Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on the Demise of Borders

I just finished doing some research into the history of the Borders Bookstore chain, which of course began liquidating its stores last Friday.

I learned that it was founded by two college students as a single small independent used-book bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI, in 1971.

I LOVE small indie bookstores--the ones that still survive and haven't been driven out of business by retailing giants (like Borders!)--there's always such a good feeling about them.

Anyway, the business grew and grew until it was bought by KMart in 1992 and then spun off as its own company, Borders Group.

Although for the most part I despise the traditional brick-and-mortar American publishing establishment, I've got a soft spot for retailing giant Borders, because I always liked their stores.

The one in LA in Westwood, in particular, was just such a nice place to browse, work on my laptop, sip coffee and eat snacks, and just generally hang out. The people in the stores I visited were always friendly and knowledgeable, and I liked the fact that, unlike Barnes & Noble, Borders carried music CDs (with headphones and listening kiosks) and software.

Now that's all history, with the last of the stores expected to shut down in September.

Most folks are attributing the fall of Borders to ebooks and sites like Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble. Borders didn’t change with the times, they say, and so the company went the way of the dinosaurs—which is what happens when you don’t change and keep up.

When I heard someone on the radio say Borders was still operating in 2011 with a pre-Internet 1990s business model, I wondered why its executives didn’t follow the lead of Barnes and Noble and get into ebooks. But then I learned that in 2008 Borders signed an agreement with Lulu to distribute self-published ebooks through the Borders Web site. And in 2010, Borders opened an online ebook store and provided ebook readers and apps in conjunction with Kobo.

Apparently this was too little, too late. 

Would getting into epublishing sooner and creating its own ereading device have saved Borders? I don't know. But I do suspect its execs had a head-in-the-sand attitude about the danger presented by ebooks in general and self-published ebooks in particular. I suspect they thought we self-pubbing authors were a fad, and would fail, and would just go away. If so, obviously they were wrong.

One online blogger positively cheered at the demise of Borders, saying the stores were poorly organized and the employees were idiots.

That's the exact opposite of my experience. I don't like the fact that Borders' cut-rate prices contributed to the deaths of many indie bookstores, but I did like Borders.

I'm sorry to see the stores go, and I especially feel terrible that all those people at Borders lost their jobs, especially the nice friendly people who worked for low wages in the stores.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Interview with Writer & Cover Artist Heidi Sutherlin

Tamworth Grice: Tell me about your earliest memory of doing some kind of art?

Heidi Sutherlin: When I was little they used to celebrate May Day in schools (at least here in Oregon) and my first memory of creating was making May Day baskets in kindergarten. We wove strips of colored construction paper together to create the baskets and then filled them with big beautiful crepe paper flowers. I remember being fascinated and delighted by the idea that I could create something so beautiful from nothing. That’s been a defining theme in my life, the drive to create something from nothing, whether it is art, writing, or repurposing garage sale and thrift store finds.

TG: When did you really know you wanted to become an artist?

HS: Oddly, it wasn’t until college that I really became involved in art and design. I was originally a journalism major at the University of Oregon. My first semester, I took a “Media and Design in Journalism” class which required that we learn about the more creative aspects of journalism, especially in magazines and newspapers.

I was hooked.

I switched schools the very next term. I studied art and graphic design at Oregon State University. While there, I was able to immerse myself in not only graphic design but painting, sketching, sculpture, color theory, and art history. Of course, I can never just do one thing, so I added in literature as a major course of study and off I went, indulging my love for humanities in general. 

Heidi's Cover for My Upcoming Nonfiction Book

TG: Your Web site says you’ve “followed a crooked but unbroken line from college, through a myriad of positions in seemingly unrelated fields.” Would you like to elaborate on this?

HS: I’ve had every job one could think of, from food service, collections, and call centers to even a very short stint as a car salesperson. I hate being told what to do and frankly doubt I would make it in the cutthroat environment that makes up most design firms. Even so, in most of the positions that I held, I would eventually find myself creating some sort of product using my design skills.

Then, the opportunity arose for me to work online. I started out part time while working a day job. I was finally able to go out on my own full time. And after two years of freelance design work and virtual administration, I started my own business, launched my Web site—and the rest is history. 

