Tag Archives: inspiration

Ringing in the New Year

What an interesting year to work in a book store! Annie Blooms is in a neighborhood with the largest Jewish community in Oregon and also a sizable immigrant African population. Here’s what I’ve found uplifting in a year full of ugly politics. Time and again, readers came in looking for a book that would help them make sense of their opponent’s point of view.

The conservative who just doesn’t understand what black people are so upset about, was willing to walk out of the shop with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Willing to look into it. Eager, in fact, to understand better.

The talk of several local, and generally liberal, book clubs has been Hillbilly Elegy by S.A. Vance. “How can a bunch of white men feel so discriminated against,” say the bookclub ladies. “Where on earth can all these Trump supporters be coming from?” I don’t know either but these earnest bookclub members are searching for insight and talking about what they find.

Nearly everybody who comes into the shop talking about some crisis or other, the Standing Rock Sioux and the oil pipeline or the tide of refugees fleeing into Europe, has an opinion to start with. But here’s the cool part; they know they need to know more. They know that what is online masquerading as news is often not reliable. They already know what they think, but they want to know what the other guy thinks. They want to know the context, the history, the back story, the supporting science. And very often they want to know how to talk about these issues with their children. And yes, there are books for that! 

Although we need more than a few good books and people reading them to solve the mountain of issues we will need to address in the coming years, I do believe that books are a good beginning. A jumping-off place. An invitation to conversation. I’m grateful to have a shop full of good books to share, and a community open to new ideas.

My hope for the new year is that I will continue to listen and to and learn what I can, not to erase our differences or compromise on values I hold too dear to let go. But that I can see opponants more clearly and understand issues more fully, and rededicate myself to doing as much good in the world as possible–and maybe even a few good things that are impossible.


This past weekend I was at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Trade Show in Portland. (PNBA) While there I did a workshop on using social media as an author, bookseller or publisher. I had every intention of live tweeting the event and even began with a picture and tweet about Amber Keyser and her new novel The Way Back from Broken.

And then a funny thing happened. I went to some sessions that really expanded my thinking about the book world, including one with a very detailed explanation about exactly how books earn money and why some of them don’t. I sat in on a conversation about how the PNBA book award is chosen. I fell into one interesting conversation after another. I found booksellers and shared ideas for promoting my upcoming novel. I met publishers and talked about the kind of author who is the best fit for an event at Annie Blooms Bookstore. I found books that I wanted to immediately put in the hands of librarians from my school district.

And I completely forgot to tweet. Didn’t post a single thing on Facebook. I know. Missed opportunity.

Here’s what I didn’t miss. The joy of seeing a friend who is passionate about books absolutely in her element and making her dreams of becoming a publisher come true. Dozens of short conversations with publishers about the books they are passionate about. A long leisurely conversation over dinner with a new author friend, and a rather raucous late night conversation with a table full of booksellers. Not a single one of those experiences would have been enhanced by pausing to tweet, post, pin, or snap.

So thank you to the PNBA for an amazing weekend. I’m enriched. I’m exhausted. I’m going to spend every possible minute in the next week reading the amazing books and ARCs I brought home. And thank you to my northwest bookselling community for the mentoring and the inspiration.

Podcasts: the everyman’s MFA

Many of my writing friends have graduated from MFA programs. A handful of them now teach in MFA programs around the country. I confess I have long envied their wealth of resources and regular connection to high quality lectures on all the topics that fascinate me. Alas, there are several other people in my family who need undergraduate degrees before I could consider continuing my own education. So how to grow as an artist? How to keep fresh in my reading and challenge my assumptions about craft? I have gone to many a writers’ conference over the years and found them invaluable. But at this point in my career, three books in print, one being printed currently, and more than a dozen completed manuscripts, I’m looking for maximum substance and minimal disturbance to my writing routine.

Enter the pod cast. UnknownI’ve discovered to my delight a number of podcasts that offer regular discussion of all things writerly. I like to listen to them when I’ve got a long solo road trip or when I’m cooking dinner. I’m going to list three of my favorites in the hopes that you will help me find more.

Unknown-1The first podcast I became aware of is The Narrative Breakdown by Cheryl Klein and James Monohan. It is a blog focused on the craft of story making through the lens of fiction editor Cheryl Klein and script and screewriter James Monohan. They really go in depth on topics from scene construction to character development to the power of irony. You can find their website here or subscribe to them through iTunes.

I have more recently found the New Yorker: Fiction which is a simple concept that is packed with good insights for the serious writer. Unknown-2I should say at the outset that my godparents got me a book of O. Henry’s short stories for my 10th birthday and I’ve been a fan of short stories ever since. This podcast is hosted by the editor of the New Yorker. She invites a different New Yorker story writer to choose a story from the archive and read it aloud. Then they discuss what makes the story special. Though none of the stories in the New Yorker are for children, I’ve learned a lot and broadened my scope considerably.

Unknown-3The third podcast I listen to regularly is more of a fan thing. I’ve been a reader of Sherman Alexie’s work for decades before he wrote for children. He’s a very engaging speaker and I’ve heard him in person a dozen times at least so when I heard he has a podcast, I subscribed immediately. The podcast is called A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment and it’s an ongoing conversation with fellow writer and small town Washington boy Jess Walters. The conversations they have range widely but are fascinating and revolve around all the various aspects of the writers life with the occasional foray into basketball and middle aged angst.

I would love to hear about your favorite podcasts in the comments.



Becoming a Bookseller

A few months ago I opened a new professional chapter in my life by joining the staff of Annie Blooms Bookstore. It’s a wonderful indy bookseller with a 30 year history of bringing great literature to Portland. I’m really honored to be one of them, for many reasons.  But what I think I love most is their passion for freedom of speecIMG_1336h, and their willingness to go to great lengths to help a patron find the book they want. So in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris this was my bookstore’s response. I have a lot to learn about bookselling but here are some things I’ve learned in the last few months.

1. Customers often have a specific goal in mind. And when they are looking for the book they’ve set their heart on, no other book will do. So much as I’d love to persuade them to buy a different book, I’m better served by cheerfully finding them what they want and hoping they come back hungry for another book.

2. But sometimes, and especially when the customer is shopping for a child they don’t know very well, they have no idea what they want. So then I need to have a few go-to books in nearly every sub-genre: a handful of sports books, a few animal stories, a couple of sure-fire scary books and so on. Which makes it very clear to me how authors get pigeon-holed and have a hard time selling in a new genre. When a kid comes in looking for a sports book I go straight to Lupica who has a half dozen strong titles kids always love. If he suddenly started writing dragon books, my bookseller-self would be rather cross that my reliable sports books are no longer in the Lupica section of the bookstore. (Sorry, Mike, not fair to you. I know. Just saying.) It’s not that I wouldn’t try to sell his dragon books or want them to do well. It just makes my job a little harder. I’d heard that publishers are the ones who want to pigeon-hole authors, and I can see now where that pressure comes from. IMG_1161

3. But maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is that coming to the bookstore is often not about the books at all. Many people stop by to visit our wonderful cat, Molly Bloom, seen above stalking the leash of a visiting dog. Lots of little patrons a just here to rock on the dragon.IMG_1287 Some are looking for a warm dry place to sit down while they wait for the bus. People often meet friends in the bookstore and chat about the books for a bit and then go out for coffee. Some just want the peace of quietly browsing the shelves–an oasis in a busy world.

I’m sure I could have found a job that pays more but it’s hard to imagine one that would leave me feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.