Padre Pro, the Catholic Martyr Who Inspired a Mystery

Padre Pro, the Catholic Martyr Who Inspired a Mystery

The long road that has become DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3th Emilia Cruz mystery novel, started nearly 4 years ago, in Rome, Italy. I’d had my tour of the Vatican and was now on the hunt for gifts and souvenirs. A large Catholic gift and bookstore looked promising.

Mex_bookHistoric Surprise

On the second floor I found a small paperback entitled MEXICAN MARTYRDOM by Wilfred Parsons, S.J. The author name’s name was buried in the text on the back cover which told of “true stories of the persecutions” and the “atrocities of those times” and the “heroic resistance of Mexican Catholics” in the 1920’s.

I was astounded. I’d lived in Mexico for 3 years, gone to church on a regular basis, even been president of the parish council. It was certainly a more devout country than the US, with no hint of anti-Catholicism. Perhaps I should have been aware about this period in history during a tour of Oaxaca, when the guide had referred to government seizure of the former convent were were touring, but I was too agog with the loveliness of Oaxaca to give it further thought. But in the late 1920’s the Mexican government of President Plutarco Calles tried to outlaw the Catholic Church, provoking what became known as the Cristero War.

Padre Pro

portrait of Cristero martyr Padre Pro

A rare photo of Padre Pro in a cassock in Mexico (vestments were against the law) from

From MEXICAN MARTYRDOM I learned the the story of Miguel Pro Juarez, S.J., a Jesuit priest executed for practicing his faith in 1927. Padre Pro, as he was called, was born in Mexico, ordained in Belgium, and returned to Mexico at the height of the crackdown on the Church. Wearing disguises, he walked, bicycled, and took taxis to dispense the sacraments and assist the poor–often by finding homes for unwanted babies and distributing food to those displaced by the government’s crackdown and mishandling of the economy. His legend grew large as the priest the army couldn’t catch but he was finally snared when he was accused of an plot to kill the head of the army (later president) and ratted out, along with 2 of his brothers. No one ever produced any evidence that the Pro brothers were involved in the plot.

Padre Pro and his brother Humberto were executed by firing squad. To make an example of him, the government took plenty of pictures during the event. But it backfired. Padre Pro blessed the head of the firing squad, forgave him, then flung out his arms, holding a cross in one hand and a rosary in the other, and shouted Viva Cristo Rey, just before the bullets struck. His words became the rallying cry for the Cristero War, which was captured in the movie “For Greater Glory.” Padre Pro was beatified by the Vatican in 1988 (first step on the road to sainthood).

Although the Emilia Cruz series is set in today’s Acapulco, I wanted to draw on Padre Pro’s life story for a novel. When things can get rough for Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz  in both CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE she turns to her parish priest Padre Ricardo for advice and solace. In DIABLO NIGHTS, she’ll find a relic supposedly from Padre Pro that gives her hope and the courage to keep moving forward. She needs her faith to survive Mexico’s drug war violence, but she also needs the relic as a means to ease her conscience, because  . . .

No spoilers today, but DIABLO NIGHTS is shaping up to be the most psychologically suspenseful Emilia Cruz mystery yet.

In Padre Pro’s Own Words

Padre Pro was a man of many talents. He played the guitar, sang, wrote stories and poetry, and was a great comedic actor (which enabled him to assume many disguises and improvise his way out of numerous close shaves with the Mexican authorities before he was finally caught.) A poem included in the biography BLESSED MIGUEL PRO by Ann Ball has a haunting stanza that I received permission to use as the opening quote in DIABLO NIGHTS:

The very breath of Hell floats in the air;

The cup of crime is filled by tyrant’s hand

“Return in Haste, O Lord” by Miguel Pro Juarez, S.J.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


12 Influential Bloggers Debate the Future of Bookstores

12 Influential Bloggers Debate the Future of Bookstores

What will be the future of bookstores? Many brick-and-mortar bookstores, including the US-based Borders chain, have closed in recent years, unable to compete in the era of ebooks and ecommerce. Yet bookstores are talked about in terms of being an “oasis,” a magical place of discovery, the place where we all want to spend hours sipping coffee and browsing.

But not necessarily buying.

The big question

So how can bookstores innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent?

Over the past few months, I’ve asked this question of authors, book bloggers, store owners, and publishers. The result is a series of articles featuring responses from each group. The first article, with 25 author comments, including those from thriller author Dale Brown and Guy Kawasaki, author of ENCHANTMENT, was a real eye-opener and my most widely shared blog post (I’ve stopped counting). Read it here.

Book bloggers

Book bloggers occupy a unique position in the discussion, in that 20 years ago, there was no such thing as a book blogger. Theirs is a trade that has grown up with ebooks and ecommerce and is increasingly influential. Yet few would say that we no longer need bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Many say, however, that we need different bookstores than the ones we have today. Read on to see how the debate shapes up. Note: comments organized in alphabetical order by blogger last name.

Rebecca Rego Barry,

In thinking about your questions, I kept returning to a set of ideas I put forth back in March on our blog. The post was called “Ten Reasons a Pessimist Can be Optimistic About the Future of the Book.” It was based on a talk I gave at a university library earlier in the year. Several of these points remain relevant. For example, craftsmanship — in general and in book publishing specifically — has made a comeback. To me, that bodes well for the future of new books. Yes, some books can and should go straight to digital, but for the ones that don’t, publishers will have to put more thought into art, design, and packaging; making the book an experience separate from a text to be read. Publishers like Siglio and McSweeneys are doing this. So I would predict that the new bookstore of the future will be smaller, but the books will be better — well-designed, even hand-made, illustrated, and/or innovative.

I almost exclusively cover used, rare, and antiquarian books, and there I see two things. One is the need for solid relationships between buyers and sellers. The Internet very nearly killed off the smaller antiquarian shops (some of whom then became Internet-only dealers), and so book fairs and catalogue sales largely fill in that gap. In some cases, booksellers have closed (appointment-only)  shops. All of this makes it more time-consuming for collectors to find the best material–and yet, even with those obstacles, the trade is strong and the base is committed. Quirky shops like the Monkey’s Paw in Toronto, stocking odd & unusual books and ephemera of various prices is a neat concept, and I’d love to see more of that in the future. And Two, the big, get-lost-in-the-stacks shops like the Strand and Powell’s will still be with us in 25 years for the simple reasons that the books are usually cheap and the thrill of discovery provides something akin to a contact high for many readers. (email to author, 8 December 2013)

Richard Bilkey,

. . . The reality is that booksellers cannot wait for anyone else to come to their rescue. Publishers will put their marketing resources where they believe it will have the biggest impact and the long term trend is unmistakably towards online. You can see the attraction for publishers to the efficiencies of online retail, with enhanced metadata feeds that ensure entire lists of books are displayed on virtual shelves around the world without the costs of sales reps and merchandisers or having to ship physical copies into thousands of stores with a 25% return rate.

Bookshops are not only fighting a battle for relevance with customers, they are fighting for relevance with publishers too. Publishers would love to see bookshops remain profitable and regain the ground they’ve lost in recent years to store closure and digital migration but the initiative and ideas are going to have to come from booksellers themselves. And what better place to start looking for ideas than from the online competition themselves?

1: Use Bundled eBooks to fulfill an order immediately even when the physical book is not in stock . . .

2: Bookshop Subscription Services . . .

3: Reward customer reviews and use them everywhere . . .

4: Don’t just give self-published authors a break – create an “Independent Author Platform” . . .

5: Be aggressive about sourcing new customers . . .

Many booksellers I have known are too passive or simply overwhelmed when it comes to marketing and promoting their business, especially beyond their immediate community. The days of letting customers find their own way into your door are long gone however and the traditional seasonal catalogue, ads in local newspapers and an irregular email newsletter simply won’t cut it. To survive bookshops need to be a highly visible, talked about and valued destination. Booksellers need to therefore get out of their own stores and be seen, start the conversations and tell everyone what’s so special about their shop. There are any number of ways you can do this—engage in local communities, start a writer’s festival, run competitions, drive social media campaigns—as long as you are loud and persistent. (Blog post, “Is the post-bookstore world inevitable? 5 ways bookshops can fight back,” 24 January 2013)

Nigel Burwood,,

I feel certain that a bookstore, if it can survive now, has a good future. In fact the mantra now is ‘to survive is to succeed.’

There has been a brutal culling of bookstores since the advent of the web, even the decade before. Whole parts of cities and large towns which had areas of bookstores, ‘Book Alleys,’ Book Co-Operatives etc., are down to one or two shops or none at all.

