You Can’t Buy a Car With Cookies

There’s a line in Edward Scissorhands that a friend of mine and I recycle ad naseum. I tried to find a clip, to offer some sense of context, but, alas, ear wax.

It appears this is movie/book line today. I believe there is a limit of two. Moving on.

If you’ve seen the movie, maybe you remember it. If you haven’t, make a date of it. One of the best movies ever. EVER. Pompous Ass Boyfriend Anthony Michael Hall is sitting with Demure Confused Girlfriend Winona Ryder at her family’s dinner table, as her Beligerent Opinionated Father rants about responsibility. He says something, Winona groans or whines. He rants some more, points a finger at AMH, and this happens:

“You can’t buy a car with cookies, can you, Jim?”

“No, sir. You sure can’t.”

So maybe it doesn’t work as well here. That’s why I wanted the clip. I also want financial freedom. And some cookies.

Anyway, the point here is that you need certain things in order to accomodate certain other things, and cookies are not always the answer, no matter how many yummy extras you jam inside them.

Likewise, if you wish to open a bookstore, you need employees who will make it soar. I’ve worked for people who felt any body tossed into the fray will do the trick, but the book game is slightly more targeted than, say, a grocery store or fancy sign twirler dude on a street corner. Bookstores need a knowledgeable staff. Friendly would be nice, approachable even, but neither is necessary. I think most people would agree to being less than shocked if they approached a bookseller, asked for help, with said bookseller then hustling off, face red, to disappear behind a curtain. Book people are generally introverted. It’s why they don’t sell cars. Or go to That Kind of Party.

When I opened Wordsmiths, I didn’t want bodies to fill time slots. I wanted a family. I wanted people I could count on. I wanted to know my customers would always find a voice to guide them through the overwheming cacophany of screaming titles (That’s right. I said titles scream. What are you going to do about it, huh?). It’s one thing to recommend a title that’s been selling. It’s another to passionately sell an author to a new reader. Sure. it’s important to say hello, and have a nice day, and how are you, and why is this phone still ringing; but what truly matters is everything that comes between. It’s the conversation about books that create loyal customers, that make your store worth remembering. I wanted people with great humor, snark, insight and depth to their personality.

I wound up with this:

I did not hire the woman in the black dress, but that would have been kinda awesome, right?

I did not hire the woman in the black dress, but that would have been kinda awesome, right?

There were a few faces that didn’t make this shot, either by virtue of working a day a week, or by not yet arriving, or having not voluteered to work on a night that AMY FREAKIN’ SEDARIS WAS IN THE STORE, but I will always see this as the core of the Wordsmiths clan. Each one brought something valuable to the store. Each one had their place. And I remain in contact with every single one (except for a notable exception that will forever just be referred to as The Woman) to one degree or another.

A bookstore needs its family.

I definitely found mine.

Words In a Box Weigh Heavy

If you ever have a chance to move a bookstore by yourself, don’t.

I made a number of mistakes during the run of Wordsmiths. A lot of them were up front. One of them was not hiring at least one guy who could lift a box of books without tumbling down a flight of stairs. I don’t know, maybe I’m asking too much at this point. There aren’t a lot of physically gifted book nerds in the world, after all, are there? Regardless, the only reason this point has relevance is because one of my other mistakes was not working harder to get the bookstore in the location I wanted to begin with.

The square in downtown Decatur is a charming place. Home to a number of Atlanta’s finest eateries with an endless supply of drink options, unique shops, coffee shops, a MARTA station, beautiful architecture, and as many events as they can cram into that space over the course of a year. It’s hoppin’ is what I’m saying, in case you drifted a bit and began thinking about your next meal. The Arts Festival, Beer Festival, Wine Festival, Beach Party, July 4th Fireworks, and much more, bring thousands of people right there, on the Square, businesses reaping the benefit. And for a bookstore, there is no greater gold than Labor Day weekend, when the Decatur Book Festival arrives. 75,000 (or more) people fill the Square, with books on the mind, and money in their wallet. It is the weekend we long for, our Christmas crammed into three days. If you, as business, aren’t on the Square, then to those who visit, you just aren’t there. Plain and simple. Not when that many people are vying for space, unwilling to wander too far away.

So…my mistake. We’ll call it Mistake #1 on a list that, at last count, has no end.

