Every year since 2002, on the first Saturday of spring, Minnesota's premier mystery bookstore, Once Upon a Crime, holds its annual Write of Spring. Pat and Gary, the owners of Once Upon a Crime, bill their store as "informal, low-tech, and happy to provide the best customer service around." The Write of Spring epitomizes this attitude.
Over 60 authors were present, hanging out in one-hour shifts to talk to, meet with, and sign books for fans and aspiring writers. Many of us blur the line between fan and author when we find ourselves standing between the likes of William Kent Krueger and Laura Childs while chatting with Ruth Jordan about the future of the mystery genre. All this in a tiny store no larger than my dining room and kitchen combined, no cover charge, no pretension.
For me, this is what independent bookstores are all about. You have camaraderie, connecting, employees who can give you an exhaustive answer to the question, "If I like this book, what other books would I like?" Once Upon a Crime, whose motto is, "For a Good Crime, Call," also hosts book groups and writing groups as well as putting on weekly signings.
Pat and Gary, who incidentally got married in their store two years as Gary battled leukemia, put as much effort into supporting emerging authors as the bestsellers. I remember setting up my first signing at the store, for May Day, which came out in 2006. My ego was bruised from trying to set up events at larger stores. I expected more of the same from Once Upon a Crime, but Pat's email response to my request read something like this: "May Day was a hoot! You let us know what day and time you want to set up a signing, and we'll make it happen. In the meanwhile, I ordered 40 copies of your book, so stop by and sign stock. Looking forward to meeting you!"
Hunh? She'd not only read my book but had ordered copies of it? If you've dealt with Once Upon a Crime, I know you've had a similar experience. They're champs in the mystery field, the unsung underdogs who connect readers directly with writers, and vice versa. And I bet they're not the only ones out there. What's your favorite indie, and why?
(The photos are, starting with the top one and working down: Pat, co-owner of the store, along with a children's book author; a writer of books, Lori L. Lake, and William Kent Krueger--one of the best mystery writers out there; Ellen Hart and Michael Allen Mallory. I apologize for not knowing the names of two of the authors pictured. I'm lame that way.)