Interview with ALAN BEATTS, Owner of Borderlands Bookstore in SF

July 24, 2012 General, Interviews 1

 
Earlier this year, I wrote a post on some of my favorite bookstores.  Featured on that list was San Francisco’s Borderlands Books, an independent bookstore that specializes in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.  It’s a fantastic place to find books in some of my favorite genres. The owner of Borderlands is Alan Beatts and he was gracious enough to give She-Wolf Reads an interview on the history of Borderlands, some of his favorite books, and the challenges of running an independent bookstore.  He also shares his top five underrated urban fantasies, a list that has some great picks that I immediately added to my TBR pile.  And so will you.   
 
 

 

She-Wolf Reads Interview

 
SWR:  You have an eclectic past.  Can you tell me a bit about the history of Borderlands books, when and why you opened it?  
 
I opened the shop in 1997 and ran it by myself for the first year or so.  As for why I opened it — the short and simple version is that I realized that I was not well suited to working for someone else (it only took me a dozen or more employers to realize that).  After that conclusion, the next step was pretty simple; to find a business that I would enjoy running.  I’ve always loved books and reading.  Since fantasy and science fiction (along with horror) have always been my favorite kind of reading, the store was a logical conclusion.

 

SWR:  And why the name “Borderlands”?  

There were many reasons for calling the store Borderlands; partially a tribute to the brilliant and eponymous anthologies of that name, partially a nod to Terri Windling’s Bordertown books, partially a reference to William Hope Hodgson’s classic House on the Borderland, but mostly because science fiction, fantasy and horror exist on the borderlands of literature.

 

SWR:  What are a few of the books that influenced your reading life and perhaps inspired Borderlands?  

The biggest influence on the character of the store was probably Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Bar stories (and, to a lesser degree, the novels that followed them).  Books that were an influence on me personally are too numerous to mention but, within the F&SF field some that standout are Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, both by Robert Heinlein, Michael Moorcock’s Elric series, Rodger Zelazny’s Amber novels, and the Hammer’s Slammers stories and novels by David Drake.  I’d go on but I think I’ve already given too much away about my psychology.

 

SWR:  Do you remember your first customer?  The very first book you sold?  

14 years is a long time.  I’m afraid I remember neither.

 

SWR:  I’m a native San Franciscan and Borderlands seems perfect for the neighborhood you’re in.  Did location play an important role in opening the store?  

Actually the current location in the Mission District is my second.  I originally wanted to open on Valencia St. but there wasn’t anything available for rent that would work so I ended up taking a place in Hayes Valley.  I was there for three years and then moved to the current location.  Both the building and the neighborhood suit the store perfectly.

 

SWR:  What is the Borderlands experience for a customer?  

That’s an interesting question that I’m not quite sure how to answer.  I’d say that it depends on the customer.  Generally speaking customer service is very important to us, as is maintaining a clean, comfortable and well organized environment.  We don’t tend to pester our customers so usually someone will get a quick greeting when them come in (something along the lines of, “Let me know if there’s anything I can help you find”) and then we leave them to browse as long as they like.  We have quite a few chairs scattered around so it’s easy to sit for a while, read, and decide if a book is for you.  Of course, if someone has a question, we’re always happy to do our best to answer it.  Like many booksellers we love the challenge when someone comes in and doesn’t remember the title or author of a book.  Most of the time, with a description of the plot and perhaps a character name, we can guess the right title.

 

SWR:  What are the specific challenges in owning/maintaining a genre-specific bookstore?

There really aren’t any challenges that are unique to a genre-specific store.  We have all the usual problems of independent bookstores – low margins, competition from on-line retail and ebooks, plus the usual small business issues of too many hats for the management.  For example, I’m the owner, HR department, IT staff, and building maintenance person.  Still, we manage and it makes for an interesting job — I never know what I’m going to end up doing when I come into work.  Today, for example, on top of the planned items on my schedule, I repaired a staff person’s personal computer and dug a chunk of glass (which he picked up at home) out of another staffer’s foot.

 

SWR:  Borderlands sells both new and used books.  What are some of the rare editions you have that you are particularly proud of?  

In no particular order (and first editions unless otherwise noted) —  Something About Cats by HP Lovecraft, Dune by Frank Herbert, The House On The Borderlands by William Hope Hodgson, Little Big by John Crowley, Neuromancer by William Gibson (first hardcover edition), The Hobbit (first edition, first printing), and Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein (first hardcover edition).

 

SWR:  What are a few of your favorite new authors that readers should pay attention to?  

It’s always tricky to talk about “new” authors.  A lot of our customers are really avid readers and when we talk to them about “new” authors, they want to know about someone who’s first novel was published last week.  But for other, occasional, customers, something that just got notice a few months ago is plenty new enough for them.  With that in mind, I would suggest Ben Aaronvitch (Midnight Riot) and Paul Tobin (Prepare to Die).

