Monday, February 28, 2011

Down for the count

I'm sick, so I'm gone for a few days. Feel free to talk about anything you like here: books we should read, jokes we should know, films, music, new discoveries. Especially books. What should I read?

So talk about anything. Anything except my fucking health, which I want to be distracted from not dwelt upon, y'know?

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Well, hey, at least it's stopped snowing

I wonder if it's raining on the red carpet outside the Kodak? Soon I'll go see what TiVo has brought in terms of glitzy dresses and sleek suits. Maybe my vertigo will ease sufficiently to allow a beer...

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dancing books

Dancing books is about my speed right now. Enjoy.

This and other links via Sterling Editing.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Calling Svalbard, Myanmar, Mali...

Ask Nicola has now been around for 33 months. In that time, we've had visitors from around 200 countries. Here are the ones missing:

  • Greenland
  • Svalbard (I think)
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Afghanistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Tajikistan
  • Myanmar
  • Azerbaijan
  • Syria
  • Guyana
  • French Guiana
  • Western Sahara
  • Mauritania
  • Mali
  • Niger
  • Chad
  • Cameroon
  • Nigeria
  • Central African Republic
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Tanzania
  • Mozambique
  • Madagascar

So, hey, if you know anyone in any of those countries, wave and tell them I'll look forward to meeting them one day.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Clothes sizes

Yesterday I had a conversation about how frustrating it is to go shopping with people who won't accept their clothes size: those who say airily to the salespeople at the department store, 'Bring me a size 10' when they need a size 18. (An experience I went through with a family member three or four years ago. After two hours, when the sales assistant and I had persuaded her of reality, she then insisted on trying to wear the clothes the wrong way round.)

This, I suppose, is why US clothes sizes have ballooned in the last few years. People can't face reality--the fact that they're overweight--so reality has changed to accommodate their denial.

Which means that now I'm one of those people who goes into a store and says airily, 'Bring me a size 10' and am horribly, embarrassingly wrong.

Last summer I spotted an item I liked in a catalogue (all right: it was a dress; now shut up) and ordered it. I thought, 'Aha! No one can say I don't learn!' and ordered a size 8. It arrived. You could have fit two of me inside it. I sent it back. Got a size 4. It hung off me like a sack. I stared it, thought, 'I am not a size 2, I am not,' decided I hated the dress, and threw away the catalogue.

I associate size 2 with emaciated people, crazy bony people who eat one mung bean and an arugula stalk and call it a meal. Trust me, I really, really am not a size 2. A 6, maybe, sometimes, I can accept that. But not 2. Nuh-uh. Not. So when will the industry standardise their sizes so we can all stop freaking out?

And another thing, when will they start putting real pockets in women's clothes? And what is this shit about having the buttons on the wrong side? And why is the sewing on women's clothes so shoddy? And why are women's clothes so much more expensive than men's? And why do they cost so much more to get cleaned?

I never had these problems when I bought men's clothes from jumble sales and charity shops. They fit. They had pockets. They looked good. They were not size 2.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meet Hild

Photo taken with crapcam. It turns out that 976 pages is nearly 11cm (4.5 in) high. I don't have a scale, so I can't weigh it. It took about an hour to print. Why all the detail? So I can delay actually reading the thing, of course.

As I write this, snow is falling, so I might not be able to go out to the splendid lunch I have planned with two fellow writers. Which of course would mean I'd have no choice about beginning to read.

This might take a while...

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oooh, a new Daphne Du Maurier story!

From the Telegraph, news of a lost story by Daphne Du Maurier:

The Doll, billed as “a dark story of obsession and jealousy”, is the peculiar tale of a man who becomes infatuated with a woman he meets at a party. He visits her home only to discover the real object of her affection: a life-size, mechanical male doll.

The story was written around 1928 and the female character was called Rebecca, a name du Maurier would use a decade later in her most famous novel.

It is one of 13 du Maurier short stories to be published in a new anthology.
The author made reference to The Doll in her autobiography but biographers and academics failed to find it. Ann Willmore, a du Maurier enthusiast, spent years on the case and finally unearthed it in a 1937 compendium, The Editor Regrets, featuring short stories that had been rejected for publication.

Although I've never been able to get through any of her novels (believe me, I've tried) I'm a big fan of Du Maurier's short fiction. If I ever get around to the anthology I've been mulling for years, I'll use one of her pieces. (Yes, I know exactly which one I want. No, I'm not telling you.) But this one sounds juicy: sex-toy science fiction. Or as one of my Canadian friends might say (waves to Wendy): teledildonics!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

With Her Body now an ebook

cover by Jennifer Durham

With Her Body, more than one hundred pages of juicy, luscious fiction, is now available as an ebook. Buy it from Amazon, buy it from Aqueduct Press or from one of the nifty new ebookstores such as Wizard's Tower or Weightless Books.