What is happening now is that bookshops are becoming desirable again — oases in a desert of bland, celebrity-based culture, and philistinism. In a rant from the 1940s John Cowper Powys stated (or overstated!): A bookshop–especially a second-hand bookshop–is an arsenal of explosives, an armoury of revolutions, an opium den of reactions. And just because books are the repository of all the redemptions and damnations, all the sanities and insanities, of the divine anarchy of the soul, they are still, as they have always been, an object of suspicion to every kind of ruling authority.

In a second-hand bookshop are the horns of the altar where all the outlawed thoughts of humanity can take refuge! Here, like desperate bandits, hide all the reckless progeny of our wild, dark, self-lacerating hearts. A bookshop is a powder-magazine, a dynamite-shed, a drug store of poisons, a bar of intoxicants, a den of opiates, an island of sirens.

I see bookstores co-existing with the web and ebooks etc. Our shop stays afloat by walk-in customers but also by listing collectable books on web collectives + we publicise ourself through an SEO savvy website and social media. We have no problem with the web — it is also a haven of scholarship, research and knowledge. Excellent stock is highly available in most towns now and you have to learn what to stock and what to avoid. If you have the right books at the right price people will buy them.

A shop can do things the web can’t — physical browsing, human company, human assistance, no postage, instant gratification! We are in the very early days of the internet — it is like the railways in the mid 19th century — people saw them as ushering in a tasteless, unlettered world but in terms of books, for example, it allowed for their fast and easy dissemination. People get tired of screens and isolation. The real problem is a seismic cultural shift away from books, scholarship and reading. In 50 years time these things will probably undergo a renaissance but it will be a rocky ride and good bookstores will have to be endlessly resourceful — but they always were! (email to author, 2 December 2013)

C. Hope Clark,

Bookstores are going to have to get novel and creative in their brand. The world harps on authors to develop a brand and a platform to be different amongst the fray. Bookstores could do the same. Nothing wrong with them specializing and getting crazy with it. Mysteries, cozies, romance, YA, suspense, scifi, fantasy, horror, literary, etc. Instead of a bookstore trying to be a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none, why not specialize? The biggest B&N cannot hold a respectable cross-section of the books out there, thus driving people online. Unless the book is from a top five NY publisher, a reader can’t be assured it’ll be in a bookstore. These stores would hold events – not signings, but events. Something worth taking a date to. Music, appearances, shows.

Specializing would also be conducive to partnerships. Just like you can see scaled down versions of Pizza Hut, Subway, Dairy Queen, and Taco Bell in the same venue as other stores, sharing the same space and the same customers, bookstores need to partner with other entities. The obvious ones are theatres, museums, motels, coffee shops, restaurants, even libraries.

For instance, if the local theatre has a small bookstore, it would sell the books that the movies originated from as well as similar stories in the genre. If it’s a big theatre, then it would have a healthy supply of books. Why not capitalize on that spontaneous need to take that movie experience home in the form of the book?

Guess I’m saying that the stand-alone bookstore is a dinosaur. B&N’s days are numbered. But if I can go see a Jack Reacher movie, get excited about the story, then walk out of the theatre and use my ticket stub to get 25% off the price of a Jack Reacher novel, I’m going to do it. That concept can happen in so many other partner venues out there. And of course kiosks should be available to download ebooks, or order books that aren’t on hand. You have to learn how to tap that energy that’s been used for years by speakers selling books at the back of the room. Music’s done it for years as well. Heck, t-shirt vendors do it like crazy. Why not books?

I could go on and on. It’s just that a bookstore can no longer supply all of a reader’s needs. So it has to create a novel effect or develop a strong enough partnership with another vendor, to create an attraction. There has to be more to it than just buying a book, in other words. Because we can do that from any computer at home.

Oh, and it would be nice to see bookstores respect authors. In my travels, the author is too often overlooked by bookstore owners. Authors can make a difference to a bookstore – a fact very often overlooked by bookstores. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

Diana Dilworth, Editor of

Community based book stores will thrive even in a world where Amazon is threatening same day book delivery via drone, but it will take a lot of work. Indie book stores that can cultivate community through well-curated reading lists are able to offer readers much more than any algorithm can. Hosting events such as author readings, book clubs and even art shows and live music will give people another reason to come into the store. They’ll have to sell coffee, food & cocktails to diversify their revenue stream.

While a good physical presence is key, being Internet savvy is also important. Indie book stores have got to get the word out and social media can be very helpful to do this. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, among other channels, can help these bookstores thrive.

I also think that indie bookstores that offer eBooks for sale are smart. People like buying books from their local bookstore, but they also like the convenience of being able to download a new book and read it on their device. Companies like Zola Books offer consumers the option to buy eBooks from their favorite local book seller. I think that book stores that take advantage of these kinds of technologies will be positioned to serve all readers. (email to author, 6 December 2013)

Susan Helene Gottfried,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: Bookstores need to become integral parts of our community. They need to host events — not merely author events — that give people — not merely readers — a reason to come through the door and linger. Repeatedly. They need to bring like-minded people together, and they need to simultaneously expand our horizons and let us connect with new faces and businesses. And they need to do it without charging for the services. Let a book club use your back room for free . . . but then offer a discount if everyone buys the book from you. Host storytime weekly, and find local businesses to sponsor the craft that goes with the story. Be the hub of community action and see what happens. (via website response form, 21 January 2014)

Donna Huber,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: We are getting more contact with authors than ever before thanks to the digital age and social media. Because of this feeling of getting to know our favorite authors virtually, readers are even more excited to meet them in person. Bookstores can play a huge role in satisfying this need. My local indie bookstore, Avid Bookshop, hosts a ton of authors and I really think that is part of their success. Also being active in the community is big. Again, my local bookstore has been a part of a number of community events. They hosted a pre-World Book Night party for givers, offer a number of reading clubs for readers of all ages, and support the local library with events. To be competitive, bookstores need to offer an experience that goes beyond buying the book. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

C.M. Mayo,

It’s a question I’m delighted to contemplate because, from the time I was a small child, bookstores have been a Mecca for me, and, as an author, when it comes to selling my books, an oasis of delightfulness– though sometimes, alas, a fata morgana, now that on-line booksellers such as have swallowed up so much of their business. Indeed, as a book buyer, for convenience, selection, and price, I long ago went over to and other online booksellers. And as an author I am now seeing more from Kindle sales than from my print books. (In fact, for my latest book, a niche topic, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, I bypassed traditional publishers and bookstores altogether. I had thought it might be nice to place it with a university press. Then I did the math. Ha.)

That said, I am saddened by the way so many brick-and-mortar bookstores have turned themselves into glorified coffee and tchotchkes-made-in-China shops poorly staffed and oftentimes (not always, I hasten to add) by people who seem they might be more knowledgable about, say, pumping gas. As for the sort of hackwork most stock by their cash registers, Joe Queenan described them best: “by Punch for the edification of Judy.” In short, the typical bookstore bums me out– and the coffee isn’t that great, either. I have yet to sit down at a clean table in a Barnes & Noble café. Don’t get me started about the restrooms.

Well, I don’t think brick-and-mortar bookstores are going the way of the dodo, but if they are to survive, they will evolve, and dramatically, to offer a broader array of book-related goods and services. For example, a brick-and-mortar bookstore might offer:

Library services, such as those offered by New York City’s Society Library–not just books for loan, but a research desk, large well-lit tables, and small but comfortable and quiet private offices for writers / independent scholars (especially valuable where public library services are problematic);

  • More curated selections by more knowledgeable staff;
  • Artist books;
  • More–way more–books by local authors;
  • Rare books;
  • Collectible ephemera;
  • A place to bring in rare books and have them appraised (why not every third Thursday of the month?);
  • A place to order up a letterpress book of one’s own (why not bring in the local letterpress guy every second Wednesday of the month?);
  • A place to learn about book design and book cover design;
  • A place to take a marbled paper workshop or how to make pop-up books;
  • A place to take a weekend seminar on Tolstoy/learn French/history of Rome/Mesoamerica (books included);
  • Meeting room for writers groups / book clubs / movies / yoga;
  • A machine to print out one’s book (a few do have the machinery for this already, such as Politics & Prose with the Espresso Book Machine; and so on and so forth.

They will also dramatically improve their on-line shops to compete with the likes of— not so much in terms of selection, but ease of use and prompt customer service. A few already have. Recently, I have been impressed by the rare books dealers using

Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurial. And I’ll bet bucks to cabbages that there will be people writing and reading ’til Kingdom Come. So whatever “bookstores” morph into, it’s going to be interesting.

