Thursday, August 30, 2012

Physical Books and CDs: Alive and Well in 2012 England

It's hard to find a bookstore or a CD shop any more. Have you noticed? Barnes & Noble are still around, along with a (very) few independent bookshops, re-sale CD shops, and in our area, the highly addictive Half Price Books (who do a mighty trade in CDs). In this neck of the woods, that's about it.

As a writer, the demise of the physical bookstore doesn't bother me - customers find me in a variety of digital venues. As a reader, it definitely does bother me. Same holds true for my musician husband when it comes to CDs and his recording / listening habits. He can distribute digitally, but prefers to have the physical CD (or even the vinyl, in some cases) for listening purposes.

Although this change might be a bit slower coming to other parts of the world, the digital age continues to gain ground. In this August 6, 2012 article, Michael Harper notes that in the UK, Amazon is selling 114 ebooks for every 100 paperback or hardback books sold, and the British are buying approximately four times more books now than before they owned an ereader. (That's good news for those of us who so far, only publish our books electronically.)

Two of the things I enjoyed most about living in England were the ability to walk to many of the places we wanted to go and the number of bookstores and music shops we came across on our walks. In June, my husband and I had the pleasure of traveling to England to visit his family in Norfolk County. One of the things we worried about before we took flight was how many of those lovely stand-alone book and CD shops we'd find, now that we've been away for five years. So much has changed in terms of the world's digital lives that we had serious cause for doubt.

It was with some trepidation that Martyn and I walked down London's Charing Cross Road in hopes of seeing Foyle's Bookshop and Ray's Jazz. To our delight, both exist and appear to be thriving.

The Stage at Ray's Jazz is still on Foyle's first floor, but with a larger seating area for the café. (If you have a chance, stop by for a great cup of coffee, scrumptious scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and free Wi-Fi.) The record shop is upstairs on the third floor now, with an expanded selection of music. Yup, you read that right: expanded selection. Music to Martyn's ears, so to speak.

With the exception of the Borders bookstores, we found almost all of the stores that we remembered open and doing quite well, in both Norwich and London. All the bookshops down Cecil Court were open, along with the Waterstone's on Oxford Street, Hatchard's on Piccadilly, and many of the independent shops.

The bookshops on Cecil Court

On the music front, although the Virgin store is long gone from Piccadilly Circus, HMV lives on in London and Norwich. We were pleasantly surprised to find the funky Fopp on Earlham Street still open (they're somehow linked to HMV now), and all the instrument shops down Denmark Street thriving.

The Earlham Fopp Shop
Denmark Street

What does the presence of all this populated brick and mortar mean? Although the digital age marches on, it seems there are a few holdouts for lovers of physical books and CDs. Across the pond, anyway. Given the rise of the ereader and other digital devices in England, it may not last. But hopefully those physical shops will hold on long enough for us to make another trip back - maybe next year...

Does having access to physical shops for books and records matter to you?

Girl Reading Book photo credit: Βethan via photo pin cc
All other photos via yours truly.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Harpers Hollow Horror-ble Grand Opening Giveaway!

Calling all horror, sci-fi, and fantasy aficiandos!

Do you love a good chill down your spine? Get a thrill from watching your victims scream and dance as you scare the daylights out of them? Are ghost hunters your heros? Take heart - Halloween is just around the corner, and Harpers Hollow is celebrating their grand online opening by hosting a fabulously fearsome giveaway!

Don't know Harpers Hollow? It's the new virtual home of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy - freaky features are added daily! Click here to learn more about the little house of Harpers Hollow horrors.

For an easy-as-pumpkin-pie chance to win a custom designed Halloween prop with a value of up to $500,  a $100 Halloween Home decor item, or a coupon for $10 off your $60 shopping spree - click the link below! But click fast, the giveaway ends12:01 a.m. September 1, 2012.

photo credit: Hourman via photo pin cc

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Triple 7 Challenge

Image of Alan McDermottI was recently nominated to take up the 777 Challenge by my good Twitter friend Alan McDermott (find him at @jambalian on Twitter). Alan is the author of the GRAY JUSTICE and GRAY RESURRECTION thrillers - both available on and You can find the seven line excerpt from his upcoming novel GRAY REDEMPTION on his blog, here.

Gray Justice 

The rules are simple - share seven lines from page seven or 77 from my current work in progress and then pass the Challenge along to seven lucky authors!

