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“Road Virus” Interview


Have you ever dreamed of your library or bookstore coming to you? Or of a library that specializes in the kinds of books you want to read, a library filled with genre fiction that you can’t find in your local library or bookstore? Then dream no more.

The Road Virus is here, and today we’re talking to the two owners/operators of this innovative concept in reading services.

Meet Em and Sade, who in January hit the road in their combination bookmobile and living space, bringing fringe and underrepresented literature to the masses one stop at a time.

JGF: Em and Sade, thanks for speaking with us, and welcome to the HWA’s newsletter.

Road Virus: Hey there, JG; thank you for having us. We’re excited to be here.

JGF: First off, tell the readers a little bit about the Road Virus concept, and how you came up with the idea.

RV: After discovering we both loved books and have had, since childhood, the mutual desire to run a bookstore, a crazy seed of an idea blossomed into a plan and took off running. Em has always been interested in tiny homes, and I’ve always been a traveler. Living in San Francisco as we did, it was nearly impossible to open a brick and mortar store. We took a weird amalgamation of different ideas and wants, and just kind of melded them together.

JGF: Em, your bio states that you come from a background of teaching and library work. How did that factor into your decision to launch the Road Virus?

Em: After being in startups for years, I wanted to return to my book roots. Part of what the Road Virus wants to foster is literacy, so we’ll be spending our Sunday hours offering tutoring assistance to people who want to strengthen their reading skills.

JGF: Sade, your bio states you don’t come from a traditional learning or school experience. What does that mean, and how has that shaped your desire to make the Road Virus into a reality?

Sade: I dropped out of school at a very young age—it just never worked for me. No matter how hard I tried or how interested in academia and learning I was, I just couldn’t hack school as an institution. I’ve always loved alternative methods of gaining knowledge, and the idea of a traveling entity which both caters to left-field interests and offers assistance to those who need it—but might not be finding it in their current situations—greatly appeals to me.

JGF: The logistics of running a mobile bookstore must be rather daunting. Where do you get your books from? How do you select them? How do they get to you? And how many can you stock at any one time?

RV: When you get down to the threads, we have an advantage in that we can’t really carry that much; we just don’t have the space. Therefore, we can be extremely discerning with our stock and layout to little detriment. We can stock about 2000 books, though we’re not 100% sure of the exact number at this time. We’ve gone to estate sales, thrift stores, other used bookstores, and in the future we plan on having titles shipped to whatever location we happen to be at the time. Because of the limited space, we’re very mindful with how we cater our collection.

JGF: Your promotional materials state that you’re going to be specializing in fringe and other marginalized genres, including horror, sci-fi, fantasy, true crime, queer lit, and more. Can you give us some examples of what authors you’ll be carrying? And what do you look for when deciding if something is fringe or not?

RV: Some examples of authors on our shelves: Clive Barker, Harlan Ellison, R.L. Stine, Bruce Coville, Brian Lumley, Jack Ketchum, William S. Burroughs, Anais Nin, Marquis de Sade, Warren Ellis, John Waters, John Bellairs, Stephen King, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Frank Herbert, Edward Gorey, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Mark Z. Danielewski, Larry Kanuit, and many more. Our graphic novel/comic section boasts a large list of diverse, weird, and subversive titles spanning a wealth of genres.

As far as how to define “fringe,” we see it as the books covering the outskirts; horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, which just a few decades ago were considered “trash” genres; biographies of people who’ve lived lives we can’t imagine and gone to the darkest reaches of life and beyond; drugs, sex, the paranormal and occult. And although we do have a “general fiction” section for things that don’t easily fit in a genre, you aren’t going to find Hemingway crowding our shelves.

JGF: Another aspect of your project, and one that’s especially dear to me since I run the HWA’s Library & Literacy program, is that you’ll be offering tutoring services for adults and children. Tell us more about that.

RV: During normal Sunday business hours, we’ll be available to help people of all ages improve their reading skills. Whether you’re young and just starting out, English is your second language, or you’ve always been interested in reading but never had the time to dedicate to it, never had the opportunity to master it, or just simply feel lost when you pick up a book—we’re here to help. Like learning your favorite song as a way to master an instrument, we encourage people to either bring or select a book from the bus that excites them—whether that’s a Tolkien classic, Twilight, a kid’s picture book, or a gritty comic.

JGF: In addition to the books and tutoring, what else will the Road Virus be offering?

RV: We’ll be offering a highly-curated selection of other media such as music, movies, and books on tape, a rare books section, and a Little Free Library of titles we’ve collected along the way but don’t quite fit into our stock. In the future, we’ll also be hosting a free movie night for the local communities we’ve parked in.

