Stacie Williams, 32, started her bookselling career in 2005 at Harry W. Schwartz in Milwaukee, Wis., and now works at Boswell's Books, also in Milwaukee, where she is in charge of author appearances and has been known to dress as a llama, fairy or reindeer to enhance events.
What kinds of things does Boswell's do to work with the community?
Reading is, arguably, one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Books, whatever form they have taken, are the bringers of change. When a couple gets engaged after a proposal left as a note in a book, when families bring their visiting relatives to the store, when a son buys a gift for his impossible-to-shop-for-father, when a woman comes in years later and thanks a bookseller for recommending a book that changed her life, these are the things we do to work with the community. We are the community.
Are your customers savvy about the difference between Amazon and independents?
Our regular customers are. We still get calls where people ask how much a book is and then say, "Oh, I'll just get it from Amazon, it's cheaper." When given the opportunity, we might say gently, "Well, Amazon doesn't support your local community, infrastructure, pay taxes or host author events." During each author event, we thank our customers for buying from us as that's how we're able to be here for them to make recommendations and bring in authors. It's not just that we want them to really make that connection for our sake, but that we really are grateful to our customers. Without them, we wouldn't be here.
Are you concerned publishers will go to virtual author appearances?
Not really. Skype events do occur, but it really has to be the right author and the right customer. Algonquin Books has a fantastic webcast series where authors interview other authors while audiences at home can ask questions online in live time, and hosts them in a physical bookstore space with a live audience. But the experience of engaging someone in an intimate way that makes a reader feel special simply can't be duplicated in a virtual environment.
Is there a category, subject or genre of literature that you especially like?
As one of my fellow booksellers put it: "dark and twisty." I find myself drawn to work that is prosaic, masculine and often violent but that touches on redemption. I'm interested in nuances of character, particularly how we are all capable of some very dark things but that we're also capable of great beauty and kindness. I want my heart broken, if not wholly obliterated, then haphazardly mended.
I like sentences and language to be crisp and crystalline and eloquent so that I am moved to read them aloud to anyone who will listen. In fact, this is how I sometimes can sell a book like Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy, Smonk by Tom Franklin Glaciers by Alexis Smith or The Things That Are by Amy Leach.
Do you blog, write, review?
I once had a reading blog called "Literati Illuminations" that managed to blossom for a few years. I was sidetracked to write for "The Inside Flap," the blog kept by the Downer Avenue Harry W. Schwartz store. This was followed by "The Boswellians," and now I've gotten ambitious and started "Stacie Reads." I've had some pieces published in a Traveler's Tales collection, Floating Through France; was writer-in-residence at Milwaukee's historic Pfister Hotel for six months; written guest pieces and interviews for cream city review and Fiction Writers Review, and do some sporadic creative writing of my own.
Jeff Waxman of 57th Street Books is a big fan of yours. What did you to do to get a discerning character like Jeff in your corner?
I mocked him. Mercilessly. Then convinced him and his fellow visiting Chicago book folk to visit a local bar that primarily serves spiked milkshakes, complete with topping of whipped cream and cookies, in an orange-lighted atmosphere with rat pack music over the speakers.
What do you do when you're not in the store?
For four of my Schwartz bookselling years, I spent my summers working at an all-girls sleep-away camp in Northern Wisconsin. I now paddle on a competitive dragon boat team and do indoor rock climbing. I like the outdoors and also spend a lot of time reading, going to concerts, seeing movies and walking my dog.
Let's talk dogs.
I'm that person who whips out photos of her dog at any opportune moment. One of my favorite books to handsell is a coffee table-sized paperback full of photos on the ways that dogs communicate, Canine Body Language by Brenda Aloff. My dog Vito, a four-year-old Siberian, has his own Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/vitopuppy.
The last question is from Lindsay McGuirk, our previous Young Bookseller interviewee: What's a particularly fond memory you have of an interaction with a customer?
A guy came in and asked for help finding a book for his rather complicated situation. His ex-girlfriend, now living in a remote part of the East Coast, had called him to let him know he was a father. His son was about to turn three, and she decided she wanted him in the child's life. She was also involved with someone who this guy didn't approve of, and he now felt that he should do whatever he could to win her back, and did I have any suggestions for a book that might help? I told him he didn't need one book, he needed three: one on fatherhood, another on building healthy relationships and a road atlas. A few years later I saw him in the coffee shop next door. It was very tempting to approach him and ask how things turned out, but then I saw that he was browsing a dating site on his laptop.