Martha Note: Carol Hoenig has been a leading author in the indie world from the beginning of its recent explosive growth. Her novel, Without Grace has won awards and sells like hotcakes. Fortunately, good books by hardworking authors often find their way into the hands of readers. Enjoy Carol’s recollections of the early days of both her career and Borders bookstores.
By Carol Hoenig
I remember the day I first walked into Borders Books and Music on Long Island. It wasn’t opened yet to the public and I was applying to be a part time bookseller; part time because I still had three children at home who depended on me, my youngest in the third grade. It wasn’t as though I needed the money, (not then, anyway, in my pre-divorced stage) but rather, I was looking for a way “in.” I wanted to be around those in the book business since I was a writer with intentions of finding a publisher for my first novel, then titled Writings in the Sand.
Admittedly, I felt out of my realm. After all, I wasn’t raised around books, the only ones on my mother’s metal bookstand Readers Digest versions, with the Bible given center stage. I lived in such a rural area that even the biggest town forty miles away didn’t boast a bookstore. I do recall, though, one summer finding a few paperbacks in the Five & Ten seven miles from my house and being allowed to buy a Dr. Kildare book, based on the TV show. Don’t judge. The only time I did have access to books of any quality was when school was in session. So, often, in order to entertain myself, especially during the long summer months, I wrote my own stories, never thinking I would someday get my works published.
I admit to feeling intimidated when I walked into Borders that day, believing I really wasn’t qualified since I didn’t have books at my fingertips while growing up. However, to my surprise, I did get hired, after having to take and pass a test, which quizzed my book and music knowledge. Every time after when I walked into that store I would get a feeling of anticipation: what new books would be waiting in the stockroom? Would I be able to introduce a customer to the new Ann Tyler publication? Eventually, though, after being promoted, I moved on to the Borders Park Avenue location in Manhattan to help open it as its Community Relations Coordinator. However, I was still writing. My first novel was on the back burner while my second, Without Grace, was complete. I did make the publishing connections that I wanted in a roundabout way, even got myself not one, but two, high-profile literary agents—not at the same time, of course. Nevertheless, without going into detail since one of those agents will not come across as very professional, they were of little help in getting me that publishing deal. Thankfully, Susan Driscoll, then CEO of iUniverse, heard my story, asked to have me send my manuscript to her editor, who believed it deserved to be read. So she published it gratis.
All of this was going on while Borders was opening one store after the next, even opening one in Plattsburgh, which was about forty miles away from where I grew up. I was thrilled for the people up there to have access to what I and those of my era did not. Still, the company was making a number of missteps and people, people who cared about the business of books, were let go. The day I got my first book review for Without Grace, one that was gratifying and validating, was the same day that my job was eliminated. That was 2005. Thankfully, though, I was given the opportunity to do an event at that bookstore in Plattsburgh. It was standing room only, my parents given front-row seating. They didn’t know what to make of it, my father never having read an entire book in his life.
Sadly, though, as I write this, Borders Corporation is in the process of liquidating, which means stores like those in Plattsburgh and other smaller towns will lose something of value. Sure, there is Amazon, but how unfortunate that the generations to come will not know what it’s like to walk through doors to see shelves upon shelves filled with ideas, thoughts, foolishness, or dreams, between pages that are bound in books. They will not know the aroma that those books carry. Or the excitement of tripping upon one that they may never have heard of, otherwise. For today, though, I’m just grateful to have had that experience.