Tag Archives: St. Martin’s Press

The Monday Book: WHERE THE MOON ISN’T by Nathan Filer

moonPart of the fun of the Monday book is how a volume reaches me. We can admit that acquisition sets up expectation –a friend you admire recommends a book, and you track it down. You find an intriguing title in the bargain section of a second-hand shop, and you think, “Nothing to lose.” How you get the book starts you down the path.

So I knew I was in for something good when my editor, Nichole, mailed me this one with the single comment: “This book is very close to my heart.” (She edited the American version.)

Published in the UK as Shock of the Fall, this is a book about mental and physical illness. Matt’s brother, a physically handicapped lad, dies tragically, and it’s pretty much Matt’s accidental fault. Matt loses himself, as does his mom, but they cope and recover in different ways.

Matt’s voice is so clear, his character so well drawn, that I found myself in the happy position of looking forward to bedtime each night, so I could see what happened to the poor kid next.

Nathan Filer’s background as a psychiatric nurse really shows in his writing; he knows whereof he speaks. In fact, the book recently won what used to be called the Whitbread Prize (now Costa) in the UK–which is a BIIIIIIG good thing–and one of the repeated phrases of the judges was how amazingly “sure-footed” the writing is for a first-time novelist.

“Sure-footed” encapsulates what captured me about Moon. You totally believe in Matt as a person, have known people like him, but also get glimpses into what it must be like to realize you have a mental illness, to be self-aware and intelligent about it, and yet still be sick. Brilliant, this book was, at making the strange normal and the normal strange.

Just so you know, Nichole has recommended books to me in the past that I didn’t like, so my glowing review is not because she’s our shared editor. As witness, I present the fuzzy picture at the top of this post. That dark blue book is Where the Moon Isn’t. I took it with me on a recent trip to DC while promoting Little Bookstore (the fuzzy beige book below Moon). See that cat in the suitcase? (Yeah, the fuzzy white thing in the middle.) That’s Owen Meany, named for a book Nichole recommended highly in fairly authoritative terms. I hated A Prayer for Owen Meany, and still do. (Heck, call that a plot?)

So that cat is the only way Owen Meany will ever grace my personal bookshelf, Nichole, but you were right about Moon; it will stay in my heart and mind for a long time.

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Filed under animal rescue, bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table

What if Editors SOLD Books (in Big Stone Gap)?

nicholeRegular readers will know that I spent a week in NYC last month, doing a couple of events and goofing off visiting my editor Nichole (in the photo) and agent Pamela. During the course of the week, Jack and I were delighted to have a conversation with Ken, head of independent bookstore sales for Macmillan, and his assistant Matt; we talked about coping mechanisms for small guys, marketing strategies for big guys, and the very hopeful demographics showing rises from 2011-2013 not only in sales of books at indie bookstores, but in the number of indie bookstores that are out there.
After the conversation, Nichole made the casual comment that she wished she knew more about how indie bookstores sold books. “It’s like the Gold Standard of bookselling, the handsell. And I’ve certainly recommended lots of books to lots of people, but I’ve never stood in a shop and sold one.”
Thus an idea was born. Nichole and her trusty assistant Laura have been saying repeatedly they’d love to visit Big Stone Gap. In addition, my publicist Jessica is from Richmond, VA, and she’s never been to the more rural climes. So here’s my cunning plan: we need people to explain to Nichole’s editor-in-chief why Nichole and Laura and Jess could really use a week of handselling experience in a small town.laura chasen
Wouldn’t it be great to have Nichole and Laura (in the photo) and Jess spend a few days RUNNING The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap?  Pamela, my agent, has often said that if prospective authors who send pitches to agents had to sell the books they were pitching, they’d change their pitch—and tune. You have to know what will and won’t sell—and how to sell it—to write a good query letter.
Nichole and I have often talked about the failed algorithms of A**zon, how people who want to read books that don’t quite fit a specific category can’t find them, don’t know they’re out there, and how sales reps (that is, those who sell books in bulk to bookstores from publishers) have to make things easy for the stores and build their own relationships of trust in order to do their jobs well. And that there’s a disconnect between the writers, the editorial shapers, and the sellers. Think of it: Manhattan’s finest editors bridging those gaps (in The Gap!).
jessicaSo here’s what we need: leave a comment on this blog saying why Nichole and Laura and Jess (in the photo of her birthday dinner with us in NYC) should get to spend a week (okay, three days) running our shop. (Don’t worry about Pamela and her assistant Michelle; we have a completely different plan for them.) And while the trio are down here we can show them a good time. Please, in your comments, explain why this is a good idea to Nichole’s boss (who will be interested).
And if Nichole and Laura and Jess get to visit, we’ll throw a party, and y’all can come say hi!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing


Jack’s guest blog this week discusses the family of booksellers, from NYC to BSG

Our second NYC visit, to meet up with Wendy’s editorial team at St Martins Press and her agent Pamela, has been great. We were a little more confident about surviving in the Big Apple this time, even able –with the assistance of ‘shop-sitter’ Andrew–to navigate our way around the subway system and cross streets without getting knocked down.

Another reason for being there was an event Jess (our lovely publicist) had organized at Word Up Books, on Thursday evening. Organizer Veronica met us at the door and immediately said how much she had been looking forward to welcoming us as she had read ‘The Little Bookstore’ with growing recognition of everything Wendy had written about pertaining to their store. “Been there, done that”!

What impressed me most about ‘Word Up’ was how it met our paradigm of what a bookstore should be – truly a community center in its neighborhood. Started a couple of years ago as what was meant to be a very temporary ‘Pop-Up’ store lasting for a week in an empty building, it was so successful that the locals demanded it stay on. First it was a month, then another couple of months and finally a permanent institution. It had to eventually move to different premises and ‘crowd-funded’ the necessary $70,000 opening costs in just a few weeks!

Run entirely by volunteers, Word Up provides a space for all sorts of activities, and always have coffee on the go as well. They keep their costs down by getting donations of used books, plus support from the publishing industry itself in the form of seconds, overstocks, and even editors slipping in a few books to handsell—a win-win for authors, publicists, and sellers alike.

We learned that a neighborhood in New York can also be a ‘small town’ just like Big Stone Gap and has the same needs. This neighborhood had a mix of Spanish speakers from all over the world, plus the usual NYC melting pot and the bookstore specializes in Spanish language reading, but also caters for those other cultures

Finally – our event felt like a real family affair as Wendy’s agent Pamela and Pamela;s assistant Michelle, editor Nichole with her assistant Laura, publicist Jessica, shop-sitter Andrew and his significant other Ali, plus Veronica, store owner Gio, and a phalanx of small business owners from the community joined shop regulars. They made us feel like celebrities, but even more fun, we got to talk books and business, and the business of books, with people who live and breathe it as we do.

Woo Hoo – –

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Another Cuppa Pee, Luv?

When Jack and I first visited my NYC editor Nichole and agent Pamela in 2012, we landed as two country mice, tails tucked and whiskers quivering, eyes big with wonder. This year, we rolled into Penn Station, pulled out the iPhone, and started texting. Pamela picked us up, hailed a cab, and off we drove to our cheery Inwood hideaway for a cozy cafe dinner and a catch-up.

The next day we met our old shopsitter Andrew Whalen for a fun day hiking Central Park and shopping for overpriced duvet covers in trendy Soho. Yeah, we know how to live large in the Big Apple; we bought housewares.

Back to the flat for a post-dinner glass of wine and catch-up with David and Nichole, whose place we were crashing. We cracked open a bottle of red and Jack’s ubiquitous single malt as Nichole launched into a story….

Up until recently, David (an opera singer by trade) was the president of the apartment building coop, housing some 30 families of various eccentricities. There’s Mrs. M downstairs; “she’s 140.” There’s the dour Bulgarians. And there’s the lady who sublet her second bedroom to a succession of roommates, all of whom were “okay guys, because they’re friends of my boyfriend.”

