(Shown above, L to R, and clockwise, starting top left: Tyler Heath (Interabang Books), Shelley Lowe (Monkey and Dog Books), MPIBA's executive director Heather Duncan, Kyle Hall (Interabang Books); Lone Star Lit sponsored, of course, the coffee & tea service; Kristine Hall, Cameron Ludwick (University of Texas Press), Sara Balabanlilar (Deep Vellum Publishing); ink on the arm of Texas author James Wade; MPIBA's tour de force Heather Duncan, marketing director Jeremy Ellis, and operations manager Kelsey Myers; Texas author and Go-Go's musician Kathy Valentine and Kristine Hall; booksellers participating in a workshop; Texas author Carl Watson with Janet Mills (Rhythm & Co. Books))
March 11-13, 2020, the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association held their first of two (COVID-19 permitting) 2020 Spring Conferences, at the Cambria Hotel, Richardson, Texas, and Lone Star Literary Life was a corporate sponsor. The event kicked off Wednesday night with a pre-con event at Deep Vellum Bookstore, with about twenty-five attending. Lone Star Lit's owner and publisher Kristine Hall intended to be in attendance, but the Fort Worth girl underestimated the power of the Dallas traffic gods and missed it by fifteen minutes.
Despite a considerable number of last minute cancellations by booksellers, authors, and publishers, the conference still offered attendees outstanding programming. Kristine was given a few minutes to introduce Lone Star Lit and explain how it partners with Texas booksellers, whether they know it or not. Then, the conference officially began Thursday morning with a keynote author panel including Texas author James Wade (All Things Left Wild / Blackstone Publishing), Deborah Wiles (Kent State / Scholastic), Alaya Dawn Johnson (Trouble the Saints / Tor Books), and Laura van den Berg (I Hold a Wolf by the Ears / Farrar, Straus and Giroux), who is a visiting professor in the UT Austin MFA program. Each author spent time introducing his or her book and answering questions, and then attendees were each provided copies of the books and an opportunity to meet the authors and get the copies signed. A few takeaways:
"I grew up the only dove in a family full of hawks." -- Deborah Wiles
"I wanted to write about how the sun slips away into the night whether we're paying attention or not." -- James Wade
"The unknowable territory is what fiction is for." -- Laura van den Berg
Next on the schedule was the publishing partners' Rep Picks Lunch, where representatives from Macmillan, Penguin, Simon and Schuster, University of Texas Press, Blackstone Publishing, and Hachette presented some of the books that most excite them about the forthcoming season. Books with Texas connections that were mentioned include: Standoff by Jamie Thompson and What You Wish For by Katherine Center (Macmillan); Memorial by Bryan Washington (Penguin Random House); Prophetic City by Stephen Klineberg (Simon and Schuster); All I Ever Wanted by Kathy Valentine, Glitter Up the Dark by Sasha Gerfen, and American Tacos by José Ralat, and an updated release of Swimming Holes of Texas by Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy (University of Texas Press); and All Things Left Wild by James Wade (Blackstone Publishing).
In the afternoon, booksellers had workshops about how to use the MPIBA marketing, education, and event programming that are designed for members to maximize their memberships and round-table conversations about current industry topics. A hot topic was the impact of COVID-19 and how bookstores are dealing with maintaining customers and sales and what are the options and alternatives to canceling bookstore events. Kristine was pleased to meet and chat with booksellers Cyndi Sager (The Book Attic, Tomball), Jim Hart (The Published Page Bookshop, Cleburne), and Chelsea Green and her sister Jessica (Bibliobar, Dallas), Claudia Maceo (The Twig, San Antonio), Shelley Lowe (Monkey and Dog Books, Fort Worth), Callie Metler-Smith (Clear Fork Media), Roxanne Laney (Arts and Letters Bookstore, Granbury), and Kyle Hall (Interabang Books, Dallas). Two new MPIBA members attended and shared that Texas will see two new indie bookstores opening -- watch for Rhythm and Co. Books in Glen Rose and Buy the Book, coming to Spring.
The evening brought the Authors All-Around Dinner & Signing, with Texas author Mary Pauline Lowry (The Roxy Letters / Simon & Schuster -- and soon-to-be featured on Lone Star Review), Victoria Wilcox (Dance with the Devil / TwoDot -- book two in The Saga of Doc Holliday series, and set almost entirely in Texas), Texas author Fowzia Karimi (Above Us the Milky Way / Deep Vellum Publishing -- today's featured Lone Star Review), Texas author Nancy Churnin (Beautiful Shades of Brown / Creston Books -- Churnin's book For Spacious Skies, publishing April 1, 2020, will be featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tours), Texas author Stephen Klineberg (Prophetic City: Houston on the Cusp of a Changing America / Avid Reader Press), Texas author Erin Yun (Pippa Park Raises Her Game / Fabled Films Press), Texas author Carl Watson (Silent Journey / One Elm Books), and Texas author Samantha Mabry (Tigers, Not Daughter / Algonquin Young Readers). Again, attendees were provided copies of the books and opportunities to meet the authors and get autographed copies.
Friday brought pouring rain and more cancellations from presenters, causing some rearranging to the planned schedule. (The team from the American Booksellers Association had to cancel due to being quarantined after a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19.) The breakfast keynote author panel, moderated by MPIBA Board of Directors member Nicole Sullivan (owner of Bookbar in Colorado), featured Texas author Lyla Lee (kids' Mindy Kim series and forthcoming YA I'll Be the One / Katherine Tegan books), and Texas author and Go-Go's band member Kathy Valentine. A common theme in the lives of the two authors was how they each had self-educated themselves with the help of bookstores and booksellers giving them book recommendations. Additionally, both authors' books are largely based on their musical connections, and each spoke of the importance of authenticity, with Lee having an uncle in a famous K-pop band and Valentine's life as a musician and her time in the Go-Go's.
The conference wrapped up with an interactive handselling workshop where booksellers learned some of the best practices, including advice on handling tough situations and book talking, and the reminder that the most important part of bookselling is listening to the customers. With the next few weeks uncertain, it was agreed that the MPIBA Spring Con was likely the last bookish gathering for a while, and it can be proud for providing a top-notch conference.
The mission of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association is to support and promote independent booksellers in our region, raise awareness of the value of locally owned businesses in our communities, and celebrate literary culture and an open exchange of ideas as crucial to a free society.
It is a non-profit professional association of bookstores, booksellers, authors, and industry professionals and has grown to represent booksellers in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
Membership includes publishers, sales reps, wholesalers, and other industry professionals.