Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Halloween Treat: Guest Post from Erika Mailman, author of THE WITCH'S TRINITY

I recently met author Erika Mailman at San Jose's Book Group Expo. She's a lovely young woman with a fascinating amount of information about witches and the persecution of witches, much of which she's channeled into her haunting debut novel, The Witch's Trinity, described by Booklist as a story that ". . .probes the human psyche, peeling back the layers of the basest human instincts to expose the dangerous frailties of the human soul." Set in medieval Germany during a terrible famine, The Witch's Trinity is narrated by an older woman in the throes of a struggle for her life and her safety against the prejudices of a town beset by fear and a lethal daughter-in-law's accusations of witchcraft.

I thought it would be fun to invite Erika to guest post here in celebration of Halloween, seeing as witches are my favorite All Hallows Eve denizens.

Please join me in giving Erika a warm welcome!

How do witches fly?
One of the prevailing characteristics of witches throughout time immemorial has been their ability to fly. Before broomsticks came into the picture, medieval imagery depicted witches flying on tree branches, as in this woodcut from De Lamiis, a pre-1500s tract written by German professor Ulrich Molitor to confirm the existence of witchcraft.

But how might a witch elevate herself? What provides the power that thickens the air and permits her to ride it?

We turn to the Malleus Maleficarum for the answer. The Malleus Maleficarum translates to “The Witch’s Hammer”—not the hammer a witch uses, but one that is used on her. This book, written in the 1480s, provides information on how to identify, question and punish witches, in essence a witch hunting Bible. Two German friars wrote it, based on their experiences roaming the countryside ridding it of witches. No less a personage than Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull complimenting these men on their hard work and providing an endorsement for them.

The book became a bestseller of its day, going through multiple editions over hundreds of years… and today, you can purchase a 1970s edition that is still in print. The Malleus purports to be legalistic and reasonable, even while it contradicts itself and provides flabbergastingly ridiculous examples of witchcraft. My edition provides nearly 300 pages of wince-worthy material… we would be laughing uproariously if hundreds of thousands hadn’t died because of its convictions.

So, the answer on how to fly. This comes from Part II, Question I, Chapter 3 (you can see that the very format of the book lends officiousness and dignity):

Now the following is their method of being transported. They take the unguent which, as we have said, they make at the devil’s instruction from the limbs of children, particularly of those whom they have killed before baptism, and anoint with it a chair or a broomstick; whereupon they are immediately carried up into the air, either by day or by night, and either visibly or, if they wish, invisibly; for the devil can conceal a body by the interposition of some other substance, as was shown in the First Part of the treatise where we spoke of the glamours and illusions caused by the devil. And although the devil for the most part performs this by means of this unguent, to the end that children should be deprived of the grace of baptism and of salvation, yet he often seems to affect the same transvection without its use. For at times he transports the witches on animals, which are not true animals but devils in that form; and sometimes even without any exterior help they are visibly carried solely by the operation of the devil’s power.

So there you have it: you must murder children before they can be baptized (saved), and create a potion from their limbs. Or with the devil’s help, you can dispense with the unguent and ride a devil in animal form, or just fly away solely.

The Malleus follows this information with a real-life example, to fortify its truth. The friars write of the town of Waldshut on the Rhine. Here lived a woman everyone hated so much that they didn’t invite her to a wedding that all the rest of the townsfolk attended. Indignant of the slight, she raised a hailstorm to ruin the festivities and prevent the guests from dancing.

Witches “usually” raise hailstorms by pouring water into a trench—since she had no water, she instead urinated into a little hole she dug and stirred it with her finger. A devil stood nearby, and when she was finished, he raised up the liquid and transformed it into the hailstones that fell on the celebrants.

[Quick tangent: how sad that she had no water. Was this indicative of the fact that she was a beggar and scorned for her inability to get food and drink for herself, to the extent that the town excluded her from the wedding celebration?]

As the woman re-entered the town, everyone who had been marveling at the hailstorm saw her and thought, “Aha!” Later, shepherds who had been tending their flocks and saw her urinate into the trench shared what they witnessed, and the witch was arrested.

She confessed to spoiling the wedding because she had not been invited. And they burned her at the stake.

What a frightening land and time to be a person that no one likes. Burned at the stake for the whims of weather, paired with guilt over not providing feast food for the one woman in town who was probably the most hungry.

As I wrote this guest post, I found myself wondering whether Waldshut really existed. Thanks to Wikipedia, I see that it is today amalgamated into the city of Waldshut-Tiengen.

