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Dammit, y’all.

Dammit, y’all, I was going to blog something grammar-nerdy this week, something about the social benefits of precise writing and care with language.

I want so badly to write about the old, refined, kind-of-silly concerns—how proper punctuation helps social cohesion, why Bob Dylan should not have won the Novel Prize for Literature, why a barbecue restaurant that lets you choose your own sauce is an abomination—concerns worthy of a civilized and fully functioning society.

These weeks, though, our concerns have to be more fundamental.

Last Tuesday, men wearing the colors and insignia of the Proud Boys went and barged into a public library in Wilmington, not to read or research but to try to disrupt a Pride Month children’s story time.

No one was injured, but parents reported feeling intimidated, which was the Proud Boys’ goal.

The Proud Boys were prominently involved in both the January 6, 2021, riot at the United States Capitol, and in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. People were injured—people were killed—in both those instances. By now, the Proud Boys’ mere appearance, like that of the Klan and the Brown Shirts before them, carries with it the threat of violence.

The North Carolina Writers’ Network stands by the statement we made after Charlottesville: “They stand against everything the Network stands for: inclusion, connection, a broad and open community, free expression, excellence of expression, creativity. They fear the multiplicity of voices we seek to encourage.

“They try to intimidate. Writers try to understand. They are cowards who shun the open exchange of ideas, hiding in mobs and violence and the anonymity of the Internet. Writers open themselves to critique and argument with every word we publish. They resort to brute force. We believe in the power of words.”

We still will have the time and place to nerd out over words and their uses, over the symbols we interpret as pauses and full stops, over the subtle differences in sound and meaning that distinguish good writing from bad. All that is important—so important, I would argue, that our carelessness with them is part of what led us to weeks like these, to masked men trying to frighten small children from hearing stories about love in the actual world.

This blog post was written by Ed Southern and published on his behalf by Katherine O’Hara.

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NCWN’s June Recommended Reading List

In recognition of Pride Month and Juneteenth, the North Carolina Writers’ Network takes time to commemorate these moments in history and share our latest recommended reading list of books by Black and LGBTQ+ writers that broadly encapsulate Black and queer history and experiences.

Queer Nature: a poetry anthology. Edited by Michael Walsh. White book with gold text. Deconstructed image of tree branches.

  1. Queer Nature: A Poetry Anthology (includes NCWN member Jessica Jacobs) POETRY

“This anthology amplifies and centers LGBTQIA+ voices and perspectives in a collection of contemporary nature poetry. Showcasing over two hundred queer writers from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, Queer Nature offers a new context for and expands upon the canon of nature poetry while also offering new lenses through which to view queerness and the natural world.”

Features poets including Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Blanco, Kay Ryan, Jericho Brown, Allen Ginsberg, Natalie Diaz, and June Jordan, as well as Jari Bradley, Alicia Mountain, Eric Tran (who led a Fall Conference class for the Network in 2019), and Jim Whiteside (who judged the 2019 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition for the Network).

The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez. Red, gold, and blue text on a dark purple/brown background

The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez CRAFT

“Felicia Chavez’s The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop is a generational intervention. Chavez is expanding expectations of How-To books while giving radical generative portals of entry into workshop reconstruction. Every writing teacher on Earth needs this book.”
–Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

Boy Erased: a memoir of identity, faith, and family by Garrard Conley. A silhouette of a man with gold rays shooting away from the figure. Silhouette and book background are white.

  1. Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family by Garrard Conley who judged the 2017 Rose Post CNF Competition for the Network. MEMOIR

“The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When Garrard was a nineteen-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to cure him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. Through an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study, he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay, cleansed of impure urges and stronger in his faith in God for his brush with sin. Instead, even when faced with a harrowing and brutal journey, Garrard found the strength and understanding to break out in search of his true self and forgiveness.”

Manywhere: stories by Morgan Thomas. Birds perched on a neon green lightning bolt. The background of the book cover is cream.

  1. Manywhere: Stories by Morgan Thomas FICTION

“The nine stories in Morgan Thomas’s shimmering debut collection witness Southern queer and genderqueer characters determined to find themselves reflected in the annals of history, whatever the cost. As Thomas’s subjects trace deceit and violence through Southern tall tales and their own pasts, their journeys reveal the porous boundaries of body, land, and history, and the sometimes ruthless awakenings of self-discovery.”

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. On the cover, a Black woman wearing a yellow-green head wrap sits in the foreground. Sandy mountains and an orange sun are in the background.