In my talks with the city, two main buildings were targeted. The first, the old Sun Trust building on the Square, basically ended the conversation for me. That was it. The place. The main floor still housed the ghost of the old bank, longing for something sight-worthy, memorable, befitting of such an historic place. It had a vault, right there in the open, a haven for the creative mind. There were offices, primed to be culled out as book nooks. There were chandeliers, pillars, and so much character. It needed Wordsmiths. I had grand plans at first, far too grand actually. I scaled them back (which if you visited the store might make you wonder how, or what in the world I might have thought was bigger than what I wound up with), focused on the space, and entered negotiations with the building’s owner.

Now, I’m not here to disparage the man. Allow me to make that clear. But–and this is no secret to those who knew him–he was no genius. In fact, to my misfortune, I was the first individual he managed a continued conversation with about leasing the space. Ever. Most people wandered off after “Hello” and “It will cost you THIS MUCH I WILL NEVER BUDGE.” Then again, this was my first leap into a lease negotiation as well. So, there we were, two people with no experience talking about an offer on a lease with no basis of negotiating comparison. In hindsight (a common refrain you may see here), I should have sought advice. I should have asked for help settling on a deal. But as we hammered away, I let my pride, my vision of the long-term dream of Wordsmiths, get in the way. I allowed us to get hung up on the length of the lease. He wouldn’t budge beyond a one-year lease, I wanted at least two (preferring three). Such a short term left me with an unfavorable possibility: Having to move the store after one year, which I wanted nothing to do with. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I said. Oy vey.

It was full of opportunity, and everything I was looking for.

It was full of opportunity, exactly I was looking for.

Negotiations broke down. He told me he had a number of people lined up, waiting for the space. Not wanting to cave, unwilling to deal with him further, I dropped out, wished him luck finding anyone with a business willing to sign a one-year lease, and moved on. Oh, how I wish I had just taken the lease, proven my worth, and built my store there. I would have saved thousands of dollars. Wordsmiths might still be around. Then again, the economic crush of 2008 might have still done it in. I’ll never know.

The story of our second location is another tale altogether. Though the space was beautiful, and historic, it wasn’t Wordsmiths. It wasn’t what I meant for it to be. And it wasn’t on the Square. Granted, it was only a block plus away, but you’d be amazed how far that is. You’d be amazed how much business you gain being in an impossible-to-miss location. Additionally, it left me with the ultimate choice, as mentioned already, I wanted nothing to do with: I had to move the store a year and half after opening it. And guess what? My Country Bumpkin Owner still hadn’t secured a tenant. So we had a chat. Not the first time we would have a conversation about hindsight. And I signed a one-year lease. Just like I should have done to begin with. I’m not a dumb guy, but I sure seem to do a lot of dumb things.

I didn’t have the resources I needed to convert the space to its original design (one that would have included a small cafe), but it came together nicely. I believe, and tell me I’m wrong if you visited and think otherwise, this is the memory of Wordsmiths Books. This is the image that comes to mind when people tell me they loved the store, when they mention the name to anyone, anywhere. When I think of it, I’m sitting in one of the chairs before the store opens, coffee in hand, taking a long look, staring through the front door, clock ticking steadily above the vault to my rear, smiling at the realization of a dream. I could have lived there forever.

It was everything it should have been in the first place. Or, something like that.

It was everything it should have been in the first place. Um. Yeah. Something like that.

The Little Bookstore That Couldn’t

The great thing about having a blog is I can damn well write whatever I want, and you can’t stop me. It’s glorious. If I want to talk about the redemptive quality of reanimated sidewalk-fried worms, I can. It won’t be interesting, but there you have it. I could talk endlessly about all the stupid things I’ve done in my life–and let it be known that I will–and all you can do is groan and tune it out, maybe grumble aloud about how annoying I am. But it will still exist. I can tell you that my dog is stretched over the edge of the couch right now, pining for the Moss to come home, looking like every ounce of hope has drained from her furry little frame, and no matter how that makes you feel, it’s written, done, the webbernuts will keep it forever. You can’t stop me.

And so, I get to do this:

On March 1st, 2009, Wordsmiths Books closed its doors, bringing to an end its short run, leaving behind but memories and a good bit of favorable view. Five years. It’s difficult to believe it’s been that long. Each year I’ve spent a little time on that anniversary offering thoughts, pictures, memories of the little bookstore that couldn’t. I’ve done this because I needed to. I’ve done this because, like a lost loved one, I wasn’t ready to let go. However, time has a way of mending the wound, leaving but scars as gentle reminders of what once was. And we move on.