And in the town, yes, still stands the Hexenturm ("Witches' Tower"), a round tower of the medieval fortified walls where witches once were jailed.

Erika Mailman is the author of The Witch’s Trinity, in which a traveling friar uses the Malleus Maleficarum to solve the mystery of a town’s famine. Each chapter begins with a quote from the book. Photo credit for woodcut is from Kors & Edwards: Witchcraft in Europe 1100-1700.
Thank you, Erika! You can visit Erika and learn more about her writing at

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book group phobia

As some of you may know, I'll be attending the San Jose Book Group Expo this weekend. It's a great opportunity to meet readers face-to-face and discuss reading and writing in an informal, literary-salon setting. I'm very excited about this event, but it wasn't so long ago when an invitation to speak would have sent spasms of fear through me.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited a book group in person. The Secret Lion had been out for almost two years; I'd heard of book groups, of course, as well as their increasing importance to authors in an era of shrinking marketing dollars. But I’d never been in one and I had no idea of how they worked. Writer friends of mine had been encouraging me to make myself available to these groups; they kept saying, “You’re a great speaker, a real ham. You’re perfect for book groups. They'll adore you.”

The truth was, I was terrified. I’d done quite a few readings, signings, public speaking engagements; I'd even taught classes. I’m good with an audience. As my friends say, I am indeed a ham. But I was scared to the point of phobia of meeting with a group of readers who’d read my book and might question me at close-range about it. What if I’d made some inadvertent error that a reader would point out? What if they hated the book? What if they found my writing trite, irrelevant? What if they laughed at me? I understood my fear was totally illogical; but every writer struggles with some type of insecurity when it comes to their work; and for me, this was the Bogey Man of all authorial phobias— meeting readers up front and personal in an intimate setting.

As often happens, what we most fear, we attract. Shortly after I sold The Last Queen, I got a call from a local reading group. They'd selected The Secret Lion as their book for the following month and wanted to know if I was available to speak to them. What could I say? I agreed and then spent the next forty-five days worrying about it.

On the night I went to the house where the group was meeting, I felt ill. My hands were sweating; I was sure they’d see the beads of perspiration on my forehead and think I was coming down with some horrible flu. I could barely speak as I was introduced to everyone, the lump in my throat felt so big. Then, as the hostess offered me a glass of water and indicated the trays of canapĂ©s nearby in case I was hungry, a lovely young woman sitting opposite me burst out, “Oh, I loved your book! I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait to hear you talk about it.”

It was if she’d shot Zen gamma rays at me. All the tension in my body seeped away. I looked about for the first time with clarity and was greeted by seven smiling faces. These are readers, I thought. Readers, just like me. People who’d read and liked a book, and were thrilled that the author was there to discuss it. How often had I finished a novel and thought, I wish I could tell the author how much I enjoyed this. I wish I could talk to him or her about my impressions. Then the hostess leaned in to me and chuckled softly, “You can relax now. We don’t bite.”

That night was one of the best evenings I’ve spent as a writer. We went beyond the hour time-frame, the discussion lively and enthusiastic. I was astonished by how much they’d found to talk about in my work, their different interpretations of it, the messages and themes they’d detected. Some of it I had intended while writing the book; quite a bit, I hadn’t. In the end, I learned far more about who I am as a writer than I’d ever expected, and was profoundly grateful for the experience, knowing it would stay with me forever and inform the ways I look at my writing. One book group had changed how I approached my craft.

I’ve spoken to several groups since then, some in person and some via phone chat. Invariably, whether it’s twelve readers or five or three, I always learn something new about my work, about how it’s experienced by someone other than me; where I’ve succeeded and where I have not. Not once have I ever put down the phone or closed the door without feeling that deep sense of passion and joy for books that readers bring to the world.

Readers are why I write. I might spend years crafting my sentences and scenes, reveling in my secret world, but in the end I need it to be bound and read by someone other than me. I write for pleasure; but my true reward is when I hear that one reader say: “I loved your book.”

Now, being invited to a book group is something I always cherish and look forward to.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Guest post from Nan Hawthorne, author of AN INVOLUNTARY KING

I'm delighted to present this guest post from Nan Hawthorne, author of AN INVOLUNTARY KING, A Tale of Anglo Saxon England. A meticulous researcher, Nan has a fascinating blog and her novel has received much critical acclaim.

