Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

A Group Hug for Kayla

Kenny Brechner -- May 21st, 2015

PamelaVoelkel

Two years ago, at a middle school community read event featuring the husband-and-wife author team, Pamela and Jon Voelkel, a passionate writer in the 7th grade named Kayla took Pam up on her invitation to stay in touch. The two of them corresponded steadily since the event, and then mysteriously stopped a few months ago. Then Pamela received an email from Kayla on a topic other than writing. Here’s Pamela:

“In a little town in Maine, there’s a teenage author whose world is falling apart. Her name is Kayla and I first met her a couple of years ago on an author visit to her middle school. She asked if I’d look at her work and that’s what I’ve done ever since. She’s at high school now, but she’s still as passionate as ever about her writing (mostly historical fantasy with strong female characters). Kayla writes and writes and writes – sometimes whole books! – and sends them to me for critiques. I hadn’t heard from her for a while and then I got the saddest email a few weeks ago, apologizing for her lack of output and explaining that her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. This will be a terrible year for Kayla.

One day, she’ll be a famous author. But right now, she’s out of words. Which is why I think she needs a group hug from her fellow authors and booklovers. We can’t rewrite Kayla’s story, but maybe we can give her strength for what she has to face. Her school guidance counselor says that such a gesture would be greatly appreciated by Kayla’s family.

That is from a letter Pamela is sending out today to other authors and to booksellers, encouraging them to send out notes of support to Kayla. Pamela contacted me to help with the project. She shared with me that…

“My own mother died when I was a bit older than Kayla. It felt like it should have been headline news, but the world just kept on turning. I want to show Kayla that she’s in the hearts of people she doesn’t even know. She’s a writer and that means her fellow writers and booklovers will always be there for her – booksellers, librarians, editors, publishers, readers, everyone. It’s the most supportive community I’ve ever encountered and Kayla needs to feel the love right now.”

Kayla’s family thinks this would be a wonderful and supportive idea. Anyone interested in sending Kayla a note of support should do the following. (This is from Pamela’s letter; I’m not going third person on you.)

“Cards, letters, signed books, messages of support should be mailed to Kayla via her local bookseller, Kenny Brechner at DDG Booksellers in Maine. Or you can email your message to kenny@ddgbooks.com, putting “For Kayla” in subject line.  (Of course, all correspondence will be checked by Kayla’s school guidance counselor before it’s passed on to Kayla and her family.)

For letters, please put Kayla’s envelope, unsealed, in an outer envelope addressed to:
Kayla
c/o Kenny Brechner
DDG Booksellers
193 Broadway
Farmington, ME 04938
If you can spread the word on social media, please use #grouphugforkayla”

A full copy of Pamela’s letter to authors is here, Thanks everyone!

Standouts from Our Diary Writing Contest

Kenny Brechner -- May 14th, 2015

Large-scale popularity in a genre doesn’t necessarily translate to imparting the life skills it depicts to its readers.  The widespread enjoyment of post-apocalyptic novels doesn’t mean that its readers are any better prepared to experience an apocalyptic event than people who read mysteries, for example. The enormous popularity of middle grade illustrated diary series, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Dork Diaries, is different in this regard.

We ran a diary writing contest which has just concluded. With a sample size of over 100 entries to consider, one thing was clear from the results. Kids have not only been consuming popular illustrated diaries, they have been learning how to express themselves in that genre as well. See for yourself!

 

First of all here is one of our three Grand Prize Winners, Amelia, with her winning entry and her prize, a signed copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

 

Here is Amelia’s terrific entry. Her delighted parents confirmed that 14 out of 16 Thanksgiving dinner attendees had gotten sick from the meal!

 Our second Grand Prize entry has it all!

Our third Grand Prize Winner, Ben, is much younger than the other two winners. We were as impressed as we were charmed by the effectiveness with which he integrated the illustration and the text to paint a vivid scene.

This runner-up entry helps clarify how kids feel about the Dork Diaries books.

Many parents, educators, and booksellers wonder how much illustrated diaries are developing kids as readers in general. We may not have answered that question but I think it is obvious that illustrated diaries are teaching kids to translate what they are reading into a dynamic form of self-expression. Many thanks to our sponsors at Simon and Schuster, the teachers who worked with us to engage kids in the contest, and of course all the kids who participated!

