Friday, August 08, 2008

In appreciation.

"Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare." - Dale Carnegie

My friend Zach Steele owns a bookstore in Decatur. It opened last June. Because I'd been out of touch with him, I found out about Zach's bookstore while I was hitting on this straight guy during the Armistead Maupin book signing at Outwrite Books. The heterosexual guy worked at Georgia Center for the Book, and he and I were doing this random chit-chat while I was trying to picture what he looked like naked. (I did not know he was straight at the time. I mean, jeez, it was an Armistead Maupin book signing at Outwrite. It's not my fault for jumping to the wrong conclusion. And he was cute.)

During the chit-chat, the straight guy and I were talking about self-published books, and I told him that the worst self-published book ever written was this Southern-fried, end-times novel called APOCALYPSE SOUTH by Kyle Watson. (The book has a scene that takes place in a traffic jam on I-285 during the Rapture. It's absolutely hilarious.)

And the straight guy told me that he'd seen APOCALYPSE SOUTH before and, in fact, had a friend with a marked-up copy of it with notes on the edges where an entire bookstore staff had commented on how bad it was. And I told the straight guy that I was familiar with that copy of the book, for I had once worked with the bookstore staff that created it. The straight guy told me that Zach, my one-time manager, had the copy and read it to the staff of his new bookstore at every meeting they had.

And, thus, the cute, straight guy and APOCALYPSE SOUTH led me to reacquaint myself with Zach. The day after the Maupin signing, I e-mail him and discovered Wordsmiths Books in Decatur. A few days later, I'd walked through the doors of their first location in Decatur, a pretty place with unfortunately low foot traffic. Zach wasn't there during my first trip to the store, which is why I was able to focus on the store and fall in love with its charms in my own way. It's a beautiful place with a warm vibe. It feels good to be there. It feels comfortable to read there. It was the sort of place where I wanted to know everyone's name.

I came up with my own dream for Wordsmiths that first day. I wanted to do a reading there. I wanted to sign copies of my own, as-yet-unwritten books there. I had this feeling stronger in Wordsmiths than I'd ever had in any location of the bookstore that had given me paychecks. In part, this was because it was independent. Mostly, I think I was just charmed to be standing in the middle of Zach's dream store. He had the idea. He wanted something. He went for it, and he achieved it. It made me want to tie my own ambitions to his. I envied his success, and I hoped that Wordsmiths was a place where fulfilled dreams were contagious. That was last year when I'd just begun discovering places like JaCKPie in the city, places built on optimism. I wanted a part of it.

So I e-mailed Zach the next day and told him that I'd enjoyed going to his store and was tempted to jump up on the microphone and read one of my essays. And, even though at that point he'd never read an essay of mine and had never heard me perform anything, he told me at the time that I was more than welcome to jump up on the mic whenever I was in his store. And within a month, Wordsmiths had its first Open Mic Night, and I brought "Prayer for the Waffle House Faithful" to read. When I stepped up on that stage, I'm fairly certain that Zach and his staff didn't know what to expect from me. During the reading, I noticed that I was getting a lot of laughs, particularly from Zach and his wife Alice. By the time I was done, Zach came onstage and said that I was more than welcome to perform at every Open Mic Night. It was one of the best compliments I've ever gotten in my life.

Since then, Russ Marshalek, the events coordinator for Wordsmiths, has proven to be just as supportive of my work as Zach. He's asked me to read at other events at Wordsmiths and said that my Phi Kappa brother Will Young and I are the store's favorite homegrown performers. Russ even helped me film a scene of THE AMBER NASH SHOW video in his apartment complex elevator.

I love these guys. I love Wordsmiths Books. It has shown me nothing but love, and it has supported my efforts as a writer and performer.

And now it's in trouble. Because of debt incurred at the location it has since moved from, Wordsmiths is in danger of closing, and I want to keep the place open forever. Fundraising efforts are ongoing, and I would like it very much if you could help out a place that's becoming an important part of the Decatur and Atlanta communities.

View it anyway you like. Go to their website, and read about what's going on from the owner himself. Just help them out if you can. Pick your reasons. Please help.

Do it because good people need your help. Do it because you want another place where you can buy books. Because people who've helped me out now need help. Because a local, small business needs help. Because it's a cool place. Because you remember what the cool, small bookstore in your town used to be like. Because I've not written a book yet, and I want Wordsmiths to still be there for when I do or for when any of my friends do. Because the continued existence of mom-and-pop stores suggest the basic American dream can still survive. Do it because places built on optimism are places that need to stick around.

And thank you for your attention and help.

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