Monday, September 29, 2008

ON HURRICANES

Or: YOU CANNOT MAKE THIS STUFF UP

It’s a love story. A thriller. A tale of fear and friendship and family. It’s about the power of nature and the power of hard work. And of how the love of reading and writing brings us all together.


David and McKenna, off on their once in a lifetime romantic wedding adventure. Back home in Houston, their dear Murder By the Book in the path of the massive and destructive Hurricane Ike. The valiant bookstore owners, fighting nonstop and all night to save their precious inventory from rising water and howling wind. David and McKenna struggling to return, sheltered along the way by faithful friends.


And when the sun finally came up and the lights came on? All was back to–somewhat—normal.

Hank chatted with McKenna to get the whole scoop.

Hank: Start from the beginning. You had just had a lovely jetset wedding…

McKenna Jordan: Yes! David (Thompson) the assistant manager and I were on our honeymoon in Paris when we heard about the hurricane. The wedding was September 6 in Scotland –so when we left for the wedding we were worried about Hurricane Gustav. When we heard it went elsewhere, we were thrilled.

H: So you got married…


M: Yes, we got married, and went to Paris for the honeymoon. And it was there we heard on CNN that Ike was headed our way. And it was big and bad and ugly.


H: What did you do?


M: So we started getting concerned, and we were tracking its progress as often as we could. We were scheduled to fly home Friday the 12, they day it hit. We tried to switch to an earlier flight so we could get here, but hey unfortunately they wouldn’t let us to do that. Our flight was scheduled to get in 40 minutes before the airport had closed. But then they cancelled the flight altogether.


H: So were you trapped in Paris?


M: Well, David and I are friends with Alafair Burke and her husband Sean (Simpson), so I called them at 4am to see if we could switch our flights to New York so we could be in the US when the hurricane hit.
So we switched flights to New York—and they were gracious enough to put us up for 4 days! And then at we were able to get one of the first flights back into Houston on Monday.


H: Had you been in contact with everyone back home?


M: Oh, yes. We were up all night Friday, phoning home every 30 minutes to check on my mother and grandmother, and the store’s owners, Martha and Les Farrington.


H: What did they say?


M: Cell phone use for them was limited, but they said they had taped the windows and put plastic sheeting over the books and picked everything up off the floor in case of flooding. Actually Les wound up spending the night here Friday. He used towels to mop up by hand, and then he’d go out into the storm and wring them out, all by hand, all to keep the water out. With the storm, wet vacs were not an option.


Les is the one who kept the store in such great shape. As a result of his hard work, we don’t have to replace the carpet! Fortunately the front windows were all intact and no books were damaged. So we were fortunate as we could be. Of course we didn’t have electricity for 8 days! So that made sales tricky.


H: Was the store open? When?


M: On Tuesday, David and I came up and we were open for business for anyone who wanted to come in and buy books. Seventy per cent of the city didn’t have electricity, so people were trying to find generators and gasoline, more important things in this case, of course. But we were here and were able to ring people up. We had no electricity, and so no air conditioning, but the weather was dry and cool on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and it was lovely. So we didn’t need the AC. And it was good for drying out the carpet!


It had definitely flooded, and there was no way to suck the water out. We got a generator Wednesday, at which point we could get fans on. And we got a computer up and running, which helped with people being able to call and we could look up their orders. We took an old plug in phone from 1979 and had that here so we could accept calls, and I think we did pretty well. Don Winslow actually signed on Wednesday! And we had about 30 people!


H: That’s amazing. Those are some devoted readers!


M: I think at that point, people were ready to have something to do. No one could go to work, no school, no electricity, so it was nice for our regular customers to get back into their regular routines, even a book signing.
We hadn’t adjusted the time of the event, so it was almost completely dark!

But he was a real trooper, so he appreciated the turnout. It was a fun evening—stressful! But fun. We took him out for hot dogs and hamburgers at a local restaurant—all they had was their grill.


By Friday it was hot! And we were thankful for the fans being on. It was really uncomfortable again, no electricity. We were all dreading Saturday. But then--the electricity was on again! And we all let out a sigh of relief.


H: What books did you sell during the storm?


M: Interred With Their Bones, just came out in paperback. That was a big book for us last year. The other one’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s not a mystery but an excellent book.


(David? What else did we sell?) Oh yes, the new George Pelecanos. We love that.

It has been a long three and a half weeks. We just got electricity back in our home this past Thursday, a few days after the storm. We’ve been living out of our luggage since Tuesday! Also we had David Handler here for a signing and he was scheduled to stay with us...so we were hoping to have electricity for that! And it came just in time.


H: Is your house okay?


M: Our house is fine, we had a tree lean—fall—on the corner of the garage. Now it’s been cut down, and there’s a tarp over the hole.


H: So. You go off for a glamorous wedding and honeymoon. Talk about unpredictable…


M: Yes, we’ll never forget it—it’s definitely a trial by fire on this whole marriage thing. And we came through with flying colors!


Here’s the other interesting element. The store owners retired in December, and they were trying to get through the year without any drama. And then this! I’m the one buying the store, and I’m hoping we don’t have another hurricane under my watch. But now at least we have the experience.


H: Any words to your fans and friends?


M: We were swamped with trying to catch up…overwhelmed with all the work, but what was a constant pleasure daily was getting the emails of support from customers and authors, people checking in on us. We even had an author offer to help, offered to fly in from Florida! Everyone has been wonderful. Customers have brought us food, and anything we needed, even gasoline for our generator. It’s been such a nice show of support for the store and everyone concerned.


H: So—does the wedding fade into the background?


M: David and I were pretty surprised. Some customers came in, and the first thing they said was Congratulations! And we’re like--for what?

H: We’re glad you’re home and happy—and we’ll all come visit when we can! Meanwhile—check out Murder By the Book on their website. (Since 1980, where a good crime is had by all!)


(MURDER BY THE BOOK is one of the nation's oldest & largest mystery specialty bookstores, established in 1980 by Martha Farrington. The store stocks over 25,000 books -- new & used, hardbacks & paperbacks, first editions, collectibles, gift items, mystery magazines, and more. They host dozens of the hottest mystery and crime authors for book signing events every year and have welcomed everyone from Dick Francis to P. D. James, Sue Grafton to Robert Crais, Michael Connelly to Patricia Cornwell, James Lee Burke to Daniel Silva.)




And watch this space for more news on bookstores we love.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the happy couple. And what great news that your new store is okay!

Joann Breslin

Amy MacKinnon said...

Oh my goodness, what brave people they are and such devoted booksellers. Both David and McKenna were kind enough to pre-order a bunch of my books and send them to me to be signed before selling them. I think it's my turn to do something nice for them. Thanks, Hank, for bringing us this amazing story!

Roberta Isleib said...

Congratulations on the wedding--and the week in Paris too! So glad you had two happy endings...

Jan Brogan said...

Wow.
You have to forgive me, I used to be a business reporter, so I was rivited by this angle on the hurricane. Of the many horrors I imagined I never thought of what an incredible threat it was to a bookstore. This story made it all very real.
Congratulations to you all for surviving. Congratulations on your marriage. And what wild memories you will always have of Ike!
My daughter's boyfriend comes from Houston and she keeps telling me I have to go there! Now, I'm really intrigued.

Laura said...

Congratulations on your marriage! I think, though, that since you spent so much time worrying in Paris you must go back on an anniversary--well out of hurricane season!