Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Seattle Mystery Bookshop -- a beloved indie and a Mystery Lovers' Kitchen #giveaway!

Leslie here, changing the subject from food to bookstores for the day—but we all love them, in real life and on the page. A favorite of mine is Seattle Mystery Bookshop, on Cherry St. where the business district meets Pioneer Square. I shopped there often as a young lawyer in Seattle, and even put it in my Seattle Spice Shop mysteries—one of Pepper’s former law firm staffers works in the shop, and feeds Pepper clues and book suggestions.

So signing at SMB, as I’ve done several times, is a super-dooper double chocolate treat with a cherry on top.

Several of us in the Kitchen Crew write about women who run small shops, and we know the joys and challenges. Fran Fuller and Amber Ingraham from Seattle Mystery Bookshop joins us today with a view from inside the magical, mystical world of a mystery bookshop.

The shop was founded due to an off-handed comment by Aaron Elkins, who told Bill Farley "that Seattle sure needs to have it's own mystery bookshop." Bill Farley went home and told his wife they were moving to Seattle from Philadelphia and opening a bookshop. That was twenty-five years ago and the shop is still going, but not as strong as it once was. With the rise of algorythyms and free shipping, people started shopping differently. Add this to the economic down turn, where many people found themselves in a position where they needed to save all the pennies they could, we saw ourselves slipping away. We to had to start saving pennies by moving back to a smaller space, laying off part of our staff, ordering less of authors' backlists and being far more selective when purchasing new authors - but even this was not enough.

So we decided to turn to a Go Fund Me campaign, to find some relief. Our campaign is aimed to pay our rent for an entire year, build our catalog up again, and pay down our creditors. All of which will help us remain viable - since many reliable sources tell us small indie bookshops are falling back into favor as people are discovering algorythyms don't necessarily pick the best books out for them. There's nothing like the intuitive leap of a hand-seller with a passion!

As a former teenage bookseller, I can attest to that intuitive leap---and that passion!

What is the best part of working in a mystery bookshop?

The books, of course! I have been introduced to authors I don't think I ever would have found if I didn't work here; Cleo Coyle, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Hazel Holt, June Wright, and Dorothy Gilman. All authors I love and I am not sure I would have read if I didn’t work here. What is even better after reading them is placing the book in someone's hand and tell them how much they are going to love it - and they come back and tell you they did! Best feeling in the world! That's the best part of working at the bookshop for me. - Amber

I have to agree with what Amber said, but I also have to add - being able to meet authors I've admired over the years! It's nice to get face-time with someone whose writing you've admired, to be able to tell them, "You touched my life here and this is how." Well, and getting to see books before they're released to the general public, I gotta admit that's a huge perk!  - Fran

Here at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, we’re all about cooking up crime. Are culinary mysteries popular in your shop? What do customers say about why they love culinary mysteries?

 Of course culinary mysteries are popular! That's why they have their own dedicated section, and in a shop as small as ours, any specialty area is prime real estate! People love food, and mystery lovers are foodies in a big way. And the recipes don't hurt, certainly. We've overheard spirited conversations about culinary delights, substitutions for sensitivities and allergies, and creative methods of doing people off - all in a fictional manner, we assume! Mystery themed cookbooks are quite popular too, which is quite a great thing. Good food, good beverages, and a mystery - what's not to like?

One of our authors, Victoria Abbott, writes the Book Collector series, and I’ve heard JB Dickey, SMB’s owner, say that biblio-mysteries are quite popular. Any theories why readers love books set in the world of books?

Books are a thing of mystery, really at their core. They are able to take the long road through time and allow us a glimpse into Elizabethan times on one shelf and the swinging sixties on another. They allow us to understand that we are not alone in the world, someone else has had the same problem and made it through to the other side, albeit not always unchanged or unscathed but they made it none the less. Because of this core it makes bookshops/libraries themselves seem a little bit mysterious - so when you have a body popping up on the premises, well it seems rather plausible, doesn't it? And who better to solve a mystery than someone who's a reader?

SMB also sells used and collectible books. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve found in a book?

Unfortunately I haven't found anything really exciting; a playing card, bus transfers, receipts… I always thought this would be a good way to start a mystery - like the character in Dorothy Gilman's Tightrope Walker - only she found a note in a hurdy-gurdy. But alas my book scouting hasn't turned up anything really fun! -Amber

Here at SMB, I've only run across small strange things - an ace of diamonds playing card, say, or a bookmark from Seattle Mystery's first days. But I have to admit that at another store, a young lady in her 20's and her mother brought in books to be assessed for credit, and tucked in the books were naughty pictures of the young lady. I tried to give them back to her without her mother noticing; alas, that failed and all three of us, mother, daughter and I, were supremely uncomfortable. I can laugh about it now, though.  - Fran

As authors and readers of cozy mysteries, we encounter the occasional snob who says he—and it is usually a he—prefers his crime fiction “darker and more realistic,” as if Jack Reacher weren’t every bit the fantasy figure Jessica Fletcher is. There’s some pretty tasty writing in cozy world, especially in character development. How can we persuade more skeptical readers to turn to the light?