Happy Children’s Book Week

Kenny Brechner -- May 7th, 2015

Now I’m not saying that Spot the Difference puzzles aren’t an empty exercise taken by themselves. For example, neither you nor the world in general will be markedly better off if you were to succeed in finding all 21 differences in the puzzle below.
differences21Nonetheless, like most puzzles that have a sneaky sort of compulsion to them, spotting differences  represents an exercise which has real benefit in bookstore event management. Whenever I try a new event at the store I always step back and look at it to see what made it different from other events, because it is in spotting the differences that real value is found.

Childrens_Book_WeekTake Children’s Book Week for example – this very week, that is. We are participating this year for the first time, putting on a full day of programming on Saturday, and A Diary Writing Contest with a prize party tonight. I’ve become a fan of Children’s Book Week and when I asked myself what made preparing programming for this event different from previous events, the answer was easy to spot, and that was the palpable sense of support by publishers to work together to make the event a success.

the-three-musketeers-herbert-renardI always feel that Dumas’s Musketeers had it right, the all for one and one for all motif really is gestalt. For rural stores like ours, well outside standard author tour routes, self-sufficiency is often the order of the day.  Since the Children’s Book Council, which runs Children’s Book Week, is a trade organization of publishers whose purpose is to support children’s book outreach, the commitment to provide resources for Children’s Book Week  goes beyond what I usually have to work with, providing me with more of a smorgasbord than a boxed lunch. And it really helps.

For example we are running a Diary Writing Contest and Simon & Schuster provided us with some great Dork Diaries swag to give away as prizes. A complimentary character costume rental from Random House put story hour on steroids. We also had great support from Macmillan, who provided us with Origami Envelope folding sheets to go with Megan Frazer Blakemore’s appearance. This kind of support made our own original elements come to life.

Our theme is interactivity; I wanted every element of the day’s programs, including the author appearances, to have interactive elements to them, so that the whole event stresses activity and connections. For example, to go with S.E. Grove’s appearance I designed An Age of Verity or Not Quiz.  I also looked to climb the ladder in terms of age level.

Here is what we have planned for Saturday.

10:00 – 10:30 Story time with The Poky Little Puppy

Yes he’s going to be here himself! On time!

10:30 – 11:30 Elephant and Piggie Hour: Games and Activities with Betsy Turcotte

12:00-1:00 Experience The Water Castle, Help The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, Solve The Friendship Riddle

With special guest Megan Frazer Blakemore

1:00-3:00 The Great Disruption Comes to Farmington!

With special guest S.E. Grove, author of The Glass Sentence

Take The Age of Verity or Not Challenge – try your hand at The Map Challenge

I’d love to hear what plans your store has! 

The Season of the Yeti

Kenny Brechner -- April 30th, 2015

Yetis have traditionally been understood to be solitary creatures, very rarely spotted and few in number. Looking at the fall lists, however, it is clear that we need to revise our understanding of Yetis. They are neither rare, solitary, nor hard to spot anymore.  In fact there are at least 10 children’s books featuring Yetis coming out between June and December. What has caused the Yeti to evolve in this extroverted manner?arewethereyeti

Surely the answer lies in the pages of all these new Yeti books. For starters we can see that the word itself is fun to play with, as evidenced by the fact that there are two separate books coming out this fall with the title Are We There, Yeti? The S&S marketing notes for the release of Ashlyn Anstee’s delightful version accentuate this point by noting that while the surprise trip which bus driver Yeti is taking the kids on is long indeed, prompting his passengers to repeat our title phrase many times, “The best surprise of all is yeti to come.” The children drive far into the mountains to the cave mouth of a Yeti school and all the kids have an outstandingly good time playing together. Anstee’s book embodies two key points of this season’s Yetis: they are fun-loving, and they are like human children but a little more so.

