A Note to Fellow Bookstore Owners: What Writers Really Need

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my many years as a writer, it’s that I don’t always want what I need. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two years as a bookstore owner, it’s that I can provide what indie writers need…even if it isn’t what they always want.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores are sometimes a distant dream for writers. We all wish to have our books on the shelves at a bookstore. We’d love to have that happen automatically. Publish a book, get it on the shelf. But except for virtual shelves, this is a sometimes unreachable dream. Even if you happen to have a “local” brick-and-mortar in your community, if you walk in a lot of times you’ll find the same thing you find in large chain bookstores, and, too often now, wildly discounted big box stores.

And these local bookstores often have restrictive guidelines and requirements for carrying local indie authors.

What writers need is a home for their books. A place they can be on the shelf. Surviving as a bookstore in today’s world of fruit and kindling beamed right to your phone can be difficult. Surviving as one voice shouting in a room full of other people can be even harder. Local bookstores and local authors need to work together to accomplish what they both need: more local authors willing to sell their books on consignment instead of expecting local bookstores to order them along with James Patterson’s latest—and more stores willing to give local authors a chance to see their books on the shelf.

I was in one of those “million books” type stores a few weeks ago (don’t judge me!). I took a peek at the Local Interest section. I was shocked to see “local” interests like the Blue Ridge Parkway…in Virginia! But the worst was a book about lobster fishermen in Maine! That’s what passes for local interest when the folks who order your books don’t live locally.

I’ve been in other small, local bookstores as well. They definitely try harder to maintain that local flavor. But once you start ordering new books, it’s an easy slide to devoting more space to Stephen King and Clive Cussler than the local authors who walk in off the street. Bestsellers are bestsellers for a reason. Name recognition. And a poetry book by local poet Michelle Garren Flye isn’t going to hold up very well when it’s sitting next to Amanda Gorman’s latest— Okay, there might be more reason than just name recognition for that…I love her!

But you get my point, right, authors and booksellers? Work together. A very famous “local” author (Nicholas Sparks) once told me “the cream rises to the top.” I think he meant that as encouragement. I’m taking it as heartfelt advice. My store is the churn. Readers do the churning. The local authors who end up on my “Bestselling Local Author” table are the cream.

We need more churns and authors willing to sell their ingredients for a percentage of the take.

What local bookstores need: a good local author section. What they want? A bookstore cat as great as Derby! (Photo by Michelle Garren Flye, local author and poet…and bookstore owner)

A List for Looking Back, a Poem for Looking Forward

Sometimes life just decides to take a bite out of our lives, our happiness, our capacity to feel joy. That was my 2021.

I’m trying to fight back by leaving the loss of joy behind me with the change of the year. But I can’t help looking back. Even as I know that’s not where joy is going to come from.

There are many reasons I can’t stop peeking into the rearview mirror of life. Unresolved issues. Unspoken words. A plethora of both unwarranted and earned emotions.

But as I steal glances into my recent past, I see some bright spots, too, even if they were tinged with the grey of all of the above.

  • Becoming the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate
  • Earning some much-deserved recognition for my bookstore (check out the January 2022 issue of Our State Magazine!)
  • Publishing two illustrated poetry books (UnSong and 100 Warm Days of Haiku) and two issues of The Next Chapter Litearary Magazine
  • Deepening friendships and making new ones
  • Learning (through necessity) I can do more than I ever gave myself credit for—and enjoying it!

It’s impossible to know what’s coming in 2022. If there’s one thing the past two years have taught us, it’s that. But I’m choosing to believe that whatever is in my rearview mirror, joy is still out there for me. Somewhere on the horizon ahead.

I’m calling this one Truth.

Us artsy types have a hard time owning our talents. It feels like bragging. So we wait for others to validate us with reviews or compliments. But those waits can be a long time coming because those who aren’t artsy aren’t necessarily going to notice us.

That’s why authors have such a hard time with promotion. (Nobody wants to hear me talking about my books all the time. It’ll just get on their nerves.)

That’s why artists can all too often be convinced to give away their work. (I’m just happy it’s going to a good home and will be appreciated.)

It’s not fair, you know. Nobody asks a doctor to provide free medical service because it’s what they’re good at and doctors would just laugh if they did. Because it’s a business they’ve worked hard to be a part of.

Well, so is art. So is writing. So are any number of other creative ventures. At least, we’d like them to be.

Someone once compared my style of graphic art to an adult coloring book. And I let them. Well, no more. Because it’s more than that and I’m determined to own it. To demonstrate that I’m giving you the original picture I traced onto the iPad and the final product. I’m calling this one Truth.

Taking Steps: A Poetry Reading About Winter

As a poet laureate, I’m supposed to be spreading my love of poetry far and wide. As someone who is less than enamored with the sound of her own voice, this is a difficult charge for me. However, as I take this position seriously, today I impulsively decided to record a short poetry reading and post it on social media. I selected two poems about winter. The first is, ahem, not mine but by a poet you might recognize. The second is mine, one of my favorites that I wrote last year about this time. The video below is of the impromptu reading I conducted in my bookstore. It’s the first in my series, Poetry Readings, which will be posted on my Instagram account, michellegflye.