The Historical Novel Review says:
". . .During the 8th century in a land called CrĂ­slicland, tragedy forces the unlikely hero, Lawrence upon the throne of the kingdom. His struggle to gather the wisdom, honor, and self-confidence to be a good king is the underlying catalyst that drives this rich tale forward. Undying love, humorous characters, treachery, and intrigue either grace or plague his life as he struggles to vanquish his many foes and return to the bosom of his loving family.The characters gush with integrity, endearing themselves to the reader. The prose is vibrant and the battle scenes so authentic that I found myself drawn inextricably into the ever-developing, engaging story. Nan Hawthorne’s passion for the medieval era is skillfully weaved into a tapestry of enchantment in this engrossing story. A must read for medieval enthusiasts. "
You can visit Nan and find out more about her work at:

Word Rivets:
On Quibbling about Language in Historical Fiction
by Nan Hawthorne

I paid attention to historical accuracy when I wrote An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England. The novel is based on stories a friend and I wrote as teenagers, and though it is set in a fictional Saxon kingdom in the late 8th century, I gave it my attention. I could call it alternate history and get away with anachronistic murder, but while preserving elements of the adolescents' vision, I got rid of the castles and knights and replaced them with timber stockades and shield walls. Home free? Not a chance.

My husband uses the expression "rivet counters" to refer to people who pick away at minor or irrelevant mistakes in historical fiction. He refers to those people who cannot get through a movie like "Titanic" without pointing out there are too few rivets in the hell. Thus, rivet counters are those people who overlook all the characteristics of fiction, in particular the skill of the storytelling, to point out trivial inaccuracies.

I quickly learned as I embarked on my career as a historical novelist that the author is as much or more likely to be jumped on for "too few rivets" as for any thinness of plot or unevenness of character development. It became apparent to me quickly that my fate was to have these irrelevant peccadilloes pointed out in scathing terms in public. It has, so far, only happened to me personally a couple of times, but I watch other authors getting creamed for what boil down to the critic's own beliefs and often misunderstanding of the author's chosen era. In particular, however, I want to address a criticism that is so obviously illogical I am surprised it is uttered at all, and that is the use of certain terms to denote an object or other concept in another time. In a nutshell, "You can't use that word because it did not exist in that year."

I personally got this one when I set up The Blue Lady Tavern blog ( and was informed that there was no word "tavern" in the late 8th century, that it did not come into use until the 13th century. Um, yeah, that's right. But then they didn't have the words "blue" or "lady" either.. they did not speak the English we do. It's the same as saying I could not call the establishment "The Blue Lady Tavern" because there were no such words in Tagalog at the time. Another writer told me how she was corrected when she used the word "pitcher", as no such word existed at that time. I promptly produced for her pictures of Anglo Saxon era pitchers. She had been told to use the word "jug". Do her critics mean that the Saxons called both jugs and those vessels with big looped handles "jugs"? How did they distinguish between them? Or could it be.. that they spoke a different language than we do and called them neither jugs nor pitchers?

There are two issues at work in this sort of word rivet counting. One is the old "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Someone got a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and started looking words up. So they find that the first written reference to pitchers is not until the 14th century". But the word was not coined at the same time. The word had been in existence for some period of time before someone had occasion to write it down. Use and documentation are quite different matters. When you recall that most writing for many hundred years was done by clerics it becomes possible to imagine that many words might not have made it into print for generations.

More germane to my own use of "tavern" is the fact that when I write about the late 8th century in Lincolnshire I am in theory writing a complete translation. If I wrote the book in accurate language, the entire 648 pages would be in Old English, as in "Sume is incumen in, lhude singe cuccu." When I take whatever word a real person from that era uses to refer to a place where you can go to get a bowl of ale, it is my job as the writer to choose a word that expresses the idea so the reader can form a picture in his or her mind. Sure, I could have used "ale house" but that's not Old English either. I think tavern works fine. At least I didn't call it The Blue Lady Nightclub or The Blue Lady Disco!