  1. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde ESSAYS

Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature.

“[Lorde’s] works will be important to those truly interested in growing up sensitive intelligent, and aware.”–The New York Times

Fun Home: a family tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. A teal floral background book cover with an illustration of a family portrait in black and white in the foreground.

  1. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel COMIC/GRAPHIC MEMOIR

Alison Bechdel’s groundbreaking, bestselling graphic memoir that charts her fraught relationship with her late father. Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the “Fun Home.” It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.”

all about love new visions by bell hooks. Red book with title in black text.

  1. all about love: new visions by bell hooks LOVE & ROMANCE/ETHICS

“A New York Times bestseller and enduring classic, All About Love is the acclaimed first volume in feminist icon bell hooks’ Love Song to the Nation trilogy. All About Love reveals what causes a polarized society, and how to heal the divisions that cause suffering. Here is the truth about love, and inspiration to help us instill caring, compassion, and strength in our homes, schools, and workplaces.”

Detransition, Baby: a novel by Torrey Peters. Illustrated faces layered over each other in green, yellow, pink, and blue.8. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters FICTION

“The lives of three women–transgender and cisgender–collide after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront their deepest desires in “one of the most celebrated novels of the year” –Time

In the Dream House: a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. A green house illustration in the foreground with a woman's face peering through a hole in the house's center. A stormy sky in the background. A second woman's silhouette on the house's porch.

  1. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado MEMOIR

In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.”This Bridge Called My Back. A Black woman's silhouette with a stalk of corn growing up the center of the silhouette.

  1. This Bridge Called My Back Edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa MULTI-GENRE

“Originally released in 1981, This Bridge Called My Back is a testimony to women of color feminism as it emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Through personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, the collection explores, as coeditor Cherríe Moraga writes, ‘the complex confluence of identities-race, class, gender, and sexuality-systemic to women of color oppression and liberation.’”loveless by Alice Oseman. Illustrated cover with figures in the background kissing or looking in love. A figure with long hair and a blue shirt stands in the foreground looking off in the distance.

  1. Loveless by Alice Oseman YA NOVEL

“From the marvelous author of Heartstopper comes an exceptional YA novel about discovering that it’s okay if you don’t have sexual or romantic feelings for anyone . . . since there are plenty of other ways to find love and connection.

This is the funny, honest, messy, completely relatable story of Georgia, who doesn’t understand why she can’t crush and kiss and make out like her friends do. She’s surrounded by the narrative that dating + sex = love. It’s not until she gets to college that she discovers the A range of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum — coming to understand herself as asexual/aromantic. Disrupting the narrative that she’s been told since birth isn’t easy — there are many mistakes along the way to inviting people into a newly found articulation of an always-known part of your identity. But Georgia’s determined to get her life right, with the help of (and despite the major drama of) her friends.”

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed. Book cover has red text overlayed a tan map.

  1. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed NONFICTION/HISTORICAL

“Weaving together American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed’s On Juneteenth provides a historian’s view of the country’s long road to Juneteenth, recounting both its origins in Texas and the enormous hardships that African-Americans have endured in the century since, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond.”Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong. A black and cream/rustic cover with flowers in the center.

  1. Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong POETRY

“In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother’s death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. Shifting through memory, and in concert with the themes of his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the cost of being the product of an American war in America. At once vivid, brave, and propulsive, Vuong’s poems circle fragmented lives to find both restoration as well as the epicenter of the break.”

  1. Homie: Poems by Danez Smith POETRY

Homie is Danez Smith’s magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia, and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family–blood and chosen–arrives with just the right food and some redemption. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is the exuberant new book written for Danez and for Danez’s friends and for you and for yours.”


We also recommend checking out The Southern Review of Book’s list of “The Best Southern Books of June 2022” which includes a list of many works by Southern LGBTQ+ authors and Esquire’s article “46 Must Read Books by Queer Writers” with books recommended by 18 LBGTQ+ authors.

Quotes of book descriptions and reviews are sourced from the titles’ respective pages on

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The Writingest County (At Least This Week)?

Henderson County must be living right.

First, word came that Songbirds and Stray Dogs, the debut novel by Hendersonville author (and former NCWN Henderson County Rep) Meagan Lucas, is this year’s choice for the annual Route 1 Reads initiative.

Sponsored by North Carolina Humanities, Route 1 Reads is “a road trip-inspired reading list that annually explores various genres and features books that illuminate important aspects of each individual state or commonwealth for readers traveling this meandering highway. The 2022 theme of the reading list is literary fiction.”