thethingaboutThese themes are shared by The Thing About Yetis by Vin Vogel. These Yetis have all the fun human kids have playing in the winter except more so, they are positively frenetic. Not sure how to have fun in the winter, what better role models than Yetis? Dear Yeti by James Kwan sees the Yetis as winter guides too, but in a calmer, more parental manner. This book introduces the third key theme: caretaking. Two kids hike off in the winter hills to find a Yeti. The Yeti, mysteriously in possession of notes from the lost kids, invisibly helps them stay safe and warm during their adventure. The other upcoming Are We There, Yeti? by Kerry Morris inverts this caregiving paradigm by having a lost baby Yeti found by a Tibetan Mastiff who returns the baby Yeti to his Mountain dwelling parents.

yetifiles2This fall will also see the second book in Kevin Sherry’s terrific series The Yeti Files, which has proven to be just the thing for reluctant readers. This book further establishes that the loneliness which had previously marked Yeti existence has passed on now, to the point that the Yeti clan is looking to pay its remission forward by taking an interest in helping out other monsters who are still experiencing loneliness, like the Loch Ness Monster.

This bring us back to a signal question, can Yetis survive their discovery? How long can they remain frontlist darlings once the newness of their real nature wears off? Perhaps not at this pace, but given that Yetis are all about outdoor fun, survival, and caretaking, which are mainstay picture book and early chapter book themes, they should continue to thrive long after this wave of celebrity has crested. Certainly they are handling the attention much better than many human celebrities do. Role models indeed!

Anatomy of a Great Community Read Launch

Kenny Brechner -- April 23rd, 2015

This was the inaugural year for the Kingfield School Community Read and they came up with a great plan for launching it! The book being used was kept an absolute secret. Excitement in the gymnasium was running high. The first thing to do was to figure out the name of the book!

Kingfield’s wonderful English teacher, Maggie Adams, had been the driving force behind the community read. A group of area seniors were invited to the launch. Then, grades 3-8 formed lines and teams were made up of one child from each grade and one senior. Maggie projected a group of Scrabble titles onto a screen, showing the letters to be found in the title. The first team to solve the anagram would be picked to reveal the books and hand them out.

 

A team solved it with only one hint, the first word being: The. Then the lights went out and the music came on. Principal Kim Ramharter and an able assistant wheeled out the books on a display wrapped as a present!

 The winning team tore it open and revealed 175 copies of Megan Frazer Blakemore’s great book, The Water Castle. Each winning team member grabbed a pile of books.

Then the team hit the stands and gave everyone in the room a copy The Water Castle. Huzzah!

I was up next, to tell everyone a bit about why The Water Castle is such a great book, and such a great choice for their Community Read, particularly one launched with mystery and puzzle solving.

After that, principal Kim Ramharter sat down and read everyone the first chapter.

Many people followed along in their copies.

There were still 10 minutes left for everyone to read more on their own before it was time to get ready for the bus. The Community Read launch mission was a giant success!

 

The Darker Side of Déjà Vu

Kenny Brechner -- April 16th, 2015

Derivation affects us as book buyers and readers in powerful and complex ways. Most of the time it involves aspects that are relatively straightforward and overt, or at least well established. Read-alikes of popular books, for examples, are done on purpose and bookstore buyers are entirely at liberty to separate out personal and professional sensibilities and put a number in the order box if they feel well advised or obligated to do so.

Though the range of derivation varies widely, of course, nonetheless read-alikes, retellings of classics, books that share genre plot underpinnings, and so forth, are essentially advertised as such in the design, marketing and promotional departments. Every now and then, though, one encounters something which comes across as more of a blindside, and which elicits a more visceral, emotional response from us.

First of all I’d like to say that this is very subjective stuff, and should be treated with a great deal of perspective and discretion. I admit to being a bit of a princess and the pea here, and will make sure to correct that impulse by talking about what I think is important, but not getting into specifics here.

louiseAll right, so supposing that there are instances of derivation which fall into a special category of being on the other side of acceptable convention, how would one identify them constructively? More importantly if so identified what then?  For me, I associate the identification experience as having a déjà vu element. For example I was reading a picture book f&g some months ago when all of a sudden a strong thought flashed across my mind, a premonition that core elements of Harriet the Spy were about to appear in the book, that a diary filled with honest creative observation was about to be accidentally left behind and discovered by schoolmates, and so forth. This premonition was borne out entirely and in multiple instances.

