Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Week Five: Books Across America

Week Five of Books Across America, and we've traveled through nine states from Ohio to California, visiting more than a dozen independent bookstores.  I'm happy to report I've been greeted by friendly, enthusiastic and sometimes even grateful booksellers everywhere I visited (other than one owner who never even bothered to glance up from her inventory list one early morning when I decided to squeeze her store into my schedule…at least it wasn't a total waste of time, since I found a fabulous coffee shop right next door).  Overall, it's been a fantastic experience and I can report that literature is alive and well in America.  Bookstores are busy and filled with people who love to read.  Now, before heading back through several more states, where I plan to visit a whole host of bookstores, I want to fill you in on where I've been lately.

The week before the holidays, traveling around Northern Arizona, I visited a few more independent bookstores with signed copies of my new suspense novel, The Lies We Keep, which just happens to be set in Sedona.  Much of this area was inspiration for my book, so it was with heartfelt pride to meet with booksellers in this part of the country.  Besides the fabulous bookstores I visited, I couldn't get enough of the spectacular wintry scenes.  The red-orange sandstone formations jutting up from the desert floor near Sedona, silvery blue skies, puffs of clouds pink like cotton candy, and the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff snow-capped in a glaze of white frosting.  Heading back down highway 17 to Phoenix, the Ponderosa Pines and Aspens thinned to brush and cacti as the sun set in the west, creating silhouettes across the dusty landscape, casting brilliant splashes of color against the heavens.  The next day, I wandered through shops in the rustic buildings of Old Town Scottsdale and then made my way to a couple more bookstores before taking some time off with family for Christmas.

Don't miss these fine bookstores in Arizona:

Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe (with another location in Phoenix) is often featured on lists for Best Bookstores in America.  So, of course, I couldn't pass it up.  At one time, employee owned and operated, the store continues to be community-minded, donating proceeds from book sales to local teachers, public radio and other charities.  You'll find a nice collection of new and used books while enjoying a cup of coffee or even a cold beer at First Draft Bar.  They host plenty of author events, writing workshops, book clubs, weekly story-times, reading programs and offer textbook rentals.  This is one fabulous bookstore not to be missed.

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore located in Old Town Scottsdale was another must stop in Arizona.  Opened in 1989, The Pen is an independent bookstore which carries works of mystery, literary fiction, thrillers, historical and Southwest themed literature.  They are known for hosting author readings and signings, and other literary events, such as themed mystery conferences most years.  The shop has a charming ambiance with a cozy feel, comfy chairs and a friendly staff.  They ship worldwide and have a good collection of first edition signed books, including mine.  If they are sold out of something you want to read, they are happy to order a copy for you.  A lovely well-lit place to browse the next time you are poking around Old Town Scottsdale's Art District.

Starrlight Books in Flagstaff is situated on Leroux Street with historic brick buildings lining this rugged yet charming college town street.  The store is filled with an impressive collection of mostly used books in a wide range of categories.  There's a Barnes & Noble right around the corner, but this sweet little store is so worth visiting for true book lovers.  With a solid sense of choice in literature throughout the tidy space, and a lived-in, squeaky entry door type of  environment, this shop will put you in the mood for a great read. 








Sunday, November 22, 2015

Books Across America: DAY 3

Another great day on the road, traveling through New Mexico and Arizona after a long day crossing the Texas Panhandle on Friday.  Today, I visited Bookworks in Albuquerque, NM.  Bookworks is one of Albuquerque's last remaining independent bookstores, in operation for 31 years, first in the Rio Grande Valley and later moved to its current location on Rio Grande next door to Flying Star Cafe (which by the way, has the yummiest turkey sandwiches and cookies -- really good cookies!).

Bookworks is committed to providing a wealth of literary events for the community, hosting 400-500 adult, young adult and children's events annually, for both nationally touring authors, best-selling authors and local authors.  Amazing.  They actively support local authors and provide a wide variety of genres, including both used and new titles.  They are also active in the community, donating books and gift certificates to local nonprofits.  I found a wonderful section highlighting local authors and even several shelves dedicated to local book clubs.


When I stepped inside this unassuming shop, I realized instantly that this was not the average bookstore.  A fire burned in a southwest style fireplace, and customers were browsing books and checking fliers for upcoming events.  Book sellers were buzzing at the counter, helping customers remember titles, taking orders over the phone and cheerfully helping anybody who had a question.  A really nice group.  I was also impressed by the casual vibe, the almost cozy living room feel to the place.  This store was inviting, in a regular neighborhood kind of way, welcoming all ages, providing a wide variety of genres and interests.  An absolutely charming and helpful staff, a warm and creative environment, and an obvious diverse reading community.  So many wonderful, unique and sometimes obscure titles right alongside best-selling, highly commercial titles.  I had the feeling, all literature was important to this staff and their customers, books from famous authors and emerging authors filled the shelves, juxtaposed together, sharing the same shelf space, which gave the place a strong sense of community and a commitment to the interests of their readers, with deep love for literature.  I loved this bookstore and even more so, what they seem to be doing for the promotion of literature in Albuquerque.  Bravo.

