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.

10 thoughts on “San Diego’s Independent Jewel: Mysterious Galaxy

  1. Louise Ure

    What a wonderful interview, Naomi! And say hey to all my friends at Mysterious Galaxy. They were grand hosts to me when “Forcing Amaryllis” came out. I had a terrific time there!

  2. Sue Trowbridge

    It’s a very sad day here in Berkeley because it was just announced that 50-year-old landmark Cody’s Books on Telegraph Ave. is closing its doors in July. I have bought many books and attended lots of signings (including Bill Clinton!) at that cherished store. It’s nice to hear about independent bookstores that are still doing well in a very tough business, and have lots of loyal customers. I will definitely try to stop by Mysterious Galaxy next time I’m in San Diego!

  3. Naomi


    Thanks for the heads-up on Cody’s. I was out of the home office for some appointments and other friends had also e-mailed me about that and A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books. (I’ve updated the post to include a couple links to articles.) Kepler has had problems, too. I’m wondering what’s going on with the independent book scene in Northern Cal.

  4. Naomi


    I didn’t get a chance to mention this earlier, but it was wonderful to meet you and your beautiful brood at the Festival of Books. So you have a fancy graphics job, write books, AND raise multiple children. My hat’s off to you, man.

    And that’s going to be your topic (something about a day job) at ThrillerFest, right? Bring the sunscreen. Looking at the bad sunburns on the sports announcers and coaches at the last Phoenix game makes me think it’s plenty hot there. Go Clippers!

  5. Elaine

    I’m late to the party-been out on errands all day, but I wanted to add my two-cents and congratulate Naomi for an absolutely terrific post today! And did I say that I LOVE Mysterious Galaxy? I had one of my first signings there and I was treated as if I were a best seller! I’ve never forgotten MaryElizabeth’s kindness. So, Happy Birthday Mysterious!!!

  6. M_eHart

    :: waves to all and sundry ::

    Naomi, I love that you mentioned Jeff’s “mug.” It’s very cowboy-like and totally appropriate.

    Thanks for helping us celebrate our special occasion!

  7. Brett Battles

    Thanks, Naomi. Wish we had more time to talk…maybe next time. And yes, the panel I’m on is called (I think) “What Do You Mean I Can’t Quit My Day Job: New Writers Tell It Like It Is.” Should be interesting.

    And, yes, sunblock will definitely be in my bag.

  8. Robin Burcell

    Happy Book Mitzvah, Mysterious Galaxy!!!

    I can say that visiting your store has been one of my writerly highlights. Can’t wait to get out there again.

    Thanks, Naomi for bringing us this great interview!


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