What made you decide to come to the SIBA Discovery Show?
We wanted to continue meeting people from stores in the South. SIBA was at the top of our list when we were figuring out our fall schedule. We’re glad we could make it too Spartanburg, because SIBA offers so many good opportunities to get to know people.
Did it meet your expectations?
Yes! We’re based in Vermont, and when we first did SIBA (New Orleans, 2017) we barely had a presence in the South. We are now carried in quite a few shops throughout the South, and it’s much easier for customers to find our products. I’m glad we could return this year.
What did you learn from attending the show?
I learn a lot at every show, but I think what I especially like about SIBA and other regional book shows is that you get to meet so many people who are passionate about the importance of bookstores. I like to learn about the history of each store, and about how people came to own or work in the store. Bookstores usually come with a lot of history, and they are run by people who care deeply about their communities. The Haunted Book Shop, for example. I really liked talking with Angela about how she ended up running the store, which has such a rich history in Mobile.
I also continued to learn about how stores incorporate sidelines into their product mix. I can’t remember the exact percentage, but someone told me that around 25% of their sales come from non-book items. Storymatic is a fun, literate sideline, and it was interesting to talk with people who are just beginning to diversify their offerings to include more than books.
Why do you think the independent bookstore market is important?
Independent bookstores have importance that goes way beyond the economic impact they have within their communities. Books change people’s lives. I have a ton of respect for independent bookstores. Indies pay rent, employ people, and make important contributions to society. It’s important to me that customers can find Storymatic in actual bookstores around the country, that they can hold it in their actual hands, and that they can buy it from an actual person. When you work or shop in an independent bookstore, you have experiences and interactions you cannot have online. You gain knowledge that cannot be transmitted through fiber optic cable. You make memories and friends you cannot make online. Bookstores are very, very important.
On a personal note, when I was 16, I started working at Railroad Street Books in Great Barrington, MA. The store is long gone, but it made a huge difference in my life. I worked there off-and-on through college, and I’m grateful for that experience. Being around books and readers helped me begin to think of myself as a reader and writer. Working in the bookstore gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to run a community-based business. Often, when I package up an order for a bookstore, I imagine a younger version of myself at the other end of the shipment, opening it and showing it to a customer.
Describe Storymatic Studios and how it got started
I made the first Storymatic several years ago while leading a fiction workshop at Marlboro College in Vermont. I then took that first Storymatic to my high school classes at The Putney School Summer Programs. I added to that first Storymatic year by year, class by class. All the while, students told me I should make more than one Storymatic, because they wanted to buy it and use it outside of class with their friends and families. Finally, I took their advice. Really, if it weren't for the excitement and support of my students, there would be no Storymatic.
After the first Storymatic came out, parents started asking me to make one for younger kids. So I took their advice and made Storymatic Kids. Even though it’s called Kids, it’s great for all ages.
And then my poetry and memoir students started going, “Hey, what about us? Where’s the poetry one? Where’s the memoir one?” So I modified some of the memory prompts we use in those classes to make Rememory, which helps you recall and share moments from your own life.
I thought I was pretty much done at that point, but then students started asking me why I hadn’t done anything with one prompt that involves writing sentences that mix up your senses, and another prompt where people ask questions about your story and you have to give an answer, even if it’s about something you’ve never considered before. That’s how Synapsis came out. It gives you a different way to make up stories.
So now we have four different products that help people explore their imaginations and memories. I think it’s important to do that. Stories keep our minds nimble. Inventing characters can help build a sense of empathy. I’d like to see a little more imagination and empathy in the world.
We’re based in Brattleboro, Vermont. We have a lovely little space in an old mill, alongside a variety of small, independent businesses.
The “we” that I keep mentioning is me and my wife, the photographer Vaune Trachtman. Sometimes people think Storymatic has a bunch of people. But it’s really just me and Vaune.
What are your newest products for the holiday season?
It’s a conversational, somewhat improvisational way to open doors to your imagination. In Synapsis, you’re prompted to turn two or three words into a sentence, which you pretend comes from a certain kind of story. Then you answer questions about that story and begin to flesh things out. I love how in just a few minutes you can go from a couple of random words to knowing all about the characters, settings, motivations, and arc of a story.
You can use Synapsis by yourself as a writing prompt, or you can make an evening of it with your friends. It’s super adaptable, so you can make your own ways to play. I like how Synapsis offers a different way of thinking about how stories are created, so it can be a little challenging at first. But challenges are good things. We like to think of Synapsis as being a little box of Yes.
Who should booksellers contact if they want to place an order?
You can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 802-451-0050. Thanks!