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 when I was a junior in high school. The Flint Area Writers let me hear my own work aloud 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’d fallen in love with the original Borders Books on State Street in Ann Arbor when I was in college. Reading at any Borders was a professional goal. I was really excited about the opportunity.
Of course, once I said yes, I’d love to do the reading, 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 in a bookstore.
Now, all these years later, I don’t remember why I was so angry, but at the time I wrote the story, I was furious 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.
“The Fatal Book” is set in a bookstore that’s a combination of the Iliad Book Shop in North Hollywood and Dawn Treader Books in Ann Arbor. The original Dawn Treader was the epitome of a used bookstore: underground, maze-like, stuffed full of towering bookshelves. 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 of 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 had once been burned on pyres, that even their lead type could be destroyed by order of the village hangman. Of course I had to include that detail in the story.
The character of Elizabeth, proprietor of Prospero’s Books, is a tribute to my friend Martha, who worked for decades as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. She followed me into the Flint Area Writers in high school and is still a member all these decades later.
“The Fatal Book” asks what you would do if you discovered a book that could unleash earthquakes. I wanted to grapple with censorship and the power of people who elect themselves to protect others. I wanted to place the ultimate power in Alondra’s hands and see what she would do. And I wanted to see if Air elementals ever took a form we could see with our blunt human eyes.
“The Fatal Book” was shortlisted for the Aeon Award in 2008. It wasn’t published until the summer of 2016, when it appeared in New Realm magazine. Now it’s reprinted in Alondra’s Investigations and is available on Amazon for the kindle here: https://amzn.to/2r8F7XR