Time capsule: Here’s my 2009 blog about bookstores for Red Room. (email to author, 25 January 2014)

Vinny O’Hare,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: My first reaction was to say that bookstores needed to add a cafe or something, but the last bookstore I was in was a Borders at Madison Square that had a cafe and it was the worst coffee ever. I remember thinking at the time that wasn’t what was going to keep a bookstore open.

I think if we had the answer there would be less bookstores closing every day. If I was to open a bookstore tomorrow I would make sure it had a good community feel and make myself known as giving back. The bookstore would also have to have something else to draw people in. Maybe free tutoring for kids. Maybe an area for live readings or music? It would also sell gift cards to Amazon and iTunes. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

Joey Pinkney,

People used to buy from entities that they were comfortable with. As an extension of that, people used to buy from people. Nowadays, it’s standard practice for a “customer” to walk into a bookstore, find a book he/she wants to purchase and pull out their smartphone to purchase it online.

Bookstores stay in business by selling books, not displaying books. And they sell books by servicing the community. One surefire way to serve the community is by providing a venue for readers to physically meet authors for book signings and being a place for book clubs to have book discussions. Social media may enhance this, but it will never take the place of real social gatherings.

In order to connect the readers and the authors, bookstores will need a strong presence both online and off. And easy-to-navigate website will be a must (and would seem common sense), as well as accounts with popular social media outlets. “Frequent reader discounts” issued by way of printable coupons, QR codes or text-codes will help maintain the bookstore’s status with the reader. Online mailing lists and text alerts will also be an important aspect of being able to spread the word about upcoming events and book releases quickly and efficiently. Bookstores that are not able to take advantage of these online tools will not survive.

Going forward, bookstore staff will have to be extremely attentive to customers. The amount of knowledge and service that a bookstore can give will have to justify the cost of the books it sells since the Internet has made it very easy to find, purchase and download books. Amazon’s algorithms are pretty neat but can never compare to a person you can relate to who can tell you why they like or dislike certain books.

The bookstore of the future will need a way to satisfy the customer’s need for instant gratification. The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA, is a perfect example. It has an “Espresso Book Machine” that can readily print 5,000 different titles and also has the capacity to print self-published titles. This printing press is a dual blessing. It lowers the amount of non-revenue generating inventory for the bookstore, and it gives the customer what he/she wants in a matter of minutes. Why wait on a book to be shipped to you in a few days when you can get it within hours, if not minutes, of purchase?

Bookstores will continue to be a “watering hole” for the literati of the area the bookstore serves. Book-browsers don’t get the staff or the rent paid.  In order to stay afloat, bookstores will have to be savvy in the ways of how technology and the Internet can even the playing field with the online places books can be purchased and/or downloaded. (email to author, 7 December 2013)

Prospero blog on arts and culture,

 . . . Bricks-and-mortar bookstores appear to be on borrowed time. So, what is the future of the bookstore?

This was the burning questions on everyone’s lips at a recent event at Foyles’s flagship bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London, where some of Britain’s leading literary agents, authors, marketing managers and booksellers gathered to discuss its fate ahead of the bookseller’s move from its current rambling premises to the former home of Central Saint Martin’s art school just up the road.

For a bookstore to remain successful, it must improve “the experience of buying books,” says Alex Lifschutz, an architect whose London-based practice is designing the new Foyles. He suggests an array of approaches: “small, quiet spaces cocooned with books; larger spaces where one can dwell and read; other larger but still intimate spaces where one can hear talks from authors about books, literature, science, travel and cookery.” The atmosphere is vital, he adds. Exteriors must buzz with activity, entrances must be full of eye-catching presentations and a bar and café is essential.

The trend for not only incorporating cafés in bookstores but also placing them on the top floor makes good sense. The new Foyles will have one, Mr Lifschutz explains, because this draws shoppers upwards floor-by-floor, which is bound to encourage people to linger longer and spend more. (Top-floor restaurants in department stores abide by similar principles.)

There are plenty of ways to delight the bookstore customer, but few are easily monetised. The consensus is that bookstores need to become cultural destinations where people are prepared to pay good money to hear a concert, see a film or attend a talk. The programming will have to be intelligent and the space comfortable . . .

To survive and thrive, bookstores should celebrate the book in all its forms: rare, second-hand, digital, self-printed and so on. Digital and hybrid readers should have the option of buying e-books in-store, and budding authors should have access to self-printing book machines. The latter have been slower to take off in Britain, but in America bookstores are finding them to be an important source of revenue. “The quality is now almost identical to that of a book printed by a major publishing house,” says Bradley Graham, owner of a leading independent bookstore in Washington, DC, called Politics & Prose. His shop leases an Espresso Book Machine and makes it available to customers.

The bookstore of the future will have to work hard. Service will be knowledgeable and personalised, the inventory expertly selected, spaces well-designed and the cultural events enticing. Whether book stores, especially small independents are up to the challenge, is not clear. The fate of these stores is a cliff-hanger. (Blog post, “A Real Cliffhanger,” 27 February 2013)

Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files at

Their business [of Barnes & Noble], on which they must make money, is selling books. They are trying to diversify their merchandise selection a bit in their stores, but that’s a strategy that is both difficult to execute and has nowhere near the upside that Amazon, Google, and Apple have with their other businesses. This is an unfair fight where B&N is dependent on margins from their ebook (and book) sales while their competitors, if perhaps not totally content to break even on that business, aren’t materially affected if they do, or even if they lose a bit of money on that aspect of their business . . .

In other words, publishing — like book retailing — is likely to become a subsidiary function pursued in strategic support of larger goals. Unlike in retailing, this will not be consolidated among a few players, but as widely scattered as the subjects about which books are produced. But the core challenge for the legacy publishing establishment, that they will increasingly face competition that doesn’t need the profits from that activity as much as they do, will be the same. Book publishing as a stand-alone industry with most of its significant players earning all their profits within it is in the process of morphing into something quite different, starting with the retailers. (Blog post, “Book publishing may not remain a stand-alone industry and book retailing will demonstrate that first,” 29 January 2014)

Read the entire Bookstores of the Future series in the #noticed category

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


How Deep Are Your Reading Roots?

How Deep Are Your Reading Roots?

I blame my oldest sister, really. She was studious and serious and had a lot of books. She organized them tidily on bookcases in the basement where they joined books my uncle had left when he joined the Navy and headed for Vietnam. The shelves also had room for an ever-growing collection of hardbacked Readers Digest Condensed Editions and assorted odds and ends from friends and church jumble sales.

Those basement books became my reading roots; books that formed my reading tastes, taught me the power of words, and inspired me to take on a literary career. There’s usually fewer than seven degrees of separation between those roots and whatever I’m reading now.

HEAVEN HELP US! by Herbert Tarr

A dog-eared paperback came to live in the basement donated by a friend. It was an unlikely book for a young Catholic girl to pick up, with a cover showing a man in a yarmulke. But the 1968 story of young Rabbi Gideon Levi and his Long Island temple congregation was and still is one of the most cleverly written books ever.  Tarr, a rabbi and former Air Force chaplain who wrote several other books, made the Jewish religious experience universal. He had an engaging, lighthearted style that I’ve never quite seen replicated. Sophie Kinsella comes closest albeit from a female perspective.


EXODUS by Leon Uris

Rabbi Levi’s congregation exclaimed so much over it I wondered if it was a real book and lo and behold it was. EXODUS was published in 1958 to major acclaim and turned into a movie starring Paul Newman and Sal Mineo (neither of whom looked anything like the character they played). It is the sweeping, engrossing story of Israel’s birth, moving from the early Zionist movement to Polish Jews escaping the Nazis, Ethiopian Jews emigrating after the war and the start of hostilities with neighboring Arab states. Although a novel, it was my first primer on Middle Eastern politics and shaped my political views for years.

All of Uris’s epic historical novels (MILA 18, QB VII, TRINITY) have the same breadth, strength, and excellent writing but EXODUS stands apart. It made me wonder if I could ever write anything so big. Still wondering.


Don Camillo is a strapping fictional parish priest in Italy’s Po Valley, ministering to a small village congregation. His arch frenemy is Peppone, the Communist mayor of the town, who–as is to be expected of a Communist–says he does not believe in God. It is sometime after WWII and the two men fought together as partisans in the hills against the Nazis. The book is a series of softly humorous and philosophical stories in which Don Camillo and Peppone argue over conflicting beliefs (Peppone wants to baptize his son Lenin–oh the irony!), the welfare of the little village (both try to rig a soccer tournament between the church team and the People’s palace team), and the true meaning of friendship. Oh, and Christ on the cross in Don Camillo’s church talks to him/is his conscience.