The 2022 initiative will begin August 9, with a “virtual book conversation” between Meagan and Ron Rash, the bestselling author of Serena, One Foot in Eden, The World Made Straight, and several other books you probably love. Attendees of this online event will be entered into a drawing to win one of four gift cards to Bookmarks in Winston-Salem.

In addition, North Carolina Humanities will feature Songbirds and Stray Dogs in programming and resources throughout the year.

Then, Network trustee Katie Winkler told us about a new mural at her school, Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, depicting three members of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame: Maya Angelou, Wilma Dykeman, and Randall Kenan.

Blue Ridge art student Abigail Buckman spent months creating the mural in the campus library. Library staff and faculty members on the library committee came up with a list of North Carolina writers, from which Buckman picked these three to depict.

“We were so happy with her choices,” Katie said.

You can watch a video about the mural’s creation here.

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NC Playwrights Are Having a Moment

The Network was founded by writers for the page, not the stage, but dramatists like Paul Green and Samm-Art Williams are as much a part of our literary heritage as Thomas Wolfe (who wrote and produced plays while a student at UNC).

NC born playwrights are still making literary history.

James Ijames, a performer and playwright who grew up in Bessemer City, recently received the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Fat Ham, set in a North Carolina barbecue joint. The play, a loose adaption of Hamlet, is Ijames’ first work set in the South.

In the Gaston Gazette, Ijames (pronounced “imes”) said, “In the South, when we talk to each other, there’s just like a music in the way that we speak. So that’s always in everything that I write. Even when I’m not writing about the South, I can’t really get away from it.”

News of the award received congratulations from Governor Roy Cooper.

Ijames is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Villanova University and a co-artistic of the Wilma Theater. He lives in South Philadelphia. Fat Ham officially opened in May at The Public’s Anspacher Theater in New York City and runs through July 17.

Closer to home, Triad Stage in Greensboro will kick off their twentieth season with a local focus. Rebellious, an original commissioned work by NC playwright (and former NCWN Trustee) Mike Wiley, highlights the Bennett Belles: the group of women who played an important role during the Greensboro Sit-Ins. The play will be in production October 3-23. Single tickets go on sale August 1.

After two years of closed doors due to Covid, the theatre shifted focus with a renewed commitment to diversity and local community.

Triad Stage will end the season in May 2023 celebrating another NC-born playwright: Winston-Salem native Bekah Brunstetter, whose play Cake, set in a Winston-Salem bakery, explores southern family, delicious baked goods, and gay marriage.

Brunstetter completed her undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill and has worked as a writer for TV productions like Switched at Birth, American Gods, This is Us, and Maid.

Playwriting is focused on the stage (rather than writing for the page). Yet there’s much to gain from fiction and poetry writers engaging playwriting techniques and performance, and vice versa. Theatre offers an opportunity to explore contemporary storytelling, particularly in a state seeped in rich history and an increasingly globalized population.

Ijames recently told the New York Times that “I love that people who write for a living saw something that I wrote and they saw something of beauty in it. I love writers. I love poets. I love journalists. I love fiction writers. And so I am always really honored when I get to be in the company of people who are curious about ideas.”

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Introducing Myself

I’ve been thinking a lot about change. Change as in a movement from one phase of your life into another; change as in what can happen in an instant; change as in a process that is much slower, when the outcome pulls like a memory, a wish that hasn’t yet formed.

Change can be associated with loss, with growth. In my personal life, I sit on the threshold of this door. On June 2nd, 2022, my roommates-of-four-years and I lost our cat Kevin unexpectedly (Yes, like Home Alone Kevin) to kidney failure. His loss is miles wide, wild and winding. When I sat down to write this post, I’d be lying if I didn’t say he was at the forefront of my mind.

He taught me a lot about presence, about extending care to community in even small ways. This is the kind of cat who ran to me each morning when I’d open my bedroom door, who followed me down the hall to the bathroom and back, watching as I picked out clothes. He stretched against my leg while I brushed my teeth before he jumped to lay down in the sink—he often knocked things off the counter in the process. He made me laugh when I couldn’t find room for it.

Kevin made sure I got ready for the day, especially when days are hard; it’s an understatement how this world has given us many, many hard days. Kevin being by my side as I got ready felt like a soft nudge of encouragement. You’re here. You’re brushing your teeth. You’re hurting, but you’re starting something.