I for one do not understand this quibbling over approximate or interchangeable terms. Why do some people insist on counting rivets? Yes, I want realistic settings and the history correct in those novels that are based on actual events. But these books aren't and never were intended to be nonfiction history. I appreciate those authors who add an author's note explaining which characters were real and which invented for the novel, what liberties were taken with the real history to make a more cohesive story. What really happened and what was made up. But in the long run, novels are about people and their lives, their stories and their feelings, their struggles and how they overcame them. The lovers in Titanic were not real, there were no such passengers on the ship, no massive jewel thrown into the sea. But Jack's and Rose's love, their self-sacrifice, their enduring will, those are things we can relate to and make us care about other human beings. How sad to miss it when concentrating on the rivets, "425, 426, 427…"

Nan Hawthorne is the author of "An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England" available in print and in a digital edition via Shield-wall Books , as well as for blind and print impaired readers via Her blog, Tales from Shield-wall Books ( is updated daily.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Interview with C.C. Humphreys, author of VLAD: THE LAST CONFESSION

I recently had the privilege of reviewing C.C. Humphrey's VLAD: THE LAST CONFESSION, about the historical Dracula, for the Historical Novels Review. I've been a fan of his work for some time; I loved his novels about the man who executed Anne Boleyn (THE FRENCH EXECUTIONERand BLOOD TIES) as well as his dashing hero, JACK ABSOLUTE. I haven't read his YA novels yet, but VLAD is a masterpiece: an evocative, dark, impeccably researched account of the prince known as Vlad the Impaler, whose tumultuous reign gave rise to a terrifying legend.

Chris (C.C.) Humphreys was born in Toronto He has acted all over the world and appeared on stages ranging from London’s West End to Hollywood’s Twentieth Century Fox. Favorite roles have included Hamlet, Caleb the Gladiator in NBC’s Biblical-Roman epic mini-series, ‘AD - Anno Domini’ and Jack Absolute in Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’. As C.C. Humphreys, he's written five historical fiction novels. As ‘Chris Humphreys’ he has written a trilogy for Young Adults ‘The Runestone Saga’. His latest, VLAD: THE LAST CONFESSION, was published in Canada September 1. Chris lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife and young son. To learn more about him and his work, please visit:

It's my great honor to welcome C.C. Humphreys.

1. Congratulations on the publication of VLAD: THE LAST CONFESSION. It's an honor to have you with us. This is a dark and evocative novel detailing the historical personage who inspired the legendary Dracula by Bram Stoker. While the vampire is exceedingly famous Prince Vlad Dracul is largely unknown. What inspired you to write about him?
In a word, alcohol. I got drunk with my editor in London, wept about elusive besteller-dom. Together we decided I had to stop making people up (Jack Absolute) and write about someone already known, as that’s what many readers like. But who hadn’t been done? No one it seemed. My editor suggested Dracula and I scoffed: someone so infamous had to have been covered, surely? Not, it seemed. That intrigued me initially. I was soon to find out why. Its very hard to write anything other than a horror story. But then I began to uncover certain ‘hooks’ such as his childhood spent as a hostage to the Turk. The more I uncovered the more fascinating he became. Soon, I just had to do it.

Oh, by the way, it’s Dracul-a. The ‘a’ makes it ‘son of’. Vlad Dracul was his father.

2. THE LAST CONFESSION is both graphic and unsentimental in its approach to this controversial man, who became known as the Impaler for his particularly horrific method of dispatching his enemies. The novel is framed through the “confessions” of three of his intimates: his companion in arms, his confessor, and his mistress. Are these characters based on actual personages or fictional? Why did you choose these particular three to tell his story?
These characters are fictional, though there may have been an ‘Ion Tremblac’ in Vlad’s camp. And there was one mistress whose experience I knew I’d need to write about. I chose them because I wanted to have a framing device that was quite Gothic. “Draw up your chair close to the fire and hear the true tale of Dracula,” kind of thing. So the closest people to him would be able to both observe him and, to a certain extent, take us inside his head – especially his confessor. It’s a bit of a cheat but it does allow Vlad himself to have a voice. As for their ‘roles’ – his comrade could speak to politics and war, his mistress to love and his confessor to motivation, though of course they all overlap.

3. What types of challenges did you encounter while researching this book? What surprising or interesting facts did you discover about this time in history and Vlad’s role in it?
The main challenge was separating the facts from the propaganda. I have no doubt that the Impaler did terrible things – such as impale, by the thousand. But it is also true that his story was told almost entirely by men who hated him and wanted to blacken his name. And they had the means to do it – the printing press had been churning out religious tracts for about 20 years when Vlad was overthrown. But, as in that other great technological leap, the Internet, people soon tire of information and God. What they really want is sex and violence. Printers wanted pamphlets that would sell. Dracula’s deeds provided fantastic copy.

