What Happens in Denver Stays in Denver. Except for These Pictures.

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~post by Julie W.

Last week Meghan G., our Kid’s Book Buyer, and I took a little trip out west, where the air is cold(er than it is here) and the mountains are high. Denver. City of dreams. City of this year’s Mountains and Plains trade show.

The Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller Association is comprised of booksellers from thirteen states ranging all the way from Texas to Montana to Colorado. Once a year, we congregate en masse to talk tips of the trade, meet authors with new and upcoming titles, swap favorite new reads and drink in the lobby of the Renaissance Denver Hotel.

The photos I have to share are by no means comprehensive of the experience. With dozens of authors in attendance and a nonstop schedule of activities (and did I mention that hotel lobby?), it was near impossible for this bookseller and her iphone to keep up. I did what I could. Here’s what I captured.

Children’s Author & Illustrator Breakfast

Matt de la Pena talked about his new YA novel, The Living. He told us a story about a trip to the beach as a kid that wound up with his favorite uncle in handcuffs. The Living examines the porous boundaries between social classes.

Pop-up book artist Robert Sabuda gave us The Brief History of Sabuda: Birth to This Breakfast in ten minutes. We were all left wondering, just like his mother, why DID the boy Sabuda go for not one but two raisins up his nose? His new pop up book, The Littler Mermaid, is exquisite.

Pick of the Lists

After breakfast with Matt, Robert and Lauren Myracle, we gathered together while publisher sales reps offered up their favorite books for the next couple of seasons. It was here I discovered this beauty:

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The Secret Language of Color is super freaking cool. The history, science, nature, and everything else of color. Absolutely fascinating. And gorgeous. This is the book for your science nerd, your artist, and, well, for me. I loved it.

Exhibit Hall Opening

Thursday evening the exhibit hall opened. In addition to tasty hors d’oeuvres (I had this crab stuffed cucumber thing that was divine; or I should say, I had six of those divine things), we had our first look at the books publishers were showing off. And there was wine. And author signings. And singing.

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Authors of Buzz Books Breakfast

I didn’t take any pictures at this breakfast, mainly because I was so focused on meeting coffee to mouth. This was a wonderful conversation between Gina Frangello (A Life in Men), Anne Hillerman (Spider Woman’s Daughter) and current Austinite Mary Miller (The Last Days of California). They talked journey, place, sisterhood, Waffle House and so much more.

The Last Days of California is my personal pick of the show. A road trip novel that moves across Texas on its way towards California, it’s told from the perspective of one of two teenager sisters riding in the backseat of their father’s car as he attempts to meet the Rapture in Pacific time. The forward momentum of this novel is addictive. Miller moves over some tough subjects in this story, faith and dysfunctional family dynamics and teenage sex and mortality and failure, while keeping the narrative rolling. I loved her look at America from inside the King Jesus t-shirts. Don’t be fooled by their slogans – these sisters are no innocent believers.

The Rest of Friday’s Daylight Hours

Went by in a blur. I toured the exhibit hall again, talked to booksellers about the books in the Mountains and Plains Winter Catalog and holed up in my hotel room a while to do some work for the store (this little site doesn’t blog itself).

Cocktail Reception & Literary Trivia

All you need to know right here is that Texas won the Literary Trivia Championship for the second year in a row! Okay, it’s also pretty cool to note that Christopher Moore (or, as I described him to my best friend in a text message that night, “Christopher f***ing Moore”) was the emcee. (His latest is The Serpent of Venice, due out in 2014) Texas protested unfair and biased trivia practices twice (“Don’t make us put on our pink running shoes!”) and then won. Because we’re the champions.

Author Banquet with Armistead Maupin, Kathleen Kent, Christopher Moore and Craig Johnson

Riding high on our trivia win (and by now there was wine), I forgot to take many pictures during the banquet. But it was lovely. I had the salmon. Armistead Maupin (The Days of Anna Madrigal) made me tear up as he talked about what a difference independent booksellers have made in his career and thanked the room for recommending his stories to readers. Kathleen Kent (with whom we had the privilege of sharing a table) told us about The Outcasts, a fabulous, rough and tumble novel for anyone who loves Texas history. It’s set on the Gulf coast in 19th century and features a woman who escapes from a brothel to hunt for pirate’s treasure with her lover. (Right???) I can’t remember what Christopher Moore talked about because I was laughing too hard at everything he said. Of course it’s always a pleasure to see Craig Johnson (Spirit of Steamboat) and listen to his stories out of Wyoming.