With Her Body is one novella, one novelette, and one story, all set in hot and sticky places. Read more about it here on my website--yes, yes, I will redesign that puppy one day, really.

If you'd rather listen before you buy, there's a ten-minute audio clip from the novelette, "Touching Fire," here.

There's also a vid, with nifty music and suchlike, made by FoAN Karina Meléndez in response to that reading. (For some reason the embed code has been disabled, huh, so you'll have to watch it on YouTube here.)

Why should you bother? Because. Because I wrote it. Because it's mind-boggling supersinful and delicious. Because it's only $5.95!

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Clear February

I've lost count of the number of sunny days we've had this month here in Seattle. It's been extraordinary: brilliant light, morning after morning. Clear, bright light turns the house into a fruit salad of colour. Astonishing thing to wake up to and walk around in. And last night the moon was incredible. I spent more time than is seemly just gawping at it. It hung low and brilliant on the horizon as we drove home; then hooked itself to a tracery of rowan branches in our front garden and poured into our bedroom. An ordinary night turned into a fairyland of slate and silvered tin and jet black.

I suspect my next couple of days will be mostly standing about with my mouth hanging open, thinking, Look at that! The world is a fine place when one isn't working ten hours a day. Full of magic...

...and just a tad disorganised. I expect I'll be erratic and eccentric around here again for a while. Just go with it.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hild is done

The first draft of part one is complete.

Numbers, for those of you who like such things:

  • pages 976
  • words 201,670
  • paragraphs 6,143
  • lines 23,206

Now you get to guess, in the course of writing this book, how many:

  • beers were consumed
  • times I said 'fuck, I am insane'
  • farinaceous objects Kelley baked to stave off utter despair
  • narrative techniques I invented.

Feel free to go wild. I will. (Think explosive decompression.)

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Blank and blinking in the sun

My head is empty. The sun is shining. Another bird just flew into the window. I think they're addled with fatigue, dashing about trying to feed themselves and keep their eggs warm and not get eaten. Too many things to do at once. I'll take it as a sign: I'm going to go get my hair cut and take the rest of the day off. Wherever you are, get outside, breathe fresh air!

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Love Story: Oh just die already!

K and I watched Love Story last night (research purposes--that's a tale for another time). Given that it's such a simple story we both hoped it would hold up, despite being released 41 years ago.

The first non-modern thing I noticed, as we open on the snowy campus of Harvard, is how...dirty it all looked. A snowy field in any 21st C film would have been groomed to perfection, whiter than white. This looked realistic: cold and unpleasant as opposed to magical. (Later, the hospital corridors looked similarly dingy.) Then--and this is hard to miss--Ali McGraw can't act. Her dialogue is wooden--when it's not being robotic; I wondered, for a few minutes, if she was trying to play someone on the autism spectrum. When she's not talking, her physical acting, her body language, is believable. But sadly she talks a lot. What were the producers thinking? Different times. Speaking of which, on the street, the men wear hats. This is a film made in my lifetime and the men wear hats. It made me realise just how long I've been on the planet. Exceedingly strange.

Ray Milland adds a touch of gravitas but his presence is essentially pointless. We could have lost all those Daddy-issues (I'm so very tired of Hollywood's daddy issues), lost all that fuss about money, and the plot would be untouched. I did like the character of Jennifer's dad, Phil, though. I'd forgotten how well played that was.

I think the lovers-gambolling-in-the-snow might have been the first of those now de rigueur acting-childish-outdoors-so-we-know-they're-in-love montages. It was very slow (97 mins which I think I might have cut to something like 85). And the soundtrack is thin and tinny, except when it swells for those reach-for-the-hanky moments.

Which brings me to my point. Love Story is a classic weepie. That's its purpose. When the audience doesn't weep, the film fails. Love Story, then, has a very narrow audience. When I first saw this film I was 12 or 13, sitting in the lounge with Mum and two sisters, eating chocolates. They started to weep about twenty minutes from the end. I sat there squirming, thinking, Oh, just die! Then we can switch the channel to Star Trek! I thought my family were weird and alien. I thought the film ridiculous. I knew a thing or two about death at this point, and, sigh, a lot about hospitals, but I knew nothing, zero, of romantic lurve. It may as well have been a film about Martians speaking Urdu for all the sense it made to me.

