Category Archives: Naomi Hirahara

San Diego’s Independent Jewel: Mysterious Galaxy


Two of the three principals of Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego: Terry Gilman, left, and Maryelizabeth Hart. To see the mug of the third, Jeff Mariotte, see his website.



San Diego is California’s second largest city (you probably thought it was San Francisco, right?), called one of the nation’s most livable area, home of the state’s former governor, expanding high-tech and financial industries, the Padres baseball team, and a U.S. naval base.

About 30 miles north of the Mexican border, San Diego is the seventh largest municipality in the U.S. In the northern part of this sprawling city, which includes 70 miles of surf, is Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego’s only brick-and-mortar bookstore dedicated to both mysteries and speculative fiction. Located in the McGrath Court shopping center, right next to a Starbucks, Mysterious Galaxy celebrates its 13th year of operation this weekend with its Book Mitzvah.

What is a Book Mitzvah, you ask? Well, mitzvah means "good deeds" in Hebrew, and the folks at MG will be spreading a lot of good cheer and deeds on Saturday, May 13, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with special signings and donations to nonprofit organizations. See this for more info.

To commemorate this special milestone, as well as to kick off Murderati/L.A. Mix’s occasional series on those in the bookselling biz, we will be visiting today with Mysterious Galaxy (MG).


Mysterious Galaxy

7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite 302, San Diego, CA 92111

Tel: 858-268-4747

Three principals:

Also, Elizabeth Baldwin, On-site Events Coordinator

I asked Team MG some questions about its origins, their fav writers, and thoughts about book covers and book selling in general:

Mysterious Galaxy is a little different from other Southern California mystery stores in that you also have an emphasis on fantasy/science fiction. How did you come up with this dual theme? How has it evolved over the years?

MeH: The bottom line is we sell what we love to read. While our mix is unique to Southern CA, there are several other SF/mystery cross genre specialty stores nationally. I think the biggest evolution over the years has been the growing number of authors and series which we arbitrarily choose a section for that could fit into any of the sub-divisions of our store. Book Mitzvah author Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse/Southern gothic vampire romance mystery series is a great example thereof.

Tell us how MG came to be established. Whose idea was it? Was it difficult to take it from idea to reality?

MeH: In the early 1990s, there was no specialty SF store in San Diego, and the closest thing, Hunter’s Books in La Jolla, was closed by Books Inc. as they shuttered their non-Northern CA stores. San Diego did have a mystery specialty store, Grounds for Murder, but they had a different flavor and the city was growing (and the country was reading, following the leadership of a president who read!) and we felt there was a vacancy that needed filling.

Terry, Jeff and I all had different backgrounds in bookselling and business, which I think lead to a beautiful complementary partnership. Because Jeff and I had both worked in the industry, we had some hands-on experience with publishers and a business plan for a mixed genre store that blended nicely with Terry’s financial background. Over the years, I think I’ve become a better businesswoman, and Terry has become a stellar bookseller.

My memory of the process of creating the store has mostly faded with time, kind of like childbirth. The main thing I remember is spending a long time trying to find the right name.

Have you always been in the same location? If not, when did you move to this location?

MeH: Mysterious Galaxy is in its third (and final!) location. We started about two miles east of our current location in a mall that was more established–after a year and a half, the owners literally knocked down our building and didn’t have a space for us. We moved to our second location, a few miles south of here, a location that we eventually outgrew.

With the help of a volunteer advisory board we determined that McGrath Center was the optimal location for us, and we moved here in April 2000. BTW, each move was accomplished in a single business day, with the assistance of our customers and friends and family!

What kind of books are your customers picking up these days? Are you noticing any new trends?

Terry: When I was at the store, lots of Jim Butcher and Charlaine. Our customers are perfect consumers of these cross-over books and they like paranormal romance, too!

MeH: We have always had cross-genre authors and books, but the readership and publisher support for them has grown over the past few years. We find this very gratifying, as some of our favorite books are in these hybrid genres. Also, we are seeing a gratifying diversity of the kinds of mysteries that are available–whether it’s contemporary chick-lit/amateur sleuth books, or traditional hard-boiled detectives–spurred, in part, by the very good books published by some of the smaller presses.

When is the best time for author events (time of the year, days of the week, time, etc.)?

Elizabeth: It seems like our best times for events are later in the week–Thursday nights through the weekend afternoons.

When is the best time for authors or publishers to contact you to schedule signings? What kind of lead time do you need? What should authors avoid doing when theycontact you?

Elizabeth: The best time to contact me for an event is usually Monday, Wednesday,or Thursday mornings. The lead time is between 6-8 weeks. I’m currently scheduling August and September for the most part.

MeH: I work on our off-site events with about the same lead time as Elizabeth, and have an erratic schedule, so prefer being contacted by email so I can respond whenever I happen to be in the office. As for the last question, I prefer that authors contacting us not send us promotional materials that only lead us/our customers to the competition’s website.

What kind of covers do you gravitate towards?

Terry: Interesting question. I sometimes do judge a book by its cover! I love fun-contemporary covers and also covers that look like great pieces of art.

MeH: I think I tend to buy more by author name recognition and reviews than covers, although Night Shade Books has produced some really amazing covers for their Spec Fiction books lately that I just marvel at. Other than that–I know it’s shallow, but chicks with guns.

