Word Up Bookstore

When I first moved to New York City, and specifically here to Washington Heights, I was nervous. I was nervous for a lot of reasons, mostly because I was doing a Big New Thing with my life. After 4 years out of college and 4 years in college in the more-or-less constant company of my beloved bosom friend, Rachel, I was moving in with my girlfriend, Charlotte. I also didn’t have a job, exactly, or much of a plan aside from getting a job somewhere and writing more and maybe applying to PhD programs someday. I was nervous about leaving Boston, leaving the friends I had there. I was nervous about not being in school again for awhile. And I was nervous, especially, deep-down, seriously nervous, because my new neighborhood didn’t seem to have a bookstore.

I hoped, of course, that Charlotte’s and my relationship would grow deeper and stronger without my losing the deep, daily friendship I had with Rachel. I hoped that I wouldn’t discover that Charlotte and I worked great long- distance, and not so great no-distance. I hoped that I would like New York. I hoped that I would find ways to work and play and live and connect and love my new situation, while staying in touch with my friends scattered in their various haunts. And I hoped I would find great bookstores close to home.

So far, most of my hopes have been fulfilled in various, lovely ways. These weekend, Charlotte and I are celebrating our five-year anniversary (the actual date of our anniversary is rather vague: we were doing a theater workshop when we actually got together and everyone in the workshop was pretty much living in the same apartment, and well… we just can’t remember the date, so we celebrate sometime in July.) Turns out we work even better no-distance than long. I still talk to Rachel every day, and to several of my other beloved bosom friends weekly or so, though there are also many of you with whom I would love to be in better touch. I’m hoping this blog, while boosting interest in and sales of my writing to sky-rocketing levels, will also provide a means of in-touch-ness with those I have not spoken to in awhile. New York has gone from overwhelming to friendly, in a strange transition I don’t know how to describe. I’ve written more (did you catch the 500 posts about The Clown and the Magician?), and I’m starting a PhD program in English at CUNY in the fall.

But… But. No bookstores close to home. Until about a month ago, when we heard about this pop-up bookstore that is so very, very close to where we live. What, you ask, is a pop-up bookstore? It is a bookstore that springs up with little warning, that is perhaps temporary, and that, in this case, is designed to provide literary and musical and performative community space, along with lots of interesting books to buy.

Word Up Bookstore is housed in a former pharmacy, with the pharmacy awning still out front. It is small-ish, but has lots of open space, especially at the back, where there is a lovely small stage and performance area. There are bookshelves filled with books, many by local authors, many strange, beautiful, random, political, quirky books. There is a terrific sale on books by Seven Stories Press, so there are lots of books available for $3 or $5, and there’s even a table of books for free. Word Up has lots of art on the walls, paintings and all kinds of decoration done by local artists, and, in one especially decorated corner with lots of yellow and pink, you can find out what your sign is on the vegetable zodiac (determined by birth year), and, if so inclined, buy a packet of seeds of your zodiac vegetable. I am a chili pepper. Charlotte is a tomato.

There are readings and/or concerts and/or comic book workshops, self-defense classes, and other things harder to classify almost every night. The space is hot, and there are a few places where the walls and ceilings are a bit holey (mostly cleverly hidden with art), but it is the one place I voluntarily go where I know it will probably be ten degrees hotter than the outside, and sometimes even than my home.

The first or second time I went in, I learned that Word Up is entirely staffed by volunteers, and I started volunteering shortly thereafter. Initially, Word Up was supposed to only exist for one month. They planned to close it down last night. The space, in a long saga I don’t fully understand, has been donated by its owner, a New York realty company called Vantage, through a Community Outreach program they have. Looking up the company online makes for some interesting reading. Anyway, the overall response to the bookstore has been incredibly positive, and so Vantage and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance and Seven Stories Institute worked out a plan to keep it open at least through the end of September, perhaps longer.

Last night we had a volunteer meeting, and it was really great to meet a motley assortment of people in my neighborhood who all love the bookstore. I don’t know where it’s all going, but I’m loving it so far, and I wanted to tell you all about my literary-community-volunteer experiences. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by Word Up and check it out. And whether you are or not, here’s the link to their blog: http://wordupbooks.wordpress.com/

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The Clown and the Magician: Cover Art, Blurb, and Dreamspinner Link!

Here's the lovely cover art by Anne Cain!

Did you hear the one about the clown and the magician?

Bernard Stevens, a dedicated clown, accepts a job at Send in the Clowns entertainment agency and learns that their corporate policy is anything but funny. In spite of the stultifying conformity the agency imposes, Bernard and magician Jake Morrison start a relationship as vibrant and unique as the men themselves.

But Jake believes in more than nonconformity—he believes in change, and when he tries to change Bernard’s relationship with his father for the better, Bernard is not amused. Bernard thinks he’s too old to change, but if he doesn’t let Jake work his magic on Bernard’s family life, he’ll find that clowning around alone is no laughing matter.

Starting Wednesday, you can buy the book here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=2441

Cover Art Excitement

Today I received a draft of the cover art for my upcoming novella! This will be released through Dreamspinner Press (www.dreamspinnerpress.com), and I’ll be saying lots and lots about it as we get closer to the release date, I’m sure. For now, suffice it to say that it is called The Clown and the Magician, and it’s about, surprisingly enough, a clown and a magician who find themselves working for the same stultifying talent agency. It’s also about their burgeoning romance, family troubles of many varieties, sexism in the work place, racism in the brains of well-meaning folks, and the art of the individualized clown nose.

Since the cover art may not be the final version, I won’t say a lot about it specifically, but I wanted to say something about the thrill of receiving it in my inbox.  In my experience, creation and collaboration are very closely linked.  You can make up whatever you want, but the magical part–and I mean magical quite literally–happens when someone else conspires with you to breathe life into what you have made.  When someone sees it too, paints your vision into their own brain, brings whatever offerings, images, bits of memory they have that makes what you imagined live for them– that’s the trick.  That’s what keeps me coming back for more.

This kind of shared creation is particularly important and visible in theater, which is part of why I love theater, but I’m fascinated to see where it also occurs on the road to publication of other kinds of works. I’ve noticed that kind of  collaborative opportunity in the editing process, which is pretty much the only time anyone will care exactly why you chose that word, and will actually ask to hear about it.   In the case of this story, the cover art is definitely the place I’ve experienced it most strongly so far.  I don’t know whether the artist read my whole story or not, but she clearly took the time to tune into it and to respond with beauty of her own.

So hooray for cover art!  And a big thank you to everyone who has cared enough about any piece of writing I’ve done to give it the kind of creative attention that really makes it come alive.