I saw it again when I was 16, after I'd fallen head over heels with my first lover, Una. I wept helplessly, hopelessly. I gushed like a drain. It all felt so relevant. So true. So tragic.

Now, frankly, I'm back to the, Oh, just die already, then we can watch the DVD of Babylon 5! Which, yep, I haven't seen for ages and am looking forward to very much. I wonder how it will hold up...

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hild update

Don't be alarmed if my presence here is sporadic and eccentric in the next few days. I'm getting very, very close to the end of the first draft of part one of Hild. Which still doesn't have a working title--but does have 200,000 words. Yes. You read that right. Please stop blinking.

Do I understand that 200,000 words is insane for Part I of a novel about a women of whom we know next to nothing? Yes. Do I understand that the rewrite will be...interesting? Oh, yes. Do I truly know how blindingly batshit bugfuck crazy this whole enterprise is? Yes, of course: it's what makes it all so exciting!

And now: back to the whirling madness. I hope your day is a delight.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine weather

Looks as though I'll be mewed up all week with Kelley in front of the fire. Bliss!

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Daffodils and roses and truffles

Breakfast: Irish breakfast tea, scrambled egg (with parsley and chives, our very own kerbs) on toast, followed by handmade Cognac truffles--while the rain poured into the ravine outside and the table glowed with cheerful flowers. (Photo taken, by the way, with crapcam, which seems to do okay in bright light from a distance of two feet. But it wasn't smart enough to delete the pepper mill. Hey, just regard that as a note of authenticity.)

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Valentine dessert, weddings, and war

Strictly-speaking, it was pre-Valentine dessert, a gift from our favourite neighbour, Vicki. Cherry tart, with handmade Cognac chocolate truffles. Pretty damn good after meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrots and peas. First course was beer. (Creative writing students: rewrite that paragraph, with particular attention to narrative grammar.)

I'd had a tremendously pent-up day: writing, writing, writing (which is good) but writing about not killing people (huh) and not having sex (poor Hild). Beer and food made everything magically better. And, hey, I'm thinking that in honour of Valentine's day today I might write a wedding. A twisty wedding, of course, because pure happiness doesn't make for good Story. Heh heh. Ooh, and then some war!

I swear, Hild's narrative grammar is better than this blog post.

Happy Valentine's day, all.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lazarus kerbs

So after a near-death experience, followed by pruning (heavy-heart, firm hand*), it look as though our oregano, marjoram, and thyme might make it. As you can see, they are much reduced but finally perking up. I still have no idea what happened, but, whatever it is, it seems to be over. And the outside chives are looking stronger than ever.

This summer, though, I think I'll grow flowers.

* not unlike being an editor: our kerbs now have a clear narrative arc...

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Unexpected gifts

So today I got not one but two late Christmas presents, both from England. Both by Royal Mail. One, a game, was mailed on December 11. The other, chocolates, was mailed December 14. Both clearly marked Air Mail. Both took two months. Did they disappear into a time warp? Were they stolen by aliens (along with all those missing socks)? Put in a secure room and watched for suspicious activity? No idea. Hey, who cares: I have presents!

I hope you get some unexpected gifts today.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

What's going on in St. Louis, MO?

I finally got around to looking at Author Central today. It turns out that in the week of January 17-23, I sold 26 paper copies of Slow River in St. Louis, MO. That many in one week in one city is Not Usual. (That is, I don't think it is--but, hey, who knows, maybe once I have a year's worth of data I'll find this kind of thing just sorta happens sometimes.) So what's going on? A book club? (Strikes me as the wrong time of year for college reading list purchases.) Anyone want to enlighten me? Meanwhile: cool! I hope you all enjoy it. And thanks to the booksellers who made it happen. (A special shout-out to Left Bank Books, the only bookshop in St. Louis I've ever done a reading/signing at, run by the ever-fab Kris Kleindienst.)

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kerbs and perbs and rock n roll

The Tragedy of the kerbs (kitchen herbs, grown hydroponically) is still a mystery. But we've taken radical steps. We cut all the dead stuff away from the blighted herbs in the front row--oregano, marjoram, thyme--and then also did a severe pruning on the the healthy herbs in the back--basil, parsley, sage, chives--so that we could lower the light stalk and bring UV closer to the poor sad front row things on life support. Fingers crossed:

At the end of last summer, we harvested all our perbs (pot herbs, on the back deck) and just left the pots outside. And today, ta-da! The chives are growing strong. The sage has definitely over-wintered, and the thyme, I'm pretty sure, is about to burst forth:

Which reminds me of a scene I just wrote in Hild, in which a pregnant woman says: there's always hope. Sadly for her, she dies.

