Life Imitating Art: Interview with Author Paul Combs

paul

paulI met author Paul Combs through a mutual friend. He’s a fellow NaNoWriMo-er and introduced me to the editor who worked on my first novel. Though we’ve actually only met in person once, he’s been an encourager through my journey. He’s independently published two novels, The Last Word and Writer in Residence — a two-book series about cousins thrown together to save and run the family book store. And now he’s doing something truly amazing.

He’s opening a book store. And not just any bookstore. In a fun reversal of a popular adage, it’s an instance of life imitating art — the store will be inspired by the one in his novels. How cool is that?

I have been following Paul’s journey for a while now and want to introduce him to you today. Before we get started, I’ve got to tell you the most exciting part. Until March 15, you have the chance to help make this happen! If you believe in the priceless value a bookstore can bring to a town (this one will be in Fort Worth, TX), want to support an independent author/business owner, or simply love books, then visit Paul’s GoFundMe page and make a donation. He’s already raised over $8,000 but a donation of any amount is greatly appreciated. If we all gave a little, imagine the difference it would make!

Now, let’s get to know Paul!

Tell us a little about your vision for The Last Word Bookstore. What will set it apart?
In an ideal world it would be a cross between the store I created in my first novel, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, and John Cusack’s record store in the film High Fidelity…but profitable. In reality, my vision is of a place that is more than simply a store where you buy books. I want it to be the proverbial community space as well, a place where people can have real, face-to-face discussions about books and the myriad ideas contained within them without the conversations descending into the arguments that are all too common in every facet of life today. That would certainly set it apart.
What I hope will set it apart in a more tangible way will be, among other things, the books we carry. There will be the normal best-sellers you would expect, but also books you’re not likely to find at a big-box store or simply stumble across online. For example, there will be a section dedicated solely to literature in translation, and not just because many of the finest writers alive today are not American or British. It’s also because you are more likely to gain insight and understanding into another culture by reading what someone from that culture writes than from what the media tells you they are like.
The store will also promote and feature local authors, whether traditionally or indie published. With so many great writers never discovered because publishers would rather put out the newest “novel” by the Kardashian sisters (this has really happened), I have a secret dream of discovering that the next Hemingway has been toiling away in obscurity in a garage apartment near TCU. That would be cool.
 
The name of the store is the same as the title of your novel. What made you decide to bring the store to life?
I considered a number of names over the years before realizing I already had the name. Plus, it’s a cool confluence of fiction and life: People will be able to buy The Last Word at The Last Word. I like the blurring of lines.
 
You published your two novels independently. What was that experience like and did it influence your choice to open the store?
Publishing The Last Word and Writer in Residence was a very interesting experience, as I learned to format text for printing and create covers and many other parts of the process of bringing a book to life that you normally don’t think about. Going the independent route was only partially a choice however. In some ways it was thrust upon me after too many literary agents and publishers rejected the manuscript with basically the same explanation: “There are no zombie vampires seeking BDSM-love in a dystopian future society where children hunt each other for our amusement here! No one will buy this!” They’re right, of course; there’s not a single vampire dominatrix in either of my books. Maybe next time.
Writing and indie publishing the novel did not really influence my decision to open the store; that desire was there long ago. I do hope that the actual store can be as entertaining to visit as the fictional one was to write.
 
What’s the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned about publishing or bookselling during this process?
There have been enough interesting and surprising things to fill a book and I haven’t even opened the store yet, but I’ll give you one from each aspect. As for publishing/writing, the thing that has surprised me the most is how stumped I still get when someone finds out I’m a writer and asks what my novel is about. I mean, I wrote the thing, lived with it for years (decades in the case of one character), and I can’t seem to describe it in a concise way, at least verbally. I’m much better writing my answers.
With regard to bookselling, I don’t have a lot of the cool anecdotes yet that every bookseller has once they are open for business, like the customer who comes in and says they are looking for a book, can’t remember the title or author, but know that the cover is blue. My most surprising, and encouraging, experience has been how excited people have gotten when I tell them I’m opening a bookstore. The media would have you believe that print is dead and bookstores are dead. Neither are true. 
Do you plan to continue writing? If so, are you working on anything at the moment readers should be on the lookout for?
I am still writing, though my writing schedule has been sadly sporadic as I’m trying to get the store off the ground (no really, I’m not just procrastinating like every other writer on the planet). I actually hope to have another novel out before the fall; the one I’m currently working on has the Apostle Paul returning to earth to visit one of the characters from my first two novels. It might get me thrown out of the church, but I’m used to that.
What you were doing before you left your job to devote 100% of your time and energy to the store’s development. What was the catalyst?
I spent the last 19 years working for a network of Oncology doctors, always with the plan of starting the bookstore once my kids were grown, but two key events accelerated the process. First, my company decided that my entire department would be much more cost-effective if it was moved to India. Shortly after I learned this, I asked my youngest daughter if it was a crazy idea to open a bookstore. Her reply: “No crazier than talking about it all these years and never doing it.” That settled it.
Thanks, Paul, for spending some time with us today! Readers, head over here now to make your donation in support of The Last Word. I’ll keep you all up to date on progress and have a big old party when its doors open!

Keep in touch with Paul on his blog and The Last Word Bookstore Facebook page.

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2 thoughts on “Life Imitating Art: Interview with Author Paul Combs

  1. This is so fun and exciting! Thank you Teresa for sharing it, here. I look forward to seeing this bookstore in person. I am putting it on my list of things to do when I make it over to Ft. Worth!!! Paul, I wish you all the best!

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