I routinely re-read this book when feeling unsettled and always find both humor and solace.  Guareschi, a journalist from Milan who also illustrated the book, wrote other Don Camillo stories and several unrelated novels and stories which can often be found on amazon or abebooks. I was recently thrilled to find an excellent blog on the Don Camillo series. Enjoy!


My sister had a copy of THE MOUSE THAT ROARED by Leonard Wibberly. It was clever and inventive and I hoped there were others about the silly Duchy of Grand Fenwick. So I’m a high school freshman at the public library searching the Ws in Fiction and where WIB should be there was WOD. Wodehouse to be precise, which was almost as silly a name as Wibberly, and I was hooked.

Wodehouse’s books are all suspended in 1920’s England, where people pass time at big country houses getting wires crossed and trying to extricate themselves from nonsense. His language is a swift patter of hysterical dialogue, British slang, and light comedy. THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS is my favorite, with a cast of characters who appear in many Wodehouse books. It is one of the Jeeves books narrated by Bertie Wooster, whose valet (“my man, don’t you know”) Jeeves is constantly extricating Bertie and friends from impossible romances and other ill-judged escapades. I have multiple copies of this book, including the one in the 20-lb set of all the Jeeves and Bertie books I bought at the oracle of British bookstores, Hatcherd’s in Piccadilly, and hauled home back in the days before there was a 50-lb weight limit on suitcases.



This book is firmly rooted. It was in at least two of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Editions. Wikipedia lists it as a children’s story but it is a universal story of a dysfunctional family in London that changes for the better when the young son decides to make a homemade icon for their Ukrainian housekeeper, Marta. His effort takes him across London on a quest to do something for someone else for the first time in his life. Rumer Godden, who was raised in British India and wrote numerous books for adults and children, nine of which became movies, created one of her most uplifting stories. The book is sweet and thought-provoking and makes a unique gift.


GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

I can still see this book in my mind’s eye: the hardback cover is deep blue and the bottoms of the pages are wrinkled from having been inadvertently dunked in the water while I was reading and taking a bath at the same time. It topped my 5th grade reading list, back in the days when I knew what a “beau” was but had never heard the word pronounced.

The book got progressively more dog-eared through middle school as I read and re-read it. It wasn’t the Civil War theme or the love triangle between Ashley, Scarlett and Melanie. No, it was the way that Mitchell put me right into Scarlet’s head.

Do you remember the scene when Rhett deserts Scarlett as they flee Atlanta before Sherman’s army? There was a line something like this: “Her mind jumped around, trying to remember what Gerald had called balky mules and Mr. Lincoln.” But nothing came and Scarlett ends up just calling Rhett a cad. My quote may be imperfect, but it was the first novel I read that showed how to bring the reader deep inside a character’s point of view.

Gone With the Wind on

The novel was better than the movie, too.

Fiddle dee dee, Carmen, how you do run on.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Can Bookstores Survive? 25 Influential Authors Tell All

Can Bookstores Survive? 25 Influential Authors Tell All

Can bookstores survive in the era of ebooks and ecommerce?

Dramatic changes in the publishing industry have impacted the way authors, even influential authors, get their books to readers. Traditional book publishing and retail models have been battered by the rise of online retailers. The ebook revolution has given us more books to choose from, so much so that books are easily lost in the virtual churn.

Many brick-and-mortar bookstores, including the US-based Borders chain, have closed in recent years, unable to compete or adjust. Will we see more closings in the years to come, or will bookstores innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent?

I reached out to fellow authors and was amazed at the variety of responses. Read on for some surprising views on the future of the bookstore. (Note: comments arranged in alphabetical order by author last name, so yes, I got to go first.)


Carmen Amato, author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the EMILIA CRUZ mystery series

The ebook format, driven by Amazon’s Kindle platform and subscription services like Oyster, will become the industry standard for books that are mostly text. As a result, bookstores will no longer derive a significant percentage of revenue from fiction. Bookstores that survive will increasingly focus on non-fiction books that don’t lend themselves to ebook formats, such as manga/comics, design (art, photography, shelter) books, cookbooks, science and technology volumes, etc, as well as vintage books for collectors.

Bookstores will also have to rethink their spaces because they simply won’t be able to afford the square footage. Successful ones will partner imaginatively with other retailers, such as art galleries, clothing boutiques, kitchen stores, and even gaming stores to sell wares in shared spaces arranged to provide an optimal sensory experience that is unavailable online. The key will be to curate the books on offer to match the partners’ products and target the same customer. Other partnerships could be with hotels or museums. Bookstores will use their spaces to host events and be part of a local community.

To make this happen, however, traditional book distribution has to change and become more flexible. Store owners have a universe of books to choose from, but as long as they are tied to an inflexible distribution system, they’ll be unable to offer books which could help keep them afloat.  Article author.

G.G. Atcheson, author of THE LEGACY: FATE

Bookstores will become small kiosks like the ones that sell print pictures on demand. Users will go to those places to order a print of their favorite book(s) in the format and size of their choice. They will also bring people together to talk about those books over a hot cup of coffee. Via website comment form, 5 November 2013.

Susan M. Boyer, author of the Liz Talbot Mystery Series including LOWCOUNTRY BOIL and LOWCOUNTRY BOMBSHELL

Independent bookstores [will] leverage strong customer relationships and serve as social hubs for book lovers, offering meeting space for book clubs, luncheons with author speakers, and other opportunities for readers to connect and spend time with friends who share an interest in books. I also believe the staff of these stores will continue to provide personal service, an area in which they’ve traditionally excelled. Online sales of autographed books are another avenue some stores are already pursuing.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

Dale Brown, author of 21 action-adventure “techno-thriller” novels including FLIGHT OF THE OLD DOG, SILVER TOWER, DAY OF THE CHEETAH, HAMMERHEADS, and the DREAMLAND series.

I haven’t been in a bookstore to buy a book since I discovered Amazon Books in 1996.

I don’t think book sales will be much affected by whatever happens to brick-and-mortar bookstores because it’s so easy and convenient to get a book these days, and with the Internet you don’t need to browse through a bookstore’s shelves to find a new release from a favorite author–Facebook, Twitter, a Web site, or the blogosphere will inform you.

My Mom and my in-laws would certainly have disagreed with me and continued going to bookstores or Wal-Mart every couple weeks to see what’s new…until they got their Kindles. Now their e-readers are constant companions, getting a book is as simple as pressing a button, and all they want for Christmas is an Amazon gift card so they can buy more books to download!

I know and recently met many people at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference who simply love books and bookstores, and little neighborhood independent booksellers who cater to their customers with comfortable chairs, plenty of light, booksignings, e-mails about new releases and events, and maybe some coffee will always be favorites. Of course big bookstores can have this too, but driving to a crowded mall and getting lost in a multi-story maze is not my idea of fun.

In an age of digital everything, ultra-realistic video games, and 3-D movies, I think folks will still want to read, so us authors won’t be out of a job just yet. Besides, someone has to write the scripts and advertising copy for all those games and movies, right?  Email to author, 8 November 2013.

Diane Capri, author of the HUNT FOR JACK REACHER series, including DON’T KNOW JACK and GET BACK JACK

As you can imagine, the topic is one of intense interest and importance to writers and readers alike. Bookstores are magical places and keeping them alive and healthy is good for all of us.

It is challenging to operate a bookstore, particularly if the owners need to make a profit. Many bookstores are started as a labor of love. Sometimes, the owners are not focused on making money as much as creating a pleasurable experience for themselves and others.

In my view, successful bookstores of the future must not focus on price and delivery. These two features are rarely, if ever, going to favor the brick and mortar store over the online store.

Where physical bookstores can excel is in customer service, unique experiences, and specialized inventory not easily or readily obtainable to customers. Author appearances, signed first editions, reader/customer centric offerings and more will create customer loyalty. After all, customer loyalty is what keeps us coming back to our favorite stores everywhere, isn’t it?  Email to author, 15 November 2013.

Bernard Cornwell, author of the RICHARD SHARPE adventure series, THE STARBUCK CHRONICLES series, THE GRAIL QUEST series, and other historical action novels

My fear is that bookshops will go the way of music shops, which would mean the end of the big chains and the ‘hold on by your fingertips’ survival of a few specialist dealers. Already much of the book trade has moved into supermarkets, and I suspect that trend will continue, which is sad because the big supermarkets will only stock a limited range of titles – a very limited range. But we are inexorably headed into digital books and the pace will quicken, and that also puts into question the role of publishers, god bless them. How do you publicize books in the digital age? I don’t know. I’m just glad I started writing 35 years ago when bookshops were the main route to a reader’s consciousness.  My guess is that ‘social media’ will be the primary means of drawing attention to books which exist only in electronic form – and people who want physical copies will use ‘print-on-demand’.  Email to author, 20 November 2013.


