OUR TRIBE by Kristi Belcamino

We are happy to present a new on going column in CrimeSpree: Our Tribe from Kristi Belcamino.

She’ll be introducing people from the mystery community who are a big part of our tribe, though not necessarily writers.

KristiOurTribeOUR TRIBE: Getting to know peeps in the crime fiction world

By Kristi Belcamino


Long before I ever had an agent or book deal I would visit Once Upon a Crime bookstore in Minneapolis and dream of seeing a book I wrote on the shelves.

So, when I did get a book deal, I immediately approached the owners, Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze, and asked if I could hold my book launch party there.

This gem of a bookstore is small, but mighty in this crime fiction world so it was with dismay that I, and mystery peeps around the world, heard that these two crucial members of our crime fiction tribe were selling the bookstore because of Gary’s health issues.

The cozy little bookstore has hosted everyone from Louise Penny to John Sanford (every year) to Michael Connelly, as well as debut authors like me. This is especially important for unknown authors like me, as the publicist for my first novel, Danielle Bartlett of HarperCollins, agreed.

“While some bookstores focus on bringing in big bestsellers, Gary and Pat always support new authors in their store,” Bartlett said. “I know that their customers came to value their opinion on who they hosted for signings and events. It’s very hard for debut authors to get noticed, but I know that if I send an author to Gary and Pat, they will leave with new found fans! Whoever takes over the store will have big shoes to fill.”

Danielle hit the nail on the head. Ever since my book launch, I’ve received several emails from new readers saying Pat recommended my book.

But the bigger names also make sure to stop in at Once Upon a Crime, as well. For instance, Lisa Unger, and Owen Laukkanen, have made sure to include the bookstore on their national book tours.

“As far as I’m concerned, Pat and Gary are really the class of the mystery community—and not just because they run an amazing store,” Laukkanen said. “I’ve read three times at Once Upon a Crime, and launched two of my novels in its cozy confines, and on every occasion, Pat and Gary have treated me like family.

“They’re pretty much the embodiment of what makes indie bookstores work: they’re passionate about crime fiction, generous with their time and opinions, and moreover, they’re incredibly kind and warm people, both of them. It’s been a privilege to have had their support—and their friendship—as I’ve started my career, and I daresay I owe them more than I can repay. I will dearly miss visiting Once Upon a Crime once they’ve sold the store; this is really the end of an era.”

Kristi1Longtime St. Paul Pioneer Press book editor, Mary Ann Grossman, pointed out what an asset Pat and Gary have been not only to the mystery world, but to Minnesota in general.

“From the beginning, when I first met them in the early 2002s, I was struck by their dedication,” Grossman said. “They clearly lived their job 24 hours a day, between being at the store and reading. And, although they never admitted it to me, I also believe they vetted guest readers to welcome only the best. On top of that they are both charming – kind, interested, Minnesota nice in the real sense of the word.

“I am also awed that they were so content with what they had without any need for expansion or reaching, which probably would have sunk the store. Contented people are hard to find in these days of crazy striving. I remember interviewing the authors who write as Michael Stanley in the back room of OUC over scones when nobody had ever heard of the guys and remember the mutual affection between them and Pat and Gary.”

Here Gary answers what I hope to be a regular part of my new column:

The Crimespree Questionnaire

Here are some questions specific to Once Upon a Crime:

KB: Tell us about how you came to own Once Upon a Crime bookstore?
GS: Pat had been working part-time at the store, I was a regular customer. One thing led to another.

KB: What has been the best part or most rewarding part about owning the store?
GS: Owning the store was its own reward. Best part: going to the Edgars in New York to receive our Raven Award.

KB: What has been the most difficult part?
GS: Deciding it was time to move on.

KB: What will you miss the most?
GS: Customers and authors.

KB: What will you miss the least?
GS: Restocking

KB: What do you most want people to know about this decision to sell the bookstore?
GS: That it was inevitable. And now, here we are.

And here are some of the regular questions I’ll be asking in this new column a-la Proust Questionnaire:

KB: What was the first mystery you read and loved?
GS: Would have been one of the Sherlock Holmes stories – read them all one summer long ago.

KB: If you were going to “off” someone what method would you use?
GS: Well if I told you . . .

KB: What are your favorite qualities in a writer?
GS: An ear for dialogue, credibility.

KB: Who is your favorite fictional protagonist?
GS: Moe Prager (Reed Farrel Coleman)

KB: Who is your favorite fictional antagonist?
GS: Tie: HAL (2001); Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

KB: What is your favorite word?
GS: Always liked “shimmering” –it’s kind of onomatopoeic

KB: What is your motto?
GS: Always have something to look forward to. In our case: retirement

KB: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like people to know?
GS: That owning the store has been a fantasy made real. Best job we’ve ever had. We will miss it.

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, crime reporter, and Italian-American mama who makes a tasty biscotti. As a reporter, she flew in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, and attended barbecues at the morgue. Her first book, Blessed are the Dead, based on her dealings with a serial killer, is nominated for the 2015 Anthony and Macavity awards. Find out more at www.blessedarethedead.com.