A Quest for Local Bookstores

I recently went on a Great Plains adventure for my sister’s wedding, which was gorgeous and perfect and full of whimsy and dancing. Traveling to Nebraska, I found myself looking out the window with disdain. There really is, close to nothing, in that part of the country. We passed few gas stations, fewer still sites to see and things to do.

2014-08-14 13.57.11

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a cozy local bookstore nestled between a gyro restaurant and an art store in downtown Lincoln. It was called A Novel Idea, and run by a generous and kind woman named Cinnamon.

2014-08-15 13.10.57

No, this is not off of Pinterest. I took this myself.

It was one of the most delightful bookstores I have ever been in. They had two fat cats roaming around the bookshelves. Newspaper clippings on the walls revealed these cats were rescued by the owner and loved by all customers. Along with this, the most literary savvy staircase I have ever witnessed can be found in this spot.

The staff was lovely. When I asked staff member Eowyn Ivey what book she would recommend I read before I die, she responded with 5 different novels I never would have picked up myself. I ended up with 2 of the 5, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk and a magical realism novel titled The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. “Give The House of the Spirits a good hour when you read it,” she said. And I will.

I left that bookstore remembering what websites such as Amazon are missing: the smell of the pages as soon as you walk into a bookstore, the feel of the fuzzy cats on your legs as you search the shelves, and the camaraderie of knowing you are among your own people. People that love books, maybe more, than you do (but surely not). People that will show you the worlds they have found and loved. I’ve longed for this feeling since I left my college literature classes where we would talk about books and worlds everyday.

The nostalgic feeling of that bookstore stuck with me until my last day in Nebraska. I remembered the loved comments about a bookstore called Prairie Lights in Iowa from the 2013 In-Print guest authors at Ball State University, I can’t for the life of me remember who said it. Maybe Elena Passarello or Eugene Cross. On my way back home (which, for me, is Indiana) from Nebraska, I swung by to see what all the fuss is about.

Prairie Lights has some serious curb appeal. Two dark wood doors against a silver building with an awning that says, “Hello, we have so much knowledge in here your brain might explode.” I mean, just look at it.

2014-08-18 12.13.34

HEY THERE SCHOLARS. Don’t mind the trash can photo-bomb.

The people at this bookstore were not as hands on. This may have been because, I’m fairly certain, that weekend had been move-in weekend for incoming freshmen. I worked in a text/bookstore for a year, I wouldn’t want to approach any more nervous and frustrated students either. The important thing is, they were there when I needed them.

And I did need them.

After a while of browsing the crowded novels, I had a question itching in the back of my mind. I thought this seemed like a bookstore that would house Roxane Gay‘s new novel Bad Feminist. I had to ask or forever regret it. “I think we’re out,” a man with a ponytail told me over Dumbledore glasses. Disappointment crept across my face as the employee slapped a few fingers on the keyboard. “Wait, hold on,” he said.

I turned my attention to the mystery books on sale, not letting myself hope. I had been itching to get my hands on a copy, 2014-08-20 19.09.14but knew of few bookstores that had it. I know it is available online, but I wanted it in my hands at that very moment in the most selfish of ways.

“Here you go. Fresh out of the box,” the man said from behind me. My excitement could not be contained. My delight echoed throughout the store, or that’s how it happened in my head.

I purchased one other book here titled Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells, which has probably the most beautiful cover I have ever seen. I know this post is picture heavy, but just one more, I promise it is worth it.

We hear stories all the time about bookstores closing down, big chains breaking, and an all around difficulty of the publishing industry due to things like Amazon and Kindles. I get it, books are are hard industry, they always have been. But with places like these laying in wait for book lovers like me, and probably you, to stumble upon, I don’t believe that electronic books could ever replace good old paper and ink. Or at least I am hoping beyond hope.

It’s the people and the paper and the cats and the rustle of turning pages.

It’s the personal touches and contact.

It’s the palpable love for words.

That make these experiences irreplaceable.

Make the Most of Midwest Writers Workshop 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 11.27.06 AM

Last summer I had the opportunity to attend Midwest Writers Workshop on scholarship. I am not exaggerating when I tell you my life will never be the same. It was the first writing conference I had ever been to, and it was the greatest experience in my young writing career to date.

It’s the people. Hundreds of them in the same building with the same passions, and ultimately, the same goal: to get their stories out. To show the world something. Every single one of them have stories to tell you. And all of them are worth listening to.

Having been to this conference once, I have gained some insight on how to get the most out of this phenomenal experience. Here are a few things you should take advantage of at Midwest Writers Workshop 2014.

1) The Down Time

There is very little of this, but when you do find yourself twiddling your thumbs, here is what you need to do instead: TALK TO PEOPLE. There are so many great minds and stories and people at this conference. Try to collect them. Sit at a different table with different people every time you go into the big lecture hall area. You will not regret it.

 2) The Hashtag (#MWW14)

The great thing about the people at Midwest Writers is that they love to tweet. Last year, you could look at the hashtag and see snippets of sessions you wanted to go to but didn’t. This is called “live tweeting”. You tweet quotes, thoughts, or activities that you think are helpful about a session so others can experience it too.

The hashtag is a great way to stay connected to the conference as a community, as a whole, as one big pulsing passion for writing. Use the hashtag, and watch how you expand your online community as well as enhance your experience at the conference.

Below is a very simple tweet I tweeted from last year’s conference. I met the two authors (Liz Lincoln & Lori Rader-Day) who responded, and we still are connected through Twitter today. You should follow them too, they’re funny.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 10.37.08 AM

3) The Books

Yes, there are books at Midwest Writers! There is a chance one of the writers you meet will have their book for sale at the conference. If you meet them, like them, and want to support them, BUY THEIR BOOK. It’s simple.

4) Pitching to Real Agents

Midwest Writers offers you a chance to pitch your novels to an agent. If you feel your piece is ready to be in print, DEFINITELY take advantage of this. Oh you know, that DIVERGENT book? Veronica Roth was discovered at this conference. These agents are serious about books, and if they like you, there’s a chance you could be their next client.

Even if your novel is not quite finished, I still recommend you utilize this opportunity. An agent will tell you the ways in which your novel is perfect for the publishing world, and in which way is it lacking. Rarely will you be face to face with an agent who is willing to give you feedback again.

5) Social Media Tutoring

I’m not just saying this because I am one of the social media interns. Unfortunately in the writing world, a lot of the time it falls on the author to let others know their book exists. Social media is an efficient way to accomplish this, as well as help promote other authors in the exact same position. You just need to know what you’re doing. That is where the social media tutoring comes in.

And there you have it. 5 simple tips for optimizing your Midwest Writers experience. I have referred to Midwest Writers as a home of sorts. A place where I feel understood and cared for by other writers who have been fresh out of college without an idea of how to make this writing thing work. This has not changed. Midwest Writers is a beautiful place to be.

I am inexplicably excited to meet new faces at this conference. I am equally delighted to help writers understand how social media works and why it is important.

I hope to see you there.

Archives