And then after the banquet I immediately went to bed and did not stay up way, way too late in the lobby….. No, I’m sure I went straight to bed.

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Author of Future Releases Breakfast

Once again, the coffee-to-mouth maneuvering prevented me from taking any pictures. But I can tell you that Kelly Corrigan (Glitter and Glue) made me laugh and choke up during her talk; Nickolas Butler (Shotgun Lovesongs) talked about his novel FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER and laid out the hardships and rewards of the writer’s life; and Drew Perry (Kids These Days) pretty much convinced me that I’ll never have kids (but that I’ll probably enjoy his novel).

Spirit of the West Luncheon

During which a few things happened: Kristin Iversen convinced me to read her incredible memoir, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats; BK Loren (Theft) made us feel all warm and fuzzy by calling out indie booksellers by name in a long thank you of their support; I fell in love with Kent Haruf (Benediction) all over again. Haruf, after being formally rejected by the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, moved his wife and infant daughter to a farmhouse in Iowa, took a job to make ends meet and showed up at the Iowa offices and said, “I’m here.” “Believe in yourself despite all evidence.” He received a standing ovation.

Saturday Sessions

All of the day Saturday was spent in bookseller education sessions. Along with Jill from Penguin and Valerie from Blue Willow Bookshop, I talked about twitter and instagram and assorted other social mediums on an afternoon panel. I also learned all the secrets of color from the authors of The Secret Language of Color, Arielle Eckstut and Joann Eckstut. (Red is the color for sex and anger. Blue is favorite color of the western world.)

Books and Brews

By far one of my favorite events of the show, this is pretty much author speed dating. Half a dozen or so authors rotate tables of booksellers, spending five minutes at each table pitching their new book. And there’s beer.

This is where I had the pleasure of meeting Willy Vlautin, who one of our booksellers here might consider her boyfriend and who another friend called “TOTAL DREAMBOATHEAD”. He’s also a fine musician, a terrific author and a really kind guy. His latest, The Free, is out next year. I have yet to read it, but Jonathan Evison (one of my favorite authors from last year’s M&P show) describes it as:

“Courageous, powerful, and mercifully refreshing, The Free is nothing less than an affirmation, that rare novel about lost souls which dares to be hopeful int he face of despair. Vlautin’s hard knock characters will break your heart with their humanity and grace.”

Cheryl Strayed says: “Willy Vlautin writes novels about people all alone in the wind. His prose is direct and complex in its simplicity, and his stories are sturdy and bighearted and full of lives so shattered they shimmer.”

Saturday Night at Bookbar

With the show officially over, a group of us headed to local Denver indie Bookbar. Opened four months ago, Bookbar combines what you must clearly recognize by now are two of my (and quite a few other booksellers’) favorite things: books and a bar. Check out the front counter, which owner Nicole made herself by hand. Also check out the absolutely adorable menu options. We all left with at least one book in hand. My pick was The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.

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And then after Bookbar I went back to the hotel and went straight to bed. I definitely did not stay up late talking about bookstores on the west coast and short story collections (everyone, please read Bobcat) and The Last Days of California. Nope. Right. To. Bed. I had a plane to catch the next morning, after all.

So Why Do We Do All This?

Why do we congregate in a distant city at a busy time of year? Because it’s fun and excellent to meet authors and eat crab stuffed hors d’oeuvres and drink glasses of wine, yes. But also because I come back from these shows with a new energy to do more, do better, tweak and experiment and come up with new and exciting ways to share the books we all love with you.

The members of our vibrant community of booksellers never fail to impress and inspire each other with our ingenuity, our nimble spirit, and our readiness to try anything. We enjoy an open exchange of ideas so that our stores may all strengthen and thrive. There are no secrets among booksellers. Aside from what we discuss in that hotel lounge. Some of those secrets we’ll take to the grave…..or just to the next trade show.

One thought on “What Happens in Denver Stays in Denver. Except for These Pictures.

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