Mar4MichelleWitteFirePetalBooks Asfar back as junior high school, 28-year-old Michelle Witte knew she wanted tohave her own bookstore. But she put the idea on hold while she attendedcollege, where she majored in journalism. Then after five years as an associateeditor at Gibbs Smith, Witte decided early last month that the time was rightto start a children's bookstore. She's already got a name picked out, FirePetal Books, and a location, a 1,400 sq. ft. space in Centerville,Utah, just outside Salt Lake City. The only problem is that shedoesn't have startup funds.

Sowith a little help from Twitter followers like Molly O'Neill, an editor atHarperCollins Children's Books, who donated a paperback/novel manuscriptcritique and a 15-minute phone consultation, and Neil Gaiman, who gave her asigned copy of the script he cowrote with Roger Avary for the movie Beowulf,Witte is hoping to raise $40,000 by holding an auction online. She will use the money raised to paint wallsand build bookshelves, as well as to provide free classes and activities forchildren at the store, which was named by her five-year-old niece.

Asfor the decision to open a children's specialty bookstore, that was easy, saysWitte, who not only edits kids' titles like Pocketdoodles for Girls byAnita Wood at Gibbs Smith, but also has written several unpublished YA books.As an added reason she points to Utah's bestsellingyoung adult authors, which she refers to as the "Mormon Mafia." They includeShannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson,James Dasher, Ally Condie, and Jessica Day George, among others.

Utah's demographics are also encouraging fora children's store. According to the U.S. Census, 30.9% of the population of Utah is under the age of 18, compared with 24.5% for the U.S. as a whole. And Utahhas the highest fertility rate in the country. Anecdotally, says Witte, many ofher friends are having their fourth child..

Witteis not one to mull over a decision once it's been made. The auction closes onMarch 20, and Fire Petal Books will open in mid-April. She has one person whomshe'd like to hire to open the store, and will add others who know children'sbooks once the store is up and running. For now, Witte plans to continue atGibbs Smith.

Note: Two names have been removed from the list of Utah writers.