Start with the B&N motif: WiFi, food, drink, and the aroma of real books. Add: Online booths, private coves, and stuff it all in an English pub, which holds beer and wine tastings on weekends and book promotions. Add: Video cove/wall for E-book advertisements and promotions. Via website comment form, 5 November 2013.

Kristin Elise, author of THE VESUVIUS ISOTOPE and the KATRINA STONE novels

Even traditional publishers now expect authors to heavily self-promote, and this grass-roots marketing is fast becoming the new industry driver. We see more and more examples of books becoming best-sellers without any real backing by a big publishing house. So, as authors become more savvy at selling their own work, I think that readers will increasingly get into the habit of going to a bookstore to request a book that they heard a lot about, rather than going into the bookstore just to browse and then buy what they see. This, in turn, could change the content of bookstores: Instead of every bookstore worldwide containing basically the same selection, I would imagine that different bookstores could adopt a “regional” flavor, filling up with the works of authors who are popular in that geographic area – local authors, books set in that location, or who otherwise call attention to the region. Wouldn’t that be fun? Via website comment form, 12 November 2013.

A. W. Exley, author of NEFERTITI’S HEART

I think they will become smaller but service a niche, perhaps as far as specializing in only a few genres. Readers are still social and e-book buying does not fulfill our sensory needs. I can see bookstores with arm chairs, coffee service and nooks to discuss what you are reading in a small intimate atmosphere. Via website comment form, 5 November 2013.

Tim Grahl, author of YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book

Business:; Book:

Bookstores of the future will be what record stores are now. While there will still be people that like to buy and read print books, they will be a collectors item more than the main way books are consumed. While I have a nostalgic connection to print books, my kids (and especially their kids) won’t.  Email to author, 5 December 2013

Norm Hamilton, author of FROM THINE OWN WELL

Brick and Mortar locations cannot compete through attempting to provide the same, dollar-based offering that drives the online retailers.

The bookstore of the future will, by its very nature, become a focal point and destination for like-minded individuals to gather, share cherished moments, and revel in the company of great books.

Warm, comfortable settings, in smaller, intimate locals with inviting chairs and couches for sitting and reading, will entice and attract the readers of the future as they search for the coziness and sanctuary that is to be found only between the covers of a great book. Via website comment form, 7 November 2013.

Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book; ENCHANTMENT: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions; and 10 other non-fiction books

I really don’t know about the future of bookstores. The future of books, however, is going to be tablets and pads other than coffee-table books. It’s hard to imagine that people will go to stores to buy ebooks, but there’s more to a bookstore than just buying books—e.g., socializing, eating, and listening to authors. Email to author, 12 November 2013.

Joe Konrath, author of the JACK DANIELS series, the CODENAME: CHANDLER series, and other fast action thrillers

[I predict] the end of Barnes & Noble as we know it. In 2014, paper book sales will no longer be significant enough to sustain the nation’s largest bookstore chain. There may be bankruptcy and restructuring and the selling of assets (like the Nook), but ultimately it will result in many stores closing, and possibly the demise of the brand . . .

Indie bookstores will need to start selling self-pubbed books, or perish. Paper isn’t going away anytime soon. But there won’t be enough of a legacy supply that will keep the necessary number of diverse titles on shelves to make indie stores a worthwhile destination for shoppers. If indie bookstores deal directly with self-pubbed authors, and print their own copies to sell in their stores, they can build inventory and cut out the share normally taken by publishers.  “Konrath’s Publishing Predictions 2014,”, 28 December 2013.

Agustin D. Martinez, author of THE MARES OF LENIN PARK

While technology has advanced, there is always something special about the feel of paper between my fingers and the sound of the pages rubbing together as they flip. The smell of an old yellowed tome makes me sneeze, but the sensory memories that come with that aroma remind me so much of my childhood. What will spur memories of a great book for our children when they grow to be as old as we are now? Does an iPad have a smell? Will the speaker emit a whoosh as the page on the screen turns?

The brick-and-mortar bookstore is a place to spend a few hours, a destination when the mood struck one to read something interesting and entertaining. It is full of items you never knew you wanted to read until you turned down a random aisle and found it beckoning you to open its cover and get lost in its pages. Without these, where will authors sign a first edition? Will author visits be conducted over Skype or podcasts only? Will print editions of books even exist in a 10 years? I think some sort of brick-and-mortar venue must still exist no matter where technology takes us, whether that be a corner independent bookstore where authors still come to read excerpts of their work, or coffee shops with free wi-fi where readers can sit and enjoy a warm beverage. I would hate for these to ever go away!  Email to author, 12 November 2013.

Elizabeth A. Martina, author of THE RAGMAN MURDERS

Brick and mortar stores will have fewer paper books and more kiosks where books will be featured in ebook format. The books will be able to be downloaded to the customers ereaders or computers at the store.  Via website comment form, 5 November 2013

Bob Mayer, author of the SHADOW WARRIORS series, the GREEN BERETS series, the AREA 51 series and numerous other action-adventure titles

Bookstores?  Like publishers, agents and others in the business, most failed to have a strategic business plan. Did they watch what happened to music stores starting in 2001 when digital tsunamied that industry?  No.

For the future?  Embrace genre authors. Frankly, the snobbish attitude I’ve encountered over the years from many indie stores leaves me unconcerned about their future as they were unconcerned about mine.  Can they change that attitude in time?  Will they order and rack POD books via Createspace from authors like me and others who’ve embraced the future?  Or will they whine that Amazon is their deadly enemy and continue that futile, and stupid, battle?  As Jeff Bezos said:  “Complaining is not a strategy.” The bottom line is that authors will totally support bookstores when that support is extended the other way.  Email to author, 4 December 2013.

Emily McDaid, author of TETHERBIRD

The bookstore of the future will offer both an online and a bricks and mortar presence, combining the ease of Amazon with the carefully curated selection of an independent bookstore. It will be a haven to go and read, and to select good quality books, either in physical copy or digitally, however the customer prefers to read. It will mimic the immersion of the reading experience– what makes reading truly magical– and wrap that into the browsing experience. Via website comment form, 7 November 2013.

Brian Meeks, author of the HENRY WOOD DETECTIVE series, A TOUCH TO DIE FOR, and other mystery titles

I like the idea you mentioned of ebook Kiosks combined with coffee house feel. I love paper books, but reading them has become more hassle than it’s worth. Most of what I read now, I read on my Kindle app on my phone. It’s always with me and is easy.

Still, if bookstores were a place to hang out, then I’d gladly make my ebook purchases through them.

From an author’s standpoint, I’d rather people bought Kindle versions, but it would be nice if they bought them through a kiosk at a bookshop. Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

Sandra Nikolai, author of the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott Mystery series including FALSE IMPRESSIONS and FATAL WHISPERS

The future bookstore will provide a well-lit space, comfortable chairs, a coffee bar, informed staff, and online shopping for e-books and physical books. Bookstores will partner with the community to promote local author events and other cultural events. Purchase incentives: individual and group discounts, periodic sales, and availability of other items like paper products and artwork.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

 Ann Patchett, author of BEL CANTO, STATE OF WONDER, THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, and other titles

 There’s this feeling that Amazon is killing the bookstore. And the eBook has gotten an enormous amount of press, to the point where people are saying, ‘So I guess it’s over.’ And it’s like, ‘No, it’s not.’ I’m standing up and saying no, the book is alive, the bookstore is alive.

I am speaking for bookstores all across the country. These people are my friends. These are the people who welcome me into their stores for readings, who take me home and cook me dinner and let me sleep in their guest rooms. These people have made me, made my career, made me what I am. So now I can say, ‘Go and support your local bookstore.’ What an enormous privilege that is for me.  Time Entertainment interview, 25 November 2011.


The future bookstore will offer digital and print options whereby people have a choice of buying a digital copy if a print copy is unavailable and vice-versa. Some may opt for both. Every author and publisher regardless of independents or major brand names have equal access to the same pool of readers/buyers.  Via website comment form, 5 November 2013. 