Any favorite recent reads you’d like to share?

MeH: The Staff Picks section of our website is constantly updated. A couple of recently read titles I need to get uploaded are SNAKE AGENT by Liz Williams and WHAT FIRE CANNOT BURN by John Ridley–two great cross-genre titles!

Who reviews books in your local newspapers?

MeH: The majority of the local book reviews appear in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Arthur Salm is the editor of the Books Section (one of the few discrete book sections left in the country, I might mention). We are very fortunate that the Books Section features special columns of reviews in our genres once a month: "Spadework" by Robert Wade (of the Wade Miller /Whit Masterson writing team), and Jim Hopper’s "Eccentric Orbits."

What is the one thing you wish authors would understand about the bookselling business?

MeH: As technology and the face of bookselling changes, the one thing that remains consistent about the industry is its inconsistency. Booksellers are always working in partnership with authors to bring their books to the attention of book lovers/readers. And we can do exactly the same things to promote two different books with completely disparate results.

I noticed that Terry is the president of the Southern California Booksellers Association (SCBA). Why has she become so involved with the organization?

Terry: It gives me a broader perspective on bookselling, both for the store and on a national level. Since I am first and foremost a business person (with an MBA and an undergraduate minor in accounting), I am enjoying participating in the larger business questions of independent bookselling. I see that there is a huge need for leadership and direction to help independent booksellers to be successful. Our region (SCBA) is currently focusing on two major issues:

  1. Getting the word out to consumers (generally, not our current customers) about independent bookstores. We are sure that not enough consumers understand the importance (and existence) of independent bookstores. We are currently focusing on raising the awareness of our SCBA Events (website as a one-stop site for finding out about author events in Southern California.
  2. Doing a better job of communicating, educating, and mentoring our member bookstores. We believe that our greater strength is as a group of independent booksellers rather than as single entities.

You’ll be having a Book Mitzvah to celebrate your 13 years of business. Tell usmore about the festivities.

Terry: We are playing with the mitzvah idea on many levels including: sending out a newsletter in the form of an invitation, having music, playing games with our customers, giving gifts to everyone who attends, giving back to our community, and eating our cake, too!!!

What is your favorite inexpensive restaurant near the store? Also, I noticed that there are some Asian restaurants near you. Have you gone to any good pho (Vietnamese noodle) shops?

Terry: Souplantation!!!!! Something for everyone and you can stay and chat for hours and continue to nibble. Also, all of the restaurants in the McGrath Center, including Players (sports bar) and Niban (sushi and more)!

MeH: We have a bunch of good options in our neighborhood, including Pho Hoa Cali just across the 805 freeway, in the mall with one of my personal favorites, Di Chan Thai Restaurant, and the VIP Oriental Buffet. Just east of the store is the Ranch 99 Market with two very good restaurants and a dim sum counter.

Back on Convoy Street, heading towards our former location, you can find the not exactly inexpensive but great Thai House. There’s more yummy Japanese food at Chopstix (not the chain). And the best breakfast in town is at the Original Pancake House on Convoy. Almost all of them offer vegetarian options, with the possible exception of Players.

Anything else you’d like to add?

MeH: While Terry, Jeff and I may have conceived Mysterious Galaxy, it wouldn’t have grown and prospered without our great staff, including Store Manager Patrick Heffernan and booksellers extraordinaire, Linda, Linda Rae, Sam and Christine. Plus all of our wonderful customers!

Thank you, Mysterious Galaxy, for being the first bookstore to be featured on Murderati’s L.A. Mix!

For mystery lovers and authors, make those plans to take the family to Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, Padres game, and, of course, Mysterious Galaxy. For more party animals, definitely go to the Gaslamp District, because that place is hopping. Other great destinations are Balboa Park, Old Globe Theatre (Shakespeare series), and our personal favorite, Point Loma. A friend’s favorite beach is Del Mar Beach, just northwest of MG, off of the 5. If you plan to stop by Mysterious Galaxy during a book tour in Los Angeles, take the 5 to the I-805 and take Clairemont Mesa Blvd. East exit. It’s way north of downtown San Diego, only 80 miles away from OC spots like Anaheim and Costa Mesa and 113 miles away from South Pasadena. If you are traveling from Pasadena during rush hour, it will be better for you to take the 210 East to the 57 instead of doing the 5 too early. The 5 is pretty darn hideous.

Maryelizabeth was been a frequent Murderati visitor, so if you post a question in the comments section, there’s an outside chance that she may answer. Happy Book Mitzvah, Mysterious Galaxy!

A SPAM MOMENT: With all this talk about Souplantation and Asian noodles, our stomachs are growling. Here’s this Spam recollection from Bob Peck of Albuquerque, New Mexico: "Family only ate Spam cooked over a campfire on days when no fish or not enough were caught that morning for a shore lunch on Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada." Submit your Spam memories now to to vie for a basket of goodies, including a Spam sushi maker and Okinawan music CD! See my website for my more info.

Breaking News!!! NORTHERN CAL UPDATE: Thanks to Sue Trowbridge as well as other friends in Berkeley who have alerted me to the sad news in Northern California. In addition to Cody’s closing down, A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco is up for sale. I’ll be in Northern Cal for some events next week, so I’ll nose around and bring back a report in Murderati.