I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to let go of all the things I might have been able to do to prevent that store from closing. From watching my bookstore family splinter and move on (with one notable exception). From haunting my dreams, nudging my guilt over those who lost money in the process, from tapping that nail ever so slightly into my heart day after day after day. Much like any endeavor in life, there is enough regret to fill a canyon. But that doesn’t change the outcome.

Which brings me to the purpose of this entry. I’m a couple days late on starting, due in part to the final grip of reluctance holding me back, so I’ll make up for it over the next couple days. What I’m going to do is post a picture, with a quick thought or two of the moment, each day until March 1st. I’m culling through the mountain of images that remain, and I apologize to any of you who may not want to be included in an image, or may not consider it the best you’ve had. These images are special to me, and, to that end, I’m not hunting for perfection. Only painful emotions attached to those memories that I can finally put to rest.

If you visited Wordsmiths, then thank you. If you did not, I’m sorry I couldn’t keep it around long enough. To those who wish, I invite you to leave your thoughts, here, on Facebook, or even Twitter (or all). I’d love to hear it.

This is me letting go, in the only way I know how to do it.

The first image is as first image as a first image can get, and requires the simplest of explanations. On June 15th, 2007, Wordsmiths Books opened its doors for the first time. I remember that day well, and I remember this moment like it just happened. I had a lot of hope then. I believed in the idea, and I believed in my staff. I had maneuvered through a great deal of political whooseywhatsit just to get to this point. Regardless of what I might have done different, it is, as my father would call it, a watermark day.

June 14th, 2007, I opened the door to the public for the first time.

June 15th, 2007, I opened the door to the public for the first time.

The Golden Ticket

One day does not a year make.

But, doesn’t it?

I had intended on writing a blog today about the maddening mess of mental malady that was my 2013. It was awful. Nothing seemed to go right. Plans were not merely rerouted, but torn to shreds by this monstrosity of a year. Short of 2009, which saw the close of my beloved Wordsmiths Books (as well as another unmentionable dissolution), there has been no other year spurning more depression and anxiety than 2013.

Then today happened.

Can one day really undo the damage the preceding 364 brought?

This once, I can say undoubtedly so. After all, being lost in a desert might be a continual trek through despair, misery, and pain; a plodding journey toward inevitability. Yet, find your way free and wouldn’t the memory of it all seem somewhat diluted? You survived, right? That has to cast some light upon the shadow of your anguish.

My light arrived by way of the Georgia Center for the Book. I am pleased to say that, as of January 6th, 2014, I will assume the post of GCB  Assistant to the Executive Director. I’m not sure if that’s the official title, but it sounds Schrutian (Schrute-ian?) enough for me, so I’ll go with it. If I can walk around screaming, “Michael!” then they can call me whatever they want. Regardless, I’m beyond excited to be joining this organization. As a writer, as a reader, as an individual who longs to see a greater emphasis on literacy, this is the job I have longed for. This is the place I belong. Additionally, it places the Moss and I back in Decatur, a city we have missed quite dearly in the year we’ve been away.

What is the Georgia Center for the Book, you may wonder? There’s a lengthy description here, but to summarize, here is a list of the Center’s Activities:

Sponsoring over 100 programs each year bringing authors from around the nation and the state for free year-round public appearances.

Sponsoring the 2012 Georgia Literary Festival November 9-10 at Jekyll Island.

Sponsoring state student literary competitions in two national programs,Letters About Literature and River of Words

Developing programs to take nationally known authors to libraries around Georgia with a “We the People” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Georgia Humanities Council. The first “We the People” program was successfully held at Young Harris on January 29, 2007.

Co-sponsoring major state literary awards including the Townsend Prize and the Lillian Smith Award.

Georgia Center for the Book

It doesn’t fully encapsulate the enormity of the organization’s purpose or impact, but it offers a nice glimpse into their reach. I look forward to assisting them in their work, helping to generate further awareness, and joining with the GCB Executive Director, Joe Davich, in expanding and evolving its reach.

This is not Joe Davich. But it really is.

This is not Joe Davich. But it really is.

2014 seems to be opening with a bang, offering an array of possibility, leaving the memory of 2013 as but an exercise in endurance. A period of brutal pain and misery, suffering and depression, yes, but also of survival, of resilience, and of the rewards that come from a refusal to lay down against the weight of it all.

