Feb 11 2011 5:00am

Author Anecdote: Carolyn Jewel Remembers

When I was in my twenties, I lived in Berkeley, California and worked in downtown Oakland. I made frequent visits to the Holmes Bookstore in Oakland, which, happily for me, was only a few blocks from where I worked. I don’t live there anymore, but if I wanted to, I could make the drive in under two hours.

There’s no reason, though, because those three stories of new and used books now exist only in the recollections of people like me. Inevitably, there will come a day when the Holmes Bookstore will cease to exist even in memory. Years hence, some author of historical fiction (I suppose the fiction might not be in book form) will come across an arcane digital remnant—a blueprint or map perhaps, and rub her hands with glee at locating the perfect place for her bookish heroine to meet her hero. So quaint, those old-time books.

In those days, I did not own a car. Many weekends I walked the several miles from Berkeley to Oakland so I could browse the bookstore for longer than the length of my lunch hour. One lunchtime afternoon, though, I needed to buy office supplies—pens or notebooks, probably. On that that afternoon, which was very hot as I recall, instead of going to the bookstore where I could step inside and breathe in the scent of all those pages, I went to an office supply store on Broadway.  It’s a fact that, after a well-stocked bookstore, an office supply store is my favorite place to be. All those lovely doodads for a writer to hold and use! In an office supply store, I become a believer. I believe those pens and that notebook will make the writing go well. At the very least, they make that part of my process less dreary.

Since I was buying office supplies that day, I think I must have already started work on my first novel. My habit then (as it is now) was to brainstorm my story in a notebook before sitting down to write. It wasn’t called brainstorming then, and I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I had not read a single How To book on writing and so did not know that the prevailing wisdom in those days was a highly structured approach to writing that, when I tried to follow it after my second novel was published—even with my blissful ignorance of the correct method—completely killed my ability to write a novel anyone wanted to read. Including me.

The gentleman behind the counter of the office supply store was tall and thin and he stood straight. Whenever I recall this encounter, I find myself thinking that perhaps he was not as old as he looked. His hair was gray, but going white. He was probably in his sixties. My impression now is that the lights were dim inside. That particular afternoon was so hot that he must have wanted to keep the store cooler by having the lights low. My recollection, though, is fiercely present only at the counter, where I paid for and received my writing supplies. Around me, behind and to the sides, the store was dim. As he rang up my supplies, I remember thinking that he looked tired. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his blue button-down shirt, all the way to his elbows. His only customer was me, a young woman writing a novel in complete secrecy and buying the right pens and the perfect notebooks. Making up stories made me real in a way that nothing else did. Outside, there were patches of bright bright, too hot sun and shadows cast by the buildings. Inside, the store was quiet and the lights were dim, and he stretched out his hand, his arm bare to his elbow, to accept my money. I have always assumed he was the owner of the store.

What I remember is that I looked down and on the pale skin of his forearm there was a blue letter D followed by several numbers, also blue. They were not perfectly even. For the space of three seconds my world stopped. In my memory, the world stops, too. When I looked up our eyes met and I wanted to say, I am so sorry. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. I just looked at him and felt guilty for my blonde hair and blue eyes and drowned in what those blue numbers meant. I recall that I wrote down the numbers when I was out of his sight. I think if I went back through my old notebooks, I would find that string of numbers. I never have, because despite how often this memory returns, I am afraid of making those numbers more than one memory.


Carolyn Jewel lives in Northern California. She writes Romance and bakes a lot, except when she is at the day job. You can find her on the web, on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can find her books online and at fine bookstores everywhere.

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