Get Off the Bus


Once a book festival is over, it’s pretty much over for the regular attendees who consult their calendar to see what’s next. For festival organizers, booksellers, and authors, it’s a time to decompress, recover, do some bookkeeping, and, if they’re smart, evaluate what went right and what went wrong.


1) LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. The booth’s location and size make all the difference in the world. Sisters in Crime/Crime Time Books have prime real estate, right outside of Royce Hall, which holds 1,800. This year they had more space, which allowed people easier access to the books. Many authors sold out of stock and Crime Time Books says this year may have been their best.

2) TIME MATTERS: Book selling started early–hard-core enthusiasts were there even before the festival opened on Saturday and were purchasing books. But by the late afternoon on Sunday, buyers were weighed down with book purchases and credit card debt and were not as open to buy books by authors they were unfamiliar with. Note to authors: try to schedule as many booth signings on Saturday and early Sunday.

3) FESTIVAL IS DRAWING MORE OUT-OF-STATE PARTICIPANTS: Once I got off of the Vroman’s bus at 9:30 a.m on Saturday, I ran into power forward Reed Coleman, wearing his MWA T-shirt and black blazer, Peter Spiegelman, and Johnny Temple at the Akashic booth. Apparently New Yorker Coleman loves L.A. and Saturday, which broke out in sunshine, was a particular good day for an East Coaster to visit.

4) CONSISTENCY AND PERSISTENCE WIN OUT: San Francisco-based Cara Black, who was on the L.A. Times Bestseller List in March with MURDER IN MONTMATRE, credits much of her success on making the trek to the L.A. Times Festival of Books six consecutive years and also nurturing her relationship with Southern California booksellers in general. Of course, she also writes darn good mysteries and has a great hook: "a murder in Paris." Fellow blogger Pari Noskin Taichert is a masterful speaker (that’s why I identify myself as a former p.r. flak vs. p.r. professional) and easily convinced some L.A. teenagers to buy her first Agatha-nominated book, THE CLOVIS INCIDENT. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

5) SWEDES AND MANGA WERE HOT TOPICS IN THE PLAZA: Swedish mysteries were selling like hotcakes in the Book’em booth (an unnamed bookseller rhapsodized on how handsome Kjell Eriksson was. I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but sorry, Simon, he looks tall in his author’s photo!!!) Sales of Japanese translated manga was burning up the grass at Kinokuniya, which also had a better location than previous years.

6) PICTURE BOOKS, MOVE OVER FOR CHAPTER BOOKS & Y.A.: Since I rode on a bus with the manager of Vroman’s children’s department, as well as signed with Newbery winner Cynthia Kadohata, my eyes were newly opened to the power of chapter books for children. Well, if you think about it–Carl Hiaasen did it two times, Lois-Ann Yamanaka did it three times, Walter Mosley, Michele Serros, Clive Cussler, and Sherman Alexie all did it. Apparently with the Baby Boomer’s children aging into adolescence, the demand for YA has increased. So if you can think from a child’s or teenager’s perspective, this is your moment to pitch that story to that agent or publisher.

7) LACK OF A COHESIVE MYSTERY PRESENCE: Apparently the Mystery Bookstore Pre-Festival party was hopping Friday night. (I opted not to fight Friday night traffic–it’s an eastside/westside thing.) A lot of authors hung out the centrally located Mystery Bookstore booth during the weekend, but it would have been nice to see an even more cohesive presence at the festival itself. Perhaps a joint Sisters in Crime/MWA event with all the mystery vendors on Saturday evening (yes, to add to the madness), or some silly sticker that mystery fans could affix to their T-shirts or something. Mysterious Galaxy had a nice flyer with all their signing authors listed–it would have been helpful to have a comprehensive flyer with all the mystery booths and authors and have volunteers pass them out in the middle of Dickson Plaza. Or perhaps a pre-festival snail-mailing/e-mailing of all the signings to Sisters in Crime and MWA members.

Those who weren’t on a panel and just signed in booths were at a distinct disadvantage because their presence was largely unknown to the 120,000 folks visiting the event. I wasn’t on a panel, but two booths had put my name in under the author signings page, and that surely propelled sales. (I also had a new book that had come out that week.)

Of course, it’s easy to suggest these ideas, but quite another thing to come up with the labor and money to organize extra events and publicity efforts during such a hectic time. So to implement anything additional will require more workers. But just an observation from the peanut gallery.

05030008ALL ABOARD: The "red" bus, the Vroman’s bus I hosted, was filled by 8:30 a.m. Before we left, I got to meet the authors of the debut novel, LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A., who were hosting the green bus. A total of four buses left Pasadena for Westwood.

AUTHORS REVISIT HISTORY: I was able to catch05030009 at least one panel on revisiting history with, from left to right, moderator Jonathan Kirsch, Luis Rodriguez, Jennifer Haigh, Harry Turtledove. Kirsch had some great questions, which covered the gammit from political correct language vs. language of the era, alternate history, etc. It was a nice mix of scholarly/street/sophisticated. I enjoyed it.