There were so many things I discovered that intrigued. One, that when all the other princes of Europe ignored the Pope’s call for crusade against the Turk in 1462, Vlad alone, in tiny Wallachia, raised the banner of the Cross – and damned near killed the Sultan! Another, that the week I was in Romania, the president had been impeached by his parliament. This had to go to a plebiscite so rallies were held for and against him. The president’s supporters carried two portraits on placards – him… and Dracula.

To this day, Vlad is held up as the benchmark of justice and probity in government. He turned the most lawless state into the most law-abiding using the Giuliani method of ‘zero tolerance’. Not sure Rudi ever impaled anyone, mind.

4. Vlad is difficult to empathize with, though in fact he did not behave more or less cruelly than other tyrannical princes of his age. He also fought against treacherous nobles and the ever-constant threat of Turkish invasion. Many writers would shy away from this fearsome man as a lead character for a historical novel. What decisions and/or compromises did you find yourself making as a writer when it came to telling his story?
Decisions? The crucial one came after much angst and struggle. I kept trying to make judgments, take an angle on him. And he wouldn’t come.

Then, one day I decided that I would not judge him, however horrific his deeds and actions. I would depict him – and let the reader judge. The Roman, Terence, his quote: ‘I am a man. Nothing human is alien to me’, I set above my desk. I may have flinched. But I wrote down what came and left judgment to the reader.

Compromises? The book is hefty. But if I’d told the whole story and followed every fascinating tangent I’d still be at it. I had to select. The framing device helped me here. I used the ‘confession’ to get necessary history out fast so I could get back to the story. I don’t like giving history lessons in my novels. But there’s lots that people need to know to make sense of the characters’ choices.

5. One of the most fascinating moments in the book depicts Vlad’s youth as a Turkish prisoner, in particular his stay in the Tokat prison. Few readers will expect that a Wallachian prince had spent time as a hostage. You also show a startling link between what he endures and his later behavior. There are moments in the novel that seem to hint that he suffers from some form of mental illness. Was this your intent? What do you think motivated him to act as he did?
Is that your judgment? Mental illness? I can, of course, neither confirm nor deny. But I think that many people, raised in extreme circumstances, pressured by extraordinary things, are capable of acts that could be interpreted as ‘mad’ without being clinically ‘crazy’. There could be any number of things that motivated him, from terrible abuse to religious fanaticism. Yes, I am hedging. But I’d rather keep my opinion to myself. Because it's not up to me any more. It's not my book any more. I believe that a novel is made by two people – the one who writes and the one who reads. My Vlad will be different from yours, theirs. I wouldn’t want to influence them now any more than I have already.

6. Please tell us about methods that you employ to give your characters authenticity.
Hmm! How long have you got? I think there are two types of authenticity – the age the character lived in and who the character is. For the first, we all try to set our protagonists against a credible backdrop, political, philosophical, social; how they were brought up, what they believed in, what clothes they wore. But how they process what they learn, what happens to them, their choices – that makes the journey. Characters’ authenticity is also revealed by what others think, say and do to them. One of the reasons I put a classic ‘love triangle’ at the center of the novel. So that each can reflect on, and react to, the other.

7. How do you think your novel speaks to today’s reader or how do the events you evoke resonate for today’s world?
This is one of my ‘things’. I consider myself a modern novelist. I write historical fiction but I am a man of today, writing for today’s readers. Though there are huge differences in attitude and belief from the 15th century to today; there are also huge similarities. Men and women want many of the same things, physically, spiritually. And as for politically - is the conflict between Islam and Christianity any less fierce today? Are the Balkans any more stable? For the Turks Tokat, what price Guantanamo? We can haggle about rights and wrongs. They did. They still are.

So, there is resonance. But I am a storyteller and my first duty is to that. Readers will pick out whatever they choose. What I hope is that what really draws them in and holds them is my characters’ journeys.

8. Please tell us about your next project.
Well, I am touring Vlad all over Canada in the next month. Next year, it's out in the UK so there will be more there I am sure. As for writing, I am wearing my Young Adult hat again – you know I have just completed the Runestone Saga trilogy for Knopf? So now I am in the first draft of a stand alone novel about … unicorns! A little different than the Impaler. Mind you, that horn…

Thank you so much for joining us, Chris. Here's the much success with VLAD!
[To my readers: This guy is great, a fellow historical fiction writer with tremendous wit and talent, and a wonderful conversationalist. If you haven't read anything by him, now is the time.]

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The price of convenience

Yesterday, there was an article in PW Daily about a bookseller's passionate outburst to rally independent booksellers and the need to educate authors about disabling the links on their websites. She said it was a case of "survival."