That ringing endorsement kept the truth from surfacing at first, when a guy on the fourth floor complained to David that the pile of old wood left after a renovation was attracting neighborhood dogs. The urine smell forced him to leave his windows closed.

David asked the super to move the stuff, but a week later the smell was back. And the tenant smelling it said, “Weird. I hear ‘splat’ and then the odor wafts up.”

As David and the pee-smelling man sat discussing the problem, a Dixie cup went flying past the window–followed by a splat and a smell of urine. “CHOCKS AWAY!”

David went to the super and explained what he’d seen. He had a hard time explaining it, because he was still having a hard time believing he’d seen it. “No, seriously with my own eyes, a Dixie cup and it was pee, I’m telling you, it was pee, from the fifth or sixth floor!”

One can only imagine the poor super’s response: “You takin’ the piss?”

Meanwhile, Nichole –who had been working some pretty long hours that month–put two and two together to reach five. She deduced that the odd man in 6C was holding his wife’s parents hostage in the smaller bedroom. “We never see them, and Mia’s looking so pale and wan these days. That must be it!!” She began planning an intervention that may or may not have involved Kevlar.

Meanwhile II, the building super–who’d really had it with the flying pee stories, but was just flat alarmed by the request for a battering ram–went and sat in a tree across from the apartment in question with a pair of night vision goggles and a black light. And waited.

When the pee flew, it came not from the flat with the weird man Nichole “just knew” was holding his in-laws hostage, but from the one with the string of successive roommates. When confronted, Subrenter denied everything, but the super hadn’t spent the last five hours in a tree to put up with more crap. Subby got voted out by the building’s coop members.

As we collapsed with mirth around the coffee table, Nichole admitted to feeling guilt over her preparations to storm the sixth floor. Would the family have been sitting, drinking tea, when the intervention team barged in? “Oh, hello there. Cuppa, anyone?”

Amid the general hilarity, Nichole, choking on a giggle, added, “I know people in other places think we have these big grand lives, but this is what it comes down to: little, and busy, and problems to solve!”

Big, little, and in-between, we had a grand night discussing the best place to buy a cheap duvet cover and the fastest way to evict a guy who flings pee out the window in Dixie cups. And it just goes to show, the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Of course it is; the fool in 6F has been fertilizing it.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

A Spy in the House of Books

by guest blogger Ali Fisher – read on to find out WHO she REALLY is….

The secret’s out. The jig is up. My alias has been compromised. It’s time for me to come clean: there’s a spy in the house of books and I AM THAT SPY. This is my story.

Full disclosure: I work in the Library Marketing Department of Wendy’s publisher. Even fuller disclosure-er: I’m shopsitter Andrew’s aforementioned special lady friend. Since this is a tell-all post I’ll give it to you straight; those connections gave me the in I needed to launch my top secret operation. My mission? To verify the bizarre and outlandish stories from Wendy’s memoir and to–ehem–test the claim that “Virginia is for lovers.”

Hereafter are the declassified findings of my undercover investigation…

Holy crap! Everyone is so welcoming here!

I don’t know how I managed to plan this trip for just the right weekend, but after a few relaxing days touring the countryside, breakfasting at the Mutual, browsing books, and warming my lap with pets of various temperaments, I wrangled an exclusive invite to a shopsitter-going-away/locals-double-birthday/cast-of-Wendy’s-memoir party at the very bookstore under my observation.

I was warned that the evening would be super casual, so I knew I needed to adjust my go-to spy entrance (normally I would parachute onto the roof, remove my gear mid-somersault, dive down the chimney, emerge in sequined evening wear and grab a glass of champagne off of a nearby platter). Therefore, I made a rare and oft-dangerous decision for me–to cook something. Fortunately I had an easy, no-bake ace up my sleeve: Smitten Kitchen’s salted brown butter crispy treats. I didn’t even have to lace them with truth serum to get people to tell me the REAL stories behind the stories.