MR. HOLLYWOOD: Sean Doolittle blends right in with the L.A. crowd with a cell phone clamped to his ear. Crime Time owner Linda Bivens is on the right.

MY TWO NEW BEST FRIENDS (AT LEAST FROM 2 TO 050300214 ON SUNDAY): André Coleman, an editor with the Pasadena Weekly who has written a new book, A LIAR’S TALE, and the indomitable Cara Black, creator of the Aimée Leduc series. Cara’s soft spoken but she gets the promotional the job done and then some. The woman in pink in the back is Sister in Crime board member Susan Berry, who organized the author signings this year. Thanks, Susan!

JAPANOPHILES GONE NUTS: 05030016This was pretty much par for the course at the Kinokuniya booth. My stacks of Mas Arai books were all gone by Sunday at noon! Yay!

SUNSHINE GALS: Ms. Chili Pepper herself, Pari, 05040002debut novelist Louise Ure (center), and Patricia Smiley. Patty, who gives the most articulate quotes, was on a panel and in the L.A. Times rundown of Sunday’s activities. And just to show you what a small world it truly is–Pari met the sister of a writer she knows back in Alburquerque, where she’s from, in the bathroom.

MS. NE05030011_6WBERY: That’s me on the left and last year’s Newbery Winner Cynthia Kadohata on the right signing at the Heritage Source booth. It’s been so cool to watch Cynthia’s career skyrocket.


While authors are usually front and center, we all know the power of the biz lies in our precious booksellers and fans. Here are a few portraits.

HE ONCE WAS A COMRA05030018_1DE OF MAS: Bobby McCue, more often just referred to as "Bobby," is the manager of the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. He also once was in the landscaping biz, my character Mas’s field.

BOOK COLLECTOR EXTRAORDINAIRE: Mic05030020_1hael Masliah is hooked on books. Usually pulling a suitcase on wheels, Masliah is a fixture at L.A.-based mystery conventions and, of course, the L.A. Festival of Books. He spends 24/7 on books, since he also works at a librarian at Culver City Julian Dixon Library, a County of Los Angeles Public Library, and serves on the board of this.

05030023_11WHY IS THIS MAN SMILING?: Book’em Mysteries’s head honcho Barry Martin is all smiles. Could it be that the booth did particularly well this year?

HE PIMPED BATMAN’S RIDE: Well, maybe not him li05040004terally, but his company. Whether it be Sisters in Crime meetings or mystery booths at book festivals, you’ll usually see the woolly head (when it’s not covered in one or two hats) of self-avowed feminist Don Cannon, passionately discussing his latest mystery book find. While he’s devoted to progressive causes, Cannon needs cold hard cash to finance those stacks of books that he buys. There’s where his company, Cannon Engineering, comes in. They design and manufacture automobile drive shafts in North Hollywood and provided the official drive shaft of the Batmobile!

For more photos, check out the blog of the Mystery Dawg himself, Aldo Calcagno. And other attendees–readers, authors, and booksellers–if you have your own observations, add them to the comment section, please!

SPAM FOR THE WEEK: Sue Bartle of Rockville, Maryland, writes: "Personally, I DETEST Spam. But, I had a friend in college who loved the stuff. She would make it during finals week. She would take a slice of Spam and add a slice of American cheese and encase it in Pillsbury biscuit dough. She would then bake it. What a waste of perfectly good cheese." Contribute your Spam memories to the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest. See my website for details.

An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part II

Naomi Hirahara

Yesterday I wrote about the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books from largely a visitor’s perspective. Today I will look into the situation of vendors. I was aware that the rental of the booths was not cheap, and a conversation this week confirmed it–the cost, at least for this one vendor, was $2,000 for two 10 by 10 spaces (!). So why would booksellers and publishers, especially small, independent ones, decide to participate in the festival each year?

I, your intrepid reporter, questioned a few booksellers to get their answers.

My hometown mystery bookstore, Book’em Mysteries, has been involved from the very beginning. Count them–that’s 11 consecutive years. In fact, Barry Martin, who owns the bookstore with partner Mary Riley, was a founding participant in the event. Jean Utley, also of the bookstore, writes: "The first year, no one knew just how big or important an event it would be." Apparently one large national chain just brought a folding table, metal cash box, and some poetry listings in their 10 by 10 booth and only made a couple of hundred dollars the first day. Another chain with more foresight made $16,000 that weekend. You can bet that the former chain store made some changes the following year!

Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy, a San Diego-based mystery and fantasy bookstore, shares that she and her partner jumped in after the first year. "It’s a profitable venue and we always enjoy attending. It’s great to see so many thousands of people gathered to celebrate books and reading in a city not particularly known for being a book town."

Sherry Kanzer, who runs the English-language section of the L.A. branch of Kinokuniya, a Japanese book chain, states that the "Festival of Books is an excellent opportunity for us to introduce the ‘faraway’ downtown location of our specialty store to new customers, particularly on the westside." (For those unfamiliar with westside L.A., this area includes West Los Angeles, parts of Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Culver City, Westwood, Santa Monica, etc. Just think of the movie, "Friends with Money.")

