here is a list of participating stores.  For a list by state, click here.

Incidentally, a national list of independent bookstores and a list of mystery bookstores are always just a click way on any page of my blog. Look for the icon on the right.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Observations — 1951, The Calm Before The Calm

Korea seesawed between communist and democratic rule. Communists forced the Dalai Lama to surrender his army to Beijing. Libyans tossed off Italian shackles.  The 22nd Amendment passed — presidents are limited to two terms. President Harry S. Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur. The general retired.   Accused spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death. The first nuclear power plant was built.  Fidel Castro was ejected from a baseball game for beaning a batter. Color TV was made available. Joe DiMaggio retired.  Sugar Ray Robinson defeated Jake La Motta for the Middleweight title. Rocky Marciano defeated Joe Louis at Madison Square Garden. Igor Stravinsky’s opera, Rake’s Progress, opened in Venice. Benjamin Britten’s Opera, Billy Budd, premiered in London.  The King and I opened on Broadway. “Search for Tomorrow,”  “I Love Lucy,“ “The Ernie Kovacs Show” and “Dragnet” premiered on the small screen. On the large screen we watched Showboat, Alice in Wonderland, Strangers On A Train, The Day The Earth Stood Still, A Place In The Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, An American in Paris, The African Queen, and The Thing From Another World.  All About Eve picked up the Oscar.  Conrad Richter won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for The Tower. Other notable books included Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers, The Grass Harp by Truman Capote, From Here To Eternity by James Jones, Moses by Sholem Asch, and A Woman called Fancy by Frank Yerby. We listened to Nat “King” Cole sing “Too Young,” and Tony Bennett sang “Pleasure of You.” We also listened to “How High The Moon” by Les Paul and Mary Ford, “Be My Love” by Mario Lanza, “On Top of Old Smokey” by the Weavers, “Cold, Cold Heart” by Tony Bennett, “If” by Perry Como and ‘The Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page. André Gide died. So did Robert Walker, Fanny Brice, William Randolph Hearst, Maria Montez, Sinclair Lewis and Eddy Duchin.   Those1951 babies who would become notables were Phil Collins, Mark Harmon, Robin Williams, Sting, Sally Ride, Michael Keaton, Jane Seymour, Joey Ramone, Luther Vandross, Angelica Huston and John Mellencamp. If you were around during this year of the metal rabbit, what were you doing?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Notes — A Krueger Sweep of 2014 Awards, And Best Crime Writers Of The 21ST Century?

Winning Mystery
It is award season for crime writers.  Each year there are hundreds of awards given for mystery-related writing. To give you an idea of what company the current winners keep, the list that follows is a list for the top awards since the new century began, including this year’s choices. 

William Kent Krueger
This list includes only “best novel” of the year awards as determined by the genre’s most established award givers — Mystery Writers of America (The Edgar and Anthony),  Private Eye Writers of America (The Shamus), Mystery Readers International (The Macavity) and the comprehensive mystery review quarterly, Deadly Pleasures (The Barry).

In an unusual turn of events, one author, William Kent Krueger, won all of the above-mentioned awards for “Best Novel,” except the Shamus, for which it was not eligible*.

Congratulations to all the 2014 winners (published in 2013) and to all of the nominees. Check the organizations’ web sites for best first novels, best short stories and other outstanding accomplishments by today’s crime writers. 

2000   Jan Burke, Bones, Edgar
 Don Winslow, California Fire and Life, Shamus
           Peter Robinson, In a Dry Season, Anthony
           Sujata Massey, The Flower Master, Macavity
           Peter Robinson, In a Dry Season, Barry

2001   Joe R. Lansdale, The Bottoms, Edgar
           Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Havana Heat, Shamus
           Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, Anthony
 Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, Macavity
 Nevada Barr Deep South, Barry

2002   T. Jefferson Parker, California Girl, Edgar
           S. J. Rozan, Reflecting the Sky, Shamus
           Dennis Lehane, Mystic River, Anthony
           Laurie R. King, Folly, Macavity
           Dennis Lehane, Mystic River, Barry