Heidi's Cover for the Second Volume of My Upcoming Nonfiction Book

TG: How did you get started doing book covers?

HS: I became a part of the writing community on Twitter two years ago. As I pursued my own writing projects and then eventually became interested in self publishing, I realized that there are limited options for affordable cover art for self-published authors. As time went by, I realized that I wanted to give all authors the access to affordable, professional cover art that would allow them to compete with more traditionally published books and their more expensive covers.

TG: You’re a novelist yourself, so tell me something about your novel?

HS: I’m actually working on three at the moment. My romantic suspense novel, Brothers in Betrayal, is currently in that last editing phase and I’m hoping to have a late summer/early fall release. Warning: the following contains a shameless promotional blurb filled with comma abuse and run on sentences.

“When Special Agent Noah Jeffries’ investigation into an arms smuggling ring leads him to his best friend’s business partner, software designer, Grace Mason, his suspect quickly becomes the target of a mad man. When ties from his childhood affect a brotherhood in the present, Noah, his younger brother and his best friend must keep Grace one step ahead of a threat they cannot see from a man who shouldn’t exist.”

I have various other projects percolating, but two other novels—a category romance and a paranormal romance—are currently in process.

TG: Does being a novelist help or hinder you in designing book covers?

HS: It definitely helps. But what helps even more is being a voracious reader. I’ve been gulping down books for as long as I can remember. Having a clear understanding of character and the author’s voice is important to create a cover than speaks directly to the story.

For some covers, I work very closely with the author, while for others I need just an email with my basic questions answered to craft the cover that will represent months, if not years of work.  The process is successful because the author will give you not only the detailed character information but also the tone and the “feel” of the story in each conversation, even in a short email.

Covers are fairly simple, and the key is to not attempt to over-complicate. It’s always interesting to see how my interpretation of the author’s work translates through each successive draft. With the exception of two books that a friend wrote, I do not read any of the stories before beginning the cover art.

TG: What’s the single most important thing a writer should look for in a cover artist?

HS: Rapport.

If you do not feel comfortable communicating with your cover artist, then that person is not going to get the most accurate “read” from you, which is critical to creating a cover that you are happy with. Working online creates some interesting challenges, one of which is a nearly exclusive conversation through email, IM’s, images and social media. If you don’t feel like you connect with the artist, move on and keep looking until you find someone that you feel understands what you want and need for your cover art.

Heidi Sutherlin

TG: Thanks for the interview, Heidi!

HS: Thank you for having me. The world of self-publishing is evolving, and every day introduces new challenges and benefits to self-pub authors. As one of them myself, I know how intimidating it can be to jump in. We have so many wonderful success stories as examples, and with access to affordable editing and cover art services, the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing gets smaller and smaller every day.

Check out Heidi's Web site: My Creative Pursuits.

Heidi's Cover for My Upcoming Novel

Monday, July 11, 2011

Interview with Me--About My Next eBook

Here's the transcript of yesterday's interview with Berkshire DuRoc:

Berkshire DuRoc: I'm here once again with author Tamworth Grice. Your next book is called Nasty Disposition. What’s it about?

Tamworth Grice: It’s about a 23-year-old Goth girl whose older brother’s ghost wants her to avenge his murder.

BD: Where did you get the idea of making the main character a Goth?

TG: First of all, I’m kind of on the edge of that world myself. I love the Goth fashion sense and can go for months wearing all black all the time. And of course as a horror writer I have a fascination with all things macabre. But I also like to show characters who are outsiders. They’re way more interesting to write about than mainstream conformists.

BD: But the girl’s brother is a mainstream conformist, right?

TG: That’s right. He’s nearly ten years older, and while she never met a law she didn’t want to break, he went in the other direction and became a cop. So there’s been a lifelong friction between them.

BD: Does the title Nasty Disposition describe your main character, then?

TG: Yes. At 23, Carmen has already had a hard life. The mother was a totally dysfunctional alcholic, and so she was raised by Frank, who's nearly ten years older. She got into drugs early in life, then ran away at 15 and stayed away for eight years.