Both Kanzer and Book’em’s Utley express that the festival helps with exposure and name recognition. Writes Utley: "We use the opportunity to let people know where our store is located, the kind of books and service we provide, and introduce lots of authors to the community. There are a lot of people we see once a year at this event who return to our booth to buy more books based on our recommendations."

For Kinokuniya (Booth #312), stationery items are a big attraction. (Attention authors, if you need a signing pen, go to the Kinokuniya booth.) Discounted items as well as novelty titles (HAIKUS FOR JEWS) are apparently big sellers. I asked Kanzer whether she sees an increased interest in Japanese mysteries. "There seems to be a direct correlation between the number of Japanese mystery titles published [in original English and in translation] and the rise in interest. My conclusion is: we need more!" That observation should bode well for not only me, but her, her, her, and him.

Utley prides herself on handselling lots of literary mysteries, translations, local authors, historicals, and favorite books at the festival. They sell everything–hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and mass market books. Mysterious Galaxy tends to do better with books signed by authors who limit the number of formal signings they do at the festival.

The festival is a good place to test the waters and do informal market studies. Martin Burton, publisher of London Town Press (Booth #818), is doing precisely that with a reintroduction of the classic, PEDRO, THE ANGEL OF OLVERA STREET, by the legendary Leo Politi to the festival audience. I myself have vivid memories of Politi’s books and I’m planning to go by the London Town Press to purchase some Pedro books as holiday gifts. Burton, who founded his children’s publishing house with one title in 1998, has expanded to publish not only his own picture books, but also photo-nature books which are distributed by Publishers Group West (PGW). Burton explains that he’s had a booth since 2003 "to ‘stake my flag’ in the publishing world, to see and to been seen among publishing professionals, to interact with buyers of my books, and to expose my books to a wide range of buyers, and to test new products as well." Burton sells hundreds of books at each festival.

And finally, why would an out-of-town author spend his precious pennies on travel to the festival? Well, one of the mystery world’s rising stars, Sean Doolittle, is making the 1,500-mile trek from his home in Omaha to L.A. for his third LAT appearance. He writes, "I love this festival. It’s bright and vibrant and colorful, held outdoors during springtime in a city I love to visit. It’s inspiring to see the ‘personal hero’ authors who inevitably attend, it’s fun to hang out with the friends I’ve made in this business over the past five years, and it’s heartening to mingle with the thousands of strangers who turn out to celebrate books."

It’s also an opportunity for writers to network with L.A. booksellers all in one place. Doolittle is particularly indebted to the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, located close to the festival’s location. The store, which annually hosts a Pre-Festival of Books signing party on Friday evening and features a large signing lineup in its booth, has been extremely supportive of Doolittle’s books (I’ve witnessed this myself–I’ve seen a nice table display at the Mystery Bookstore’s promoting his third book, RAIN DOGS) as well as countless others. "When they say they have a slot for me at their booth, I’m there." See his website for where and when Sean will be during this weekend.

Speaking of out-of-state mystery authors at the festival, fellow blogger Pari Noskin Taichert will be traveling all the way from New Mexico. Yay! Check out my website and Pari’s website to get a full list of our signings during that weekend. Tell us what you’d like to see on Murderati and we might be able to comply. Also, in a very late development, I was approached last week to pinch hit for a mystery writer who had to cancel his engagement on the Vroman’s Book Bus. So I’ll be the host for one of the store’s mystery buses, holding 50 people captive during a 45-minute bus ride with a microphone in hand. Seriously, with the bagels, coffee, and trivia questions, I think we all will be in for a fun time.


(in alphabetical order)

Akashic Books #197

Book’em Mysteries #441

Crime Time Books/Sisters in Crime L.A. #221

Mysterious Galaxy/Tor/St. Martin’s Minotaur #601

Mystery Bookstore/MWA #411

Mystery Pier Books (signed collectibles) #612

General location: Book’em is on a corner facing Haines Hall. Mystery Bookstore/MWA is located along the main walkway in the middle of Dickson Plaza. Crime Time Books/Sisters in Crime faces the entrance to Royce Hall. Mysterious Galaxy and Mystery Pier Books are in a completely different section in Dickson Court North, also referred to as Zone F. And Akashic is even further away near the Culinary Stage. Make the trek down the Janss Steps and get a bite to eat while looking at the latest in the Noir series.

MYSTERY PAPERBACK ORIGINALS GLAM IT UP: I would have never imagined that my amateur sleuth, an aging Japanese American gardener, would ever be in a magazine with Tom Hanks on the cover. But yes, in the April 28/May 5 issue of Entertainment Weekly, there is a very nice review of my third mystery, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN. Grade was "B," which is above average, my very kind, sane, and balanced husband reminds me. Also reviewed was BUST, the paperback thriller cowritten by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. They received an excellent "A-." Congratulations, gentlemen!

PRE-EMPTED SPAM: Because of the length of these special Festival of Books posts, our weekly Spam contest entry has been pre-empted. But it will return next week, in addition to some (hopefully) pretty pictures from the Festival of Books.

An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part I

(Note: Bea Brooks has kidnapped Tuesday’s Child Denise Dietz in a move to win the hat contest at Malice Domestic. As a result, Wednesday is beginning a little early this week.)