Several independently published authors chimed in on PW's page of the article with comments, basically relaying how they feel independents had snubbed them while chains and let them compete in the marketplace. One commenter even pointed out that handicapped people can easily browse and buy books online, while navigating crowded stores that don't consider their special needs can be a nightmare.As an author who's on both sides of the equation - I'm both commercially and independently published - the article got me thinking about my own conflicts as a reader and writer.

As a reader, I do my utmost to spread my book dollars around; I support my local independents and I also have an credit card that gives me a $25 gift certificate for every $2,500 I charge. I buy new books, used books; I don't discriminate. Yet I have friends who buy exclusively at amazon, while I know no one who buys exclusively at stores anymore; and as time has gone on I've started to understand just how flame-quenching a behemoth like can be to the passion and the hours of joy I experience in a physical bookstore.

Books have gotten pricey; to me, however, $25 is still more than worthwhile. A book gives me days of enjoyment and still costs less than I spend on a meal - and considerably less than I spend on shoes! As an incurable bookaholic, however, I must confess that I'm very attracted by the heavy discounts I can get at amazon, without taxes, and with free shipping. I also know that for many of us living in the current economic meltdown, such discounting will make the difference between whether we buy books or not, and frankly I want people to buy books. So, as a reader, I find that both outlets suit my needs - but I also know that my choice to buy books online is in fact contributing to the demise of independent booksellers, who can't compete with online and chain discounting, and to the possible floundering of my career as a NY-published author.

When I first published THE SECRET LION, I tried very hard to get independent stores and chains to stock my book. But it wasn't returnable; it was printed on-demand; and of course no one knew who the publisher was, so everyone ignored me, except for a few local stores that heeded my pleas and took the book on consignment. I was proud of my achievement and my writing; I held my head high, but deep down I was ashamed. Whenever someone asked me who my publisher was, I cringed and hedged and basically told a big mouthful of half-truths, because being "independently published" was just a step up from being "self-published" and the industry remains one of snobbery, particularly when it comes to publishing. And without that imprimatur a large publisher accords, you're really nobody in most store managers' eyes. Shelf space is limited, as is time and money; what waste them on someone like me when you can get three more copies of the latest opus anointed by Oprah?

With the shame came hurt and anger, followed by my inevitable "I'll-show-them" attitude. My book was readily available online; in fact, besides the publisher facts area under the book image, no one could even tell how I was published. I dedicated myself to marketing online. I did not give up. I would not concede defeat. My motto was if stores wouldn't sell my book, by god I would. And I did, to the tune of 8,000 copies to date. It's a paltry number compared to big publishing numbers, but to me it was success because I did it alone, via And the folks at amazon helped me do it by letting me access the same Search Inside tools and marketing strategies that large publishers use; not once did anyone at amazon treat me differently because of my publishing status—- something I must say, I experienced all too often with stores. During this period, I also bought most of my books online, both for research and for pleasure. The capacity to find out-of-print books online is a writer's dream; but I deliberately turned my back on stores because I felt they'd turned their back on me. This stance later mellowed; I returned to my favorite independents because I felt guilty that I was in my own small way contributing to their downfall and also because I was sensory-deprived and needed to browse, pick up, stroke embossing and delight in gilt foiling, and basically lose myself among aisles and aisles of books.

Now, I have a book out by a major publisher. It's available everywhere. My entire world view as a writer has flipped. I need physical stores more than I need online ones because if the stats are to be believed, only 10- 15% of books are bought online. I doubt these stats myself, just because I know so many people who buy online, but who am I to question? The truth remains that I benefit enormously from the personalized recommendations that independent bookstores provide; from the exposure the chains give; and yet I still must be online for promotion and to meet my readers, seeing as few authors are paid to go on tour these days. I know that for me as a writer, the extraordinary capabilities of the online world cannot be denied.It's a conundrum. Still, I'd be heartbroken if we lost physical bookstores. No matter how many kindles are invented or readers that flip pages on the screen, reading for me remains an intimate experience which, like sex, requires two: in the case of reading, me and the book. Not me and the machine.

So, after much soul searching, I have determined that henceforth I will only buy my out-of-print research books and books not published in the US online and buy all new books at my local independent stores. Going to a chain and getting that 30% discount is pretty much like going online as far as independent survival goes, so I'm going to do my utmost to stay true to the true independents. My habit will get a lot more expensive; but I feel that for me this is the right thing to do.Still like any other addiction, I know buying books online is going to be a very hard habit to break.