Harriet the Spy is an all-time favorite book of mine and I feel both strong attachment and even oddly protective of it. Nonetheless, anything that stimulates self-righteousness should be examined closely and critically. And so I ask other buyers, what’s your take on this issue? Is there a responsibility to truth, fair play, and beloved dead authors that justifies outward discussion, or is it simply a matter of private reaction and not ordering any copies?

A Movie Debut Of Unusual Interest

Kenny Brechner -- April 9th, 2015

On April 18th the independent film Tumbledown, starring Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall, will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The film is the first joint project by the tumbledinnerhusband and wife team of scriptwriter Desi Van Til and director Sean Mewshaw. Tumbledown is set in Desi’s hometown of Farmington, Maine, and the film is in fact fraught with interest for my bookstore for a number of reasons.

Here are a few of them. Desi worked for me at DDG for three years when she was in high school (and is still a pal). DDG is literally a setting in the film (which was shot in Concord, Mass, where a doppelganger of DDG was constructed). The owner of DDG is a character in the movie, played by Griffin Dunne, and is Desi’s version of me.

Apart from talent, Desi and Sean have shown big character and perseverance in bringing this project to culmination and I am extremely proud of them. Obviously getting Desi’s thoughts on the independent-bookselling-related angles of the movie was an errand of moment.

Kenny: I don’t have the exact date at hand, but it must be at least nine years since you first began this film project. If you could write yourself a letter that would arrive back on the day you first sat down to write the script what would it say?

Desi: I think there are two basic categories of advice that older selves give our younger versions, and it’s either ‘work harder’ or ‘work less hard.’ I would put your question in the ‘work less hard’ department. I would say to my younger self: Don’t get so attached. Don’t fall too in love with any given moment or line or scene. Over the process of making the leap from script to film, it will and must change significantly. Whole scenes won’t get shot because you’ll run out of time, or favorite lines will end up on the cutting room floor to help with pacing, or jokes that work all too well will get diced for the blushing ears of the MPAA. The lesson is: enjoy your favorite bits of dialogue or action in the moment as you write them, but recognize they are ephemeral. Once your draft leaves the theoretical space of screenplay and becomes the actual thing of film, it will have evolved into a different beast. Therefore don’t worry so much about getting all the details exactly right the first time; focus on the story and keep your expectations fluid.

Kenny: Still, all things considered, I daresay that you feel at least somewhat like King Eric the Victorious of Sweden when ‘The King was like a man that hath borne over long time a difficult burden and, casting it down at length where he would have it, breatheth free and seeth all fair before him.’” 

Desi: Maybe somewhat, at least when I am sitting on an Ikea chair. But perhaps I feel a little more like Sisyphus, except now we can finally stop rolling the boulder up the hill. Or, more likely, we can look for another boulder to roll. Or another hill up which to roll it. Hopefully whatever comes next won’t take seven years to make! 

Kenny: Now I know that Griffin Dunne, the actor who portrays your version of me, is a terrific actor with a rich background in the book world.  I do understand that he did a fabulous job. Still, I also note that my two suggestions for that role, Charles Laughton and Leslie Howard, were both disregarded by you. I suppose you made the right call but I can’t help wondering why not one of them? 

Desi: Naturally we approached Charles Laughton per your request, but his agent informed us that he was unavailable on account of his death in 1962, and there was nothing we could say to convince him otherwise. We did consider having Griffin yell “Sanctuary! Sanctuary” in the middle of the second bookstore scene, but somehow it seemed just a touch over-dramatic. As for Leslie Howard, the casting of a Henry Higgins character seemed, frankly, a little on the nose. Luckily, Griffin does a tremendous job channeling the inner Brechner.

Kenny: Apart from capturing your own memories of youthly bookselling at DDG, did you use the presence of an independent bookstore in Tumbledown to express your more contemporary thinking about the role of community based-bookselling?
Desi: All cheekiness aside, the entire art department of Tumbledown worked its tail off to re-create DDG, not merely in its look and style, but in its warmth, its coziness, its density of amazing books and interesting things per square foot. The film tries to celebrate DDG’s creative energy, its thoughtful playfulness, its commitment to the community it serves as a nexus of intellectual and cultural life. In the movie, as in real life, DDG is a pulsing, vital, brilliantly curated place!

