With 15 new stores signing on as members in 2016, the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookstore Association is booming. In all, some 221 booksellers attended this year’s MPIBA Fall Discovery Show, held in Denver from October 6–8, and the mood was positively giddy. The author programming began on Thursday morning with a breakfast session featuring a trio of top children’s authors. But the entertainment didn’t start with readings; it began with Abby Paxton from BookBar in Denver, accompanied by Sarah Taylor from The Bookworm in Edwards in Edwards, Colo., on ukulele, urging the collected booksellers to “shake your sillies out” in song.
S.J. Kincaid followed with a talk about her new novel The Diabolic (S&S). She confessed her innate “dork” and how her various failed attempts to fit in at school. “I went through school walking around in t-shirts that said things like ‘Everything I Knew in Life I Learned From Star Trek.’ I showed up for Halloween once dressed like Captain Picard with pantyhose over my head. And I tried using makeup and, inspired by the movie Cleopatra, applied blue eye shadow up to my eyebrows. I tried to fit in, but couldn’t.”
The isolation led her to spending a lot of time with herself and her imagination, which led her to dream up story after story after story and led her to become a writer. Later, she joked, she learned that type of behavior has been diagnosed as a clinical ccondition known as “maladaptive daydreaming.” She said, “It’s the story of an outsider who must blend in. It’s also explores the idea that you derive the idea from yourself from other people.”
Allison Senecal, book buyer at Old Firehouse Books, in Fort Collins, Colo., read The Diabolic as a manuscript and offered one of the first bookseller reviews for the book. Of the event, she said, “That breakfast is always my favorite because children’s authors tend to be hilarious and engaging. This year it was good to start the day with a laugh and a little interactive singing.”
Author-illustrator David Shannon, wearing a bespoke “duck-billed” baseball cap, channeled a dozen country voices in previewing his picture book, Duck on a Tractor (Scholastic/Blue Sky), a sequel to Duck on a Bike. The new book was a decade in the making, one that was prompted by calls from his fans to fulfill the promise of the final page of the earlier book which depicted the namesake duck staring up at a tractor (after its adventure on a bicycle).
Reaching the end of his new book, Shannon conceded that it would be logical that the last page end with a duck staring up at a truck (earlier he’d riffed, joking about Duck on a Vespa… in Rome). But the final image is more enigmatic, showing as it does a blurry photograph taken by one of the characters in the book that shows a duck, and a tractor – and a goat. “But it’s not a definitive picture and this is going to remain a controversy in the life of this town forever – kind of like Bigfoot.”
The power of children’s books often lies in pictures and illustrations. Paxton of The BookBar in Denver introduced Erin Stead, illustrator of The Uncorked of Ocean Bottles, saying that the book “revels in the power of stillness.” She continued, saying “I started to read it, but had to stop and restart with a much quieter mind. The way she uses color to depict emotion is really interesting. I am amazed by what she can do. There are so many small delightful things in this book.”
For her part Stead showed off photos of her studio in northern Michigan and explained how it was booksellers who revealed to her that her inspiration for her drawing was likely deeply connected to her passion for other children’s book illustrators, “a lifetime of reading and selling books, a lifetime of literacy.” She showed various images from her book that offer repeated echoes of those from other books, ranging from the works of Richard Scarry to Calvin and Hobbes to Little Bear and others that have popped up in her books.
But Stead conceded that her real education came from her time working at Books of Wonder bookstore in New York City. “My first two days there they put a thousand picture books in front of me and told me to read all of them and told me, ‘Figure out what you like, you don’t like and why.’ And then you shelved them. It was great. They shelved by illustrator, which was awesome.” Earlier, she had said, “I still consider myself a bookseller of sorts, and, addressing the booksellers, she said, “I’m so grateful for your job. And so jealous you have it.”
Booksellers at MPIBA enjoyed Friday’s Young Readers Roundup, which featured nine authors traveling table to table for quick pitch sessions with booksellers. Several had ties to the publishing industry, including Len Vlahos, formerly of the American Booksellers Association and BISG and now co-owner of Tattered Cover Bookstore, whose third YA novel, Life in a Fishbowl (Bloomsbury), has already garnered a dozen foreign rights deals; Abigail Johnson, author of If I Fix You (Harlequin Teen), was previously social media manager at Tor; while Booki Vivat, author of Frazzled (HarperCollins), is both a debut author and associate publicist at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
As for what makes Mountains and Plains distinct as a region – other than the fact that you still run across the occasional bookstore that also sells firearms – it is its vastness, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. “It’s a huge territory with a lot of variety,” said Jill Bailey, who is an Austin, Tex.-based children’s book rep for Penguin Random House. “This summer I did a road trip where I drove 700 miles just to visit six stores, including Hearthfire Books in Evergreen, Colo., and Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
For the fall, Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, says she is selling “a lot of The Best Man by Richard Peck,” but she is most excited about the store’s Tweens Read event. “We’ll bring 23 authors to South Houston High School and we’ll have 3,000 teenagers in one day. The event is free and open to the public. “When I’m feeling punchy, I call it The Shoplifting Show. Sometimes tweens don’t know that they just can’t take the books.”
Andrea Avantaggio, owner of Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., said, “We’re always huge fans of what’s in the holiday catalog, and in particular, there are a lot of booksellers in the region who are keen on Kate Beasley’s Gertie’s Leap to Greatness (FSG).”
And Meghan Goel, children’s buyer at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., confirmed what many booksellers said about the event: “It’s great to come every years and reconnect with other booksellers. It’s great to talk to the reps, but even more importantly, talk to other booksellers to see what they are excited about!”