Grateful

Last night I saw this rose blooming by my doorstep.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I had been feeling pretty bleak about the holiday. My life is not what it was a year ago. But when I saw that rose, I paused for a second. That rose must be pretty damn determined to bloom because it’s been downright cold the past couple of nights. It made me think about my attitude.

Yes, one part of my life sucks. But there are so many other aspects that really don’t. I have my kids and my store, my new home and my pets (especially Derby of the magical purr). I have my family and more friends than I really deserve. And I am grateful. For each and every one of these things, I am heartfelt, on my knees grateful.

Sometimes, when things are tough, we forget there are always things to be grateful for. And sometimes if you start counting the small things you have, you realize there are some pretty big things to be grateful for also. And if there aren’t at the moment, then concentrate on the beauty of those small things. Remember, rose bushes start out as tiny seeds.

Happy thanksgiving.

Coincidence or Synchronicity? Spooky ties! And an angel?

I’m currently embroiled in putting the finishing touches to the fourth issue of The Next Chapter Literary Magazine. I’ve often been bewildered (in a good way) by the way synchronicity works in my life. My bookstore for instance. Derby, my bookstore cat, for another. If I hadn’t been on Facebook at the right time, I’d never have seen his picture. And his magical purr would never have been there to help me through the hardest time of my life thus far.

Back to happier thoughts, though. This issue has had its share of confusingly coincidental happenings. I decided back in the summer to use a photo that was submitted for the last issue as the cover for this issue and use the theme of history. I invited one of the local authors to write the introduction. And everything fell together from there, from the submissions I received to the dedication.

Maybe I’ve read too much scifi and fantasy, but I’m a firm believer that there is a force that holds us all together. Some believe it’s their god. Some think the earth itself binds us. Jedi call it “The Force” (based loosely on the Chinese belief in “chi”). Maybe it’s just gravity.

I believe we are more of a hive mind than we’d like to let on, and that mind spans our history as well as our present and possibly our future. Hear me out. There might even be a scientific explanation for it.

In 2016, physicist Ronald Hanson proved Einstein’s dismissal of “spooky action at a distance” wrong by separating two entangled quantum particles to a significant distance and performing experiments on them, noting that the separated particle reacted in the same way as the one being experimented on. Or something like that. At any rate, the experiment proved spooky action was possible at a distance. So there was a tie between those two particles.

The universe is full of these ties, and I believe they can affect lives. But maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe it’s the work of angels. Back in the summer on a day when I was feeling particularly badly about my life, a lovely woman with a cheerful smile and an enthusiastic attitude walked into the store. She exclaimed over everything in the store and bemoaned that she hadn’t brought her wallet with her. She said she’d be back. As she left, she looked over her shoulder and said, “I’m Joy and I’ll be seeing you.”

I haven’t seen her since…but I believe I will.

The next Next Chapter. Coming January 2022. Copyright 2021.

Facing Fear

Last weekend I and most of my kids (one was, sadly, too sick) went to Scarowinds. (That’s Carowinds on select nights during the Halloween season.) Our entire purpose in going was to visit the haunted mazes and let Scarowinds actors scare the bejeezus (that’s old-fashioned Southern slang for “crap”) out of us.

I approached the first maze quakingly. My son’s girlfriend asked if we needed to go to the bathroom. “I can hold it,” I said, and she gave me a dubious look. “I hope,” I added and we both laughed.

I managed to hit four haunted mazes during our time at Scarowinds, and we walked through “scare zones” in the park where Scarowinds actors would randomly turn and scream in your ear or yell “boo!”. It truly seemed at times like they were picking on me, like maybe it’s sort of fun to scare the old lady. I got several excellent scares during our time there. And I laughed after each one.

Fear doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it did even six months ago. I look back on the timid, shy, afraid-of-my-own-shadow-and-especially-of-public-speaking person I was then and cringe a little. I’d never, really, lived on my own then, having basically gone from my parents’ care to my husband’s. I’m living on my own now. I’ve been busy creatively, too. I’ve given a couple of public speeches, one of them (a 20-minute one!) earning me the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate award.

And that’s not all.

I kill my own cockroaches and spiders. (Not saying there aren’t still some spiders I’d just as soon leave the house to instead of facing!)

Speaking of houses, I bought one.

I published a book of illustrated haiku that revealed way too much of my heart.

I haven’t unpublished said book. Because I think it has a message that may help others.

I know that I have led a fortunate life. I know there are some traumas and fears that humans can be forced to face that the human soul will never come back from. But I’ve discovered something important. When you are forced to face a real fear that you can come back from, fear doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.

The old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” isn’t exactly right, because dealing with fear and trauma does kill parts of you no matter what. It’s just a question of how much. But you might say, “If you are forced to deal with something you fear, you probably won’t be as easy to scare anymore.”

Nothing against Scarowinds. It was hugely fun and entertaining. But fun, artificial frights don’t scare me anymore.

Derby the Next Chapter Cat expresses his thoughts about fear… 😉

Poem: Invitation by Michelle Garren Flye

It’s ironic that the coldest part of my life thus far fell during the summer I was writing 100 Warm Days of Haiku, but that’s the way life works sometimes, I suppose. At any rate, this cool fall morning I woke up and realized I felt warm again. I can’t tell you why. Again, I suppose it’s just the way life and the heart work.

Maybe now I should start writing warm poetry?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

But I did write one today. And here it is.

Copyright 2021 Michelle Garren Flye