My life on the lane is filled with long days on the road, wonderfully colorful bookstores, and best of all, this trip has shown me how dedicated independent bookstores are to their communities of readers.
We will be crossing the border into Arizona, where THE LIES WE KEEP is primarily set, where I will continue to visit more bookstores after Thanksgiving.  My wish to you, dear reader, is that you will be surrounded by who you love or what you love during the holiday, and that your life is blessed with beautiful stories, a love for reading and time to sit back, relax and enjoy a few chapters or maybe even more of something you've really wanted to read lately.  Cheers!





Saturday, November 21, 2015

Books Across America -- DAY TWO


Today, I visited the largest independent bookstore in Oklahoma.  Full Circle Bookstore is located on the first level of the 50 Penn Place building in Oklahoma City.  This charming bookstore boasts more than 60,000 titles in dozens of genres, beautifully arranged within oak book cases with rolling ladders to reach those high volumes.  There were sections of poetry, fiction, travel, classic literature, education...the list goes on, including Native American books, and an entire area dedicated to local Oklahoma authors.  Comfy seating areas with wood burning fireplaces added a warm ambiance to the entire store. There was even an alcove with a coffee bar and cafe offering breakfast and lunch items, and some treats, too.  This is the bookstore that everyone who wants to own a bookstore would love to own.

I was greeted by the friendly staff the moment I entered, Beverly at the front desk, John stocking shelves, and helping customers.  Both, so kind and helpful, and I could tell John knew his literature and was eager to show me around telling me about upcoming events and the fact that they hold one of the largest selections of poetry anywhere.  The children's area was filled from floor to ceiling with a lovely selection of literature especially for the youngest of readers and beyond.  Story hour, wooden train tracks, and cozy corners to curl up with a favorite book.  A paradise of sorts, and a dream come true for book-lovers.  I signed a copy of my new suspense novel, The Lies We Keep, and then lingered for a while, browsing, and chatting about books, and then enjoyed a cup of tea with Mr. Lane before hitting the road to our next destination.  I highly recommend Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City if you have a chance to visit.  Absolutely charming.


I love these vintage theater seats.
John couldn't have been more kind!


Friday, November 20, 2015

Books Across America -- DAY ONE


I'm road tripping (with my travel companion, Mr. Lane) from Cleveland to Scottsdale.  The same route from start to finish, beginning to end in THE LIES WE KEEP.  Main character, Alex, grew up in Cleveland but ends up in Arizona where he thinks he's free from his past, until a chance encounter with someone who has never forgotten him.  Every mile that passes under our car reminds me of his trip west after hitching a ride with a truck driver.  Of course, I've driven this route before, researching the story, but it's all new again now that THE LIES WE KEEP has been released.  Somehow the novel has come alive for me as we pass through the same towns he traveled through, under the over-passes that were draped in flags, passing by small motels and diners.  This is where the story dwells and I'm enjoying every mile.  


We're stopping in towns along the way, visiting independent bookstores, meeting book lovers and book sellers, those diligent folks who keep our communities richly supplied with literature.  We are traveling by car alongside parts of what is left of Route 66, taking exits for odd tours of caverns and quirky, dusty old tourist shops.  Today, we ate lunch at a truck stop somewhere between St. Louis and Springfield.  There's something about truck drivers who ride along new Route 44…they seem a bit vintage, from days gone by, as if the ghosts of Route 66 live on in their cabs.  They are full of colorful stories of life on the road, and they know what is most delicious on the menu (thanks Bill for the tip on the pizza…who knew it could taste so good from a kitchen inside a gas station?).

Caron with the
Owner
of Subterranean Books
We started out at Indy Reads Books in Indianapolis, a bookstore I wanted to stop by on our way to St. Louis, just a quick stop because I'd read about what they are doing there.  But, we were too late, caught in traffic and arrived after they had closed.  But here's the deal, we have to drive back to Cleveland at some point, so we will try again on the way home.  I mention it, because the store relies on donated books.  It's a beautiful shop where you can become a member and support literature (and receive a discount on the books you purchase for a year).  They also rely on volunteer staff members.  How cool is that?  People helping their community and in the process, promoting literacy.  If you want to donate books (author friends or readers who have gently read books) visit their website to see how you can help the effort to keep Indy reading (indyreadsbooks.org).  An independent bookstore and the only bookstore in downtown Indianapolis.  They sell used and new books for all ages.  Operating as a non-profit, not-for-profit organization Indy Reads is on a mission to improve the literacy skills of adults in central Indiana who currently read at or below the sixth grade level.  Profits from sales at the bookstore go directly into the community to improve literacy.  Now that's a special bookstore.  Visit…but just know, from experience, they close at 7PM during the week!  (9PM on Friday and Sat, Sunday till 6)  Indy Reads Books, 911 Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis.