Moral of the story: real life is better than fiction.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crow flow

Yesterday was a beautiful day here, so we went to the park. Astonishingly, given the sunshine, we had the whole creek-side to ourselves. We marvelled at the vine maple: leaves already unfurling--in the first week of February. We shook our heads at the dimness of robins; American robins really are the most stupid birds I've had the misfortune to encounter. (Oh, okay: I shook my head; Kelley laughed at me shaking my head. We both know that I despise American robins because they're not really robins. They're miserable jumped-up thrushes. They wake me up in the morning. Their 'song' is monotonous and metallic and sets my teeth on edge. But essentially their problem, my problem, is that they're not British. So there you go.)

Then the crows arrived.

Have you ever been in an English town centre when the football trains arrive? One minute everyone is going about their business, the next, a wave of sounds pours between and over the buildings, like a tsunami, like a storm, growing, growing, and then the police appear like harbingers on their horses, everyday citizens vanish, and then the football crowd boils through the streets. The noise is astonishing. They shout, they hurl abuse and vomit, they jeer and catcall...and then they're gone. Citizens reappear, the day continues as normal, but every now again people blink nervously and pause, waiting for everything to change again.

We were watching the water, the sky was blue, the robins were running about mindlessly in the bankside undergrowth. Then the robins vanished. We heard a faint hissing, a stirring of air, and crows streamed across the sky from the south. Then the east. Then the southwest. Like locusts or ants: a flow of black-winged noise, meeting right over the creek valley, turning and jeering and calling and cawing, dropping and flipping and swooping and swirling. Hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands, pouring from all points of the compass except north. Then they began to wheel. Round and round, a huge maelstrom of black feathers, sound fading and growing, fading and growing, then they rushed away north and the sky was blue again.

Kelley looked at me, said, "That was something," and we blinked and the world went on again. The stream burbled. The robins scratted about. The vine maple unfurled a little more. But my mind still itches with the remembered sound.

ETA: Yep, I've talked about crows before. A lot.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

The Eagle

I loved Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth. (I love all her books; great stuff.) I love sword-and-pony movies. I love mist-and-moors, sturm-und-drang, honour-and-country. Basically, this look so fabalicious I can hardly stand it. Starts February 11th.

Now I just have to persuade Kelley that this might make an appropriate Valentine's Day outing...

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tragedy in Kerbville

Our kerbs got breathed on last night by a frost giant from an alien dimension. Or something. The oregano and marjoram have wilted and collapsed in a heap of blight, and the thyme is showing signs of same. The basil, parsley, and sage look alright. The chives seem a wee bit pale.

What happened? No clue. Light, nutrients, water all A-OK. No big swings of temperature. So, in the absence of data, I'm going with the alien frost giant. But I'm open to other suggestions.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Oooh, new 'Hanna' trailer



(Thanks, Dianne.)

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Woodpecker convention

Wednesday was a day of brilliant sunshine here in Seattle. Brilliance and birds. At one point I looked out at the ravine and saw three woodpeckers bopping up three bare trees as though they were lumberjacks shinning up in an end-of-winter-do-something-or-we'll-go-mad tree-climbing competition. They were too far away to even bother trying to capture on my sad camera, so I just gawped. (Two flickers and a sapsucker, I think--as I say, they were a long way off.)

And that's the story of my week: standing about gawping, mind busy on other things. Don't be alarmed if I'm not here much for the next few days. I'm happily Hilding.

I hope that whatever you're doing, you're doing it happily.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Outstanding mid-career queer novelists

The Lambda Literary Foundation is accepting applications and nominations for two juicy monetary prizes:

Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists' Prize
Applications Due March 1, 2011

Lambda Literary recently announced that it will be the new home of the largest monetary prize awarded exclusively to an LGBT writer: The Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists' Prize. The award, made possible by James Duggins, PhD, consists of two cash awards of $5000 and is unprecedented in its category as well as its value. To review the guidelines and application process, please click below.

Previous winners include Dorothy Allison, Jim Grimsley, Ann Bannon, Mark Doty, Jewelle Gomez, and more.

More info (guidelines, process) here. Apparently, one can apply for oneself, and/or recommend others, which I think is a nifty idea. Here are the criteria:

  • The award will be presented to one self-identified man and one self-identified woman, and age will not be a factor in defining mid-career.
  • The award will recognize emergent LGBT authors who have written and published at least three novels or two novels and substantial additional literary work such as poetry, short stories, essays.
  • The authors will be of demonstrated ability and show promise for growth.
  • Candidates’ contributions to the LGBT literary field beyond their writings and publications will also be considered.

