In 2005, the writers club I grew up in invited me to join them for a reading at the Borders Books in Flint, Michigan. I was thrilled by the invitation. This was the group to whom I first read my work aloud when I was a junior in high school. The Flint Area Writers let me hear my own work for the first time, let me feel the words in my vocal cords and vibrating through the air. I wanted to write something special for them.
And Borders…I fell in love with the original Borders Books on State Street in Ann Arbor. Reading at a Borders was a professional goal. I was really excited about the opportunity.
Of course, once I said yes, I discovered there were limitations. We would read in the cafe, early in the evening, so I couldn’t use adult situations or language. The group honored me by giving me a featured spot — 20 minutes — and I wanted to be able to tell a whole story. I wanted to write about Alondra, my 20-something witch, and I wanted to set the story partially in a bookstore.
I don’t remember why I was so angry now, but at the time I wrote the story, I was mad about the limitations on language and sex. So I wrote an impassioned story about censorship. The story pretty much came out in a fevered rush. It combines earthquakes in Los Angeles, elemental magic, the drowning of Atlantis, and the finer points of bookbinding techniques.
It’s set in a bookstore that’s a combination of the Iliad Book Shop in North Hollywood and Dawn Treader Books in Ann Arbor. Dawn Treader was the epitome of a used bookstore: underground, mazelike, stuffed full of bookshelves that towered overhead. I was only in the Iliad once, but I remembered the photographs on the counter by the register. During the Northridge Quake, the bookshelves in the Iliad had toppled like dominoes. Books sprawled in heaps on the floor.
Alan Beatts at Borderlands Books helped me a great deal as I researched the story. I wanted to write knowledgeably about the history of printing and bookbinding. Alan gave me invaluable advice. He even told me that books were once burned on pyres and even their lead type could be destroyed by order of the village hangman.
The character of Elizabeth, proprietor of Prospero’s Books, is a tribute to my friend Martha, who has worked for decades at several Barnes & Nobles.
The resulting story is called “The Fatal Book.” It asks what you would do if you discovered a book that could unleash earthquakes. It’s just been published by New Realm magazine. You can order yourself a copy here.