Kenny: Suppose a friend who had been asleep for 10 years knocked on your door and asked to borrow four books: your two favorite recent novels, and your two favorite read-alouds. What would you hand them?

Desi: I was afraid you’d ask me that. I am bad with favorites. But I’ll tell you two novels I’ve adored in the past year: the rapturous Euphoria by Lily King, and David Gilbert’s very funny &Sons. As for read-aloud books, I’d be lying not to mention Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory (which I just bought at your store, and which my six-year-old daughter Arden already loves) and any of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle books, which if read aloud, might feel like someone were narrating the entirety of their lives in real time. But if you were to ask me which book I would most want Bill Roorbach to read aloud to me, it would be a hard choice between Life Among Giants or Remedy for Love.

Kenny: Thanks, Desi

Desi: Thanks for having me here, Kenny! I still remember fondly the time a customer came in looking for a book on the rules of writing, and you hand-sold him A Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. And now it’s commemorated in the film.

An Interview with Hilari Bell on Her Independent Publishing Adventure

Kenny Brechner -- April 2nd, 2015

Hilari-two-photoHilari Bell is a store favorite author here. Her Farsala and Shield, Sword, and Crown trilogies have been go-to handsells for me for many years. They are evergreen titles for us.

I was very interested therefore to get an email from her recently regarding her Knight and Rogue series which informed me that…

“HarperCollins published The Last Knight, and two more of Fisk and Michael’s adventures, and they garnered such loyal fans that I decided to embark on an adventure of my own—I’m taking the rest of the Knight & Rogue books indie!”

Hilari kindly agreed to answer some questions I had pertaining to her new venture.

KB: Being a Farsala fan I have to ask a question about the Hrum. We have some examples of market-based empire building unfolding before our eyes in the bookselling world. If the Hrum were a predatory hydra bent on taking over the world, would they go about it differently than the real world wolves at our door?

fall of a kingdomHB: There are some similarities between the Hrum and… a certain other market-based conqueror. They’re both very aggressive, and can be downright ruthless. But once the Hrum conquered a country, the conquered people got a relatively honest government (the governor in my story was an exception to the rule), even-handed justice, fair taxes, and in pretty short order, a path to full citizenship in the Hrum empire—not to mention becoming a partner in the economy of the empire, which opened up a lot of markets.

I can certainly see that from the point of view of indie bookstores and publishers, Amazon is only the evil empire. But as an author who is going indie, I have to say, Amazon gives me amazing, worldwide market access, and they make it easy for me to publish and sell through them. With almost no upfront cost. And semi-decent customer service. I have to admit, the idea of Amazon having a planet-wide monopoly on the production and sale of books (and sometimes it looks like that’s their goal) is more than a bit chilling—particularly since they’re so willing to use their market leverage. (Also very like the Hrum.) But right now, for me, Amazon is simultaneously the evil empire… and the indie author’s strongest lifeline. I’m quite conflicted about them, because I also have to wonder: if they did establish a monopoly on book production and distribution, how long would their generous treatment of authors last? Given their general ruthlessness, I worry about the answer.

KB: Do you see your publishing adventure as being very time-intensive for you? For example, looking at the larger picture of other established authors faced with similar scenarios, are the personal economics of independent publishing best served by individual authors managing their own works, or is a co-operative effort, a new imprint for established fantasy authors let’s say, a possibility?

scholar's plotHB: It’s incredibly time intensive. In fact, this will be only the second year in three decades that I haven’t written a novel. But looking at all the work I have ahead, getting my backlist novels onto the market again, and several new ones as well, not to mention having to figure out advertising, there’s just no way I can write a first draft this year. (Which is very frustrating, because I’ve got a book in the pipeline that I’m itching to write!) I’m having to retool my whole career, approaching it as a business person instead of as a writer. Not to mention the way I’m burning through my savings, which may be OK if you’re in your twenties or thirties, but is really unnerving in your late fifties!