 

ALAN’S TOP FIVE OVERLOOKED URBAN FANTASIES

 

1.  The John Thunstone stories and novels by Manly Wade Wellman

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:  Conceived by Manly Wade Wellman and Weird Tales editor Dorothy McIlwraith in 1943, John Thunstone is a scholar and playboy who investigates mysterious supernatural events. Large and strong, intelligent, handsome, and wealthy, he has the typical attributes of a heroic character. He is also well-read in occult matters and has access to weapons (such as a sword-cane forged by a saint) that are especially potent against vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures. In addition to the ghosts and other traditional supernatural beings, several of Thunstone’s enemies are Wellman’s unique creations. Particularly compelling are the the enigmatic shonokins, a race of human-like creatures who claim to have ruled North America before the coming of humans. Thunstone’s most persistent foe is the diabolical sorcerer Rowley Thorne, a character loosely based on the real occultist Aleister Crowley. Thunstone originally appeared in short stories published in Weird Tales from 1943 to 1951 with a final short story in 1982. Wellman would later write two novels featuring Thunstone: What Dreams May Come (1983) and The School of Darkness (1985)

 

2.  The Apocalypse Door by James D. Macdonald

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:  Welcome to the world of Peter Crossman, Knight Templar Extraordinare.  He’s a man with a mission…and his boss is literally out of this world. 

Despite what is known as gospel truth, the order of the Knight Templars never really went out of business.  These warriors of God still walk among us, battling evil to keep Adam’s children safe…as they have been doing for millennia.

Peter Crossman is a priest and a man of many talents, performing last rites with one hand and handling a flamethrower in the other. He walks with faith at his side and with his colleague, the dangerously sexy Sister Mary Magdalene of the Special Action Executive Branch of the Poor Clares. Peter is faced with a crisis of biblical proportions when a search for some missing UN peacekeepers goes horribly wrong.  A very unholy object is found and may open a portal to damnation. 

Fortunately, demonic magic isn’t the only source of Power in the world. And Peter’s got a direct line to the biggest guns in the universe.

Smart, funny, and sexy, The Apocalypse Door is a rollicking caper with a touch of the sacred.

 

3.  High Bloods by John Farris

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:  It happened quickly. Overnight, the greater Los Angeles area found itself in the horrifying grasp of a werewolf epidemic. Twenty eight days of the month they are no different than you or me–the High Bloods, who managed to go unaffected. But every full moon, they are the most ravenous creatures man has ever seen. 

A new law-enforcement agency has been created to keep tabs on the those whose blood runs Lycan. Rawson is an agent for Lycan Control, and his job is to make sure all the afflicted are found, monitored, and kept at bay the night they change. But the Lycans in Hollywood have risen to cultlike proportions, and Rawson’s job is getting tougher.
One night, a woman changes right in front of Rawson. And it’s not a full moon. Someone deep in the annals of Hollywood has managed to trip the logic of the werewolves’ being. Battling a rising tide of Lycan rights activists and a growing population of those who are choosing to be Lycan over High Blood, Rawson must carve a path to the top of the Lycan chain before all hell breaks loose. 

 

4.  The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: When Danny Holman leaves the cornfields of Iowa for the bright lights of Chicago, he expects his life to change. He just can’t guess how much and how fast. A violent incident on the road brings Danny the favor of a man known only as Mr. Patrise, who gives Danny a job, a home, and a new identity.

The City is a different world from the one Danny–now called Doc–knew, and literally so. Long-vanished powers have returned, and more is going on in the streets than nightlife and street warfare. Power is gathering: a power rooted in terror, madness, and death. To fight it will require Doc to face what he fears most. To defeat it will take something more than courage. 

 

 

5.  The Felix Castor novels by Mike Cary (starting with The Devil You Know) 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:  Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and London is his stamping ground. It may seem like a good ghost buster can charge what he likes and enjoy a hell of a lifestyle–but there’s a risk: Sooner or later he’s going to take on a spirit that’s too strong for him. While trying to back out of this ill-conceived career, Castor accepts a seemingly simple ghost-hunting case at a museum in the shadowy heart of London – just to pay the bills, you understand. But what should have been a perfectly straightforward exorcism is rapidly turning into the Who Can Kill Castor First Show, with demons and ghosts all keen to claim the big prize. That’s OK: Castor knows how to deal with the dead. It’s the living who piss him off…

 

 

 

VISIT BORDERLANDS

 

 

If you are in San Francisco, make sure to visit Alan and the Borderlands team at 

866 Valencia Street, San Francisco CA 94110

and if you can’t make it to SF, you can always visit the store’s favorite online spots:

WEBSITE | TWITTER

One Response to “Interview with ALAN BEATTS, Owner of Borderlands Bookstore in SF”

  1. Maria Behar

    Hi, Lee!

    You know, you REALLY excel at interviewing!! I just love reading any of your interview posts, whether those interviewed are authors, book illustrators/ designers, or anyone else!!

    I greatly enjoyed reading this particular interview, since I LOVE visiting bookstores, and getting lost in them for hours and hours… How I wish I lived in San Francisco, so I could visit Borderlands on a regular basis!! Science fiction and fantasy are two of my favorite genres, so I would feel as if I were in Paradise if I were lucky enough to step inside this store!!! Alan sems like such a nice guy, too. All in all, you’ve made me wish for what I can’t have…Oh, and have you noticed that the words “science fiction” and the city of San Francisco have the same initials? How about that? Lol.

    By the way, I’d also like to let you know that Steph @ Five Alarm Book Reviews will no longer be hosting Shelf Candy Saturday. She closed down her blog, in fact. She tole me that I was more than welcome to continue with this meme, if I was interested, and I certainly am! So I’m putting up my post tomorrow, with a Linky attached, so other blogs can link up. I sure hope you’ll decide to participate, because you SCS posts are definitely outstanding!! Hope to see you there!! : )