Jane Rosenthal, author of PALACE OF THE BLUE BUTTERFLY

Surveys show that only one third of people who purchase books from bookstores walk in with that intention. The bookstore of the future like art galleries and boutiques will have to provide products, services and experiences—readings, classes— that are unique, rare, and highly-curated, so that customers react with strong impulses to make purchases lest those objects, in this case books, be unavailable later.

Self-publishers could take advantage of this by offering the content of their novel cheaply on Amazon while offering signed, exquisitely produced books through niche bookstores.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.


 We have another chance to realize the dream of the Third Place with the bookstore of the future by placing the emphasis on building community around a love of books and other entertainment and information products. Until the industry abandons the returns cycle, the bookstore of the future can offset operating costs by taking advantage of just-in-time and on-demand technology like the Espresso Book Machine, as well as the buying and browsing habits of Generation Y (the largest book-buying demographic). Email to author, 6 November 2013.

Glenn Starkey, author of AMAZON MOON

Future bookstores will be a blend of traditional and indie published/ printed books with each having their own half of the store. I believe there will also be an e-book section as well with cover art and flap copy for readers to browse, and an ability to purchase the work in the store. Once book stores open themselves to signings by all authors, and develop a comfortable environment to relax in, readers will want to visit more.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

Khaled Talib, author of the thrillers SMOKESCREEN and GUN KISS

It would be nice to retain the old time charm of a traditional bookstore in the digital world. After all, a bookstore isn’t just a place to sell reading materials. It is a swimming pool for the soul.  Via website comment form, 7 November 2013.

Find all the Bookstore of the Future series posts in the #noticed category

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Best of the Book Savor Series: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Best of the Book Savor Series: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


The Book Savor series grew out of my passion for good friends, great books and interesting conversations about what we are reading. And what better way to wind it up than with a “best of” the who-is-coming-to-dinner question.


Read on to see what interesting people are serving for dinner and to whom.

Q: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

Novelist Anne R. Allen: Dorothy Parker, and the conversation could be about anything she wanted: I’d just sit back and take notes. For the best stories, I’d probably better serve martinis.

Social Media Marketing Expert Frances Caballo: I’m serving paella, Manchego cheese with quince, salad and flan for dessert. I would invite Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of No Ordinary Time, and ask her about how she conducts the extensive researched needed for her books.

Canadian Author Sandra Nikolai: I’d invite forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, bestselling author of the Dr. Temperance Brennan series on which the program Bones is based. I’d serve lasagna with a tossed green salad and a bottle of Chianti. Nothing with bones! We’d chat about her books and Montreal—a city we both know well. I’d wait until we’d had coffee and tiramisu before asking her about the grisly details of her work in the lab.

Comic Artist TJ Robinson: Hemingway, and we will be serving whiskey and peanuts.  The subject will be about anything besides writing.

Fabretto CFO Monica Drazba: Well, aside from Carmen Amato and a variety of Mexican dishes, it would probably be David McCullough or maybe Robert Caro. I’d serve up something simple (grilled tenderloin, roasted vegetables, pilaf), so I could spend my time outside of the kitchen listening to their anecdotes and insights on modern history. Founder Monica Olivera: Rudolfo Anaya, I think. I would serve warm pork tamales (if I knew how to make them), fresh limonada, and maybe flan for dessert. Or tres leches. We would talk about the desperate need for our children to hear and read these stories that reflect our childhood experiences and how by writing we in some way immortalize said childhood and the loved ones who may have since passed on.

Mystery Author Jerold Last: I think it would be Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series.  We’ll serve braised pheasant, shot by me, and found, pointed, and retrieved by Jolie, one of our dogs, from the freezer.  Side dishes include mashed potatoes with garlic, since there’s a lot of gravy, and salad (it’s California so there’s always fresh veggies).  Conversation would be about mystery writing, and whether Spenser’s and Susan’s German Shorthaired Pointer, Pearl The Wonder Dog, would have fit into our pack of three GSPs.  Jolie, the model for Juliet in “The Deadly Dog Show”, seems to have a similar temperament to Pearl’s, but is much better trained. Finally, I’d like his opinion of whether Roger makes a good, albeit much more educated, Spenser-type hero, and what he thinks of Bruce as an assistant hero in the mold of Hawk.

Marketing Expert Bobby McDaniel: Douglas Adams. I’m a geek and I love to laugh, so I imagine hanging out with Douglas Adams would be an amazing experience. I would serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, Gin & Tonics, and steak . . . preferably from a talking cow, but I guess any cow would do. Editor Lorraine C. Ladish: Stephen King, because he says it like it is. We´d have Spanish tapas and beer or wine. I´d ad lib. I´d love to hear how he cranks out the word.

Writer Elizabeth A. Martina: I adore the couple writing team, Bodie and Brock Thoene. I would serve them barbequed spare ribs, mustard potato salad and moscal wine. Ribs, because they are country folk and would probably enjoy that. The wine, because it is sweet and my favorite. Conversation would inevitably turn to history of the 20th century, which is predominantly their book themes, and to Christianity which is always their secondary theme.

Crime Fiction Author Jason Beech: Charles Dickens. I’d serve him my mother’s Sunday dinner of roast lamb, new potatoes, green beans, stuffing, spring (I think) cabbage, Yorkshire puddings, and mint sauce, smothered in gravy (onion). Then I’d ask him if he could have cut a few hundred pages from most of his novels, and ask if Britain has moved on much from Victorian times in social terms.

Thriller Author Khaled Talib: Mary Shelley. I’ll be serving saffron-based beryani rice with mango chutney, salad, stuffed chicken and various accompaniments. This would be followed by custard cake for dessert with chocolate sauce and Turkish coffee. I’d like to probe her mind about the soul of man, and on the light side, we’ll talk about her travels and adventure. The conversation will be electrifying!’s Jason Sullivan: Without a doubt, my choice would be Edgar Allan Poe. For dinner, we would have the Mid-Atlantic specialties of Silver Queen corn and extra-large Chesapeake Bay crab cakes. We would discuss Virginia and Maryland, an area we both know well. I would have secured a bottle of the finest cognac for after dinner. Once the first glasses of cognac were finished, we would sit by a roaring fire and begin to talk about everything imaginable. We would discuss Romanticism and poetry, delve into his seminal influence in Science Fiction and Mystery, and as the shadows begin to make ghastly figures upon the wall, he might share a word or two about the genre for which he is most famous – Horror. I would also want to hear his views on some of the major events that occurred after his death, such as the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the two world wars, technology and globalism. I would bring up a few things of particular interest to me. For instance, what are his views on the nature of time and affection, and what were the circumstances surrounding the writing of “A Dream Within A Dream”? He might mention what transpired during those last few days in Baltimore, but I would not ask about this. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, as the fire drew down, we would dare to speak of the eternal secrets … before falling asleep in our chairs to the glow of the last few dying embers.

Who’s coming to dinner at your house? Are we invited?

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Can Business Partnerships Save the Bookstore?

Can Business Partnerships Save the Bookstore?

Business partnerships maximize resources and leverage each partner’s audience and strengths. Could business partnerships save the bricks-and-mortar bookstore as well?

This article is part of my Bookstore of the Future Project in which I’m asking a simple question and posing it to authors, book bloggers, publishers, and store owners:

In the age of ebooks and ecommerce what should bookstores look like in order to stay relevant and solvent?

The answers, both disturbing and hopeful, will be compiled into a series of articles. As I research the state of bookstores today, partnerships have come up many times and there may be some good ideas to be found in the discussion.

What do Successful Business Partnerships look Like?

In an ideal business partnership, the audience for one product or service is predisposed to like the partner product or service, and both businesses benefit. Here are a couple to think about:

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Hawaii 5-0 and Chevy:  If you have ever seen an episode of Hawaii 5-0, you know the show has a partnership with Chevrolet. All of the 5-0 detectives drive Chevy vehicles, with the showcase car being Danny’s Camaro. The cars get almost as much screen time as Alex O’Loughlin’s bare torso and the show’s dialogue often includes a casual remark about low gas consumption or sweet cornering. But the real impact is off-screen. Not only have Hawaiian Chevy dealers gotten a boost but there are dozens of blogs and articles about the show’s cars and tie-ins, all of which is good word-of-mouth for the Chevy brand.

High Street fashion designers and Target: The capsule collections by big name designers like Missoni, Philip Lim, and Prabal Gurung give everybody a boost: the big name designer is able to reach a wider audience with a highly profitable venture, Target differentiates itself from competition like Walmart and Kohl’s, and customers get labels they could not otherwise afford. In fact the capsule collections have proven so popular that the Target website actually crashed in 2011 when the Missoni collection premiered. Here’s an article from Target about designers competing to be part of the trend.

