Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Interview: RoadVirusBus

We said recently that in a more contemporary retelling of The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, Anthony Monday would become a page in a mobile library. Or perhaps the navigator of such a contraption. Or would Mr. Beemis be the navigator, with Anthony more of an engineer? Anyway, this thought popped into mind because news had popped into our inbox that book fans Em and Sade (with Em a professed fan of John Bellairs, too) had done just that. Started a mobile library, that is.  It's called the Road Virus and specializes in fringe literature such as horror, sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, and more.  Em (a former librarian) and Sade (an author) were on the road at the time with Jolene Lenore (that's the bookmobile).  We finally caught up to the road-weary readers and they were very kind to provide some answers to our questions.

Q: So when did you know you wanted to own a bookmobile?

Em: I spent my childhood in libraries and have always loved bookstores. When I was 22, I became a librarian and worked for a boarding school in New England for 5 years. When I moved to San Francisco to work as an office manager at startups, a lot of my organizational skills crossed over, but I missed the ‘books’ part of my job. I started going to bookstores in San Francisco (which are world-class) with Sade and we started talking about opening a bookstore –– a nearly financially-impossible task in SF –– which is how the idea of a smaller, more niche (and mobile) bookstore started taking shape.

Sade: Much like Em, I spent my childhood in libraries and bookstores. I didn’t have many friends growing up, and found solace in the deep stacks, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pages with tales of weird lands and new people. It’s always been a dream of mine to live in a library and (more tangibly) to own a bookstore, so when we began discussing our shared love of books and their storied homes, and then thought of a way to combine those aspects, everything just sort of clicked.

Q: What advice would you give someone else thinking to do what you’re doing?

Em: Are you truly passionate about books? This is something that, regardless of the amount of money we make, we’re excited to be doing. You really need to have passion for what you’re doing in order to truck on through the hardest days of running your own business. Learn how to set boundaries; having your home and business in the same location means that sometimes, one can bleed into the other. Make sure you set business hours and stick to them so that you have personal time. On the flipside, don’t treat running a business like a hobby; even though you’re doing what you love to do, it’s still a business, and still needs to make money.

Q: That said, what are some of the pros and cons of having various locations, vs. the more traditional brick-and-mortar store?

As we’re only just about to begin this adventure, we’re not entirely sure of all the pros and cons just yet, but here are the few that we’ve figured out;

  • No permanent address makes things like paperwork for taxes, registrations, and insurance a lot more complicated.
  • We’re relying on the impulse-buy, rather than the regular customer.
  • Living in 120 square ft with another person and a small dog (and in the future, more pets) in an exercise in patience.
  • The inability to expand; we have very limited space, and therefore have to be critical with what we carry.
  • Single point of failure: our home, vehicle, and business are all in a single entity; if the bus breaks down, there are more problems than meet the eye.
  • We get the chance to reach the people who don’t normally have access to the amazing collection we’re going to carry. Not all towns have the budget to fund a comprehensive library system.
  • Due to the novelty of us being in a bus, essentially making up a pop-up business, people who normally wouldn’t pick up a horror or sci-fi book in a store might take the time to peruse a more diverse collection.
  • We can be anywhere at any time, e.g. if we learn about a festival specializing in one of our genres, we can plan to be there, or during Halloween for instance; we can drive to Salem, MA.
  • We have much lower overhead (we own the bus outright), which means that we can pass the savings onto our customers.
  • We can go where the business is. If a location flops, we can pick up stakes and move on down the road.

Q: What’s your itinerary: what’s your coverage area, how often do you plan to be on the road?

Right now, we’re gearing up to head to Florida, where Sade has a friend who’s going to assist with the final renovations. Then, we’ll be heading up the coast to the greater Boston area where Em has family.

Between now and then, we plan on creating an itinerary with at least a three-month lead time so that people can come visit us when we’re in their town. The broader plan is to follow good weather; obviously, our foot traffic is affected by weather more than a traditional retail store. So, while we might visit North Dakota in July, we’ll be more likely to hit Nevada in November.

We’ll be setting up an e-mail newsletter list soon, and will have a live map on the contact page of our website to show exactly where we are so people can track our progress and more easily stalk us.

Q: What stories/books scared you growing up?

Em: The Eyes Of The Killer Robot (John Bellairs). I had a very vivid imagination as a child and read that book in a single sitting on a rainy night in third grade and remember looking out my window at my suburban cul-de-sac and could swear I saw the shadow of a man-shaped robot near the street lamp. The Edward Gorey originals in Killer Robot, along with Bellairs’ vivid descriptions, made it real to me in that moment. I always gravitated towards Bellairs and the creepier side of Road Dahl, both of whom wrote excellent tales for younger audiences that pulled no punches.

