Wednesday, July 3, 2013

At Main Point Books with Beth Kephart and Craig Johnson

At Main Point Books with Beth Kephart
Last week I spent a blissful couple of days helping my friend, Cathy Fiebach, who just opened an indie bookstore in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Main Point Books is as warm, smart and sunny as its owner. Since childhood, we've shared a passion for good books. It was her dream to open a bookstore and it was mine to be part of it for a few days. How often do you get to live a fantasy?

My favorite job was matching customers' individual tastes with new books, but the hardest work happens behind the scenes. Main Point Books is open 7 days a week, and Cathy is up at dawn placing orders, organizing author events, cleaning the bathroom and doing paperwork. I filed reams of book packing lists/invoices and learned all about Ingram, a book distributer. Empty shelf space indicates recent sales. Cathy's business savvy (a Warton MBA with experience in marketing) is as important as her love of fine literature. Her knowledge, energy and hours are making this bookstore a success. It helps to have such a welcoming and enthusiastic community too. And there's a cupcake store next door!

Many local authors stopped by, and it was a delight to meet (first photo) one of my favorite authors/bloggers, Beth Kephart, in person. I'd asked Cathy to order Beth's two historical YA novels, both set in Philadelphia. Dangerous Neighbors takes place during the Centennial and focuses on twin 16-year-old girls who dare to become involved with boys beneath their social class. Through extensive research, attention to detail and a fine ear for period dialect, Beth brings the past to the present. Dangerous Neighbors is a perfectly crafted novel; it's as tight as a short story with prose as lyrical as poetry:
"Then she steps through the hall and toward the front door, the whisper of her black skirt fading to silence." 
"Katherine saw how his eyes were like pieces of dark green-brown glass, shining and absorbing shine at the same time. She wondered if he'd seen her, then wondered why she cared..."
Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent  (impossible title to remember!) is a companion novel to Dangerous Neighbors. The protagonist is William, the boy with the "green-brown glass" eyes, who rescues lost animals in shantytown. My favorite character was a young goat (I love animals.) DRSR is a Dickensian story with a touch of Steinbeck's Cannary Row and gorgeous illustrations by William Sulit, Beth's talented husband. It's a younger and more masculine story, which I'd recommend to middle school boys and to fans of Dangerous Neighbors who miss the characters. The twins and their feminist/suffragette mother make a few appearances. Locals will be pleased to hear that Beth Kephart is planning a Main Point Books author visit.

Bestseller author Craig Johnson added an unscheduled stop to his book tour while visiting his daughter, who lives near Main Point Books. His Longmire mysteries have become a televised series, and his fans (men and women) came eagerly to hear him speak. Craig showed up in a 10-gallon hat, weathered jeans and cowboy boots, looking like he'd hitched his horse to the parking meter. He spoke eloquently about writing and shared many humorous anecdotes. His aim is to make the reader feel like he/she is sitting beside him on a barstool, not reading a book. Although western mystery is not my genre, I bought The Cold Dish, the first book in the series. Authors take note: you don't need to read your book out loud to gain a new reader, not if the story behind the story is equally interesting. Craig promised to return to Main Point Books - don't miss him.

Author Craig Johnson with Cathy Fiebach, owner of Main Point Books
It was hard to leave Main Point Books, my ideal bookstore. There's a cozy children's corner by the local author section. The big Young Adult section is beside Adult Fiction, making it easier for teens and for adults to crossover. We talked about renaming the Romance section New Adult. Nearly half the stock is non-fiction or memoir. Coming soon will be bookshelf blurbs from store employees and reviewers like me. I shall stay involved, even at a distance.

Follow Main Point Books on twitter for updates.
Reviewer's Disclosure: at my insistence, I was not compensated for my work in the bookstore (beyond food!) or for my reviews. I bought the three paperback books at Main Point Books. Dangerous Neighbors was edited by and dedicated to my new agent (before she shifted to agenting.) My online friendship with Beth stems from my appreciation of her blog and her books. Seems like a theme in my life...

Thank you, followers! Your encouraging comments on my last post helped. Revisions are nearly finished. There will be a final round of polishing once I get feedback from my agent, who is reading again. I haven't missed much summer. It's been raining in Maine for so many weeks on end that I've lost count. Mushrooms are springing up instead of wildflowers in our lawn. I even found one growing in the kids' bathroom (our 1920's home lacks central air conditioning.) When I went to print my manuscript, the paper kept curling up. I had to open a new pack of paper to keep the printer from jamming. This morning the rain has paused, but the trees are hiding in fog. This is my fault for mocking Seattle in my last review. I'm looking forward to catching up on your blogs soon. I've missed you too!