My name as a contributor to the NCWN blog and in service as your communications director is a change. It’s a positive change in my life. When I interviewed with Ed Southern about this role, he asked me what I’m most excited about. I said that the Network will give me the opportunity to be ambitious. I look forward to growing our community and continuing to shape our workshops, programs, and resources in new and exciting ways both online and in-person.

I have a lot of ideas, I told him. I hope to continue to expand our workshop model with a balance of craft-based lectures, the-business-of-publishing lectures, and editorial critique. I want to create new programs and collaborate with schools, publishing professionals, and other literary organizations on these initiatives to continue our mission of fostering excellence, opportunity, and community in the South and beyond.

And while these ideas may be a series of trial and error in the beginning, I’m excited that the Network—like what we practice in our writing community, like what Kevin taught me—places emphasis on giving room to try.

I’m grateful to be part of this journey with the North Carolina Writers’ Network. I’m grateful to learn and listen.

We’re here. We’re starting something together.Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeinstagramby feather
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NCWN Members Sweep the 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize

by Deonna Kelli Sayed


NCWN members swept the honors in the North Carolina Literary Review’s 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize, judged by historian David S. Cecelski.

Audrey Jennifer Smith authored the winning essay, with honorable mentions for Angela Belcher Epps, Blaise Kielar, and Ashley Memory.

Audrey’s essay, “In the Summer of Missing Girls,” is part of a book-in-progress centered on the unsolved 2002 murder of Jennifer Short. Audrey will receive $500 and her entry will be published in the NCLR’s 2023 print issue.

“Winning the 2022 Albright Prize was so incredibly affirming,” she said. “Now that I’ve taken some time to celebrate with several impromptu one-person dance parties in my apartment, the pressure’s on to finish the book!”

Audrey completed her MFA from Oregon State University in 2021. She is a producer for WUNC’s Embodied podcast and a bookseller at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro.

Angela Belcher Epps received accolades for her deeply personal essay, “Those Awful Family Trees.” She said, “Having received an honorable mention is a big win for my development as a writer. In the essay, I reveal aspects of my personal history that I’ve generally avoided. The Alex Albright competition coupled with NCLR’s upcoming ‘Writers Who Teach’ issue sparked reflections about the sometimes-fragile hearts of children growing up in nontraditional families. It’s a subject that I really care about.”

Based in Raleigh, Angela is the author of Salt in the Sugar Bowl, published in 2013 by Main Street Rag.

Blaise Kielar of Chapel Hill also received an honorable mention for his essay “Violin Shop: Behind the Velvet Counter.”

His submission resulted from attending the Network’s Fall Conference. “My first prize in a writing competition and placement in a literary journal is particularly sweet since it would not have happened without NCWN,” he explained. “After visiting the NCLR display at the November NCWN conference, I subscribed. Now my writing will join some of NC’s best in their pages. Timing is fortuitous, energizing my search for an agent or publisher for the complete memoir, Be Heard: The Quiet Kid Who Started the World’s Loudest Violin Shop.”

Asheboro’s Ashley Memory, another Honorable Mention, submitted the “Private History of Deviled Eggs.”  She is thrilled to finally place. “I had been trying to break in for years, and this honor proves the value of persistence,” said Ashley. “I’m very grateful to the editors of the NC Literary Review and the final judge for seeing something special in my work, and also to my writing group for graciously reading three drafts of my essay and lending their advice and encouragement throughout the writing.”

Honorable Mention recipients will receive $100, along with their essays being published in the NCLR.

The Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize is an annual competition open to any writer who fits the NCLR definition of a North Carolina writer: anyone who currently lives in North Carolina, has lived in North Carolina, or uses North Carolina as subject matter.

The Network congratulates our members for their excellent writing and commitment to literary community.Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeinstagramby feather
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Yes, We Get the Irony

I’m not going to lie: As well as the Internet has served our far-flung Network, I sometimes think – or, more accurately, daydream – about taking us offline entirely. I fantasize more about the Network championing the analog virtues of reverie and contemplation than I do about windfall donations or in-perpetuity grants.

(I might shouldn’t have written that here, where the board can read it.)

So you can imagine how charmed I was a year or two ago, when Analog Sea first contacted me.

Nope, their link isn’t broken, and I didn’t forget to add it. They have no link. They have no website. They are, by their own definition, “a small community of writers and artists wishing to maintain contemplative life in the digital age. We publish hardbound printed books and a literary journal, The Analog Sea Review.”

