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City Pulse Article 7-18-12


Short story contest challenges authors to build a story around a bookstore

“It was a dark and stormy night. No light shown in the window.”

Only 1,098 words to go. See how easy it is?

Local authors Randy Pearson and Rosalie Petrouske wanted to draw attention to the plight of independent bookstores. They settled on a writing contest called “Save the Independent Bookstore.”

Pearson said the writing contest has a few rules: The theme must include a small-town, independent bookstore; the short story must not exceed 1,111 words; and you must be 14 or older. The deadline for entry is July 31.

There is a $10 entry fee per story and there will be a minimum first place prize of $50. It could grow, depending on the number of entries.

Petrouske said 50 percent of the entry fees go to the Capital Area Literacy Foundation and the winning entry will be included in the next “Writing from the Ledges,” an anthology due in December.

Pearson said as a writer he is committed to the independent bookstores that have helped him sell his independently published novel, “Driving Crazy.”

“I am a writer and being self published I couldn’t get in the big bookstores,” Pearson said. “But all the little bookstores took my book.”

Worried about the future of small bookstores, he was motivated to do something when he learned that Scott Harris, proprietor of Everybody Reads in Lansing, had returned to his insurance business to keep the store open.

“That saddened me. Everybody Reads has been open six years and Scott has never taken any money out of the store. Small bookstores are going to go away if we don’t buy books at them.”

Harris is a practical man and says that the local economy, online book sales and the advent of the e-book created a perfect storm for him: “a perfect storm to not open a bookstore,” he clarified.

He said in the short time he has been open he observed more and more people going online to buy books or to download them, especially among college students who were major supporters of Everybody Reads.

People still seem to be buying big-ticket items, but they are showing more restraint when it comes to books, Harris said.

The Lansing area has two locations of Schuler Books & Music, an independently owned chain that’s been in operation for 30 years, and two used book stores, Curious Book Shop and Archives Book Shop. However, none of these are located within the city of Lansing. Lansing is not alone in that regard.

Cities such as East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Bay City, Saginaw, Flint and Detroit also lack bookstores selling new releases. On the other hand, smaller resort cities, such as Traverse City and Petoskey, can boast two independent bookstores each.

Nationally, independent bookstores are faring no better, and over the last decade more than 500 have closed.

With the sale of e-books exceeding the sale of physical books and nearly one-third of older readers owning an e-reader device, the future doesn’t look bright. Even successful small-town bookstores are cutting back on titles, selling more gift items and scrambling to get on author tours.

Harris said he doesn’t see a successful business plan for selling e-books in bookstores.

Let’s face it: Only in the movies do Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks get together to run a bookstore.

Harris knows things change.

Some Lansing residents still talk about the Ellison’s Books (once located at 103 East Washtenaw Street in downtown Lansing), where author Jim Harrison is purported to have read from “Lolita.” Before Ellison’s was a bookstore it was an indoor putt-putt golf course, and before that a livery stable. It’s now a parking lot.

Poet Rosalie Petrouske, a Lansing Community College writing instructor and one of the founders of the writing group Writing at the Ledges, said she has seen small bookstores close too many times. She hopes the short story contest brings awareness to the merchants’ plight.

“It’s fun going into a locally owned bookstore,” Petrouske said. “They know your name and you get personal service.”

Former Lansing State Journal columnist John Schneider will serve as one of the “Save the Independent Bookstore” judges, along with Harris, Petrouske and Pearson. The winner also receives a copy of “Voices from the Ledges” and a chance to read his or her piece at a winner’s party at Everybody Reads.

“It was a dark and stormy night. Only the light from a single volume illuminated the bookstore window. It was like a beacon calling me in.”