This strikes me as a a good opportunity to talk about queer novelists.

I think we all know the crop who are well-known and working and at the top of their game: Jeannette Winterson, Andrew Hollinghurst, Emma Donoghue, Michael Cunningham, Sarah Waters, Val McDermid...

...but how about those who are a little less well-known but equally deserving? Who would you choose? Who should we be reading?

ETA: To be very clear: I won't be applying for this prize and if someone nominates me, I will decline the honour. I'm on LLF's Board of Trustees. This is a cash award. It would be pretty tacky to blur those lines.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lambda Literary Writers' Retreat 2011

Last year I taught the fiction workshop at LLF's Emerging Voices writers' retreat. It was a pretty astonishing week. If you're interested in applying for this year's workshop, now's the time. LLF have announced their 2011 faculty:

  • Fiction: Carla Trujillo
  • Genre Fiction: Claire McNab
  • Nonfiction: Ellery Washington
  • Poetry: Eloise Klein Healy

Why is 'genre fiction' separated from 'fiction'? It's a mystery. (No! It's a literary work with wide popular appeal...) Seriously, I don't know. Ask LLF. But, that aside, whichever workshop you fancy, if you're a queer writer, this is the best thing out there. I mean: the best in the world. This year the retreat is at UCLA, and so probably a bit more physically accessible than last year. Also, less of a 'retreat'. (Which I think is a good thing.)

Anyway, it runs August 6 - 13. There are scholarships available. Apply here. Good luck.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The perfect bookstore?

Over at You fight like Anne Rice! Eric Nguyen, talking about booksellers, says:

Retailers need to ask: how can they make the bookstore something totally unique?

It's a good question. But here's the one I'm interested in:

How do you make a bookstore a place customers want to visit?

I'm not convinced a bookstore has to be unique. It does have to be a place your customers actually enjoy visiting. And when they get there, they have to be motivated to stay a while. And then they have to feel safe enough--trusting in the bookseller's recommendations, physically comfortable, financially assured of a good deal--to take a risk, to put down hard-earned money on a block of paper (or a squirt of bytes) worth, in commodity terms, less than 2 cents.*

A perfect bookshop excites some customers. It cheers others. It comforts still others. But it must feel like the third space, the not-home not-work place to be with people you could nod to, smile with, feel easy next to. In a dense urban area, it should be on the most heavily trafficked sidewalk. In smaller towns, it should have an ample parking lot. Good chairs are a plus. Espresso and/or beer is a five-star bonus. The perfect bookstore, in my opinion, is like a bar or a coffeeshop or a church. A bricks-and-mortar bookstore, in other words, is a place of belonging.

There's a bookshop here in Seattle, Seattle Mystery Bookstore, that I would visit much more often if they had a parking lot. (It's on a steep hill. I walk with crutches. It's practically inaccessible to me.) There's another, University Bookstore, that has a parking lot, but has grown just a bit too big for me to feel wholly comfortable in, plus there aren't enough chairs in the right places. Others--Queen Anne Books, Elliott Bay Books--require fighting serious traffic for more than ten miles.

A year or two ago, a new bookstore opened a few doors down from the salon where Kelley gets her hair done--and just a couple of doors up from the pub we go to. Woo hoo! I thought. Let's check it out! So I went in, all smiles, all ready to make friends, and got a fish-eyed stare and an absolute lack of engagement. My guess? They lost five thousand dollars worth of custom from me in less than two minutes.

One of the best book shops I've ever been to is in Atlanta: Charis Books & More. They knew me, I knew them. They stocked the books I liked. I liked the people. The rooms themselves were light and airy, bright and serene. If that store were here in Seattle, I would still be visiting it. I would be willing to spend slightly over the odds. But it's not. Here in Seattle, there isn't a single bookstore in easy reach (say, five miles) that hits all the notes to add up to a chord of belonging. So here in Seattle, I use Amazon: it's fast, it's cheap, I know my way around, I understand their recommendation system, I can sit in a comfy chair and drink tea while I make my purchase.

But I miss walking into a store, getting a smile, and from a real live human being, "Wow, there's this new book you'll love!" I miss having a store I can drop by for a cup of coffee and a browse. I miss having a place where I'll show up on a Wednesday night to listen to a new writer--not because I know who she is, but because she'll be in a bookstore I like.

How many bookstores like that are left? I want to hear about them. Or tell me about your perfect imaginary bookstore. Tell me how it feels, how it looks, who works there, what they sell, and how they sell it.

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* I'm pulling this number out of my hat. I actually have no clue, in commodity terms, what that block of paper and ink is worth.

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