Sade: My dad loved to let me read extremely “inappropriate” things for my age. I used to pore over his copy of the book 999, an anthology of horror and suspense stories collected by Al Sarrantonio. The stories in that book are so real-feeling, so visceral, and they touch on horrors both human and non, of the real world and other realms. I still have that copy. Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark collection was my bread and butter. The creeping sense of dread throughout those books, the artwork in the originals (removing Gammell’s art was an absolute crime); there was just something so positively unsettling about all of it.

Q: Define “fringe literature” for the uninitiated.

Sade: Fringe is, while not necessarily uncommercial, definitely under-appreciated. Fringe is the “cheap”, the “pulp”, the easily mass-forgotten about. I have always gravitated towards the weirder parts of literature; when entering a library, I would seek out books on magic rituals, serial killers and natural disasters. In bookstores, I found myself bee-lining to the horror/sci-fi section; usually, just a shelf or two in the very back of the shop. This is why we wanted to specialize in the genres most stores either overlook or stuff into a corner, or forget about entirely; breathing life into the dark.

Q: What are some of your favorite authors – fringe or otherwise?

Em: John Bellairs, Jack London, Gary Paulsen, Jean Craighead George, Roald Dahl, Mark Z. Danielewski, Laurie Notaro, Stephen King, Richard Adams.

Sade: Clive Barker, William S. Burroughs, R.L. Stine, Junji Ito, Road Dahl, John Waters, Henry Miller, Phillip Roth, Warren Ellis, Ray Bradbury.

Q: What authors does Jolene Lenore plan to stock?

Em: Barker, King, Lovecraft, Junji Ito, Bellairs, Gorey, Francesca Lia Block, Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine, Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Brian Jacques, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg; these are some of the bigger names on our shelves. We’ll also carry some independent authors, namely from the NoSleep subreddit. At the moment, we have titles from EZMisery, Ashley Franz Holzmann, and Andrew Boylan.

Q: Do you consider Bellairs fringe?

Em: I would say yes. I think that scary stories for children today are lacking in the ‘bite’ that Bellairs and Dahl’s generation brought to the table. They didn’t hold children’s hands. They knew kids were able to process darker themes and wrote stories which reflected that.

Q: How/when did you become aware of John Bellairs’s books?  Most favorite book? Least favorite book?

Em: In my school library in elementary school, probably second grade.  Most favorite would have to be The House with a Clock in its Walls which, when I got older, always reminded me of Poe’s Telltale Heart. I honestly can’t say I have a least favorite Bellairs book; I loved all of his creepy adventures. I loved staying late up past the rest of my family and reading to scare myself, but I don’t have a particular story in mind besides the aforementioned Killer Robot.

Q: In your reading, have you found any other authors who remind you in some ways of John Bellairs? What other author/book(s) would you recommend to a Bellairs fan?

Em: The book Battle Royale by Koushan Takami, another story of young people going through horrific events without any sugar coating. Road Dahl, for sure - his books The Twits, The Witches, and Matilda also feature youthful protagonists and harrowing events told in a funny but straightforward manner. Stephen King, who has protagonists of all ages and all walks of life, and whose stories range from the creepy to the outright horrific.

Q: And there's a Stephen King connection with your project, isn't there?

Em: Yes, the Road Virus come from a short story written by Stephen King about a haunted painting called The Road Virus Heads North.

Q: Knowing John’s love of history and trivia, what’s a place or thing or bit of history from your area that you think John would have gotten a kick out of?

Em: The Beantown Pub is the only place in the world where you can drink a cold Sam Adams while looking out on a literally cold Sam Adams. His grave is directly across from the Beantown Pub in Boston.

Q: Compleat this - hold on a second.  So how'd you come up with the name Jolene Lenore?  We feel certain the answer lies somewhere between Dollywood and Baltimore, but -

Em: Jolene is indeed from the Dolly Parton song, but I think of "Jolene" more as the call of wanderlust and the open road verses being a real actual in Jolene (desire for adventure) please don't take my man.  Sade came up with Lenore from the Poe poem of the same name. 

Q: Compleat this sentence: you know you’ve read too much John Bellairs when –

Em: think every note passed to you in class is the next clue to the treasure of Alpheus Winterborn.

Thanks, Jolene: glad to have had to have this talk with you.  And Em and Sade, too!  Cheers - and safe travels!  Catch a ride with the duo on twitter, too.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Awesome idea, awesome folks, I just wish I was closer to MA to visit that bus!