BD: You went through several name changes for the title character in your last book, Listening to Ian Magick. Did that happen with this one?

TG: Not character name changes, but title changes. I went through several titles. Each time I thought I had a good one, I discovered there was already a book with that title or a very similar title. At one point in the book someone tells Carmen she has a nasty disposition, so I chose that. Hopefully no one else will have it by the time I publish the book on August 1!

BD: So who’s the bad guy in the novel?

TG: Actually, the book plays around with the whole idea of “the bad guy.” The local mob boss, a Japanese Yakuza crime lord, is actually one of the kindest characters Carmen encounters. Another “bad guy” in the traditional sense is the dealer and fence--now an ex-con--that Carmen bought drugs from as a teenager, but he, too, is a good-hearted guy who helps her out.

BD: The book’s cover shows a young woman who looks like she’s been horribly beaten. Is that Carmen?

TG: Yes, it is. But I don’t want to give away too much about how she gets that way! You’ll have to read the book.

BD: And we will! This concludes our interview with Tamworth Grice. Her novel Nasty Disposition is due out August 1st as an eBook released in conjunction with Dusty Raven Publishing and available for Kindle via Amazon.  In the meantime, Tamworth’s current novel, Listening to Ian Magick, is available at Amazon

Friday, July 8, 2011

Interview with Zombie and Serial Killer Novelist Jack Wallen

Tamworth Grice: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jack Wallen: I was an actor for a very long time. I performed on Broadway, off Broadway, in various Shakespeare companies across the country, and everything in between. I have a BS in theatre and communications and an MFA in acting. If I could afford it, I’d be a professional student for the rest of my life. I’ve also been a hair stylist, a computer engineer, and just about everything in between. My truest career love is creating on an emotional and artistic level.

TG:  What inspired you to write in the horror genre?

JW: I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a young boy. I love to be scared and to scare. And I’ve found no better way to connect to the primal or get to the truthful core of existence than with fear.

TG:  You’re known for writing about zombies and serial killers, and your next book is something very different. Tell us what it's about.

JW:  My next book to be released is Shero, and it’s a departure from what I normally write. Shero is a superhero satire about a transgendered super hero. The book has camp, fashion, and a smart-mouthed narrator. It's pure fun. But after that will come the second in the I Zombie I series, called My Zombie My.

TG: What inspired you to write Shero?

JW: Shero was inspired because I know a lot of transgendered people who need a hero to prove to society they are nothing more than misunderstood people.

TG: Your books are available as print-on-demand paperbacks, and also as ebooks. How did you decide to publish in the eBook format?

JW: I love the creative process so much that it made sense for me to go the epub route. This way I can do my own covers and have the final say over everything. On top of that—I don't have to worry so much about being so narrow-minded about genre.

TG: What do you mean by that, by not worrying about being narrow-minded about genre.

JW: The thing is, the traditional publishers only ever make room for specific (and fairly narrow) genres. When titles crosses genres, the traditional publishers have trouble marketing them, so they turn them down. As an indie author I can cross genres all I want and even create new genres, if I feel so inclined.

TG: You mentioned that you do your own covers. I’ve had many people advise indie authors to hire an artist, unless they have training in art or graphics. Do you have an art or graphics background?

JW: When I was in undergrad working on a BS In theatre and communications from the University of Indianapolis, I had to study design. Between then and now, I became quite adept with various desktop publishing applications, which included graphics applications. But I would say the design classes I took in undergrad really helped a lot, because I learned quite a bit about space, use of space, and translating emotion to design.

Jack Wallen
TG: What are you working on now?

JW: I’m waiting for my beta readers to finish with My Zombie My, which will then (once I do some rewrites) go to the editor. At the same time I’m three-quarters of the way done with Die Zombie Die, which is the final book in the trilogy. I’ll be sad when this one is done, because I’ve enjoyed writing it immensely.

TG: Aww, don’t be sad. To make you happy, we’ll buy your books!

Jack Wallen’s paperbacks, I Zombie I, A Blade Away, and Gothica, are available at . They’re also all available as ebooks on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

You can find Jack on Twitter as @JLWallen and on Facebook at Also, check out his web site, Get Jack'd at