On the other hand I’m learning a lot, and I like that. I’m facing challenges that frighten me, and slowly getting stronger by doing so. And if I can get to a point where I can make a living reaching out to bookstores and readers directly, I think I’ll be in a more secure position—I’m willing to bet my career on readers continuing to like my books. Other gatekeepers are a lot more fickle.

On yet another hand, I’d love to see an imprint (maybe some sort of co-op?) for established fantasy authors. It would be a huge advantage for me because I could go back to focusing mostly on writing… and I’d go into a deal like that a lot smarter about the business end of publishing than I was before this new indie adventure.

KB: From my point of view the fate of independent bookselling is tied to traditional publishing. I think we need traditional filters from the standpoints of title selection, terms, marketing and distribution angles. This utopic, or possibly just myopic, vision of traditional publishers, established authors, and independent booksellers working together for our mutual interest and preservation against the forces of evil which beset us, leads me to ask two questions.

First, I will share with you that an established author producing more books in an established series cuts a very unusual figure in the swollen stream of independently published titles which are directed to my attention every day. Most of them are bilge. It is much easier, from my vantage, to see independent publishing keep a strictly vanity character, because it would be unmanageable triage to try and sift through them for quality. Is that purely a bookselling issue or does it resonate with you?

HB: Despite my earlier crack about fickle gatekeepers, I know just what you mean, and I’ll be the first to concede that most indie-published books aren’t ready for prime time. On the other hand, in my own writing critique group, I’ve seen a number of novels that were absolutely worthy to be published and couldn’t find a home. Those gates we’re talking about are only open a crack at the best of times, they slam shut on the narrowest whim of the marketing department, and they exclude a lot of books that really should be published. And for writers who don’t have my advantage of having been traditionally published first, getting any kind of traction self-publishing is probably even harder than getting published conventionally.

But as a reader, before I buy a book I also want the assurance of basic quality that a publisher provides. (And editing is essential, too—both substance editing and copy editing.)

My personal prophecy for the publishing industry is that, because of the changes new technologies have brought to production, the big publishers will slowly lose market share to a host of small publishers. (At a writing conference a few years ago, I found myself sitting next to a small publisher who told me, “I can do anything for my authors that a big publisher can do, including get your books into Barnes & Noble. And better advertising, since I only publish gardening and cookbooks and I know that market.”

jimbaenThese small publishers, unlike today’s big… are there still six?… will have tightly focused lists, and an individual “house style,” so readers who pick up their books will have some idea of the book before they even read the jacket. Like Baen Books, which I’m aware of because they gave several of my favorite authors their start. My understanding is that Jim Baen had a hand in the selection of every book that left his house, and even after his death, the editorial staff still reflects his taste. Or if you want a newer example, there’s Entangled, a very successful new romance press that recently published a member of my critique group. And there are a number of small mystery presses…. This is already happening, and I can’t think of anything that would be better for the whole book industry than a plethora of small presses, in every genre and non-fiction category, industriously publishing all kinds of different books, and the thought that we might be headed that way makes me very happy.

This is probably the point where I should mention that I’m a terrible prophet, and the people I like on American Idol never win.

KB: Secondly, there are terms issues involved too. Scholar’s Plot is a 20% discount title, which is a special order only rate for most stores. I should hate to see great books leave the handselling arena for lack of a working margin?


matterofHB
: I believe I mentioned that I was still learning? A lot of that learning involves making mistakes—and thank you so much for bringing this to my attention! In my own defense, I did set my “wholesale discount” at 40%. What I didn’t know was that, buried in the fine print of Ingram’s 12-page contract, is the fact that Ingram’s distribution arm is a separate company from their printing arm (which also makes money on the printing) and that if you list a title at a 40% wholesale discount, they take 20% and pass a 20% discount on to the bookseller. If I select the 55% discount they only take 15%, the bookseller gets 40% off…and on a $27.99 hardcover, if one copy is ordered, I end up making 27 cents a book. I can raise my already high prices ($31.99 would get me to a bit over $2 per book) or I can decide that the hardcovers will have to be a special order, and set the paperback prices (which work out a bit more reasonably) to give me a better margin and the bookseller a 40% discount on the paperbacks.

