Friday, October 29, 2010

Metta Fuller Victor: The First Woman Crime Novelist in the U.S.

By Jeffrey Marks

Recently, the long-forgotten works of American author Metta Fuller Victor, who wrote her mysteries under the name of Seeley Regester, have been reintroduced to the mystery community. The novels that have been re-published in the last 10 years predate Anna Katherine Green’s work by almost a decade, making Victor the first author and first woman author to produce a full-length mystery novel in the United States.

Little is known about Fuller’s personal life. She was born in 1831 and seemed called to writing from an early age. Fuller didn’t limit her craft to detective novels. She wrote in genres ranging from westerns to rags-to-riches works, using a new pseudonym for each genre. At 25, she married Orville Fuller, the editor for Beadle and Adams. The marriage, which produced nine children, allowed Fuller to publish more of her works. Beadle’s Monthly serialized The Dead Letter in 1866 and the novel came out in book form the following year. The Figure Eight appeared in 1869.

Fuller’s works are typically Postbellum in style. Her novels give insight into the social mores of the time. She would be classified as a cozy author today, writing books that focus on the effect of a crime on a family and the ramifications of crime. In her work, murders threaten the domestic tranquility and must be cleared up to restore equilibrium.

Like many women of her era, Fuller was a proponent of social change. Her other works included denunciations against slavery, alcoholism and Mormon polygamy. The Dead Letter has a distinctly moralistic tone when the villain’s gambling and wanton behavior foreshadows the solution.

While her mysteries use a methodical approach to solve a murder, Fuller is not above using supernatural means to further her plots. She uses the detective’s clairvoyant daughter to locate a suspect in The Dead Letter and a sleepwalking governess in The Figure Eight. These gothic elements are surprising to today’s readers who expect fair play in their mysteries, but not to the readers of the 1860s who knew Poe as much for The Telltale Heart as his tales of detection.

Jeffrey Marks is the award-winning author of "Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: Queen of the Screwball Mystery," "Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s and 1950s," and the Anthony Award-winning "Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography." He is also the author of the U.S. Grant mystery series that includes "The Ambush of My Name" and "A Good Soldier." Marks lives in Cincinnati.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Booksmith: A Conversation with an Independent Book Seller, Part 2 of 2

By Linda Lovely

Today’s blog entry is Part 2 of a recent interview with independent bookstore owner Tricia Lightweis. Tricia and her husband, Alan, opened The Booksmith in Seneca, SC, in 1989.

Do many of your customers read thrillers, mysteries and/or suspense?

I’d estimate about five percent of our customer base reads exclusively in these genres. However, I think half of our regular clientele read the gamut of genres and often choose mysteries or suspense.

One interesting development over the past five years has been the increased willingness of readers to try books by international writers. In years past, we had a hard time interesting local readers, no matter how good the book might be. The popularity of Stieg Larsson is a prime example of how acceptance has broadened.

How do you connect with readers and build loyalty?

It’s very important to show respect for readers’ favorite genres—including mystery, romance and paranormal. A bookseller shows respect by making sure the newest releases are in stock, as well as a good supporting backlist.

Every month for the past 20 years, we’ve distributed between 4,000 and 7,000 newspaper inserts. In the past, these inserts were all 24-page industry tabs filled with reviews and other book news. Recently we’ve begun to alternate the industry inserts with a much more personalized 12-page newsletter. We also send out an e-mail marketing letter.

We sponsor many author book signings and events, and invest substantial sums in advertising them via print and radio. One of our success factors has been our willingness to devote a lot of money to marketing and supporting the book industry.

We’ve had a loyalty program since day one as well. We stamp a card each time a customer buys a book. When enough stamps are accumulated, they can be redeemed for discounts.

How do you select authors for book signing events?

In order for us to invite an author, the individual has to be on our radar. And 99 percent of the time, the only way we know about a regional author—regardless of who their publisher might be—is if they approach us.

When they do ask us to host events, we expect them to roll up their sleeves and work with us. We expect them to be available when our customers shop and to be friendly and able to talk with customers. We also expect them to help by marketing themselves.

Before the event, they should contact friends and family and encourage them to come. These days we also insist that authors provide links to our store on their websites or blogs. An author who expects our help had better have a link to let their fans buy books on the indie bookstore’s website. Having links to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and no link to an indie site is a slap in the face.

What other mistakes do authors make when dealing with independent bookstores?

Bookstores—especially if they advertise aggressively—don’t make money on author signing events. But events are a vehicle to bring new people into the store and build relationships. Unfortunately, not every book is a good candidate for a book signing. Recently I had a woman who’d written a book on genealogy and wanted me to host a book signing. I told her it was too specialized for our store, customer base and location.

When we decline, authors do themselves no favor if they get offended and become offensive. We may be able to help them in other ways. It’s a business and they should operate professionally.

What do you see as your role in the community?

An independent bookstore should absolutely be a community center. It should be a place where people from different backgrounds can gather, chat and feel welcome. That’s part of the independent bookstore culture.