Naomi Hirahara

I’ve been doing my body crunches and push-ups expressly for this weekend: yup, it’s time for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

I’ve been to the first and every one since–it’s going on its 11th year (wow, unbelievable). I’ve been inspired, angered, energized, and always entertained by the amazing variety of writers at the festival. They have included Sherman Alexie (husband’s favorite), Walter Mosley, Anne Proulx, Maya Angelou, Tony Hillerman, Alexander McCall Smith, Jane Smiley, Percival Everett, Arthur Golden, Sandra Tsing-Loh, Mike Davis, Richard Flanagan, and the list goes on. But what’s even more notable is the sheer number of people who go to this thing, the shine in their eyes as they open up the spine of a new book find, the anticipation as they line up for a panel featuring that favorite writer who they’ve never seen in person before, the conversation between that small press publisher with that special-interest enthusiast. It’s the ultimate rock concert for the book geek.


1) Reportedly 120,000-130,000 people go to this festival, the largest public book gathering in the nation, over its two days. Even if you knock a couple of tens of thousands down for crowd inflation, you have a population that’s larger than most American cities. And they are all folks who are at least nominally interested in the written word. The festival dispels the image of L.A. being a cultural wasteland, concerned with only Botox, celluloid, and cellulite. (But, on the other hand, I won’t mention who Robert Scheer’s going to be talking to on Sunday at noon.)

I love the atmosphere of the event. The crowds are like waves on a beach–it’s mesmerizing to just watch them going from booth to booth.

2) Admission is free. Probably the biggest factor in achieving No. 1.

3) Authors, books, authors, books. To be specific, more than 350 authors and 300 book booths, a bulk of them independent booksellers.


1) That approximately 120,000-130,000 people go to this festival. If you’re not into crowds, what can I say? Well, first of all, go early, even before it officially opens at 10 a.m. Bring some tea or coffee and walk through the Murphy Sculpture Garden. Go to the festival until noon, when the crowd really starts to buzz. The food has vastly improved and the prices are not as outrageous as for a hot dog and Coke at a Laker game, but I’d still recommend you bring water and snacks. Who wants to wait a half an hour for a chicken teriyaki bowl, when you can be looking at more books!

2) Parking has gone up to $8. I like to park in the far north parking structure Lot 3, not recommended for the handicapped or those who have problems walking. Forget about the high heels and kinky boots, and for the fair skinned, bring that hat and sun screen. So far this has said that there’s a small chance of rain on Saturday, but yeah, we’ve heard that before.

3) The festival is usually scheduled on the same weekend as this worthy event.

There will be more than a hundred panels all throughout the weekend–some in lecture rooms that seat 200; one that seats 1,800. Although the events are free, seating is limited in the indoor venues, so it’s best if you get tickets beforehand through Ticketmaster. You have until Thursday at 5 p.m. to preorder, but be prepared, you may leave empty handed. In fact, you had to go stand in line this past Sunday at noon, when tickets were first made available, to get into the more popular events. Apparently at my local Ticketmaster location, more than 50 people were in line an hour before it opened.

If you didn’t get a chance to go to Ticketmaster, don’t despair. The festival holds onto 15 percent of the tickets to distribute on the days of the festival. Each venue also has a stand-by line; just go early. Moreover, there are these outdoor stages that do not require tickets. That’s where you can see T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Crais, and Michael Connelly read and discuss their books. The Children’s Stage is where all the celebrities will be: Henry Winkler, Rhea Perlman, Barney, Billy Crystal, Julie Andrews Edwards, and John Lithgow (will this trend never end?).

This year 1 p.m. on Saturday looks like the panels’ prime-time hour. Joan Didion will be in conversation with L.A. Times book review editor David Ulin; Michael Connelly and Robert Crais will be talking to each other; Ayelet Waldman will be part of a panel on "Fiction: Reinventing the Family." And more.

Authors wonder on how they can get on a panel. The festival is not organized by the L.A. Times Book Review section or editorial staff; you have to approach the festival directly by four to six months earlier. If you need more info, I would suggest you ask this mystery writer, the queen of connections in L.A. Because of some personal stuff that was happening around the holidays, I dropped the ball in trying to get on a panel, but I’ll be signing at a number of booths. With 60,000 individuals who have some interest in books milling about each day, it’s an amazing marketplace.

For example, my easiest book sale ever occurred at the festival last year.

Naomi to a passerby who fit her series reader profile: Hey, you should buy this book.

The passerby, opening his wallet: Okay.

As easy as that. And as Hollywood goes, there’s always a sequel, so turn in tomorrow to hear perspectives from participating booksellers, publishers, and more authors!

My Big, Phat Debut Book Launch

Naomi Hirahara

Every debut novel deserves a big, phat launch, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, you’ve accomplished something you’ve never done before–so celebrate. Secondly, if you’ve been toiling away at the book for five, 10, or 15 years (moi), you’ve probably collected a lot of friends along the way who’ve been anticipating this very day. And a first only comes one time; it can never be repeated.