We stayed the night in St. Louis and visited Subterranean Books the next morning.  A very warm and charming bookstore at 6275 Delmar, In the Loop, St. Louis.  Along a street of redeveloped buildings with other shops and places to grab a cup of coffee.  The store has a lovely feeling with a loft, the shelves tidy and filled with a wonderful selection of literature.  From the moment you walk in the store, you feel like pulling a book from the shelves, finding a comfy chair and cozying up to read.  My book is now available!  St. Louis is a great town, with a diverse population of people who are resilient and hardy, and always friendly.  Someone told us, regarding the recent issues in the community, "Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better."  I definitely felt a positive vibe around town, people are holding their heads high and working toward a better tomorrow.

Next stop was Springfield, MO.  I met with Josh at BOOKMARX Bookstore in downtown Springfield.  Mostly gently used books, they also carry new titles and can order any title you need.  The shop is modern and very cool.  Streamlined shelves with a wide selection of reads for just about any genre.  Located at 325 E. Walnut Street right down the street from Hotel Vandivort, a four-star boutique hotel in the heart of a well redeveloped area of town.  Josh noted he doesn't know how indy bookstores can make it these days without offering used books.  They just can't compete with the big online bookstores, so having gently used books is key to their success.  Plus, there's a shop right next door with cupcakes...so of course they are doing well.  BookMarx trades books for books, buys used books and Josh seemed happy to accept my donation of my newest title.  Stop by if you're in Springfield, where this little shop is working hard to bring literature to this community.

Caron with Josh at BOOKMARX
We crossed over to Oklahoma today, so tomorrow will bring more indy bookstores to visit.  I plan to visit as many as I can to shake the hands of store owners who work hard to keep literature available to their communities.  I've got a full box of books to present to shop owners, but what's most fun is talking to readers about books, and what they love to read and seeing that they have a place to go browse the shelves for just the right book.  Support your local bookshop.  Remember to do your holiday shopping on Main Street and that books make a great gift.    

My life on the lane is on the road, visiting bookstores and meeting readers, signing books and shaking hands and life is good.            

    

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

FIVE REASONS I LOVE WRITING NOVELS

I've recently released my second novel, The Lies We Keep, and have been thinking a lot about why I love writing novels so much.  The amount of time, years actually, that it takes to write a novel is daunting to think about, yet I love it.  Here's five reasons why I can't wait to get started on my next.


