Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Favorite Bookstores #8: Bookstop on Meadowbrook

In January 1981, I had "retired" from my job as manager of my dad's electronics and appliance business to become a full-time writer.  I had a book contract with a decent advance, plus I was still writing Mike Shayne novellas for MSMM, so it seemed at least possible that I could make a living writing.  As it turned out, I was not yet well-suited for the life of a full-time writer (which means I was too damned young, stupid, and lazy), but it was a heady time for a while.

One thing we did a lot of in those days was going around to all the various used bookstores in the area.  I used the phone book to look up all the ones I'd never visited before.  One of them, Bookstop on Meadowbrook, was all the way around on the east side of Fort Worth, a 35 – 40 minute drive from where we lived and an area we seldom if ever visited.  But there was a bookstore there, and I'd never been to it, so one day, off we went to check it out.

It was a good bookstore, and we immediately hit off with the owner, a bearded, very personable young fellow named Steve Kerby.  Steve was a big reader and a mystery fan, to boot, so he was interested to find out that I had been "Brett Halliday" for the past couple of years.  Then he made the comment that there was another local writer who was a friend of his and sometimes he used the store's back room as a place to write.  In fact, he was back there that very afternoon working on a new novel, and Steve offered to go get him and introduce us.

Well, I hated to interrupt anybody's work, but I didn't know many writers in those days so I said sure.  A moment later Steve came back with a large, bearded gent and introduced us to Kerry Newcomb.

Now, I knew who Kerry Newcomb was.  I had even seen him on TV.  He and his writing partner at that time, Frank Schaefer, had been on an interview program hosted by a local TV personality named Michael Brown.  (Although I didn't know it at the time, Brown's wife Sandra harbored some writing ambitions herself and a couple of years later started selling romances to Dell's Candlelight Ecstasy line under the pseudonym Rachel Ryan.)  Kerry and Frank had been very successful writing historical romances under the names Christina Savage and Shana Carroll, as well as plantation novels as Peter Gentry and a thriller under their own names.

Kerry was easily the most successful writer I had met up to that time, and on top of that, he was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to know.  (He still is, by the way.)  Livia and I quickly formed lasting friendships with both him and Steve, and Bookstop on Meadowbrook became one of the regular stops on our bookstore rounds.  I wasn't really looking for books, I just wanted to go hang around and talk.  Of course, a lot of that time I should have been working . . .

Over time, Steve added first new books in his store, then magazines, and finally video rentals, and Bookstop on Meadowbrook moved to a larger space in the same shopping center and became Fort Worth Books and Video.  I took over the used book operation and moved it a couple of blocks down the street, where I operated it and wrote books and short stories in my spare time for the next three years.  That proved to be a real dry spell in my writing as far as sales go.  I did a few ghost jobs, sold a porn story here and there, and generally struggled.  The bookstore wasn't very profitable, but at least it kept a little money coming in.

Then I managed to get a job writing for Lyle Kenyon Engel's book packaging company, Book Creations Inc.  BCI turned out a lot of different series, most of them Westerns, and my first assignment for them was also my first Western, an entry in the Stagecoach Station series (published by Bantam under the house-name Hank Mitchum) called PECOS.  My next job for BCI was another Stagecoach book, PANHANDLE, and I was sitting in the bookstore one day when my editor Paul Block called and asked me how the book was coming along.  It seemed that one of the other writers was going to be late with a manuscript, and Paul really needed something to plug into the schedule.  He asked if I could go ahead and send him however much of PANHANDLE I had done, so they could start editing it.  I said, "Paul, I'll send you the whole thing.  I finished it yesterday."  Which was true.

After that I started getting a lot more work from BCI.  Enough, in fact, that when the bookstore's lease was up, I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to another three years of making that long commute, even though the business had gotten to the point that it was finally making some decent money.  I asked the landlord if I could stay there for another year to see how it was going to go, but he was adamant.  It was either sign another three-year lease or get out.  So I got out, and I've never had an actual job other than writing since then.

To get back to Fort Worth Books and Video, I also worked part-time there, making friends I still have such as Tracey Berry and Dawn Perry Hand.  Steve expanded, adding a second location in downtown Fort Worth.  Eventually the big chain video stores ran most of the independents out of business, including Fort Worth Books and Video.  Steve went on to a very successful academic career on the East Coast, but we're still in touch.

Kerry Newcomb is still in Fort Worth, still a very good friend, and still one of the best writers in the business, although he's not as prolific these days as he once was.  He's a member of the Western Fictioneers and contributed a fine story to THE TRADITIONAL WEST.

I haven't been past the original Bookstop on Meadowbrook for several years and don't know what's there now.  I still have a lot of good memories of it, though, and that's plenty.


Mark Terry said...

A great post. I'm sure I'm not the only writer who's interested in successful writer's fallow periods. Mine lasted a very long time, but I kept pluggin' and that's how I make my living today. Thanks for sharing.

Michael Davis said...

Was shelving some Newcomb novels last week and wondering what became of him. Fort Worth Video had one of the largest selections of movies I had ever seen. I think Mike Price used to hang out there also.

James Reasoner said...

I don't recall ever seeing Price at the Meadowbrook store, but he may have been at the downtown location quite a bit since I think he was still working for the Star-Telegram at the time. The downtown location was in that building on the corner of Fourth Street that's supposed to be haunted.

Lucas said...

That's the thing about local bookstores. Those memories are just irreplaceable...