On the Road? Find a Bookstore

Having recently made a voyage to Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, I was tickled to see this week’s New York Times article, Ann Patchett’s Guide for Bookstore Pilgrims. Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and I had been dying to see her famous bookstore. I reveled in the light and airy feel, the healthy children’s book section, and the entire wall of signed copies of her new book, COMMONWEALTH. I came home with a few goodies.

My trip wasn’t a pilgrimage per se. I was visiting Nashville anyway, and made a stop in to the store. That’s one of my favorite things to do when traveling. There’s nothing like a good independent bookstore to get a feel for the unique personality of a town (the cookbook section and community message boards are particularly good for this). Wandering through a well-curated bookstore is also the perfect antidote for the disorientation of travel. I come out calm and refreshed, my bag filled with thought-provoking entertainment for the trip and gifts for those back home. And no matter where I am, I always find my people in a bookstore.

In the past year, I’ve discovered The Galaxy Bookshop in Hartwick, Vermont, and Sherman’s Books & Stationery in Portland, Maine. In Chicago, I found Andersonville’s Women and Children First, and in Baltimore, The Ivy Bookshop.

Patchett’s article has inspired me. I’m putting on my bucket list a trip to an independent bookstore in every state. Our Indie Spotlights are a great place to start. I’ll check in from time to time on my progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your stories of stumbled-upon or sought-out bookstores. I’ve got trips planned to Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia; and maybe Anchorage. Any recommendations?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who is eager to visit your local bookstore. Until then, you can find her at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram, where she posts lots of pictures of books and bookstores. Also cats. 

How Do Writers Get Ideas?

question-mark Every time I do an author visit, I get asked this question, and I always stumble as I try to answer it. Most writers I know dread this question. How do we explain what happens in our brains? How do we describe the way everything we see, read, hear, and do generates story ideas?

Interesting ideas are all around us and seem to hop into our heads all day long. As John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.” Maybe the key is not how we get ideas, but what we do with them. Perhaps taking a peek into an author’s brain might clarify this process.

Say we walk into the grocery store and see a scruffy-looking girl with a backpack struggling to reach for a box of cereal. Nonwriters might think, “Poor girl, she looks a mess. I’m surprised her parents let her out of the house looking like that.” Or maybe, “I wonder where her parents are.” Some might judge her choice: “I can’t believe she’s picking that sugary cereal. Kids her age should have healthy breakfasts.” Caring souls might ask, “Do you need help reaching that cereal box, honey?” Suspicious people might wonder: “She doesn’t look like she can afford that. I hope she’s not planning to shoplift.”

dogWriters may think those thoughts too, but then their brains start racing. Hmm…what if she’s a mess because her family’s homeless, and this is their only food for the day? Where might they be living? In a homeless shelter? In their car? What would it be like to live there, and how did they end up there? What would a little girl like that want or need if she were living in a car? And the writer is off, plotting a new story or maybe even two. Perhaps all those questions might lead to a story like Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog, where a girl living in a car is lonely and wants a pet so badly she decides to steal one.

Or the writer might think: That girl looks sad. What if her mom left, and her dad doesn’t pay much attention to her? Maybe she’s lonely and needs a friend. What if a stray dog wandered into the grocery store, and the girl tried to save it? Maybe similar thoughts ran through Kate DiCamillo’s head as she plotted Because of Winn Dixie, the story of a girl who misses her mother and adopts a stray dog.winn-dixie

Perhaps the writer notices the girl looks neglected. Her next thought might be: What if she looks so scruffy because her parents are dead. Maybe she lives with mean relatives who don’t take good care of her. But what if the relatives don’t realize she has secret powers? Hmm… what if she goes to a magical school and… Oh, I wonder if it would be better if it were a boy, and he goes to wizard school. The plot could easily turn into Harry Potter.harry

Another writer might think, That girl’s all alone. What if that older lady choosing a carton of oatmeal befriends her? Maybe the two of them could form an unusual friendship. Or wait… What if the old lady is a kidnapper, and when she sees the girl alone, she pretends to help her and she invites the girl back to her house and…

Or maybe the girl’s only pretending to look at cereal, but she’s really been stalking the older lady… Why would she do that? What if she thinks the lady is the grandmother she’s never met? Is it really her relative? If so, why wouldn’t she have met her grandmother? Maybe her mother ran away from home as a teen? So how did the girl discover the grandmother’s whereabouts? Will the grandmother be overjoyed to discover she has a grandchild? How will the mother react when she finds out?

And once again, several story ideas have formed in the writer’s mind. He can’t wait to get home and jot them down. Or if he carries a small notebook, as most writers do, he’ll scribble some notes in it. The whole way home, his brain will be whirling with what-if questions.