Land o’ Lakes and University of Minnesota: There are many examples of collaborations between universities and businesses out there but this internship story resonates because the school and the business have roots in the local community. Internships are amazing partnerships; students seek out schools that give them great internships which are resume-worthy work experiences. Those students have a head start when job hunting after graduation. The businesses get to evaluate potential hires without a high cost or commitment. A win all around.

Business Partnerships for Bookstores?

The bookstore with a partnership might look a lot different than a space with only books in it, with a few cards or bookmarks thrown in for good measure. Here are a few examples the book industry could build on:

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Books and Fashion: Both Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are trendy, upscale stores with a dedicated fan base. Fashion is the main product line for both stores, but a shopper will also find home goods like quilts and painted knobs in Anthropologie and funky chalkboards in Urban Outfitters. And both carry books geared to their shopper demographics and the overall vibe of the store. The Urban Outfitter in Cambridge, MA, had a terrific collection of humor, art, and design books when I was there last year, and Anthropologie stores can usually be relied upon to have cookbooks, shelter, fashion, gift books, and journals.

Books and Museums: The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is one of the best places to go for aviation-themed books. The bookstore in the Udvar-Hazy Center of the museum in Dulles, VA quickly sells out of titles and it is not uncommon to walk by empty shelves. Across the pond, the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge University, UK, is part think tank, part museum, and part bookstore which features books by and about polar explorers. Most of the titles are hard-to-find or unique books that are sold both at the institute and online via the institute’s website.

Books and Hotels: As this New York Times article shows, people who stay at hotels might want something to read. While the article talks about a library, a capsule bookstore can also cater to that audience. From my own experience, one of my own favorite bookstore discoveries was the shop-within-a-shop at the Sheraton Bijao Resort in Panama.

Why Not Partnerships?

If business partnerships are such hot stuff, why don’t we see more of them in the book industry? The answer might lie in the traditional ways most print books are distributed and the volume of books that big distributors want a book retailer to purchase. A retail space that is a partnership of products like books and fashion, won’t have the sales volume a big distributor would want.

Could independent authors and small publishers be the logical answer for partnerships? Yes, but only if book quality matches the non-book partner’s wares. Plus, everyone must have the patience to deal with multiple producers rather than just one big book vendor.

Read all of the  Bookstores of the Future posts in the #noticed category

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


A Book Savor Chat with Novelist Anne R. Allen

The Book Savor series grew out of my passion for good friends, great books, and interesting conversations about what we are reading.

This week’s guest, novelist Anne R. Allen, talks about the books she savors.

1. Carmen Amato: What was the first book you read that marked the transition from reading kids’ books to grown-up fare?

Anne R. Allen: I remember when I was in fifth grade I picked up a new book my dad left on the coffee table. (He was a professor of Classics at Yale.)

It was a thin volume and had pictures and lots of white space, so it looked like books I was used to. I sat down and read it cover to cover. One of the most exciting stories I’d ever read. When my dad saw I’d read it, he freaked. “That’s not for children!” he said. “Did it upset you?” I said it didn’t but I thought the hero was pretty much of a creep.

The book was a new translation of Euripides’ Medea. Kids aren’t as shocked by bad behavior in adults as we think they will be.

2. CA: You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?

ARA: That’s hard. All I can say is I hope they’re really fat ones. Maybe some of those long, tough ones I’ve never had time to read, like Spenser’s Faerie Queen, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. 

cat_cartoons3. CA: What book would you give as a housewarming gift and why? 

ARA: Maybe the New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons. The best kind of book to keep on the coffee table to keep guests occupied while you’re hostessing. And cats are funny. I’m not sure why.

4. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

ARA: Dorothy Parker, and the conversation could be about anything she wanted: I’d just sit back and take notes. For the best stories, I’d probably better serve martinis.

5. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

ARA: Probably one of the most inspiring books, quotes &  concepts ever is Pay it Forward. The book is so much more inspiring than the movie and I am blessed to call the author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, a close friend.

Tell us about yourself in 3 sentences or less.

ARA: I’m a novelist, blogger and actress who believes that laughter is the best medicine. The biggest compliment I ever got was from an old Borscht Belt comic who came backstage after seeing me in Auntie Mame and said, “I didn’t see you act funny once in that whole performance” (pause) “you don’t act funny—you THINK funny—the secret to great comedy.” I feel so blessed to be able to write funny books and have people buy them!

ARA roseMore about this week’s guest: Anne is the author of six romantic-comedy/mysteries: THE GATSBY GAME, FOOD OF LOVE and the Camilla Randall mysteries: THE BEST REVENGE, GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, SHERWOOD, LTD., and NO PLACE LIKE HOME (the latter 3 just came out as a new collection.) She’s poured all her energies from her previous career as artistic director of the Patio Playhouse in Escondido, CA, into her books and a blog about the writing life at

Can Business Partnerships Save the Bookstore?

A Book Savor Chat with CARTEL RISING Author Guillermo Paxton

The Book Savor series grew out of my love for good books, great friends, and interesting conversations about books.

This week the author of THE PLAZA and CARTEL RISING, Guillermo Paxton, talks about the books he savors.

1.Carmen Amato: What was the first book you read that marked the transition from reading kids’ books to grown-up fare?

wickedGuillermo Paxton: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Had nightmares for a week.

2. CA: You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?

GP: The Bible. Infinite Jest. Ga-Jin.

 3. CA: What book would you give as a housewarming gift and why?

GP:  I’d want to give them one of mine since I always have a stockpile of them at the house and I’d only have to buy a bow.

4. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

GP: Cormac McCarthy, because I’m so damned impressed with his writing. My wife cooks the best Mexican food, so if it was winter I’d serve posole and if it was summer I’d grill flank steak (arrachera) and baked potatoes.

5. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

GP: Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion. Jack Kerouac

Tell us about yourself in 3 sentences or less.

When I was seven, my father warned me not to go to the abandoned house on our street. That same day, I went to the abandoned house on the street and explored it inside and out. I’m still that same kid.

book cover cartel risingMore about this week’s guest: Guillermo’s books are tough novels of suspense that go inside Mexico’s drug war with a style I dubbed “narco noir” in this review of his latest, CARTEL RISING, which I devoured in about 2 days.

Twitter- @GuillermoPaxton



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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


On Learning from Mistakes

On Learning from Mistakes

I made two mistakes recently.

The first was an expensive one.

Mistake 1

Flush from my record-breaking (my records, anyway) month in September, spurred by the publication of short story The Beast in the Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase, I went for some top-of-the-line advertising. The Millions is a wonderfully rich website for book lovers, with reviews, essays, and best-of lists, and the same vibe as The New Yorker magazine. The site is targeted at my demographic: educated people who like travel, current events, and engrossing reads.

Cliff DiverI spent big $$ for a 1 week ad promoting CLIFF DIVER, using a quote from Kirkus Review as the main hook: “Consistently exciting . . . a clever Mexican detective tale.” Expectations were high that this ad was going to catapult sales and reach a new audience.

Huh. Only one copy of CLIFF DIVER sold that week. (Insert sound of flushing water.)

The second mistake was less expensive, but more foolish.

Mistake 2

I’ve never recorded the milestones attained during this writing journey I’m on.

There have been a few cheerleader notes on my trusty, albeit ancient, Blackberry: “got website up and running,” and “figured out what a plugin is.” But nowhere have I written down the date that I sold more than 30 books in a month, or the date when both CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE made it to the top 10 on the International Mystery Top Rated list or the date an Amazon Top 50 reviewer gave HAT DANCE 5 stars.

In the wake of Mistake #1, I realized that without a log, it is hard to remember the positive moments and easier to focus on the negative like the toilet getting plugged with the $$ I’ve just flushed away.

Why didn’t the ad on The Millions boost the book?

I was so exciting about advertising on The Millions. The site seemed to be a perfect fit. Appearing on the site felt like my books were in the Big Leagues. But maybe I was out of my league . . .

  • The Millions (and The New Yorker) projects an image of being at the top of the literary food chain. A self-published author who has been at this for only 18 months hasn’t the name recognition these sites bank on.
  • The books on the site are mostly by traditionally published authors. Maybe that is important to the site’s fans.
  • Almost all the books showcased on the site are literary fiction. I was promoting a mystery. Might be the same demographic but they go to The Millions for a specific genre.

let's make better mistakes tomorrow on blackboardSulk vs Plan

Not only did I waste a big chunk of my tiny advertising budget, but I didn’t have the foresight to track the slow and steady milestones that I have achieved, thus depriving myself of a great source of solace and common sense. I could sulk about the situation–which has nothing to do with my ability to write a darn good mystery–or do something. So, like Bridget Jones who would not be defeated by a bad man and an American stick insect, I’m opting for a plan:

  • Start systematically recording the small successes and milestones achieved. Remind myself of the results of perseverance and the joy of slow, steady progress.
  • Identify the gap between newbie author and authors who are known to readers of The Millions. Where are these authors in their career trajectory and what are their best practices?