I have a certain philosophy about launches, resulting from two lightbulb moments. One came when I attended a talk by Walter Mosley at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. After a brief reading of new upcoming book, he went into self-proclaimed P.T. Barnum mode in front of the 500-plus crowd. He announced that he would bestow the galley (advanced reading copy) to someone and called out a random seat number. Everyone turned around to see the number on the back of his or her seat, a shriek, and then the awarding of the galley. Ah, I told myself. Walter Mosley is into fun. I had been a community journalist for a number of years, forced to go to hundreds of rubber chicken dinners that, for the most part, were not fun. I vowed at that point that I make my book events something that people wanted rather than felt obligated to go to.

The second lightbulb moment came when I was speaking to a Japanese editor at my newspaper who had worked at a daily in Hokkaido for decades. He explained to me that the circulation was plummeting at his former paper. To combat this trend, the management went into an aggressive sales campaign. All employees, including editors and reporters, were called upon to participate in a contest to obtain the most new subscriptions. Prizes included appliances, such as a washer and dryer. The campaign worked, and the paper established more stable financial footing.

This concept could never be effectively adopted at an American newspaper, in which the line is more clearly delineated between editorial and advertising/business. But somehow the idea of recruiting a volunteer sales staff stayed with me.

I’m preparing for the launch of my third mystery right now, but I’ll never forget the party for my first. SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI was released in the spring of 2004 and I was all about having fun. Fun for my circle includes food, conversation, surprises, and inter-generational activities. Since I had done some nonfiction books for a local museum in L.A., that venue was a natural choice. And since the museum had a bookstore, all the better. Wherever you may have your launch, you’ll want a bookstore involved. That way people will be familiar with the location and can easily go back for more books.

The BIG BACHI book launch was part of the museum’s calendar of events–the institution provided tables, chairs, table cloths, and drinks. I wanted people to talk to one another, so the museum put out round tables. Family (thank you, Mom) and wonderful friends brought in homemade food, potluck-style. We also purchased trays of sushi from a local grocery store.

Many of my friends have young children, so I needed to factor that into018_15 the mix. The answer came in the form of a family friend who’s a professional magician. He and another friend, a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) player, roamed the crowd before and after the program, so that no one felt bored or restless. A writing group I belonged to co-sponsored the reading and paid for some of the entertainment expenses. Although I’ve never applied myself, Sisters in Crime as well as Poets & Writers offer reading grants; they need ample lead and promotion time, so it’s never too early to start investigating those funding opportunities.

At the end, in Walter Mosley-like fashion, were door prizes. These included inexpensive and silly objects that were either mentioned in or related to my first book: a twenty-pound bag of rice, garden house, children’s garden gloves, and a deck of cards.


It was fun and it was phat. Close to 200 people attended and approximately 250 books sold. And I will never have a book event so elaborate again, but still try to always incorporate fun in every event I do.

Later, looking back at my debut launch, I realized that the party helped to recruit my volunteer sales staff to spread the word of mouth to their circle of acquaintances. ("What did you do this weekend?" "Oh, I went to this big, phat book party.") Most of us newbies aren’t going to start off with a touring or a large advertising budget, so you’ll be depending largely on the support and kindness of friends and relatives. Hopefully, with the second, third, and successive books, you’ll have widened your audience far beyond people you know. But some faithful members of that first volunteer workforce will stick by you with each book. You’ve expended a lot of time and creativity in producing that published work, savor the experience in releasing it to your readers.

If you are planning your first book launch, give us some details about your book, your circle of contacts, and what city you’ll be having your party. Maybe the collective minds at Murderati or I will have some ideas we can throw your way in a future blog entry! Use the comments feature or send us an e-mail.

MORE SPAM: From Elaine Yamaguchi of Woodland, California: ". . . there is just nothing better than Spam fried rice with a nice fried egg on top. The yolk should still be runny. Mmmmm." She also included a step-by-step recipe, which will be posted at a later date. See the website on how to submit your entry to the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest!

NEXT WEDNESDAY’S L.A. MIX: It’s all about the L.A. Times Festival of Books, baby!

Photos by Dean Hayasaka

A Mixed-Up Sense of Style

Naomi Hirahara

I’ve worn different hats in my life of writing, and I still do so today. I’ve been a newspaper reporter and editor, technical writer, p.r. flack, biographer, nonfiction writer, and now mystery author as well as a small press publisher and editor.

I have an Achilles’ heel, and I’m the first to admit it–I’m not the best copyeditor (or is it copy editor?). I don’t know if it’s because I’m a speed reader or that I’m more of a forest person rather than a single tree person. But one thing is for sure, wearing all these different hats sometimes makes my head spin, especially when it comes literally to dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s. Luckily I have some very talented copyeditors at my disposal who tell me what’s what.

When I worked in journalism, our bible was the revered Associated Press Stylebook. Spiral-bound, it informed us about whether we should use abbreviations St., Ave., or Blvd. (only with numbered addresses) or whether the phrase, "under way," should be one word or two (usually two). We were a small newsroom and I probably should have created our own stylebook, but there wasn’t enough time in the day.

In the book world, the publisher depends on the Chicago Manual of Style, a thick tome costs as much as it weighs (perhaps ten bucks a pound?). I don’t even own the manual but I’m fairly familiar with its style recommendations. In addition to using the Chicago Manual, the copyeditor creates her own style sheet which essentially is a handwritten list of how certain words in the book will be spelled and punctuated.