However, it’s worth pointing out that my backlist title (The Goblin Wood), which I’m going to price at $12.99, will get me $1.99 per single copy sold through Ingram, and on Amazon’s Createspace I’ll get $4.34 for the same book sold at the same price. At least some of the difference is probably because Amazon charges the customer for shipping, and with Ingram the shipping is on me, but there when it comes to my bottom line… This is why, once they’d ruled a conquered kingdom for a few years, the Hrum hardly ever faced rebellion.

KB: All right, enough about all that, what can you share with us about your upcoming, or down the road a piece, book projects.

thiefs warHB:The next book I’m bringing out will be the final book in the Knight & Rogue series, Lady’s Pursuit. I had originally hoped to get it out this spring but it’s more likely going to be fall—and maybe late fall. (Things really are taking twice as long as I think they will.) But meanwhile, I’m going to get Thief’s War and Scholar’s Plot out in paperback (with a 40% discount to booksellers) sometime in April. One of the main reasons I decided to go indie was because I couldn’t bear to leave this series unfinished. They work as standalone novels—in a six-book series, they have to—but by the time I finished book one (The Last Knight) I had an overarching, six-book story arc in mind. I knew, years ago, that Thief’s War would be the book that ends with my two heroes (who spent the first three books cementing their friendship) coming apart over a matter of principle, and that Scholar’s Plot would be the book where I put them back together again. Frankly, these last three books are where the series plot kicks into gear… and I just couldn’t leave the rest of the tale untold. And I have to say, the readers who’ve managed to find those books despite my deplorable lack of advertising (I’m working on it!) have welcomed them with great enthusiasm. There was a lot of wailing when I ended Thief’s War by pulling the whole foundation of the series apart—but now that readers can get the book where things come back together, in an even better shape, I think I’ve been forgiven.

An Interview with Spring

Kenny Brechner -- March 26th, 2015

Those of you who thought Spring would never come this year have been proven wrong. Here she is at last!

Kenny: I’m so glad to see you, Spring. It’s been a long winter. Thanks for coming.

Spring: My pleasure. It’s nice to be so appreciated; I owe winter one. What can I do for you Kenny?

Kenny: Two things really. I want to get your book picks for the Spring season, but first I’m hoping you can clear up some rumors I’ve been hearing about the historical background of the Easter Bunny.

Spring: I’ll do my best.

Kenny: Thanks. One story I’ve been hearing is that the Easter Bunny has an identical twin who, a la the Man in the Iron Mask, has been kept locked away from public view in a dank prison cell with his head encased in an egg-shaped mask. The rumor is that he led a failed uprising against his brother and that the dispute between the twins arose because the bunny we know as the Easter Bunny preferred distributing eggs, while his identical twin was in favor of distributing books.

Spring: Hmmn. On second thought, perhaps it would be best to leave the past alone. There’s no reason to disinter old bones.

Kenny: Are you saying that it did really happen?

Spring: There is some truth in that story, yes, but many aspects relating to it are questionable or inaccurate. For example it is true that the book-loving bunny led an uprising against his brother, but the pernicious stories of all his followers having been impaled on sharpened carrots after the rising are purely apocryphal.

One certainty is that the Book Bunny spent many years imprisoned and forgotten. The real question involves the report that one afternoon, when the Egg Bunny came to gloat over his brother, as he occasionally did, the Book Bunny turned the table on him and escaped, leaving his egg-favoring brother a prisoner in his place. However, I am not the best person to affirm the truth of that.

Kenny: Who is then?

The Book Bunny: I would be happy to clear things up for you.

Kenny: Aaah! Oh! I didn’t see you there.

The Book Bunny: Yes, well, centuries of tradecraft.

Kenny: I see! I’ll take you up on your offer. What is the truth?

The Book Bunny: First of all, there are five official Easter Bunnies at any given time. Individual Easter Bunnies tend to have specialties. Mine is books.

Kenny: Aha! So The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes is a true story. There are five bunnies. That is news indeed!

The Book Bunny: Yes, apart from being the best Easter book of all time, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes is also a work of non-fiction and good for Common Core. Now these other tales you have been hearing about all refer to old disputes that occasionally have arisen between bunnies with different specialties over the centuries. Personally I don’t like to reflect on all the time I spent in that dank cell.