This is no way detracts from my writing, or from my desire to reach as many readers as is possible. Book One of The Storyteller is still moving forward, the reissues of Anointed and Flutter are in the pipeline, and the initial response to my current manuscript, Specimen A, is glowing. 2014 is, indeed, lining up nicely, and I more than look forward to the adventures it will offer.

Offering a Word to the ‘Smiths.

On March 2nd, 2009, the first few whispers reached the blogs that Wordsmiths Books was closed.  No big farewell, no sell-down to a final closing date, nothing more than a note in the window baring a simple message:

I’ve pondered how to start this, but this is the best I can come up with. There is no great way to begin the end of a dream, and there is no gentle way to state that finality is upon you. That said, I regret to announce that, as of Monday, March 2nd, 2009, Wordsmiths Books will close its doors for good. I don’t do this willingly, and I would love to say that there were avenues of exploration yet to wander, possibilities that could avert this outcome, but that would be untruthful. I have explored every possibility open to me, but the sheer magnitude of the decline in sales alone (on the heels of our efforts to right the boat) from our current economic downturn has long since evaporated the fumes. Frankly put, there’s nothing left to make the engine go, and sitting on the side of the road with a thumb out doesn’t seem to earn you much grace as a business…

It’s been two years since I walked away from that store, and it still feels like a lost loved one.  Sure, pieces of it remain. I have the wonderful family of booksellers who worked for me, who remain in contact still; there are reminders fairly frequently from our customers who miss our events; there’s the clever little ghost that houses itself in Foursquare’s platform (I don’t know who did it, but thanks, and everyone else, do feel free to check in when your on the Square); and, of course, there exists a mountain of photos that remind me daily of the days spent toiling for my dream.

 

Photos Like This

It’s a mixture of sadness, and gratitude.  A blend of emptiness and completion.  I look at those pictures, and I wish Wordsmiths Books was still there, and I wish my family was still intact, and yet, we’ve all moved on to bigger and better things.  It has often struck me that we were brought together for a reason, and for a short time were allowed to share in this experience and carry it forward.  Then again, that could just be me.  I couldn’t have been blessed with a better group of people to spend my time with, and I remain thankful every day that they were in my life.  I’ve spent the past few days on Facebook thanking each of them individually, and I still feel I haven’t done it justice.

There are scores of others who were involved, in one way or another, with Wordsmiths, and I know that any attempt to thank them all would be futile, due to the fact that I am purely incapable of remembering what I had for breakfast, much less such a lengthy list of names.  So, naturally, I’ll do it any way, with apologies to anyone I forget.  To Collin Kelley (for his fab poetry events), Laurel Snyder (finalist for the E.B White Read Aloud Award!!!!), Wayne Fishell & Big Peaches (who gave us our soul Debby Harry style), Julia Carrol & Amy Lashley (for being the best cheerleaders/folk duo we could have asked for), Chris Warner (for his awesome sign), David L. Robbins (for his many contributions that stand as tall as he is, as well as for being a loyal and dedicated friend), Jim & Jessie Mundy (for the signed, framed, Wordsmiths Bag, from opening night), to The Georgia Center for the Book (for your support and trust), to Jennifer Brett (for your unbiased, fact-based story on the store’s closing), and to the many, many people who shopped our store, attended our events, and extended their hand when we called out for help, thank you.  There is no measure of words that truly sums up my gratitude.

If you’re up for browsing through it, here’s the original blog for Wordsmiths, during the 6-month run-up to the opening in June 2007.

It wasn’t ever easy, but when is owning a business ever?  I made mistakes in the process of opening that eventually haunted the store.  I made the decision in August 2008 to ask the public for help, for a business that had not even been open two years, and scores of people responded.  It was an emotional time, and to this day I still get choked up thinking about the overwhelming support we received.  The link to the blog above, the one detailing the store’s closing, is littered with comments that I didn’t read until last year’s anniversary that detail the belief that I did this knowing that the store was going to close (an opinion shared my by ex-mother-in-law, I regretfully recall now. Joy, there.).  That I willingly, and deceitfully, took money in order to simply buy me time.  There’s no point in arguing with fools, but I would like to say that I do not quit on anything unless it is beaten and dead (and even then I do it reluctantly), and I do not look someone in the eye and willingly lie in order to spare myself.  Wordsmiths was not dead (beaten maybe) until the economy bottomed out in October of that same year.  At that point we were turning in the right direction, slowly, like a ship turning against the storm.  But when people stopped shopping (in general) and put a cap on Christmas for 2008, we were toast.  And we weren’t alone.  Closing Wordsmiths remains one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Saying goodbye to my family was excruciating.  The image of walking away, turning the key one last time, and driving off (albeit in a very beautiful snowfall that I will always link with a sign of cleansing, and a new beginning) is forever imprinted on my mind.  The fact that the year following left me in a state of financial hardship like I’ve never known, had me contemplating my life’s choices, and ultimately contributed to the end of a marriage, does nothing at all to reduce the power and wonder of the Wordsmiths experience.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

And maybe someday, I will.

