The friends you keep

Posing with store owner Andy Lacher

Last night, I did a signing at BookStacks, an independent bookshop owned by Andy Lacher in the town of Bucksport, Maine. Enthusiastic readers crowded into the store to hear my remarks, ask questions, and get their books signed. It was a great turnout, especially in a small town like Bucksport, and it had special significance because of how long Andy and I have worked together.

Sixteen years ago, on a cold and rainy night in Bangor, I drove to a store called Booksource to do a reading/signing for HARVEST. It was my first hardcover thriller. Andy was the manager of a successful Maine chain of bookshops who’d enjoyed the galley and took a chance on an unknown author. Did I mention is was a really rainy night? A grand total of two people showed up for my signing … including Andy’s teenage son. Andy was embarrassed and apologetic, but we had a nice visit, I signed stock, and I considered it sadly par for the course of a debut novelist.

As the years passed, bookselling went through a drastic evolution in Maine. Borders moved into Bangor, effectively putting Booksource — and its parent company, Mr. Paperback — out of business. Andy saw that Bangor was an impossible market for a small independent, so he hunted around for another town where he’d be able to make it as a bookseller. In 1997, he opened Bookstacks in Bucksport, a town that’s remote enough to establish its own loyal clientele. Though bookselling’s never an easy business, Bookstacks has hung in there, evolving with the times, and along with books it now sells gifts, cards, toys and coffee.

Ironically, Borders went out of business. And Bookstacks survives.

Just about every year, for the past sixteen years, I’ve driven to Andy’s store to do an event. Since that first miserable night in Bangor, the crowds have grown larger. Part of it, of course, is the fact that my books have simply become more popular. But part of it is that Andy and I have stayed loyal to each other. We understand that there’ll be good turnouts and not-so-good turnouts. The bad turnouts are nobody’s fault; they just happen, and all you can do is shrug and laugh about it. When the turnouts are good, we grin at each other and say, “Remember how bad it was in ’96? Look how far we’ve come!”

It’s sad how many bookshops have gone under since my first book tour. But it’s also heartening to see how many are still with us, including my hometown shop Owl and Turtle, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ, and The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. These are the stores I return to again and again, stores who’ve thrived thanks to reader — and author — loyalty.

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