Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saying Goodbye - and Hello - to Bookstores

Tom Schmidt discusses his photos.
This week I attended and read at two of the last three events at Books Inc. in the Castro. The store has hosted hundreds of readings, many of which I attended. It will close next week, and it's a sad day. 

But while that store is closing because of the exorbitant renewed lease costs, Books Inc, itself is thriving, with several other branches throughout the Bay Area. It remains one of the most successful California independent bookstores. 

The gay events and stock will move to the Books Inc, Opera Plaza on Van Ness Avenue. It's often the location for high profile celebrity signings. With its larger size, it can accommodate signings by the likes of Christopher Rice and other big publisher authors.
Reports over the years of the rise and fall and reprise of bookstores have been frequently published. I'm often surprised by the amount of new and used bookstores in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. 

Mark Abramson's June 2016 reading at Books Inc.
At the reading for prolific author Mark Abramson, more than 30 people attended, including a few local columnists and celebrities. Abramson's new memoir, More Sex, Drugs & Disco is a sequel to his prior memoir about the 1970s and 1980s, his life as a bartender, event producers (the famous Men Behind Bars benefit shows) and high-living Castro gay man.

Unlike Abramson, whose many books are set here, I have yet to finish my novel set in San Francisco. A few of my short stories in Forty Wild Crushes are set here, and my contribution to the new anthology Not Just Another Pretty Face, is set at a party here.
"Not Just Another" bookstore

The collection features the photos of local photographer Tom Schmidt, also known as Dot. His provocative and beautiful images were the inspiration for the book and its contributors, who each chose a photo to pair with their stories, essays and poems, even a short play! Editor Louis Flint Ceci lovingly assembled the works into an unusual anthology, available now from Beautiful Dreamer Press.

Schmidt is also a prolific nightlife photographer whose pictures I've published as the nightlife editor of the Bay Area Reporter, a job I've held for the past five-plus years. So, although I don't see myself yet categorized as a "San Francisco author," I do feel a part of the collective writing community, and the dozens of local readings I've listed in Arts event in the B.A.R. and attended are part of that. Books Inc, and A Different Light before that, plus several other stories, added to that sense of community.

It's not easy to find a store that's comfortable with live readings of gay sex, but it's often fun. 

from a 2007 Cyclizen reading
Certainly, authors who take on other topics –aging, politics and diversity issues, even drag queen coloring books– have been invited to read at Books Inc. in the Castro, and the colorful flyers posted are only a part of their successful publicity mini-campaigns for events. Their monthly newsletter and website are an added bonus, and you can order nearly all my books online without even going to a store.

Much has been said about the threat of, online sales, and ebook preferences as harming the publishing industry. But indie authors, self-published authors, ebook-only authors and alternative events have grown, and bookstores that found new ways to reach customers have survived.

At the same time as Books Inc.'s Castro store closing, the Mission District-based Dog Eared Books opened a second branch in the former clothing store that has long been the San Francisco home of A Different Light Books. That store was among the first that I ever read from.

My first reading in 1994 was from the gay fiction anthology Waves: an Anthology of New Gay Literature. Contributors to that collection who attended the event included K.M. Soehnlein, Richard Davis and Rex Knight.

My story 'Forty Wild Crushes' has recently been included as the title piece in my new short fiction/nonfiction collection of the same name.

I still have the large-size multi-colored construction paper notebook with photocopied illustrations for the each of the 40 "crushes." I'm not sure if I'll bring that to any of my next readings. While it's a fun prop, the pages are now a bit out of order, so I'll have to redo it.
Dog Eared Books Castro

Anyway, it's sad to see a favorite bookstore go, but nice to find a new home with Books Inc., and soon with Dog Eared, where, although it's already open, a grand opening party will take place on June 20, with notable local writer and host Baruch Porras-Hernandez, who will MC and welcome many local writers, including the legendary Armistead Maupin.

That's also notable, in that I'll be celebrating my 26-year anniversary of being a San Francisco resident almost on that very day. Up the block from the bookstore location at 489 Castro Street, on my second day living in California, at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro St.) I attended the Frameline International LGBT Film Festival screening of the documentary Armistead Maupin is a Man I Dreamt Up.

So, keep dreaming and writing and reading. Bookstores will remain open as long as they can afford the ridiculous rent, and as long as readers buy books.
Attendees of the 2nd to last Books Inc Castro reading event.

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