Mistakes are still ahead; after all we are all learning as we go, right? But they’ll be better than the mistakes this week. They have to be. I’m out of cash!

Help me learn from your experience. Have you ever made an action plan after a mistake? How did it turn out?

 Cartels. Corruption. Love. Survival . . .


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Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

THE GUILTY DIE TWICE offers a memorable cast of characters, two pivotal crimes, lots of deliciously grubby political machinations, and both sides of the death penalty argument. The writing is both fluid and precise, without (thankfully) lots of legal jargon. The...

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FYI: uses Amazon Affiliate links.

The Enduring Magic of Book Night

The Enduring Magic of Book Night

Other families have Game Night or Movie Night. We have Book Night.

It started out as a means of self defense. We had two kids under the age of 5. My husband and I both had full time, demanding jobs, and he was pursuing a college degree at night.

Reading for Survival

I felt stretched, especially at bedtime when I tried to read a book or two to each child before they went to bed. But I was always racing from one bedroom to the other; the youngest wasn’t asleep yet as she heard me read to the older; he complained when I stopped reading to go soothe his sister. Bedtime was chaotic and I was exhausted.

So one Monday, as Dad studied, I let both children select 3 books and we all piled onto our big bed. My 5-year-old son tolerated the bunny and alphabet books his 2-year-old sister loved and she stayed quiet as I read about monster trucks and airplanes. By the time all 6 books were read, everybody was ready to go to bed and no one felt shortchanged.

bear and bookBook Night quickly became a Monday tradition, then a Tuesday tradition, then virtually every night became a Book Night, except Thursday, the night I took the kids to an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet restaurant while my husband had a 4-hour class. The week developed a rhythm, punctuated by the excitement of choosing Book Night books at the library on Saturday. I still had a lot to handle, but Book Night enforced a structure that removed a lot of stress.

Related post: The Power of Daddy

When Tradition Grows Up

We read together like this for several years, until my son said I read too slowly and would rather read on his own. Mind you, this is the kid who started reading Dale Brown in first grade! My daughter and I gradually moved on to reading classics together and the last book I read aloud to her was The Secret Garden when she was in third grade. Then she could read faster to herself than I could read aloud, too.

But Book Night stayed with us. As we gathered in the evenings for dinner, everyone had to be reluctantly parted from their books for a time. At some point someone asked if they could read at the table and Book Night morphed into a dinner rather than bedtime event.

“Is it a Book Night?” someone would ask and invariably we’d each come to dinner with a book. The conversation always started by taking turns asking each other what was the best part of their day (sort of like the Waltons telling each other good night.) Once that ritual had been completed and discussed, we’d each read a bit. But far from being silent meals, we’d end up discussing the books we were each reading. Parents and kids alike learned of new books, (husband and son still regularly swap sci-fi) the kids learned to describe what they read and support their opinions, and we swapped our enthusiasm for all-family favorites like the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Related post: A Lesson From The Great Gatsby

Not Just Survival, But Success

My kids are mostly grown now and thanks to Book Night are voracious readers and literary critics. Their love of reading has bolstered their performance at school, helped their SAT scores, and allowed them to become critical thinkers with interesting things to say.

So if you have kids, read to them. For all of you.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


A Book Savor Chat with Social Media Marketing Expert Frances Caballo

 The Book Savor Series grew out of my passion for great books, great friends and interesting conversations about what we are reading.

This week’s guest, social media marketing expert Frances Caballo shares the books she savors.

1.Carmen Amato: What was the first book you read that marked the transition from reading kids’ books to grown-up fare?

Frances Caballo:  I think it was The Scarlett Letter. I was in high school and we had to read the book and provide a report that discussed the symbolism in the book and other issues. I had a huge moment of inspiration and saw very clearly what the author was trying to communicate. What happened next was horribly embarrassing, which is why I remember this transition so clearly. The teacher asked a boy in the class to read my report without revealing the source. As he read, the entire class erupted into laughter. I was mortified but when I received my report back from my teacher, I saw that I was the only student to receive an A+ on the assignment.

2. CA: You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?

FC:  Just 3 books? For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, Don Quijote (it’s spelled that way in Spain) de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Paella book cover3. CA: What book would you give as a housewarming gift and why?

FC:  Great question! Paella by Penelope Casas.

4. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

FC:  I’m serving paella, Manchego cheese with quince, salad and flan for dessert. I would invite Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of No Ordinary Time, and ask her about how she conducts the extensive researched needed for her books.

5. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

FC:  I love this quote: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” – Rumi

We all need to take up our calling, whatever it might be. And if we follow the call, our souls will be fulfilled.

Tell us about yourself in 3 sentences or less.

I value integrity above all else. I love writing, books, writers, Labrador Retrievers and my husband-to-be, but not necessarily in that order. I can’t imagine living far from the coast; I would shrivel.

More about this week’s guest: I’d just published my first book when Frances interviewed me for her blog about social media marketing for authors. I’d found alot of tips in her articles and was thrilled that she thought I was headed in the right direction.  Recently she sent me some great tips for using Pinterest that you can get as a free download on her website,

Frances Caballo 250 by 250Frances  is a social media strategist, trainer, and author of Social Media Just for Writers: The Best Online Marketing Tips for Selling Your Books and Blogging Just for Writers. Presently, she is the Social Media Manager for the Women’s National Book Association-SF Chapter, the San Francisco Writers Conference, and the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. You can find her on FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterest, and Google+.

What I learned from the Internet this week: Did you know that world-wide, more people have a mobile phone than there are people with access to a flush toilet? Check out for more key water facts.


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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


MADE IN ACAPULCO story collection is free for all

MADE IN ACAPULCO story collection is free for all

Fact may be stranger than fiction but in some cases they are deliberately similar. I routinely comb the news for inspiration for the Emilia Cruz mystery series so that “action torn from today’s headlines” isn’t just a tagline.  Yes, readers will be entertained by fast-paced tales of intrigue and mystery. But they’ll also learn about the impact of Mexico’s drug war.

Made in Acapulco by Carmen Amato

MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories is a collection of 5 short stories, many of which were inspired by real events in Mexico. The stories take place before the action in the full-length Emilia Cruz novels, including CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE:

The Beast captures Emilia’s struggle to become the first female detective on the Acapulco police force. It previously appeared in The Huffington Post’s Huff/Post 50 Featured Fiction showcase.

Note for missing womanThe Disappeared sees Emilia track a friend who goes missing. This story launches the continuing theme of missing persons, especially women, that runs throughout the series. It was inspired by the numerous reports of missing women in Mexico, such as this 2012 New York Times article about missing and murdered women in Juarez.

Related Post: Finding Mexico’s Missing: New Effort or Whitewash?

The Artist was inspired by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s efforts to raise the awareness of the plight of families whose loved ones have gone missing amid Mexico’s drug violence as well as threats to schools in Acapulco in 2011 that caused 140 schools in that city to close. For more see The Huffington Post report on Sicilia’s 2012 “caravan” tour of the United States as well as this report in the Christian Science Monitor about the school closings.

The Date explores the downside of a job that pits Emilia against Mexico’s enduring culture of machismo. It draws on real events that occurred at a nightclub in Mexico in 2006, as reported by the BBC.

The Cliff is the original Emilia Cruz story and was previously published in the now out of print first edition of MADE IN ACAPULCO. Written for a literary critique group, the story was initially entitled So Far from God and introduced Kurt Rucker. CLIFF DIVER, the first full-length Emilia Cruz novel, was based on this story.

The stories in MADE IN ACAPULCO draw on the headlines coming out of Mexico today, but it also shows the warmth and resilience of the Mexican people. Mexico is a beautiful and vibrant country with a rich heritage and culture, and Emilia represents hope for the country’s future.

2018 update: MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories is permanatly free across all ebook platforms.





You are invited to spend some time in Acapulco with Emilia, Rico, Kurt and the infamous Lt. Inocente, among others.

Will this short story collection prove that fact is stranger than fiction? Probably not, although it may show just how much art imitates life.

P.S. If you enjoyed MADE IN ACAPULCO, please leave a review!

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Carmen Amato at Spring Hill

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