Sunday, March 29, 2009

There are details, and there are details.

Three days to go before the start of the Spring Sale. Less than a week to the York Book and Paper Fair. I’m running around the shop shelving books, pricing stuff, coordinating new dealers, printing programs, sending out news releases, trying to clean up.

There is almost too much to do. I’ve been moving around bookcases and shifting entire sections. I’ve got stock to put out ‘cause it just ain’t gonna sell if it is sitting on my desk. And the web sites need updating. And sometime during the next couple of days, I really want to sleep. Sleep would be good right about now.

I will admit to being a bit frazzled. The details are piling up and I am not a detail kinda guy. On the whole, I’d rather just sit down with a cup of joe than do just about any of this.

So yesterday afternoon I was heading toward the automotive section with an armload of books to put away when I am approached by a young lady. She's a regular customer, and I've kidded around with her before when she's been in. So, I smile by best kindly-old-bookpeddler smile, really hoping that I can just point her toward a bookcase and keep moving.

“I have a big favor to ask you,” she says to me.

Uh-oh. This isn’t going to be a 2-second conversation. I want to help, but I have other priorities, other details, at the moment. I really don't have the time for big favors right now. Still, she's a customer and looking a bit nervous. So I set the books down on a display case and give her my full attention.

“What can I do for you?”

“Well,” she said. “See that good looking guy over there?”

I nod.

“He’s asked me to marry him.”


“Thanks." She actually blushed a little. "We were wondering if it would be OK with you…uh…”

Oh, boy. Here it comes, I think. She wants a job. Or a special discount. Or something that is going to cost me money.

“We wanted to ask you if it would be OK if we shot our engagement picture in here. We love this place and we think it would be perfect.”

Suddenly I wasn’t quite as frazzled. Suddenly the details didn’t seem all that important. Suddenly the automotive section would wait.

“Of course. We would be honored.”

We both smiled.

And we set our own date, she and I. I made a mental note to make sure we had cake available.

That’s a detail I just don’t mind.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yesterday I Will

Every summer The York Emporium used book and curiosity shop in downtown York, Pennsylvania hosts Sci-Fi Saturday. It is a day-long event where writers, publishers, scientists, academicians and buffs get together to celebrate the genre, explore new directions, eat popcorn and generally carry-on.

It is not a convention in the contemporary sense of the term. There aren’t a lot of folks wandering around in costume, for example. There are no big name stars of television shows or movies attending and signing autographs.

But it is a lot of fun.

Various guests will speak on a wide range of topics. “The Philosophy of Science Fiction”, for example. Or “The Writer’s Life.” Or “How To Play a Vulcan Harp.” All have been the subject of presentations in recent years. A NASA scientist addressed the group during the 2008 gathering on the challenges of establishing a permanent base on the Moon.

It was during the 2008 Sci-Fi Saturday that a writing contest was announced. The idea was to give budding writers the opportunity to try their hand at weaving an original tale.

Entries weren’t limited to science fiction, or even fiction for that matter. But imaginations were encouraged to run just a little wild. The rules said short stories, one act plays and poems were all welcome. The only real restrictions were the requirements that all entries be original and all fit the common title, Yesterday I Will.

Word of the contest spread through stories in a host of newspapers, blog entries and web sites. A camera crew happened to be on-hand when the contest was announced and they recorded the initial reading of the rules. A video of this momentous event was placed on YouTube and it garnered more than 3,000 viewings.

And the entries came. The organizers of the event had initially feared that the entries would be few (“What if they gave a contest and nobody came?”), but these fears were unfounded. While the majority originated in Central Pennsylvania, by no means were all confined to this region. More than a dozen states were represented. Alas. no “off-world” entries were received (maybe next time?).

A team of judges that included professional writers, professors of literature and booksellers reviewed the submissions for (1) readability, (2) connection with the theme, (3) originality and (4) overall impression. Each submission was given a score between 1 and 10 for each of these criteria. The judges worked independently. The entries were blind (that is, no names were associated with the entries when they were reviewed). Only the Editor (i.e., me), who did not judge but who coordinated all this, knew who had written what, or who had received what score from what judge.

For what it may be worth, here is my wholly biased review: this thing is pretty good. There’s one play, a host of poems and some really good short stories.

The finished book, we learned today, is just about done. The printer reported that it has been printed and will be bound and shipped next week. And that’s just in time for the official launch during the York Book and Paper Fair next Saturday (April 4).

Damned exciting stuff.

And no one is more excited than our authors. I’ve been sending emails and making phone calls to the winning writers this week to let them know of the plans and the response I’ve been getting has been more than gratifying. These guys are really excited.

Now, I don’t know if anyone is going to make any money on this book. The writers aren’t being paid. I’ve ordered copies for sale in the shop, of course (let’s hope they sell!) and we’ll have it up on the major online sites (Amazon, Biblio, Alibris, ABE, etc., etc.). With luck, we’ll break even. Hopefully the publisher will make a buck or two so they can pay the printer.

But all of that, frankly, is beside the point.

Any and all expenses have been paid in full by the writers. Their enthusiasm has more than ample compensation for whatever efforts we put into this project.

We’re going to do it again.

When Sci-Fi Saturday comes around again this summer, we will announce our next writing contest.

Stay tuned…..