Archive for January, 2009


Juliette Fay and Shelter Me

Cornerstone Books will welcome debut author Juliette Fay and her book Shelter Me on Saturday January 31st at 1pm.  Shelter Me, the story of young widow Janie LaMarche’s first year without her husband, a January IndieNext pick, has been called “wise and inspirational” by Publishers Weekly.  Juliette talked to Cornerstone about her book and her experience as a new author.  Come hear more on the 31st!

Everyone’s heard the old saw “Write what you know”.  What did you know about Janie LaMarche and her life?

When I started writing, I really didn’t know that much about her, other than that she was in a mighty fury about this turn in her life. I started with just that feeling, of being ripped off and cut to the bone, and how that might manifest itself. I could feel how every little thing irritated her, as if her skin had evaporated and all of her nerves were inflamed and exposed. It’s how I imagine I might feel if I were in the same situation — so in terms of writing what I know, I knew her right from the get go.

This is either one of the funniest sad books I have ever read, or one of the saddest funny books.  Although, “sad” isn’t really accurate, as it’s also filled with such joy…perhaps “touching” or “tender” would be more accurate.  How hard was it to keep that balance while you were writing?  Did you find yourself getting pulled or stuck in one direction more than the other?

What a great description, and such a compliment! I did do a lot of dancing back and forth between pain and humor, though there wasn’t so much a conscious effort to say, “Oh, we’re getting a little too sad here, let’s inject something sweet or funny.” It came fairly naturally for me because I do believe that life is full of setbacks, and that no one can possibly avoid them, but that funny, sweet, endearing, hilarious things happen every day. You can always find a minor miracle if you look for one.

Your characters are so very real and recognizable, yet are also often quirky individuals.  How do you approach writing character?

I approach my characters from the inside out, almost like an actor would. I get inside them and wander around and see how it feels to be them. This makes me very sympathetic to them — there isn’t a character I don’t love, although I may not like their behavior very much. Father Gilroy, the cantankerous old priest, is one of my favorites — completely unlikeable, but I appreciate him nonetheless. As for idiosyncrasies, the world is so full of them it’s like going to a quirk smorgasbord every time you open your eyes in the morning! Again, it’s just a matter of looking for them and taking note of the more interesting ones.

Shelter Me is your debut novel…was there anything that surprised you in writing or publishing the book?

Everything surprised me! I feel like Alice in Wonderland! When I first started writing, I didn’t have any idea of how similar it would feel to falling in love, thinking about my characters all the time, and being anxious to be with them. And though there have been some setbacks along the way, I can still barely believe that an agent loved the book enough to take it on, and that she could get it sold so quickly, and now here I am in the wild, wild world of publishing, where I’m still learning the language and customs, but am enjoying it immensely. I feel utterly grateful, especially with things being so tough in the industry.

What are you currently reading?  What was your favorite book of last year?

I am just starting Love Walked In by Marissa De Los Santos, having already read the sequel, Belong to Me, last summer. I’m really looking forward to it because Belong to Me was so rich and interesting. At the moment, my favorite book of all time is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. A brilliant, deep, gift of a novel. But I also like lighter, kookier stuff too, like Why I’m Like This by Cynthia Kaplan.



How can we be of service?

It’s Day One in a brave new America, and I can’t stop thinking about Barack Obama’s challenge to the nation. It has been far too long since a president has expected much from the people he has led, and for the most part, we have lived down to those expectations. Mounting national debt, lives lost overseas, inequalities and injustice in our own and other countries…and we’re told to go shopping.

We have devolved into a culture of irresponsibility. Remember when just a call to your parents from a neighbor meant going to bed straight after supper? Now we don’t want anyone to hold us, or our kids, accountable for anything. Global warming? Not my fault. Homeless person? Don’t make eye contact.

Here in America, we want convenience. Everything should be microwavable in under 30 seconds, and we shouldn’t have to get out of our SUVs to get it (unless we can sneak into that handicapped parking spot, since we’re in a hurry and we’ll only be going in for a minute). We are in great danger of raising a generation attuned only to the sound-bite, the disposable, the easy way.

But wait! Here’s a man who wants us to do something. Just say YES?!? And the group to whom this call seems to be most resounding is that next generation. That’s why they call it….HOPE.

How can you be of service? Don’t stand in their way. Better yet, join them. Even better, lead them. Challenge yourself to do one selfless thing a day. Join a group that identifies local needs and creates solutions. Can’t find that group? Start it. We have to stop thinking that someone else will do it for us.  The only way we will see real change is if each of us takes responsibility for helping to make it happen.

How can Cornerstone Books be of service?  We continue to have a committment to be of service in our local community in as many ways possible, and hope that you’ll take the time to share ideas on how we might do that in 2009.  May today be the first day of a better America.



The Indie Spirit Dilemma; or, No, Virginia, There Isn’t a Santa Claus

As I spread the Indie message around, I often find myself in a bit of a pickle. Do I wholeheartedly support the Indie spirit? Yes! So that includes “Indie authors”, right? Ah! Here is where the toes dip into the brine.

As a store that has positioned itself as a “community living room”, we work (tirelessly, I assure you) to be of the people, for the people. What better way to do that than to support those in the community that are striving to join the world of literary legitimacy: the local, self-published author?

As a private citizen, I can understand the desire to see one’s work in print. As a celebrant of the small, the personal, in art and in life, I say “Go! Spread your wings! Sing out your message!” As the Event Coordinator for an Indie store, I have to balance my individual, soft-hearted impulses with the cold hard fact that, if we don’t make enough money to keep the doors open, we can’t spread any message, or support any spirit, at all.