This excerpt is from page seven of book two in the Forney County series, tentatively titled AVENGERS OF BLOOD.  If you've read book one, THE DEVIL OF LIGHT, you've met Goober, a gentle resident of Forney County whose transportation is a blade-less riding lawn mower - because that's all the power he can handle. On page seven of AVENGERS OF BLOOD, Goober is on a desperate mission to get to The Whitehead Store before closing time to pick up potato chips. But instead of a simple rack of snack food, Goober finds a crime scene with the victim hung and burning.

For the record, I don't write about zombies, werewolves, or vampires, so it's Goober's overactive imagination that turns the victim into a zombie:

Reaching a hand out, he felt for the spigot on the wall, never taking his eyes from the zombie as it swayed ever so slightly in the gentle breeze. Goober yanked the hose from its reel and flinched away from the sizzling that sounded when the sputtering stream hit the burning figure. With a rip of protest, the frayed rope around its neck broke and the zombie dropped to the ground with a thud. Water flew and bits of charred cloth and skin ripped away from the smoking body. It lay motionless for a moment, then stirred.

Goober’s heart lunged to his throat and he jumped straight up into the air, releasing a blood-curdling shriek. He charged back through the stockroom door, slammed it shut and stood trembling, listening as the zombie staggered to its feet. Goober took a running leap over the gooey mess on the floor and sprinted into the store, where he dove behind the counter and reached for the phone.

With shaking fingers, he pecked out 9-1-1. “Police? This is Goober. We got a burnin’ zombie on the loose in The Whitehead Store. Bring the machetes. We gotta cut his head off.”

Now for the hard part! Here are seven authors I admire to take up the Triple 7 Challenge, in no particular order:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

England 2012: A Parallel Universe

I've been tickled by the chiding Boris Johnson has given the good people of London recently. The Mayor felt it was time for the locals to stop whinging about all the problems the Olympics are causing around town. But it wasn't his fussing that I found humorous, it was that we experienced exactly the opposite when we visited England back in June.

My English husband, Martyn and I moved from London to East Texas in late 2007, and were happy to go. The weather was miserable that summer, tensions over terrorism were high, violence in the city was rising, the level of disengagement from people was overwhelming - it felt like the English had closed in on themselves. The peaceful Texas countryside beckoned so we hopped on a plane and headed for sunshine - and many challenges as it turns out, but that's another blog post.

A cold and wet Denmark Street

We made our first trip back to England in June 2012 with some trepidation, and were pleasantly surprised at what we found. The weather was still miserable, terrorism remains top of the agenda, but the people - now there's where we saw a real change.

Covent Garden

It was truly bizarre. Perky shop assistants. Kind waiters and waitresses. Smiling, downright friendly people walking the streets. Helpful sellers on the markets. Even the kids working the music shops on Denmark street were polite. When we stepped out of the way of a boy riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, he said, "Thank you." Shocking, given the attitudes of people when we left the city in 2007.

 (For the record, things didn't get too far out of hand - most people still observed the First Commandment when using public transport: 

Thou Shalt Not Make Eye Contact

But a thrill-loving few disobeyed. Remarkable.)

Given that we expected rudeness and long, dour faces, we were stunned. So stunned that we kept count of the negative interactions we had during our brief ten-day trip. We must've interacted with a hundred people or so, which is a tiny fraction of the English population. So how many were difficult? Only two. That's right, we encountered only two people who were remotely unpleasant.

Leicester Square

Martyn and I tried to figure out what had happened in the five years we'd been away to change attitudes and behavior so dramatically. Aerial spraying of anti-depressants? Some mysterious 'nice juice' in the water supply? Sugar instead of salt on the fish and chips? Not that we could detect.

In fact, all we could come up with was that everybody felt, well, pride at being English. Even at being British.

Fortnum & Mason'
Yeah, I know. Seems implausible. But consider that we hit England smack dab between the Jubilee Celebrations and the start of the Olympics, while the England football team was still a contender in the European Cup. The place was swathed in the Union Jack and reminders to keep the place tidy. And people did. The streets were as clean as I've seen them. And the people. Well, it's like we landed in a parallel universe. A lovely one, but parallel nonetheless.

Oxford Street
What does it all mean?

For those who venture out to the Olympics, you're in for a real sense of how great and good the British people are. Of how the country retains its ability to pull together to meet a challenge, and to make visitors to that jewel of an island feel welcome.

A good motto any time

For us? After five years of dreading the trip back, we're already planning the next visit, hoping to stay longer, and looking forward to that time with downright excitement.

The welcome was as warm as any we could give in Texas (minus the hugging, of course). And for that, British-folk, I salute you.