You can always contest an established style. For instance, I don’t like hyphenating Japanese American, Korean American, African American, etc., whether they are being used as nouns or adjectives. (That’s pretty much the standard for academics in the field of ethnic history. No hyphenated Americans here!)

Some book authors get irritated by the Post-Its that a copyeditor places on their manuscript to mark corrected pages, but I welcome them. Better to catch any possible mistakes now instead of later. If you don’t agree with a change, you just write STET, which is Latin for "to stand," and the judge, you the author, have ruled. No change. Case closed. The freelance copyeditor my publisher hired caught some important time-related continuity problems. And I’m eternally grateful to the amazing unnamed in-house proofreader who pointed out my inaccurate definition of the Japanese colloquialism, ronpari eyes, meaning wall-eyed. (I had described it in an earlier draft as one eye facing Rome, the other Paris, but it’s supposed to be London and Paris. I guess my European geography is weak as well!)

Here are the three elements of style that have been my bane in my jump from journalism to book publishing:

1) Numbers

Okay, after a decade in journalism, I had gotten it down. For whole numbers from one to nine, you spell it out. From 10 and above, however, you use numerals. Among the exceptions include ages, which you use figures in all cases, i.e. a 2-year-old. When I enter book writing, the rules completely changed. The Chicago Manual of Style wants most numbers spelled out, including World War Two vs. World War II.

2) Italicization

Forget all the underlining you learned in high school and college to site sources. It means nothing for both newspapers and book publishers. According to the Associated Press Stylebook, book titles should be in quotes; in the Chicago Manual of Style, they are italicized. Confusing!

And in my books, with all the Japanese words, it’s a typesetter’s nightmare. Italics abound. But not in all cases–those words in the latest edition of Webster’s dictionary (sake, sumo, nori, judo, Issei and Nisei, for example), are not italicized. These are now bonafide American English words. With each new edition of Webster’s, the language continues to evolve each year.

3) Punctuation

Oh, I haven’t had the nerve to read Eat, Shoots & Leaves after seeing how the book treats long dashes, also known as em-dashes. I had been hot and heavy in a nonfiction book project and was going back and forth with the designer on just this topic. I argued that there should be no space before and after the long dash; the designer wanted the opposite. Guess what Eat, Shoots & Leaves advocates? I guess it’s a British thing, along with humour, grey, cheque, single quotation marks, and the usage of quotes with punctuation marks. Ai-ya! I’m going to have to have my blogmate Simon Wood explain this all to me since I’m heading toward Rome but should be going to London. Contrary to ES&L’s style, we went with no spaces.

And I won’t get into commas and apostrophes, because now looking at my blog entry, all I can see are mistakes and style inconsistencies.

Let’s just end it here and I’ll say hooray for those who love to copyedit! Because that’s one sense of style that will probably elude me the rest of my life. And hope and pray that Murderati doesn’t adopt a uniform style–that will just add another set of rules that I’ll inevitably end up breaking.

A very peaceful Passover, Easter, and belated Spring Equinox to all.

NOW A LITTLE BIT OF SPAM: The following is an entry in my inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest. From Liz Peck of Albuquerque, New Mexico: "Growing up, we had Spam with brown sugar and mustard, like a small, ‘pretend’ ham. I can picture Papa now (who cooked our meals) caring the Lilliputian size main course, just like a ham!" Send you Spam experiences to me and be in the running for a wonderful basket of goodies. See my website for details. I’ll be selecting one entry to be featured each week on Murderati until June, when the winner will be revealed!

Who’s on Third?

Naomi Hirahara

My husband didn’t know the meaning of his Japanese middle name until he married me.

I broke the bad news to him. "Third Son."


"Number Three Boy." It was plain, it was boring, and it was also totally true. Two older brothers had come before him. To be branded the third is a youngest child’s nightmare.

I’ve been thinking a lot about threes these days because my third mystery that’s coming out at the end of April. With each book has come different feelings. The first book–EUPHORIA, I’m in, ask me anything about publishing, I know all. The second book–total FEAR of the sophomore slump syndrome, is my writing career over? And now the third book–a tiny bit JADED, I kind of know the drill, but I also realize that I know little at all.

Three Little Things I Definitely Know About the Book Biz

  1. Do not wear a top with a large floral design in your author’s photo. You will look like a yakuza with a total upper body tattoo. You will also be contending with the same photo three years later.
  2. L.A. is a good place for a writer without a touring budget to live (that is, if you bought property in the 1990s or earlier!). Did you know that more books are purchased in our corner of the Left Coast than anywhere else in the U.S.? (Who would have thunk it?) To honor the area and help out-of-towners negotiate our knotty mass, I will be doing occasional profiles of local booksellers, librarians, newspapers, book festival planners, and media escorts in this space. Included will be cheap but good places to eat (a necessity!) and driving instructions. Many people are sold on GPS, but any device that tells someone to take the 5 N to the 110 N to go from Irvine to Pasadena at the height of rush hour on a Friday evening needs its chip examined. (FYI, for this route, it’s much more saner to travel on the 57 N to the 210 W.)
  3. Change is inevitable. Change before change gets you. Stay tuned for more about that.

I’m looking forward to getting to know you and my blogmates better as I travel this third year of mysterydom. Ichi, ni, san–let’s go!