Carol said...

Sarah, I hope your Cathy's bookstore is a great success. I love the feeling of our local bookstores and being able to support local writers too. This is beautiful writing - "Then she steps through the hall and toward the front door, the whisper of her black skirt fading to silence."
"Katherine saw how his eyes were like pieces of dark green-brown glass, shining and absorbing shine at the same time. She wondered if he'd seen her, then wondered why she cared..." Those excerpts alone make me want to read the book. Best of luck with your own book!

troutbirder said...

I do love bookstores and libraries. This one sounds really neat. Welcome back, Sarah...

Beth Kephart said...

Sarah, this a beautiful memory of a lovely few days, in a part of town that is near and dear to me, in an establishment—an indie book store—that bodes so well for the future. Thank you for everything!

Anmiryam said...

Sarah, such a piece of serendipity to stumble upon this blog. I'm a Bryn Mawr resident who found my way to MPB as soon as Cathy opened and am looking forward to getting back there in the fall. In the meantime I'm ensconced a bit north of you, on Islesboro, for the summer trying to balance social activities with writing fiction and whipping my book blog into something resembling a viable sideline. Nice to find a Maine writer/blogger with a connection to home!

Sarah Laurence said...

Carol, I’m pleased to hear you have a local indie. We have one in my town in Maine too. I’d love to hear your reaction to Dangerous Neighbors if you read more. It's a YA novel but would cross over well to adults.

Troutbirder, thanks, it’s nice to be back.

Beth, it is so nice to share this memory with you.

Anmiryam, welcome to my blog! I enjoyed yours too. We do have a lot in common. I hope you missed our wet June in Maine. Happy sunny 4th of July and good luck with the writing!

CailinMarie said...

Hello Sarah, I stumbled across you via a comment left on Troutbirder's blog :-) and I am delighted to have done so. I don't live anywhere near Main Point Books but I am so happy for your friend to have opened her book store and wish her great success. I miss independent stores, in my town they are all part of big box stores and while one of them does go out of its way to hire good sales people who actually like to read (!) it isn't the same. I am adding your recommendations to my summer reading list. Happy Summer!

walk2write said...

It seems as if everyone who loves to read misses the indie bookstores. But would those same people really make the effort to visit the stores and make purchases there? I note a certain wistfulness in your excellent post, Sarah. Perhaps you wish to own a bookstore in your community?

A Cuban In London said...

it's funny because I was talking to one of my colleagues the other day and told him that if I could I would open either a book or music shop. And yet, sadly, both are on their way out. The independent type, mind. There are so many indie book and music shops closing all over the UK nowadays due to the threat from internet retailers. Great to hear about someone who still has that passion and desire to succeed in a very difficult field. I wish your friend the best of luck.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cailin, welcome to my blog! I enjoyed yours too. It’s so nice to connect with another indie bookstore lover. I’m working on a summer book list to post on Wednesday. Happy reading!

W2W, I love bookstores but wouldn’t have the time to run one of my own. Luckily there is no need. We have a good indie, Gulf of Maine Books, in my town and other indies in the neighboring towns. Maine is wonderful that way. Good point about indies relying on the community members investing in their success.

ACIL, if you open a book/music store in London, I’d come. Our American indies are making a strong revival after the big chain, Borders, failed. There’s an empty Borders building down the street from Main Point Books. If we all shop at indies, they will thrive.

Sarah Laurence said...

All, I should have added a big thank you to this post. I saw many of your book recommendations ( on the shelves of Main Point Books.

Jenn Jilks said...

A fun post! Thanks for the update on your absence!
We like Longmire. We bought the DVDs for those rainy, snowy long nights!
Happy writing!

Rose said...

I've always thought if I were to look for a part-time job, working in a bookstore would be my dream. You may have been helping out a friend, but I'm sure you had fun, too! Thanks for introducing me to Craig Johnson. I've seen "Longmire" a couple of times, and my husband really likes it. I didn't realize the show was based on a series of novels--I'll have to look for these.

Glad to hear the revision has gone well; hope to see your book on the shelves soon!

cynthia newberry martin said...

I LOVE this post. Before I started writing I dreamed of opening a book store--with a bicycle rack out front and home deliveries. I will put Maine Point Books on my list!

Sarah Laurence said...

Jennifer, let me know what you think of the show.

Rose, my husband is reading the book now. Thanks – I’m still working on my MS revisions. I dream about seeing it on a shelf at Main Point Books.

Cynthia, do stop by and say hello to Cathy from me. I’m guessing you’d get along well due to your similar reading taste.