We’ve all endured challenges as to what books we should carry in our stores. We stand our ground on that front and always will. We are awfully glad to have the support of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

The Booksmith [] is a member of the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA), The American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

Award-winning author Linda Lovely writes romantic suspense novels featuring “smart, sexy heroines caught up in danger-packed situations that require them to partner with equally smart, sexy men.” Her novel, "Counterfeit," is a finalist in the Romantic Suspense category of the 2010 Golden Heart contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Booksmith: A Conversation with an Independent Book Seller, Part 1 of 2

By Linda Lovely

Independent bookstore statistics appear to tell a story that’s all gloom and doom. Over half of the 5,000 indie bookstores open for business in 1991 had closed by 2009 and their share of market slid from 31% to 12%. Yet many survivors flourish. How?

Tricia Lightweis, who opened The Booksmith in Seneca, SC, in 1989 with her husband, Alan, thinks constant re-evaluation is the key to indie success. In a recent interview, she talked about indie survival strategies, relationships with authors and readers, changing technology and the bookstore’s role in the community. Here’s Part 1 of that interview:

Give us a little history first. What prompted you to open The Booksmith?

This is our 21st year in the same Seneca, South Carolina, shopping plaza. I’d already opened an International Deli in this plaza. I opened The Booksmith for our four children. I was an avid reader and so were my children. The nearest bookstore was 50 miles away, and I was taking my children to the library twice a week. If I felt a need for a bookstore for my children and myself, I figured plenty of other parents would appreciate one, too. When we opened in 1989, we were 100 percent focused on books.

How has The Booksmith changed?

We expanded the Booksmith and doubled the square footage 10 years ago. We also began selling book-related sidelines. At that time, our book-to-sideline ratio was 90% - 10%.

After the inclusion of a U.S. Postal Service contract unit into our facility, we realized that Booksmith needed to diversify and increase the sideline inventory to appeal to non-readers. We noted that placement of this new inventory should surround the immediate postal area and the walkway entrance. We also incorporated the immediate area with our Regional & Travel book genres hoping they would appeal to everyone.

The change was not applauded by some of our book-purist customers. One woman screamed that Booksmith was no longer a bookstore. I explained to her, if I showed her our inventory and sales reports, she’d see that books still represented 80 percent of our business.

The visual impression can be misleading. If you’re going to survive in business, you have to constantly challenge yourself – reevaluate and change your business model to reflect current buying trends. It appears that bookstores that haven’t offered diversification are struggling the most.

Any comments on changes in book formats and technology?

We now offer e-books on our web site. We’re onboard with the new technology. In the future, when Sony or other providers produce an e-book reader geared to the independent world of bookselling, we’ll be right there with them. We will not offer the Kindle, which uses a proprietary format.

While there’s been talk about print-on-demand machines in bookstores, I don’t think you’ll find them outside of major cities for many years to come. The cost is simply too high.

Paper books aren’t going to disappear. Many readers – myself included – still want physical books they can hold in their hands. But the format has changed. In 1989, 100 percent of our paperbacks were mass market. Now it’s just the opposite. Large-format paperbacks rule.

The Booksmith [] is a member of the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA), The American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

Award-winning author Linda Lovely writes romantic suspense novels featuring “smart, sexy heroines caught up in danger-packed situations that require them to partner with equally smart, sexy men.” Her novel, "Counterfeit," is a finalist in the Romantic Suspense category of the 2010 Golden Heart contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America.

Photo courtesy of The Booksmith.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Things You Don't Know About Harley Jane Kozak

SinC: What are your favorite shoes (heels, sneakers, flip-flops, whatever?)

HJK: Okay, I never used to be able to wear flip-flops -- having that little divider between the toes gave me the heebie-jeebies. Then, about a year ago, I just got over it! Now I have about 17 pairs of flip-flops. It gives me faith in the transformative powers of the human species.

SinC: Is there anything you'd never leave home without?

HJK: Lip gloss and body lotion. It’s because I live in the desert of Southern California.

SinC: What do you wish you had more time for?

HJK: Sleeping.

SinC: Is there anyone from the past you would like to talk to for just 15 minutes?

HJK: At the moment, I’m a little obsessed with Genghis Khan. (can one be “a little” obsessed?)

SinC: What word do you absolutely hate?

HJK: “Awesome” has bugged me for about seven years.

SinC: Do you dream in color or black and white?

HJK: I have no idea. How unobservant of me.

SinC: If the F.B.I. had to give you a new identity, what name would you choose?

HJK: Trixie.

SinC: Favorite food?

HJK: Red velvet cake.

SinC: Favorite drink?

HJK: Vanilla milkshake.

SinC: Most embarrassing moment?

HJK: A lot of cringe-worthy moments as an actress, but in real life, it was the things that came out of me while in labor with my first baby.

SinC: First job?

HJK: Working at my brother-in-law’s tractor parts company.

SinC: Worst job?

HJK: Doing a scene with rats climbing over my face on The Guiding Light.

SinC: Favorite dessert?

HJK: Red velvet cake -- again.

SinC: If you weren't a published author, what would you be?

HJK: A politician.

SinC: If you could be one of your characters, who would it be and why?

HJK: A teenage physics prodigy named Apollo. I think it would be nice to understand physics.

Harley Jane Kozak, author of the award-winning Wollie Shelley mysteries, is also known for her work on stage, screen and television. You may find even more things you don't know about her at her website,

Photo courtesy of Harley Jane Kozak.