where the writers are
Give Me Independence

 April 1st was a special day for me. You see, I write the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity Award-nominated mysteries featuring Tracy Eaton — mystery writer, detective wannabe, and the offspring of eccentric Hollywood stars — REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, DEM BONES’ REVENGE and the just-released, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE.

I always knew Tracy had to be an April Fool's baby — nothing else made sense in terms of her reality-challenged family. I don't think I ever shared Tracy's birthday with my readers, but I did describe the circumstances of her birth in the second book in the series, DEM BONES’ REVENGE:

“The story of my birth was a closely guarded secret — known only to the immediate world. Frustrated by three bouts of false labor, Mother picked a fight with Dad, sending him off in a huff. Once he left, the real thing got underway. Apparently, it didn’t occur to her to call for help. She just hopped in the car and took off on her own. When the first bad contraction hit, she lost control of the wheel.

“I arrived on the steps of the church she crashed into. Contrary to rumors, it wasn’t St. Tracy’s. There is no St. Tracy’s in Beverly Hills. And wouldn’t that be silly basis for naming a child? The real story is more subtle. You might remember that Veronica Howard and Mother were great rivals at the time. But you might not know Miss Howard’s much younger third husband was having a torrid affair with a mere child named Tracy West. Clearly, a better way to choose a baby’s name. I’m glad I was able to provide my mother with that opportunity.”

Obviously, Tracy is a pretty independent sort, a one-of-a-kind adventurer, someone who marches to the beat of her own unconventional drummer. Me too. I'm so independent that, with my husband, I own an independent bookstore, The Well Red Coyote in Sedona, Arizona.

The Well Red Coyote is a great store — always voted Best Bookstore in Sedona. What we've created is a real community gathering spot. All of our appearing fiction authors present writing workshops, and our nonfiction authors offer seminars on their books' subjects. Our programs are usually presented to overflowing, enthusiastic crowds. We also offer live music concerts, everything from blues and rock, to inspirational music and Native American flute playing. All always free.

Yet even in an offbeat place like Sedona, independence — in terms of bookstores, and stores in general — is becoming an endangered species. Despite their vocal support, we're losing some of our old customers to Internet booksellers Maybe it's the result of a genuine need to shave costs somewhere, or maybe it's simply that, given the war of half-priced books online, books aren't deemed to be worth their full price anymore by too many people.

It isn't just independent bookstores that are suffering, either. Brick-and-mortar chain stores are hurting, too.

My books are published by traditional, independent presses (see how independent I am!), Red Coyote Press and Cherokee McGhee Publishing, so I'm used to distribution challenges. But I hear from other mystery writers, those published by NY presses, that increasingly, the chain stores are not ordering their books, or are ordering them in such limited number that they can't possibly achieve the sell-through their publishers expect, at least not from the stores where their books used to be sold.

Ironically, with no stores but independents willing to support them, most authors do not do their own book buying in independent stores. I hear this from them all the time — they do most of their buying online, or even the warehouse stores. And I can tell you they rarely buy anything from the stores that host their signings. Strange, since online sellers have never been known to host an author signing.

Surely, I can't be the only one who sees that the purpose of the online sellers' price slashing war is to eliminate the competition, be they independent stores, or chain stores, and to bring publishers to their knees. What will happen when they succeed in closing down the competition? What will happen to choice? Independent stores pride themselves on their independent selections. Will there be anything to read beyond the limited Costco selection of twenty books or so at a time? When there's no competition any longer, what will happen to the prices they charge?

Today, though, they’re often cheaper. And, sure, money is tight for everyone. But we vote with our dollars. We determine the shape of our world with every penny we spend. If you don’t see any value in independent stores, then just keep doing what you’re doing.  But if you do, don’t wait until they’re all gone to lament their passing. Help them thrive now, while you still can.

Will anyone miss independent bookstores when they're gone? I know my character, Tracy Eaton, and I will. But we're both independent sorts.

How about you?