This is Murder By the Book in Houston, the world's most severely uphill bookstore. They only hire employees who have one leg much shorter than the other, and the bookshelves facing downhill all have those infuriating little earthquake fences that are supposed to open at a snap but actually require hours of self-esteem-crushing fumbling. I know one person who put them on all his shelves and, after a year of trying to get to his books, gave up and bought a Kindle.
Okay, none of that is true except the name of the bookstore and the city that proudly hosts it. See, it's just that the person who took the picture tilted the . . . sorry? You already know? Well. Okay. I was just getting started.
It's that time in the extremely peculiar authorial life-cycle when we get up from the keyboards in the dim rooms where we make story and wait for our milk to be delivered, and go out into the wide world to meet our adoring public. It's a bookstore a day, thanks to the virtually unendurable miracle of air travel: Phoenix yesterday, at Frank Lloyd Wright's Arizona Biltmore, for an amazing event run by the book maven of Arizona, Barbara Peters of The Poisoned Pen; and today Murder By the Book, another jewel in America's bookstore crown--and I mean that in all sincerity. And tomorrow, another mecca, BookPeople, in Austin.
Really great bookstores are the most frequently-overlooked integer in the writing-reading equation. Stores like The Poisoned Pen and MBTB and Mysterious Galaxy and BookPeople and Book'em and Book Frog and so many others are like oases; their owners are book lovers, experts in a certain genre, and psychologists who know which books are right for which customers. It's a privilege to walk into these places and meet the people who make them work.
On this trip, I have the privilege of doing three great stores with one of my favorite writers. Martin Limon is the author of a phenomenal series of books set in Korea in the 1970s, focusing on two military cops--but also focusing far beyond that, on the gulf of misunderstanding between the American armed forces and the Korean people. When I decided to write the Poke Rafferty books, Martin's work helped me clarify now to explore the twilit area between cultures, where language is often the least of the differences.
And last night I read his new book, THE JOY BRIGADE, at one sitting on a night when I was supposed to get up at 4:30 to get the Crack o' Dawn United flight from Phoenix to Houston. Amazing book. I'm proud to say that he's a brother Soho writer.
These events are fairly agonizing unless, I suppose, you're Michael Connelly. The store owners have scraped up a store full, or a half-store full, or a few brave souls, who have been convinced they will like us, or at least our books. (There are also some actual fans, but if you're me, they're usually outnumbered.) The bookstore staff introduces you and then you stand up and rattle on, losing the thread repeatedly as you try to put into two minutes the book it took you a year to write. If you're me, you have meticulously identified three or four riveting talking points that turn out, when spoken aloud, to be dull enough to dissolve varnish. So you ad-lib and wind up talking about the book you wish you'd written instead of the one you did, and when people come up and ask you to sign it, you hope it won't be a letdown.
There are a bunch of stores left after Austin, but the last one that's scheduled for now is kind of melancholy because I'll be the last author to appear there before they close. Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks is a great store with a wonderful staff and a loyal clientele, but they've fallen to the economy and the state of book sales in the onslaught of the Internet. I've been hoping that the really good specialty stores would hang in there because of their customer base and their deep knowledge of their genres, but not all of them will. Makes me sad.
I'm going to be bringing Thai food and stuff, and it'll be a sort of party with the hilarious Lee Goldberg in attendance. If you're going to be in, or near, Thousand Oaks on Wednesday, July 25 at 7 PM, please come by and say farewell to a tremendous store.