  1. Feeling Free -- To many this is a romantic notion, and in some ways that's true, but who doesn't need a little romance in their life?  For me, writing is a bit romantic, you're meeting up with characters you've just met and getting to know them, seducing them in a way, to bear their untold truths and expose the deepest parts of their souls.  In writing, I'm free to ask whatever questions I like, peak inside other worlds I might never know otherwise…and in doing so, I feel free.  For an hour or even for several hours, I escape inside the story, away from the everyday constraints of life and like flying away with Peter Pan, I am free to travel into worlds I've created from scratch, to see what will happen next.  As a writer, it's my job to find that place
    inside myself, where I feel free to listen to the voices of my characters, build stories from deep within my writer's soul, free to ponder ideas I wouldn't necessarily think about in my everyday life.  Freeing myself to be curious, to create, to invent entire worlds where life can be examined and morals tested through a narrative filled with  characters and settings I construct from that place inside where I feel open and free.   
  2. Daydreaming -- In the 4th grade, I remember my teacher stopping by the side of my desk and telling me to stop daydreaming.  I was caught, and of course went back to my studies right away, but luckily that part of my inner child wasn't shut down completely.  Sure, I learned where and when I could get away with daydreaming back then, but later in life, I realized my ability to dream about things, to make up stories and characters -- was exactly what I needed to be a writer.  With writing, daydreaming is a necessary ability.  To be able to lean back in my chair, glance out the window at the beautiful Autumn leaves and drift off into another world, a dreamland, is absolutely necessary for a writer.  I love losing myself into that place where I allow my mind to visualize other places and people so different from my own state of being.  It's as if I'm watching a movie, glancing at an imaginary screen before me.  That's far more advanced than the 4th grade…and I'm no longer concerned if anyone catches me.  Daydreaming allows me to always be writing.  Even when I'm busy doing other things.  I've written entire scenes in my head while folding laundry.  The ability to let myself daydream is a very keen way to get my work done while I'm busy living my life.  At the checkout counter, I might wonder about where my story should be set.  Or at dinner, I might glance around the restaurant making mental notes, or at a stadium, watching spectators or referees or coaches, I'm always examining their mannerisms, tone of voice, expressions and body language.  Daydreaming isn't just a luxury for me, it's a skill I use for writing.  
  3. Learning -- I love to research.  This is where I learn about my character's worlds, their motivations, what they do for a living, how they contracted that disease, why they ended up in trouble, what they studied in school, how to do their job, where they live, their hobbies, what they believe in, the way they love, if they are capable of hate.  In the process of reading and digging, and visiting places, the characters take form and become real to me.  By going deeper, oftentimes the story takes a surprising turn creating a twist in the plot that I didn't even see coming.  In doing research, building a plot, creating characters and propelling the story into action -- I also learn so much about my own motivations, what I would do in the same situation, and what I would never, ever do.  Even when I'm not researching, I'm still reading.  I'm a reader first and a writer second.  I have my favorite authors like anyone else, always waiting for their next release.  I've stood in line to get my books signed, completely tongue-tied when it comes time to speak with them.  Reading for pleasure is something I discovered very young in life and it's always been the way I learn the most.  Reading makes for better writing, everyone has heard that one, but it's true.  If you're not reading, you're not learning to write.  Reading the perfectly constructed sentence, a beautifully written scene, dialogue so real it makes me feel like I'm eavesdropping or when an author dazzles me, captures my imagination, touches my heart, takes me somewhere I've never been, shows me a character's humanity -- I'm learning and growing as a writer and a person.  And I love to learn.    
  4. Exploring -- In my other life, I'm certain I was an explorer, like Christopher Columbus or more likely, a Viking (I'm half Norwegian), not the angry type of Viking we all picture, more like the friendly ship's cook instead.  As half-Viking (I like how that sounds), it's in my blood to explore.  I cannot pass a street I've never been down more than a few times before finally making the turn to discover what's there.  This is a good thing, since I move so often, I love to discover new places and have little trouble with change.  I'm very adaptable to new environments.  I also have an innate curiosity about what's around the corner, over the hill, a few states over, across the border or oceans, even out beyond the universe.  I love to travel, learn about other cultures, religions, customs…who, what, where, when, why and how…always why?  In writing, I can travel anywhere inside my mind.  I can explore the world, set my narrative sail to wherever I want to go, and with research (see #3) I can find all the answers I need to help guide my exploration.  But even better, I often find myself climbing aboard trains and planes, or hitting the road by car to see and experience the places I'm writing about, even if I've already been there before.  I sometimes need to walk along the same pathways of my characters, see what they see, feel the breeze against my face too, touch the soil, taste the food, listen for the subtle intonations of the way people speak, absorb the true essence of the place, all so I can better understand my characters and their story.  I love to explore and find this aspect of writing most fascinating.
  5. Sharing -- There is nothing more gratifying in life than to share a gift with others.  The look on a child's face when you hand them a simple red balloon.  To me, that's what sharing my writing is all about.  I'm handing someone a shiny balloon, one that took hours and hours to fill with air, and my dream is that the balloon will touch their heart in some way.  After my first novel, Restoration was published, I met with several book clubs and listened to stories from readers about their own experiences with the central theme of the story, about love and loss.  One night, a reader shared her story of losing her first husband to cancer with the group.  She talked openly about her sadness she felt after her husband died, and how she met her current husband through a grief support group.  They'd all known her and her husband for years, but none of them knew she had been married before or that she was a widow.  She hadn't been able to talk about it before.  But, as she said, the book helped her in some way and she finally felt comfortable to share her story with the group.  Wow.  Right?  I realized in that moment, how powerful stories can be.  I'd felt that way before.  How a simple line in a novel had made me think about my own life and what I might need to change or do or say or feel to make things better.  Everyone has read a book that stayed with them for a long time, sometimes fiction, other times a memoir or a self-help book, even reading about history and what our forefathers went through can touch our souls.  Words are a special gift and carefully crafted they can touch the reader's heart, make us wonder, or dream, or even hope.  The greatest joy in sharing my novels with the public is when someone writes to me about how the story or characters or setting touched them in some way, how it made them feel.  I love the idea of readers and authors coming together as a community, sharing their thoughts, their stories, their hearts and their souls.  The act of sharing my words with others is what I love about writing novels most of all.    

My Life On The Lane is all about words and writing and novels and sharing these days, and I've never been happier with being an author.