Literary “Shop Local”

Support regional authors and presses this holiday season

Two things, closely related in my mind, have me thinking about inland authors and presses: the season of gratitude and the call to shop locally. 

Most people I know heed the call to shop at local retailers and bookstores. They achieve two goals at once by finding unique gifts for the holiday season and keeping their neighborhood vibrant. But these same people—and pretty much everyone I know is a reader—don’t think local when they think about books. It’s time to do so.

When you purchase books, you aren’t just supporting the bookseller. You support the author, the editor, the publisher, and the artist who designed the book cover. So here’s a novel idea: aim for either a local author or a local publisher to make your purchases truly meaningful.

If the local press is small, its titles may not be available in bookshops. You might wonder how to find them. Purchasing directly from the press is always a good option. In addition, the titles are easily available elsewhere online. If you worry about the ethics of buying from the book behemoth, you always have the option of, through which you can designate your favorite bookstore to receive a cut of your purchase. 

The following are some ideas for finding local authors. 

This journal is a publication of the Inlandia Institute, which is a constant supporter of local authors. It sponsors the annual Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize. Each year two winners are selected, one of whom hails from Inland California. Recent winner Remyth: A Postmodernist Ritual by Adam D. Martinez launched this week. Check the “Books” tab on the Inlandia website to find many titles by Inland authors, including those published outside the institute.

Going directly to the websites of local presses is a good way to discover new writers. Los Nietos Press  publishes work that helps us understand “the lives and history of the people who make up the diverse community of Southern California.” I had the good fortune of publishing a collection of feminist literary fiction with them this year, Acts of Contrition. Another of their recent titles, Behind the Red Curtain by Hong-My Basrai, is a memoir about the author’s escape from Communist Vietnam. One more favorite of mine because it taps both the natural and cultural climate of Southern California Dancing in the Santa Winds: New and Selected Poems y Cuentos, a multi-genre collection from liz gonzález.

Pelekinesis Press has published many books I enjoyed including MASS: A Sniper, a Father, and a Priest by Jo Scott Coe, which probes the psychological sources of the 1966 University of Texas, Austin clock tower shootings; California Continuum, Volume 1: Migrations and Amalgamations by Grant Hier and John Brantingham, a collection of very short fiction and nonfiction on California history dating back through prehistory; and My Bariatric Year, Part I by Tim Hatch. Calls for Submissions by Selena Chambers is a horror story collection that warps time and crosses decades. It was one of my picks for my family book club because I enjoyed the references to Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, as well as stories squarely in the monster tradition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Dog Seated Next to Me, a collection of flash fiction by Meg Pokrass, invites the reader to consider the ways that the landscape alters when animals enter, a topic I love. 

A little over a year ago, Pelekinesis created the imprint Bamboo Dart Press, which publishes short books—poetry chapbooks, novellas, etc. I’ve loved the form. It’s hard to find such books from larger presses. A few recent books I’ve enjoyed are Stephanie Barbé Hammer’s A Rescue Plan, Kendall Johnson’s Black Box Poetics: Short Memoirs of Chaos, and Romaine Washington’s Purgatory has an Address. This week, Tim Hatch’s poetry collection Wild Embrace debuted. I’ve been waiting for it since I heard him read at a poetry seminar. (Here’s a book trailer with one of the poems.) In fact, I enjoy these short books so much that I recently subscribed to receive new titles as they appear. For a catalog of all Bamboo Dart titles, check here

My chapbook reading list for the holidays. Four Bamboo Press titles I’ve received since subscribing: Portrait of a Deputy Public Defender; Three, Walking; The 909; and Wild Embrace.

One of my favorite indie spec-fic/fantasy authors is Rachel Meenan, who recently published the first in the Zyearth series, Shadow Cast. I love its fantasy worldbuilding, courageous characters, and epic battle scenes.

How far would you go to save a stranger? 

Matt and Izzy are Golden Guardians in training,

facing the ultimate test – follow orders and save 

their home from invincible enemies, or risk their 

home to save the life of an innocent victim. 

Elemental magic mixes with sci-fi in this 

YA contemporary fantasy.

An indie book that touched me is Embracing Dawn: Two Women’s Stories; Brought Together by the Prison Education Project by Marie Rodriguez and Tessa McCarty (pseudonyms). It’s the story of two women who have made bad decisions and lived with the consequences. But their stories are also about hope and the possibility of change through forgiveness and love. 

Just as we have committed to saving our local businesses and workers during a period of isolation, many of us have promised ourselves to explore new things. By reading books published by local presses and written by local authors, we can do both. Why not order some holiday gifts from your local authors and presses?

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