They also print and distribute a free Analog Sea Bulletin, with brief features and snippets from their next Review, which is how they introduced themselves to me.

“Advocating for the human right to disconnect,” they write in their “Editorial Vision,” “we celebrate offline culture and the work artists create in solitude, that vital stretch of time when distraction fades and deep wells of thought and feeling emerge.”

The Network exists to help alleviate that solitude, but we do not deny its desirability, even necessity, for most-if-not-all writers. At our conferences and on our website, writers can learn, refine, connect. You can promote your work, seek and find publication or representation for your work, get inspiration or encouragement for your work.

You cannot work, though. You cannot do the grunt work, the dreamy work, of writing.

Analog Sea’s books and Review are available at more than 190 bookstores throughout North America and Europe, or you can contact them at –

Analog Sea
PO Box 11670
Austin, TX 78711

(They do have an e-mail address, but I’m not going to give it to you.)

They’re also looking for contributors. You will find their call for submission in the (members-only) Opportunities section of, but I’ve pasted it below, as well.

Once again, I’m not going to lie: I’ve been finding my attention span shorter and less durable than it used to be. That’s on me, not the Internet – which, after all, is only a tool, and often a miraculously useful one – but our online-all-the-time culture doesn’t help. My job as a writer, and as a reader, and as a human being, is to strike the proper balance between connectivity (which is not connection) and contemplation, between information and and reverie.

I know the Network’s not going offline. My daydreams will stay only that. I only need to carve out more time for daydreams.


The Analog Sea Review: Call for Submission

The Analog Sea Review is an offline journal distributed to independent bookstores throughout Europe and North America. We are interested in hearing from writers and artists who find ways to maintain contemplation and focus in the digital age. Please send us your stories and poems as well as any essays exploring this emerging field of offline culture. We also welcome submissions from visual artists for our cover artwork and select interior pages.

Currently, we pay from 50 to 200 EUR/USD for one-time rights which revert back to the author upon publication. Please mail your typed, printed submission (8,000 words or fewer) to Analog Sea at [the] address below. Include a very brief biographical statement along with a self-address stamped envelope if you would like us to return your submission. Artists, please send only photographic reproductions of your work and not originals.

If you are interested in Analog Sea and would like to receive future copies of our free bulletin, even if you have nothing to submit at this time, please do send us a letter.

PO Box 11670
Austin, TX 78711Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeinstagramby feather
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NCAC Names New Director

On May 13*, our friends at the North Carolina Arts Council announced that Jeff Bell would be their next director.

Bell comes to Jones Street from Wilson, where he was the executive director of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum and Arts Innovation coordinator for the City of Wilson. He also has worked at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, CAM Raleigh, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Bell will start at the NCAC on June 13.

The NCAC also is welcoming Janelle Wienke as their Arts in Communities Director.

Please join the Network board and staff in welcoming Jeff and Janelle to the NCAC. We hope their tenures there are long and happy, and that they keep giving us money. We like that.


* In related news, the Network staff is shocked – shocked! – to discover that May 13 was two weeks ago, and that June begins next week. We’ve been busy.Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeinstagramby feather
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This Morning, This Place

For years, I logged in to start my Network day at 7 A.M. sharp.

Not since late last August, though, when my youngest started kindergarten. Since then I don’t log in until 7:30, 7:45, sometimes even 8—not until I’ve helped her get ready and seen her off to school.

That felt different this morning.

The child’s already been through one active-shooter lockdown. In her first full week of school, a teenager shot another teenager at the high school less than a mile from her elementary school. The shooter fled. The victim died. When my child got home she told me they “got to play hide-and-seek in the dark” while her teacher sat against the classroom door. She said the principal told them over the intercom that they were locking them inside to keep them safe. She thought he meant safe from the late-summer storms passing through that day.

Later today we’ll send, as we always do, the Weekly E-Blast, chock-full of information and opportunities and celebrations. That will feel different, too. I put it together yesterday, and I’m glad that I did. Today it would feel trivial.

I’m not going to write some platitude now about the need to bear witness, or about the urgency of writers’ work at such a time and in such a place as this. I’ll save my rage for my personal spaces, not this professional one. I don’t believe I’ll even try to make a point here, much less a moral.

I can’t even say for sure why I’m writing this, now, here. I don’t even know how it will end.Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeinstagramby feather
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How to Talk to a Bookseller: Then, Now, Forever

As a former bookseller and publisher who’s now married to a bookseller, I know a lot of stories about authors whose approach is, for lack of a better word, wrong.