I struggle to explain these realities to the many self-published authors I hear from each month. For a book from a ‘traditional’ publishing house bought directly or from a wholesaler, we receive a 35-42% margin. For an independent bookstore, on a good month, this represents about what we require to break even.

A self-published author purchases their book from the self-publisher at a price that is typically what a similar book, ‘traditionally’ published, would retail for. That means, in order to make a profit on that book, they then need to sell it to the store at a price that would be above average retail, and then, to make a profit, the store would have to sell it at an even higher price. A $10 dollar paperback mystery is then available to the end-customer for about $18. If the store were to purchase directly from the self-publisher, the end price would be even higher.

When I discourage people from self-publishing, it is not snobbery, it is simple survival.

What often happens, when we host a self-published author for a reading, is that they end up selling the book to the store at their cost (making no profit at all), and the store then needs to decide if we will sell it at a lower margin (and then not make enough to cover our own costs…the publicity and marketing for the event the staffing, the overhead…), or price it at a typical margin, and not sell it at all.

So, we do not see a profit from these events, but just hope that we get what it takes for us to not see a loss. In contrast, the self-publishing businesses make a profit on every book that they sell to the author.

Despite this, the self-published author sees the publisher as their friend, as they have facilitated the process that allows the author to see their work, in print, in their hands. The store is often seen, if not as an enemy, as unsupportive of the self-published, “Indie” author.

So, what do you think? Are we keepin’ it real as an Indie? If you’re a bookseller, how do YOU walk this tightrope? What happens when “One Love” meets the electric bill? Will art and commerce ever make easy bedfellows? (Okay, I know I skirted the discussion of the quality of many self-published works, but we’ll leave that for another day.)



Thank You for a Great Holiday Season

Happy New Year to all and thank you so, so, so very much for a successful holiday season at Cornerstone Books! 

I wanted to take a moment to express my sincerest thanks to all of our customers who made a conscious decision to shop locally this season.  Whether you purchased books from us, cosmetics from Rouge, gifts from Pamplemousse, or clothes from J. Mode, I cannot express how critically important it is that you chose to reinvest your hard-earned dollars in Salem as opposed to sending it to malls and big boxers.

Whether we know if or not, every day we make decisions that can help or hinder downtown and community growth.  Dollars spent in Salem stay in Salem; dollars spent at Amazon go to Seattle, Washington.  It’s pretty simple when you think about it.  But it’s not so easy to do.  We’re a fast culture and we’re used to “cheapest,” “quick” and “convenience.”  But there are some other words people are starting to add to that list: “knowledgeable,” “friendly,” “community-oriented,” and “green.”

I’ll go even one step further.  We’re inexpensive, quick and convenient, too!  Add to the cost of your Amazon order the cost of shipping, or to your trip to the mall the cost of gas, and suddenly that bargain isn’t such a bargain after all.  Not to mention that our own webstore also has a huge selection of (discounted) books, video and music that can also be mailed to your home, with the added benefit of supporting local business.  Finally, we’re constantly offering ways to save even more on the relatively inexpensive and long-lasting entertainment books provide.

2009 is going to be a tough year all around.  Like most business, we’ll be doing what we can to tighten our belts and prepare for the worst.  And yet we’re optimistic that all the changes we’re seeing we’ll ultimately be good for this country.  This is a time to re-evaluate and take stock of what’s most important to us.  We’ve seen what corporate greed and quick-money schemes have done on Wall Street.  We’ve seen the poor decisions that giant corporations have made that have benefited the few to the detriment of many.  You will not hear much about the small businessman amid all the gnashing of teeth to come, but quietly in the background, you’ll see those small businesses are the backbone of this country, and indeed, what made the country great.
Take a look at this video from our fellow bookstore, The Clinton Bookshop in New Jersey.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’m going to make one prediction for 2009, and that’s that people will vote with their feet and dollars.  See you in the months to come!


New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone!

While ringing in the New Year with friends last week, the discussion inevitably turned to this year’s resolutions. The Holiday season had been so busy for me that I hadn’t had time to really think about it. I wasn’t able to contribute to the conversation, though the most entertaining I heard was from my best friend. She put down her glass, squared her shoulders and declared, “My resolution is for better posture. For the fifth year in a row”. As I was puttering around my apartment this morning waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, it occurred to me that I have two resolutions. I may actually accomplish them, too.

The first is to buy another book case. I buy books on a regular basis, sometimes more frequently than I buy groceries. I purchased a bookshelf in July and it’s come to the point where I’m stacking books on the floor along the walls, again. And being in grad school means that I’m obligated to buy lots of text books every 6 months or so. Some of these are never read, let alone opened, but they do provide for the occasionally fantastic title. Some of my favorites are “The Tao of Computing”, “Everything is Miscellaneous” and “A Short History of the Printed Word”, which is anything but short. Titles like this deserve space on a shelf, not my floor. The second resolution is to put some order to my books. I mentioned that I’m in school again, but what I didn’t say is that I’m studying to be a librarian. In another year or so I will be a librarian, and there is absolutely no order to my books. Its unseemly. The fiction and non fiction live together, mixed in with anthologies and style guides. It bothers me enough that I try not to look too closely at the shelves.

Many of us make New Years resolutions with the best of intentions of carrying them through, but occasionally they are lost or purposefully set aside. In times of change many of us find ease in old habits that die hard. After all, after a long or particularly hard day, what is more comforting than your own cluttered bookshelf, filled with the dog eared pages of books that wrapped you in their stories and carried you away?