2003   S. J. Rozan, Winter and Night, Edgar
           James W. Hall, Blackwater Sound, Shamus
           Michael Connelly, City of Bones, Anthony
           S.J. Rozan, Winter and Night, Macavity
           Michael Connelly, City of Bones, Barry

2004   Ian Rankin, Resurrection Men, Edgar
           Ken Bruen, The Guards, Shamus
           Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing, Anthony
           Peter Lovesey, The House Sitter, Macavity
           Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing, Barry

2005   T. Jefferson Parker, California Girl, Edgar
           Ed Wright, While I Disappear, Shamus
           William Kent Krueger, Blood Hollow, Anthony
           Ken Bruen, The Killing of the Tinkers, Macavity
           Lee Child, The Enemy, Barry

2006   Jess Walter, Citizen Vince, Edgar
           Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer, Shamus
           William Kent Krueger, Mercy Falls, Anthony
           Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer, Macavity
           Thomas H. Cook, Red Leaves, Barry

2007   Jason Goodwin, The Janissary Tree, Edgar
           Ken Bruen, The Dramatist, Shamus
           Laura Lippman, No Good Deeds, Anthony
           Nancy Pickard, The Virgin of Small Plains, Macavity
           George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener, Barry

2008   John Hart, Down River, Edgar
           Reed Farrel Coleman, Soul Patch, Shamus
           Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Anthony
           Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Macavity
           Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Barry

2009   C. J. Box, Blue Heaven, Edgar
           Reed Farrel Coleman, Empty Ever After, Shamus
           Michael Connelly, The Brass Verdict, Anthony
           Deborah Crombie, Where Memories Lie, Macavity
           Arnaldur Indridason, The Draining Lake, Barry

2010   John Hart, The Last Child, Edgar
           Marcia Muller, Locked In, Shamus
           Louise Penny, The Brutal Telling, Anthony
           John Hart, The Last Child, Macavity
           John Hart, The Last Child, Barry

2011   Steve Hamilton, The Lock Artist, Edgar
           Lori Armstrong, No Merci, Shamus
           Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead, Anthony
           Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead, Macavity
           Steve Hamilton, The Lock Artist, Barry

2012   Mo Hayder, Gone, Edgar
           Michael Wiley, A Bad Night's Sleep, Shamus
           Louise Penny, A Trick of the Light, Anthony
           Susan Gran, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Macavity
           Jussi Adler Olsen, The Keeper of Lost Causes, Barry
2013   Dennis Lehane, Live By Night, Edgar
           Robert Crais, Taken, Shamus
 Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery, Anthony
Brad Parks
           Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery, Macavity
 Peter May, The Blackhouse, Barry


William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace, Edgar, Macavity, Barry & Anthony

Brad Parks, The Good Cop, Shamus


*The Shamus Awards are reserved for work featuring ptivate eyes. In general, the PWA defines a "private eye" as any mystery protagonist who is a professional investigator, but not a police officer or government agent.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Observations — 1945, The Great War Ends

Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term as president.  Germany surrendered. Concentration camps liberated. Adolf Hitler killed himself.  Crocodiles in Burma killed 980 Japanese soldiers.  FDR died. Harry S. Truman became president. The U.S. dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.  Japan surrendered. Italy’s Benito Mussolini was arrested and later executed, hung upside down in Milan. Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France.  Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first city to accept fluoride in its water. The World Bank was created. Pepe Le Pew debuted.  Arthur Godfrey began his legendary run on radio.  Kiss Me Kate opened in London. The Glass Menagerie opened on Broadway. The Pulitzer prizes went to: Aaron Copland (music) for Appalachian Spring, John Hershey (literature) for Bell For Adano, and Mary Chase (drama) for Harvey. We read W. H. Auden’s Collected Poems, The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Black Rose by A. J. Cronin, Black Boy by Richard Wright, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, and The Black Rose by Thomas B. Chastain. In film, we watched The Lost Weekend, Mildred Pierce, National Velvet, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Spellbound, Children of Paradise, Picture of Dorian Gray, Blithe spirit, Scarlet Street, And Then There Were None, The Body Snatchers and Detour. Top of the music charts were: “Rum and Coca Cola” by The Andrew Sisters, “Sentimental Journey” by Les Brown, Till The End Of Time by Perry Como, On The Atchison, Topeka And Santa Fe by Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers, “At Mail Call Today” by Gene Autry, “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” by Bing Crosby, “This Heart of Mine” by Judy Garland and “Put Your Dreams Away” by Frank Sinatra.  Departed Souls: Anne Frank, Jerome Kern, Theodore Dreiser, Ernie Pyle, Robert Benchley, George Patton, and Béla Bartok. Arriving Souls included: Bob Marley, Diane Sawyer, Helen Mirren, Eric Clapton, Tom Selleck, Rod Stewart, Goldie Hawn, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Bob Seger, Linda Hunt, Jose Feleciano, and Pete Townsend.  If you we’re around, what were you doing during this year of the wood rooster?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On Writing — Thank Heaven For Editors And Proof Readers, Plus Misc. Business

Bless every editor, copy editor and especially the proofreader.  What brought this up was a recent post to my blog where I not only committed the sin of putting “it’s” for “its” (I do know better), but also left a clause at the end when I had already moved it to an earlier spot in the sentence.  I’m sure there are other errors, probably some serious comma issues.

When I write novels, I send the draft through a few readers before sending it on to the publisher.  Two of my brothers read it for content, clarity, believability, character consistency and whether or not it is a good read.  I have a talented friend who does the same, but also does more detailed copyediting and proofing. To those who have heard writers say “everyone needs an editor,” believe them. It’s Gospel. Next for the manuscript is the publisher’s editor, another edit by me and still another by a professional proofreader. No doubt there is one more proof before the book goes to the printer. The published book is in pretty good shape by the time it makes its debut.  This isn’t true for what I post here. Though I do proof — sometimes I go over it more than once — there are no fresh eyes.

Since beginning this blog nearly four years ago, I have written more than 500 posts (roughly 250,000 words) without a net.  Too often it shows. Sometimes I find and correct a glitch days later.  I know other errors are living on in cyberspace in perpetuity or eternity, which ever is longer.  I apologize for my transgressions.  I know many people consider perfect grammar a requirement for a professional writer.  Those who have that ability should thank whoever or whatever they believe in for the gift or curse of meticulousness. While in a general sense of the word, I am a decent overall editor, I do not have and will not have in this lifetime the knowledge and skill it takes to excel at copy-editing and proofing. My brain, quite often, will register what ought to be there rather than what is no matter how many times I reread it.  It’s wired that way.  ”Furthermore,” quoth the Raven, as I age some of the wiring is coming loose or corroding. I ask that you forgive me for my lack of meticulosity.

To Edit Or Not To Edit: Mann and Hesse

Hermann Hesse & Thomas Mann
I’ve tried to find a source to back this up.  I didn’t.  However, if you are willing to assume the risk of my rickety memory, I once read that Thomas Mann held a kindly and respectful envy of his contemporary Hermann Hesse, whose first and final draft of his fiction flowed freely, flawlessly, and unedited from his pen.  Mann’s manuscripts, on the other hand, bled profusely with corrections and rewritten passages.  Both are Nobel Prize recipients.

How’s Your Ego Doing?  If You re A Writer, How Much Control Do You Want?

The other day I read an article by author Paul D. Marks, a Shamus Award winner (for White Heat). He talks about writing screenplays and novels and what fulfillment one might or might not expect from each. While my experience hasn’t the breadth or depth of his, I have a similar view based on the limited exposure I’ve had with plays and novels. Plays and screenplays must, by definition, be joint efforts. There are actors and directors and, in the case of film, a stream of rewriters as well as cinematographers, costume designers, lighting designers and set decorators, all inserting layer upon layer of influence never imagined by the original writer.  Only in the case of novel writing can the original creator claim any serious ownership.  He or she must only share the work’s interpretation with the reader. I like that concept.