Coming to BEA with her first novel, Flying Shoes (Bloomsbury, June), Square Books co-owner Lisa Howorth is excited to return to the show and see it through an author perspective. “Everything about being on this end of a book has been eye-opening, and things have changed so much. It will be interesting to see what it’s all like now.” It’s been a few years since Howorth last came to BEA. While catching up with old friends and meeting new authors and booksellers, she’ll also don her bookstore owner’s hat and be on the lookout for stock for her independent bookstore in Oxford, Miss.: “Even though I don’t work in the store, I’m always doing double duty at book events as Mrs. Square Books.” In 2013, Square Books was Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year.
Flying Shoes is about the unsolved murder of her stepbrother, and Howorth notes that writing the novel was more than a labor of love for her brother, family, and the city of Oxford. “Writing the novel was also a labor of revenge, which seems like an unfruitful or unwise motivation for writing, but there it is, I must admit,” Howorth says. “My grandfather is Sicilian, and maybe I got that DNA from him, but writing is a better method of hitting back than knee-capping or whacking.”
Admitting that she’s a “wuss” about a lot of things, including cooties, flying, Putin and Kim Jong-un, tornadoes, and the unknown in general, when it comes to her brother, Howorth was fearless in returning to the past to write Flying Shoes. “Fear is part of the damage inflicted by unexpected tragedy. But what’s interesting to me are the ways that people find to overcome that. It’s so much easier to try to forget about it. My family and I are a little creeped out—my stepbrother’s killer is still out there—but I had to tell the story.”
To help tell the story, Howorth, a former reference librarian, combined memories and a vivid imagination. “Other than the crime, all the other events and stories in the novel are made up. I did none of the research about the murder. One of my brothers did his own investigation of all that. Thanks to him I was able to use his documentation, although I changed a few small things. There was a certain catharsis, but it’s hard to feel completely celebratory about it. You say what you need to, and try to let go, but it’s never gone.”
She hopes readers take heart at the humor in the novel. “This might seem incongruous in a story with a tragedy in the background, but humor is an important defense, or unguent, for our psychic wounds; like religion, it sustains.”
Howorth is signing galleys today in the Bloomsbury booth (1749) at 2 p.m.