Honestly, it's probably the covers. It's a stereotype, we know, but a lot of people don't want to be seen reading "fluff," which is, of course, nonsense since traditional mysteries have a great deal of sophistication and many have a fair amount of grit. But with gently "punny" titles and covers that are considered either pretty or cute, a lot of people - both men and women - avoid them. It's a standard saying not to judge a book by its cover, but of course, people do. What I do is hand them the book face down with the summary showing and tell them they cannot look at the cover - and then tell them to trust me. Then I give them my spiel on the book- what I love about it, what the author did a good job with and why they would like it. They don't go for it every time but I have converted a few of these people and their preconceived notions into, well not necessarily cozy lovers, but cozy likers at least!

You see why I love them? That is simply brilliant!

SMB hosts a lot of signings—and they are so much fun! What advice do you have for authors to make a signing fabulous? (Besides bringing cookies for the staff.) (Me with my first mystery, in my very first bookstore signing!)

Oh, we love goodies brought by culinary authors! In fact, one year, Diane Mott Davidson sent up a batch of chocolate chip cookies to us since she couldn't be here. Sadly, the trip was rough on them and they melted into this gigantic lump. It was unappealing to look at, but hey, they're cookies by Diane Mott Davidson! We took a chance on the lump, and they were as great as we thought they'd be. Nowadays, of course, we're cautious about nuts, Amber being wildly allergic, but all goodies are gratefully received!

That being said, the best thing authors can do is network and promote signings. Family and friends are as valid a power base as any, and a mistake new authors make is giving away their books to said friends and family. If they love you, they'll buy the book in support of you. So getting out the word that you're signing someplace and encouraging folks who like you - or like authors who write in a similar style - to reserve books in advance, to show up, to talk you up? These are all helpful.

And don't be discouraged if your signings are small. An indie bookseller who's on your side will slip your book into the hands of the unsuspecting at the best possible times!

Independent booksellers are critical to the reading and writing health of our society. 
As our contribution to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop's Go Fund Me Campaign, we've put together a basket of our books and other fun prizes, that SMB will offer as a reward in their GoFundMe campaign

PS: Happy Release Day to our Daryl Wood Gerber -- FOR CHEDDAR OR WORSE, Cheese Shop Mystery # 7, and our Sheila Connolly -- A TURN FOR THE BAD are both out today! And I know where you can find copies -- or order them!

J.B., Fran, and Amber at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop love meeting readers, in person, by phone, and online. There are few mystery questions they can't answer! And they are delighted to ship books anywhere you’d like a book to go!

Seattle Mystery Bookshop
117 Cherry St.
Seattle, WA  98104
25 Years of Mayhem: 1990 - 2015

To contribute to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop's Go Fund Me Campaign, click here.


  1. Indie bookstores are essential to our cultural mental health!
    I donated

  2. I saw your FB post last week (I think...it may have been 2 weeks ago) and was happy to be able to donate to such a worthy cause! If I'm ever in Seattle, I would love to stop in - it would be a sad world without the small independent bookstores! I'll contribute again if I can, but I don't see your basket listed on their page. Nicole :-)

    1. Thanks, Nicole! No, it isn't up yet -- not sure if it will go up today or they'll wait until all our books arrive. (They're still waking up out there!)

  3. What a wonderful post, Leslie. Great Q&A! ~ Daryl / Avery

  4. Thank you all for the opportunity to be on your blog! We truly appreciate all of your support! We literally wouldn't be here without all you wonderful authors and readers!

    As for the basket - We will put it up on the Go Fund Me Page when we get it in the shop - we don't want to promise something we don't have in hand! (doesn't seem fair) But as soon as we get it in the shop we will put it up on the site!


    1. What a delight to chat with you! You have a lot of fans and friends in cozy world!

  5. Murder must advertise, but in this case death is not an option! Marc and I have great affection for the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Independent bookstores are the heart of the mystery community, full of passionate readers and writers, and we must keep that heart beating.

    Amber and Fran, thank you so much for sharing with us today. Marc and I enjoyed your insights about your work, and we are especially honored to have had Amber’s support of our Coffeehouse Mystery series over the years. We have happily donated to your campaign, and we encourage our readers to do the same. (We’re also contributing a few tempting goodies to the MLK basket!)

    ~ Cleo

    PS: Thanks to Leslie for pulling the post together and…

    Happy release day to our fellow authors Sheila Connolly and Avery Aames/Daryl Wood Gerber!

  6. I live in rural America. No bookstores, Big Box or Indie, within a hundred miles. And as time goes on, we know that will not change. I support Indies when I travel and can shop them. Interesting blog...

    1. Elaine, I understand -- we do have an indie 45 miles north, another 110 miles south. One thing I love about mystery conventions is the bookrooms -- the dealers are such wonderful conduits and booklovers!