Kenny: I see. While I have you here is there any new bunny book you think is a real standout this year.

The Book Bunny: Oh, certainly. Wolfie the Bunny is just delightful. It is filled with humor, charming characters, and good bunny role models. I highly recommend it.

Kenny: Fabulous. What about the best new books coming out this Spring in general?

The Book Bunny: I only read kids’ books – you’ll have to get some adult picks from Spring. For picture books my two big favorites are Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Birgitta Sif, and Stick and Stone, by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.  Also there is a terrific board book original coming out, Yellow Copter, by Kersten Hamilton and illustrated by Valeria Petrone. It’s a sequel to Red Truck.

Kenny: I love Red Truck!

The Book Bunny: Exactly! Moving up from there, and considering that Spring is a kind of renewal after all, there are two fabulous sequels to be aware of, Dory Fantasmagory and the Real True Friend, by Abby Hanlon and Half Wild, by Sally Green. For Young Adults, An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir and Ask the Dark, by Henry Turner are two books that no one should miss.

Spring: What about The Penderwicks in Spring?!

The Book Bunny: I was leaving that for you.

Spring: Oh, right, good one. Okay my picks for adult books coming out this Spring are Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry for fiction, for its well developed characters and intriguing backdrop. Fun! For non-fiction it is all about Pirate Hunters, by Robert Kurson.

Kenny: Yes I’m very excited to see a new book by Kurson. I understand that it features some of the same characters as his sensational Shadow Divers. Is it up to that standard?

Spring: Yes, it is another true tale set in the world of wreck diving, and John Chatterton figures in it prominently. Hmm. It’s a terrific read but perhaps a half notch below Shadow Divers. Speaking of piracy, another book you’ll want to be mindful of this Spring is Mathew Pearl’s Last Bookaneer.

Kenny: Great choices! Thank you both for your time and your expertise.I know people will be so pleased that you have arrived at last!

Spring: My pleasure! I know I should have gotten here earlier but I hope it will be as the old saying runs,”Need brooks no delay, but late is better than never.”

The Book Bunny This year Spring I think that “old saw (will) be proved truer than ever before men spoke with mouth!” 

Booksellers and Computers

Kenny Brechner -- March 19th, 2015

I’ve known from the beginning that some people who possess core attributes of bookselling, love of books and the ability to express that love, who have good people and customer service skills, view machines as magical realms. In some environments this can be a charming and personable quality. In a microfichecontemporary bookstore this kind of magical thinking can be a danger to both to the store and the sanity of its owner.

This is particularly true, I think, in smaller stores where the ability to compartmentalize tasks is much more limited. In the early ’90s the only thing for most of my booksellers to be terrified of was the cash register, or possibly blowing a bulb on the microfiche reader by putting in the wrong slide. Oh, wait, that’s a subject slide, not an author slide…Kapow. Over the years the computerization of tasks has grown to the point where it is not possible to shield a bookseller from a fairly immersive experience in said machines.

I’ve thought about testing for magical thinking of this sort. Something along these lines.

Touching which of the following keyboard keys will cause the computer to be violently destroyed?
The End (of everything) key
The Pause- Break (everything) key
The F5 key (in the morning) and the F9 key (in the afternoon).
All of the above

The computer with the networked printer on it is plugged into a big black thing that keeps the computer running for a little while after a power outage. One day, when you try and print something, just as soon as the printer wakes up from sleep, the computer attached to it, its monitor, and the printer itself immediately shut down and the black box thing on the floor starts wailing like an enraged banshee. What you should do is…

Reboot the machine and then try it again.
Reboot the machine and then, since a printer virus is clearly at work, try to print from every machine to see if they are all affected.
Replicate the sudden shutdown as many times as possible to see if the anti-virus program will wake up and slay the virus.
Unplug that computer from the black thing and plug it into a regular power strip.

The truth is that in 2015 we want booksellers to be nearly ideal beings: wonderful with books, customers, and computers. Customers have access to immense amounts of information themselves. The ability to search databases and operate point-of-sale systems efficiently is hugely important. Magical thinking is important too, wonderfully important. Oh wait. hold that thought, My phone is going off. There is a computer crisis at the store.