Author Deborah Reed discovered Manzanita in 2011 when she was invited to take part in the Manzanita Writer’s Series. Right off, Reed was hooked. In her words, “I fell in love and kept coming out,” she said. “It became a writer’s sanctuary for me.”
And a productive one at that. Reed has since published four novels, including her latest, Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan. The book is the subject of a virtual conversation Oct. 17 sponsored by the Manzanita Writers’ Series, featuring Reed and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editor Nicole Angeloro. The two will discuss how authors and editors work to “hone and shape fiction on the page.” Tickets are $10 and registration is available here.
OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT
Reed, now a full-time resident of Manzanita, purchased the city’s much-loved Cloud & Leaf Bookstore about a year and a half ago. We talked to her about what it’s like to be the new owner of a bookstore, and during a pandemic, no less. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.
How did you come to own Cloud & Leaf, formerly owned by Jody Swanson?
Reed: I moved to Manzanita full-time about six years ago with the intention of living out my life as a quiet writer, hidden away. A couple of years ago, Jody Swanson said she was looking to sell the store and I kind of panicked. What if someone buys it and doesn’t take care of it, or turns it into something weird? I just felt possessive of it and thought OK, I guess I’m going to own a bookstore. It was not my dream.
You took over full-time July 1, 2019. What do you have to say about bookselling nearly a year and a half later?
As it turns out it, has been a complete joy to take over the store and get to know my community better. It feels like being a steward of something that is treasured.
What was the response from the community and patrons?
It’s been a mixed response. Some people shared with me that they were very worried when they heard that Jody was selling it and they were skeptical of me. They didn’t know me. They didn’t know I lived here. Jody would assure people that the store was going to be in good hands.
The other response was, “Thank goodness it’s you. We’re so happy you are the one who took it over.” They felt relief that it was me, and I was a writer, and Jody was so approving and felt it was in good hands.
How did those first months go?
It was summer so it was like jumping into the deep end of the pool and figuring out how to swim. I did work behind the scene with Jody before she handed me the keys, but that’s not the same as, “Here are the keys, take it over.” It was a very steep learning curve. Super busy. But it was way more fun than I thought it would be. I was concerned that I would screw something up. I thought, as long as I don’t ruin it, it’s going to be OK. I knew the inventory already as a reader and writer and teacher of creative writing. It seemed a natural transition.
The only thing I have been surprised about is the outpouring of emotion that takes place in this bookstore. Jody warned me…. People come in and divulge things. There’s something about being around books. People just feel comfortable, like you’re a bartender or something. Total strangers will tell you things. I had someone tell me her husband had just died and she was looking for books on grief and we both started crying together.
Are guests ever obviously rude or unkind?
I hear stories from employees who work on the weekends, people who scoff at the displays of books about racism and white supremacy we have out now as we move through this cultural moment. They say they’re tired of feeling white guilt. But it is incredibly rare. We get really such good and kind and generous responses from people in the store. I think the thing that has shocked me and still shocks me is when people say, “I think I’ll just get this on Amazon.” It never not shocks me.
You were in business less than a year when COVID-19 changed our world. How did it affect you?
It was scary. I was thinking, as long as I don’t ruin the bookstore, and then comes this pandemic, and I had to shut the doors to people. I had to keep going. I would take orders over the phone and deliver to people’s doorsteps. It took five times longer to do each transaction. I had to manually write credit card information and addresses and put it all in the system. I couldn’t pay my employees, so I was doing this seven days a week, from March 15 to May 15. There was no way to know how long this was going to go on. I didn’t want to just shut the door and wait for it to be over, so I modified and did what I could do. It was absolutely exhausting. Then I had this mixed feeling when everyone descended on town. Yes, I wanted to sell them books, but at the same time, are we all going to die because of it?
There was a silver lining of sorts, yes?
Visitors started coming right before we had to close the doors. There were signs all around town, you could still order, just call me. You can pick up curbside. I was still staying busy with the locals and visitors that way. It turned out to be a great thing; it kept me going. Amazon deprioritized book delivery because they had to prioritize food and cleaners. If you ordered books, it would tell you can’t get books. The library was closed. I became the only source for people. I shipped to people in other parts of the state and country, people who wanted to make sure the bookstore kept going. It has remained that way. It has been an advantage for me. The bookstores in Portland just opened, so people from Portland would come out here and be thrilled they could get inside a bookstore. In some ways, the pandemic has helped me keep going. I do have limited hours — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily — and only four people in the store at a time. It’s been busy, steadily busy.
Do you notice any changes in what people want to read?
People do not want to read dystopian plague novels very much. I think that’s why Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan is resonating. There is a tranquility about it. Getting through difficult times, mirroring things in a private way of personal sentiment. That’s what I’m finding people what to read. They want stories that make them feel something other than despair. Hopeful stories, funny stories. They still want to read meaningful work, but not the kind with a sense of hopelessness.