Not to Be Combined With Salsa

My conclusion: Wendy told it like it is. The characters of Big Stone Gap are every bit as wonderful, welcoming, and slightly strange as she said. You should probably come see for yourself.

As for my field research on the claim that Virginia is for lovers… well now, that’s classified.

Editor’s note: No it isn’t; the earth moved while you were here. :]

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A St. Martin’s Princess

Jack and I took the train to NYC, two country mice with tails tucked between their unfashionable trouser legs, big-eyed and trembling about the whiskers. St. Martin’s Press, where we were to lunch with my editor and marketing/publicity team, is in the famous Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue.

Yeah, that’s exactly what it sounds like: cool to the edge of intimidating.

Me in the hallowed halls of Harold Ober, an office of satisfyingly dark wood bookshelves and hushed literary ambiance. Also, you can see why my hair made people wonder about the bag lady thing.

Jack pulled our wheelie like a faithful pet behind us, and I carried one of those sturdy plastic grocery bags favored by bag ladies, and we meandered in a stair-step pattern along through the flower district, up the mighty 5th, past a lot of very expensive loft apartments. New Yorkers are famous for not paying attention to the people around them, but I saw a few furtive glances cast my way. I had clothes tucked into the bag, making it bulky, and the cheerful orange face and black button eyes of a large stuffed cat peeped from the top along with a hairbrush and a few toiletries in a plastic bag. I looked like a bag lady wearing a nice blazer and trousers. Plus it was raining, so my naturally thick hair had started to frizz. People couldn’t decide if I were off my meds, or just a professional woman who couldn’t find her briefcase.

In this Clampett-esque manner we arrived, slightly wet but exuberant at having found the place, in the lobby of the esteemed Flatiron, where I prepared to produce photo ID and explain the cat. The doorman smiled at us. “And you will be the visiting author they’re expecting. 18th floor, turn right, I’ll buzz Laura that you’re here.”

Well, that was easy. He never said a word about the cat.

Upstairs Laura, the editorial assistant dancer with the beautiful build and gorgeous hair and bubbly personality, met us at the elevator door. “WENDY!” She settled us into an office and offered us “good tea or bad coffee” as we chatted until the extraordinary Nichole arrived. It’s so cool to meet in the flesh those who have had such an influence on your life in the day-to-day. We picked up Marketer Cassie and Publicist Kim (or, as I thought when meeting them, Sister Dark/Sister Light; both are gorgeous women, slender with long hair and bright, observant eyes. But Kim looks as though she were crafted from porcelain, while Cassie was carved from a strong fine-grain wood.)

Off the team traipsed to lunch at a great Indian restaurant, chosen in Jack’s honor, where we talked about query letters (there’s a wall of shame in the office where people put what Nichole aptly describes as her built-in bullshit detector to the test) and the future of big publishing houses and little bookstores, and the general glory of getting to work with words all day, their way or mine.

All through lunch, if Jack or I mentioned something we’d heard about NYC, or thought might be fun to do, somebody offered to help us do it. We didn’t contribute to the lunch fund. We were taken to the top of the building to the point end for “the best view in NYC.” (Here I distinguished myself in a Big Stone Gap way; looking down on a veritable stream of yellow, I said, “Wow, so many cabs on the street!” When I looked up, John the incredibly powerful executive whose office we had crashed, was gazing at me with paternal benevolence. I grinned. “Small town girl.” He grinned back. “Everyone says something like that.”)

Pamela and her bunny, Louise, the world’s most famous literary rabbit.

From here we were to rejoin Pamela, agent extraordinaire, some 25 blocks up the way. She’d been to lunch but had to head straight back to do agenty bits before Friday ended. Besides, it was fun to walk up–although we were offered a subway card and a cab. The whole weekend was like that: mention something, ask a question, and the mechanism started up unless you stopped it. I actually said to the girls, while back at their offices passing out small gifts to them, “Could you turn that Princess Author thing off? I’m not used to having my every whim granted.” They grinned big grins with knowing eyes. These are smart women, and they like their jobs. Unless I miss my guess, they also like people.

