This past Tuesday night, The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale was crawling with literary enthusiasts, eager to hear five authors talk about their books. People who weren't sitting in the circle of chairs around authors Dianne Emley, Mary Anna Evans, Larry Karp, Peter Steiner, and Simon Wood were squeezing through the aisles with books in hand on their way to the register.
This is a regular scene at The Poisoned Pen, which has been a staple in old town Scottsdale for nearly 22 years. The independent bookstore hosts multiple author signings every week, and will have a horde of writers at its upcoming Poisoned Pen Conference, taking place June 24 through 26 at the store and the Arizona Biltmore.
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Although The Poisoned Pen is known primarily as a mystery bookstore, they also carry a sizable selection of books in other genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, and Young Adult. There are also small sections for books on history, travel, and food, but for the most part, Poisoned Pen sells fiction. "You don't need a bookseller to sell you a book on how to fix your Volkwagen or how to grow tomatoes. 80 percent of what's published is non-fiction, but for the 20 percent that is fiction, people really rely on advice," says Poisoned Pen owner Barbara Peters.
And Peters and her staff are avid readers known to give great advice.
"When people come in and say, 'Sell me a good book,' that means something different for every single person that asks that question," Peters says. "If you're a good bookseller, you have to traingulate in on them through a series of questions about what they're going to define as a good book so you can match them up with something they'll really like."
Peters says she reads every book they sell each month, including the books authors come to sign. She moderates the author signings, introducing each author and their books and prompting discussion with questions.
Over the years, Poisoned Pen has hosted countless signings with prominent authors like Clive Cussler, Sue Grafton, and Rita Mae Brown, along with nationally-known local scribes like Diana Gabaldon and Michael Stackpole. Photos of authors hang from every spot on the store's ceiling. "We're really here to facilitate human interaction. The world is moving online, but people really like a sense of community," Peters says. "They want to come in and share their enthusiasm for a book for an author, and the authors like coming in."
Almost 20 authors will be coming in for the Poisoned Pen's "I Came Late to..." conference next weekend, including Diana Gabaldon, Jane Austen mystery writer Stephanie Barron, Michael Koryta (author of the thriller So Cold the River), Gary Phillips (editor of Orange County Noir), Charlie Fox mysteries writer Zoe Sharp, and Edgar Award winner Dana Stabenow.
In addition to the author signings and discussion groups at the conference, there will be a tea tasting and a bar at the Biltmore. Events take place Thursday, June 24 through Saturday, June 26, at the Arizona Biltmore and The Poisoned Pen, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard #101 in Scottsdale. For more information, visit thepen2010.blogspot.com or call 480-947-2974. For a complete event calendar, visit www.poisonedpen.com.