I mean, really wrong. Completely wrong. Hilariously wrong. Infuriatingly wrong. So-wrong-they’d-be-less-wrong-if-they-never-even-tried wrong.

After one such story my wife remembered this piece by author (and former bookstore event coordinator) Melissa Lion, posted by the American Booksellers Association waaayyy back in 2007. Fifteen years and three days later, her 10 steps still apply:

They’re so good I’m just going to paste them down here for you, so you don’t even have to click a link:

  1. Don’t treat the bookseller like the help. The person behind the counter or on the floor is the most important person in the bookstore. The bookseller puts your book in customers’ hands, she puts your book on display, she writes a shelf-talker, and perhaps most importantly, stands in front of your book with a returns list that has your book on it and she decides if your book gets a stay of execution on the shelf, or if it heads off to remainderville. Remainderville, despite the cute name, is not a happy place for books.
  2. Take advantage of booksellers’ big mouths. There’s a reason publishers have “Big Mouth” lists — booksellers gossip. Booksellers meet other booksellers at various functions. At these functions three things happen — drinking, recommending books, and gossiping about authors. We will gossip about good things (“Khaled Hosseini smells amazing”) and bad things (“The author of [fill in the blank] shuffles his feet and treated me like the help”). You want to be on the good end of this gossip, so always smell nice and speak kindly to all the booksellers in the store. And pick up your feet when you walk.
  3. Ask for the appropriate person. Do not walk up to the counter and ask to speak with the manager or the owner. Customers with a problem want to speak to the owner or the manager. You want to speak with the book buyer if you want the store to carry your book. You want to speak with the events coordinator for booking an event.
  4. Use the correct person’s name. If you don’t know the name of the events coordinator, ask the person behind the counter. As for the book buyer, you want the person who buys your type of book. “What is the name of the person who buys the spirituality books?” Follow this up with, “What is the best way to get in touch with him?” Booksellers, book buyers, bookstore owners, and managers are very busy people. Respect that method of getting in touch.
  5. Do not leave a book in the bookstore that you wish to have back. Bookstores’ back rooms are filled with towers of books and dust bunnies the size of alpacas. There are moldering coffee cups and one aged bookseller reminiscing about the days when books-in-print was in book form. Your book winds up here. You will only get it back with a machete and a six-pack of PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon]. You must be willing to let your book go.
  6. Be a customer at the store. If you would like a bookstore to carry your book, purchase a book there. Better yet, purchase a book the bookseller behind the counter recommends. Ask for that person’s name, go find a shelf-talker by that person, walk up to that person and ask to purchase that book. When she is ringing you up, begin (politely) to ask who the book buyer is. Perhaps you can purchase two books. If you can, please do so. The only way a store can carry your book is if they stay in business. The best way ensure this is to spend money at the actual store.
  7. If you are doing an event at the store, ask the audience to purchase your book. Say, “Please purchase my book.” Follow this up with, “If you don’t buy my book, this bookstore will think badly of me and they will not book me for an event again because they have lost money on my event because only about one-third of an audience buys a book and because the bookstore has spent money on advertising, used prime store placement space, spent hours on staffing, and will have to return the books you have not bought, at their expense.” No pressure, of course.
  8. Thank the booksellers. My agent has told me many times, “No matter where you find your book, it could be in the dustiest darkest corner, go to the booksellers and thank them for carrying your book.” She’s a wise woman.
  9. Never start a sentence with “You should.” As in “you should carry my book,” or “you should put my book on the front table despite my book being a tome on the African Diaspora and this table being a display of Chronicle stationery and Happy Bunny books.” As soon as you start this sentence, booksellers have a list of “you shoulds” that begin playing softly in their minds.
  10. Don’t treat the booksellers like the help. This might ring a bell. Bookselling is a labor of love. Chances are the person behind the counter is college graduate, he or she could be a chess wiz, a magician, a stand-up comedian, a nearly professional cello player, or a fellow author — all people I’ve worked with (except the author, that’s me). Booksellers do this job by choice. With the exception of a few CEO’s no one is getting rich selling books. Booksellers love books. They love books to their detriment, resulting in small savings accounts, a predilection toward cheap beer, and the risk of one day being buried in their own homes beneath an avalanche of galleys. Think of this person’s fate and then think of your book. This is who will take care of your baby. Be kind to that person, and your book will be loved and defended, often fiercely, like a six-pack of PBR.

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