For someone from a small town, NYC is one big television set. Leaving that fascinating lunch with the team of SMP women who had edited, marketed and publicized Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, we people-watched in the streets as we made our way to Pamela, but forgot the address at the last minute, so I ducked in and asked a doorman for help. He courteously hauled out his cell phone, asked me to spell Harold Ober Agency, and stepped outside to point to which building it was. I hadn’t expected people downtown to be so polite to those of us who clearly don’t belong there–remember, I had a bulky plastic bag with a cat face peeking out over my arm–but he was neither condescending nor brusque, just a nice guy helping someone who needed it.

Jack at peace in the pretty and comfortable flat provided for us. It was a lovely place to retire to after the music of taxi horns and the fun of wandering around Greenwich Village.

Pamela took us to a Lebanese restaurant of incredible courses and ambiance–again, because she’d asked “what kind of food do you like and not get very often.” Then she hand-delivered us in a taxi to the flat where we’d been offered hospitality. Saturday Pamela showed us around Greenwich Village–which Jack will be blogging about in a couple of days–and Sunday Nichole (who btw is staff kitten Owen Meany’s godmama) cooked us brunch in her flat before we headed out. Her tiny and adorable daughter exhibited finger paintings while Dad and Grandpa talked music with Jack. It was not the quintessential inner-city experience of a visiting author, but a “friends for Sunday brunch” type day. Most pleasant—and delicious. Nichole bakes her own bread and her mother makes a killer raspberry jam.

So it was fun, especially because we had friends inside the clockworks showing us how they worked, taking us places and treating us like visiting royalty. One would not want to get used to this as a lifestyle, but for three days it was most pleasant being a St Martin’s Princess.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Invasion of the Life Swappers (NYC style)

I happen to know, based on very good intelligence, that Jack and Wendy are even now walking the streets of New York City. I can only assume their goal is to replace me and live out my life as I live out theirs. It’s like Freaky Friday, but less Jodie Foster, Barbara Harris, Lindsay Lohan, and Jamie Lee Curtises.

Luckily, I thought ahead and laid a few traps:

– I let all the other New Yorkers know to be really gruff and short-tempered. I only heard back from the cab-drivers, police officers, and subway employees… hopefully that’ll be enough.

– I pumped a lot of hot dog stink into the air and let all my pet rats go in the subway.

– That top lock to my apartment is super sticky. You’ll never get it undone.

– I told the exterminator not to bother with his monthly visit (Hint: the floor in my apartment doesn’t usually crunch like that).

But just in case this freaky Friday (not sure when this will be posted, but I wrote it on Friday!) never ends and I live out my life in Big Stone Gap while Jack and Wendy chill on my couch in Brooklyn, I’ll be making some changes around here.

– I’m now telling people that there’s a typo in Wendy’s book: “Yeah, they made a printing error. It’s supposed to say Andrew Whalen on the cover, but they misspelled it.”

– I renamed the store. You don’t want to know what it’s called now.

– All your friends? Stole ‘em.

– My proposal to rename the town Big Stone gAndrew hasn’t gained traction yet. I’m still optimistic.

But seriously, Jack and Wendy, have a nice time. And don’t eat all the pizza! I might want some later.

Editorial note from Wendy: Andrew doesn’t know that we looked up Ali Fisher, his girlfriend, and told her a few things. We praised Andrew’s increase of our 18-25 female demographic; we rarely had college girls in the shop before he came, but there’s been a veritable stream of them since his arrival. She seemed intrigued.

We also mentioned all the maternal types in town who have been dropping off stews, soups and casseroles since Andrew arrived, and how he’d gotten used to living large in a small town, his every whim catered. We suggested she bone up on a couple of “Cooking with Campbell’s Soups” recipe books we offered to send her.

If you call her tonight, Andrew, you just might be able to repair the damage….

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