A fantasy writer might look at the girl and think: What if she took that box of cereal home, and a fairy popped out when she was having breakfast? Maybe the fairy could grant her one wish. I wonder what she’d wish for. It looks like her family needs help. Oh, but what if she has a brother who’s deathly ill? Would she give up her wish to save him?

Or the writer’s thoughts might run in other directions. What if the fairy was bad at spells and messed up the wishes? Wouldn’t it be funny if… Or What if that isn’t a backpack, but a jet pack? She could fly off with that cereal. But where would she go? And how did she get that jetpack in the first place? Once again, the writer has the seeds of plot or two.

We could keep going with story ideas just from seeing one girl in a grocery store. Now imagine living inside a writer’s head. Everything sparks ideas for stories. We’re always asking questions about what could happen. Or wondering why people do things. And everyone we see or meet becomes a potential story. Yes, even you. So beware when you’re around a writer. You never know when they might make up a story about you.

But what about you? Can you think like a writer? As you go through your day, ask yourself: Who is this person really? Why is she doing what she’s doing? What would he be like if he lived in another country or on another planet? What if that person is only pretending to be a teacher? What if she’s a superhero in disguise or a kid (or animal) who switched bodies with an adult? What if something magical or unusual happened to her? What if this person got into trouble? Who would save him? What does that person dream of? How could I make her wish come true in a story? What does that person need? What’s the scariest idea I can come with about this person? The most unusual idea?

Ideas are all around us. You don’t need magic to create a story, only a little imagination, a lot of curiosity, and many, many questions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is now an author who has written more than 2300 articles and 30 books under several pen names, including Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. To come up with ideas for her books, she people-watches and eavesdrops on conversations in public places, which starts her brain racing with questions. To find out more about Laurie, visit her website and blog.

Gifts for the Bookish Types

I nearly titled this post My Holiday Wish List, but  I thought that might be too personal and only my family would read it. So, I decided to broaden the scope just a bit. Here’s a list of gift ideas for anyone who loves books. (And if you happen to be in my family: pay attention!)

Bookplates  Bookplates come in all forms. I found some great traditional sticky Charley Harper bookplates at The Wooster Book Company last month.  I think these Bookplate Stamps  are pretty fun, too!

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Click the link for more than a dozen styles and options! (Mom, I just can’t decide which one, so you pick for me, OK?)

 

 

 

 

Book embossers If sticking or stamping your name into your books isn’t permanent enough, you could always engrave it right into the paper with a super-cool book embosser from Horchow.com.zzembosser

Book scarves Wrap up your shopping with one of these! zz-john-green-scarves zzjgscarf

Several different John Green quote scarves are available here.  And, if your reader prefers classics, find some sweet Jane Austen, Dickens, and Anne of Green Gables scarves here.  (Dear daughter, I already have the Alice in Wonderland scarf, so maybe the Jane Eyre one? Hint. Hint.)

Literary Phone Cases  The reader on your list would love one of these!

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You’ll find a million different book-related phone cases here. (I may be exaggerating just a bit, but there are pages and pages of them!)

Literary ornaments  I could have a whole tree of these! Aren’t they awesome? Find A Wrinkle in Time, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web and a hundred more (I’m not exaggerating!) at Novel Adornments Etsy shop.  I could have a whole tree of these. (I know I said that already, but it seemed worth repeating. Ahem.)

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Wax and seal kits Some readers are writers, but all readers love the mystery of a sealed letter. Give your reader a wax and seal with their monogram.

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A wand for your wizard  Is your wizard a Luna Lovegood? Or a Neville Longbottom? A Lupin, Weasley, or Krum? There’s a wand for every wizard here!  (Honey, I think I’m a Trelawny. Just saying.)

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And who’d have dreamed that these are even a thing?

Periodic Table of World Literature   Yes. You heard me. Who says there’s nothing scientific about being a book nerd? You’ll find the proof here.

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Candles, Lip Balm, and Beard Oil   With scents that include Unicorn Breath, Narnia Forest, and Gatsby’s Shoreline, you’ll find candles and lip balm for the reading ladies on your list and, yep, beard oil for the headmaster of your holidays if you stop by From the Page.

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Library card socks  While you’re here buying library card socks, check out all the other bookish clothing at www.outofprintclothing.com.

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The greenest book mark you’ve ever seen.  Find your page or grow a garden. It’s up to you with Green Marker.

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So, now my family is well prepared to start their shopping. I hope the rest of you got a few ideas as well.

P.S., Honey (and the rest of you)– Shop early! Some personalized, customized, and handmade items take a bit longer to ship. (Wink.)

Michelle Houts is the author of many books for young readers. She loves gift-giving and takes pride in being “the book aunt” in her family. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @mhoutswrites , on Facebook, and at www.michellehouts.com.