Wordsmiths Books was nearly everything I dreamed it to be, and I still believe that it lives and breathes in the memories of those who shared in it.  And on March 2nd of every year that I am blessed enough to live, I will raise a glass to its memory, to all that it offered me, and salute.  R.I.P to my little bookstore child.

Writing Devil Fiction Makes God Happy

And so it begins…

It’s been some time since I remember stating that I should start a blog.  They’re useful things, after all.  Especially when one feels they have something of relevance to say, or promote.  In my case, I have ME.  And, as such, I will promote ME (Caps are necessary in order to inflate my ego) as necessary, and hope that you (sorry, no caps for you…this is show is about ME) get some facet of enjoyment out of it.  So, let’s just start with an introduction of sorts.  Things you must know about ME in order to fully appreciate anything that I may decide is worth writing about:

  1. I am the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, which debuted on March 3rd of this year.
  2. I am, according to the Tacoma Public Library system, a purveyor of Devil Fiction.  Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see what I mean.
  3. I have been writing this past year as Billy Christ, the outgoing CEO of The Christ Corporation, and an overall buffoon.  He has a Twitter account, and a blog (in which he has yet  to fully figure out how to use).  In a very short time, Timmy Christ will be anointed and will take over.  I expect he (or would it be He?) will have much to say.
  4. I am not an atheist, an agnostic, or a member of any organized religion.  I believe that if you can breathe, you have the capacity to decide for yourself what to believe.
  5. I am addicted to Facebook.  I am almost always on, doing something.  Very sad.  Fun, but sad.  I loathe Myspace, but I do have an account.  I check it like it’s a sick grandparent I don’t want to watch die.  Oh, The Christ Corporation has a Myspace page as well.
  6. I am an avid Fantasy League Baseball player and I will bore, or entertain, you with the ongoings of one particular league I am in.  The chatter between a few of us can be glorious and hilarious at once, as we all play in character.  Billy has the reigns on this one as well, for now.
  7. I owned and operated Wordsmiths Books, in Decatur, Georgia, from December 2006 through March 2009.  Alas, it is no more.  Its memory is a source of penultimate joy and sadness.
  8. This is what I wake up to every morning:

Not that face in particular, but one that is not too unsimilar.  In fairness though, this is what she sees when she wakes up:

 Blah.

In order to avoid making this entire post a list-oriented detailing of ME, I’ll bypass further numbering and save that instead for a Facebook meme that more accurately described ME in an entertaining, yet less than literary, way.  Oh, a further note of use.  I am no friend of Grammar.  I will slam the door in its face if it attempts to visit.  I have a restraining order against grammar and insist that it speak only to those who edit my words.  Grammar can go to Hell.  Elipses…are…my…friend, and, I, don’t, use, commas, correctly, if I use them at all.  Do not attempt to point out flaws in my grammar, or lack thereof.  I will get a restraining order against you as well (“And if you don’t believe me, I’ll put a jihad on you, too.”).

What I hope to utilize this blog for, aside from having an outlet that is purely ME-centric, and without the weight of Christ guiding my words, is to promote and encourage discussion of whatever inane subjects I wish to talk about.  I’ll drop some bits from Anointed, write unpublished additions from time to time, bore/entertain you with the Fantasy League Baseball (forever to be FLB henceforth) exploits of the Chrysler Salvation, tap into the myriad selection of religious news of the day (looking for conversation here folks, otherwise I’ll just look at myself in a mirror and watch MYSELF talk), and lastly (or perhaps just thisly, as there is likely to be more) give a once in a while look at how not to run and operate a bookstore.  Or perhaps any business at all.  Learn from me here.  I know I’m trying to.  Regardless, there will be a very ME-present atmosphere to everything, as I wish to promote ME and only ME (and on occasion you, if it benefits ME).  Though cheese is pretty important to0.

So as to keep this intro brief, I leave by way of offering you a glimpse of sheer stupidity.  This, from another my favorite sites, Fail blog:

Be glad you aren’t that oblivious.