JGF: When it comes to reading, both of you have stated you are big horror fans. What draws you to horror? What is it about the genre that really resonates with you? What works and what doesn’t?

Em: I started reading horror as a young child with John Bellairs. As I grew older, I started to enjoy all manner of scary movies. For me, the best horror is psychologically unsettling rather than gory or bald-faced. The horror of the unseen and what might be always shakes me more than the monster itself or seeing what’s behind the curtain. I don’t like camp or excessive gore for gore’s sake—not because it’s gross, but because it doesn’t resonate with me. To me, horror is a mentality, not a bodily experience.

Sade: My father got me hooked on horror movies and books at a very young age. I was absolutely obsessed with all things scary, and that has stuck with me throughout my entire life. I love psychological horror, but, unlike Em, my favorites fall into the danger zone of blood, ooze, and flying bone fragments. I love camp, exploitation, splatterpunk, heavily visceral escapades beyond the limits of human experience. Surreal stuff really does it for me as well. On the other hand, I also love a good literary romp—a recent favorite short story of mine is the ultimate gothic haunted house story “Elsewhere” by William Peter Blatty (known for The Exorcist). I don’t like horror that’s too self-aware—when someone tries to make a grand, intellectual statement without the proper tools, and just ends up falling and cutting themselves with those tools. But, hey, at least there’s blood.

JGF: When it comes to horror, what are your favorite sub-genres?

RV: Body horror, psychological horror, haunted asylums that don’t rely on “this is spooky because crazy people,” splatterpunk, a good Catholic/religious horror movie, anything with creepy kids (because you’re not supposed to want to kill children), found footage, stories where you can watch a person’s mental state degenerate over a period of time, highly surreal foreign films, stories focusing on cults gone very wrong, allegorical horror (such as THE BABADOOK), stories revolving around gaslighting and shifting unreality (a good recent example is A CURE FOR WELLNESS), deep space/far-below-ground stories where danger is imminent and ever-present, wherein claustrophobia and agoraphobia are running mates.

JGF: What do you see as the main differences, for audiences, between what’s popular in horror movies vs. what’s popular in books?

RV: With movies, cliché-tragedy jump scares will always win out over anything intellectually or deeply visually stimulating—it’s just harder to “jump scare” someone in a book, though it’s definitely possible, and when done correctly, feels like the author’s just torn your stomach out. One thing that books excel at is, with mysteries that slide into the horror realm, the written word has a huge advantage over the less subtle visual medium in maintaining the mystique of the story. More often than not, people tend to unravel the twist of a movie far before it happens. With a book, the author can be much more subtle—as they don’t have to cram every detail into 90 minutes—thus giving the reveal a heavier impact.

JGF: When it comes to reading, short stories and novellas are becoming popular again. Are you going to be offering those as well?

RV: Absolutely. In fact, we offer a subscription service—available at http://shop.theroadvirus.com—for folks who aren’t able to visit the bus. Last month, our choices were S.H. Cooper’s “The Corpse Garden” for horror, “The Newcomer”—edited by Alasdair Shaw—for sci-fi, and Neil Gaiman’s “Smoke and Mirrors” for fantasy. Two short story collections and an anthology. We both have always loved short stories, and I personally have a huge interest in pulp novellas; I do a post over at our blog focused on them. Our shelves are overflowing with short story collections, anthologies (especially for horror and sci-fi), essay collections, and more.

JGF: Will the Road Virus only offer print books, or will there be e-book capabilities as well?

RV: At the moment, we only offer print books. Both of us are very passionate about the book as an artifact and the printed word as a visceral experience. However, we wholly believe in reading; no matter the format, no matter the venue, as long as you’re stuffing your brain full of words, who cares how they get there? We’re definitely open to the idea of supporting e-books in the future, and we intend to start a press of our own which will provide e-book versions of releases.

JGF: How is the inaugural route of the Road Virus being laid out? How many stops do you have planned for the first leg (or legs) of the journey?

RV: As the moment, we’re sitting in a truck stop in Alabama between Birmingham and Montgomery. We took off from Northern California February 26 and have been steadily making our way to Florida, where a friend will be helping us finish our renovations. From there, we’re going to plot out our first official leg of our journey as a business, going up the east coast—during which, The Road Virus will “Head North.” Our contact page has a signup form for our newsletter—through which, you can receive weekly updates straight to your inbox with special offers, events, and most importantly, our route and planned stops

JGF: The Road Virus gained a lot of its funding from an Indiegogo campaign. How successful was that? Is it still ongoing? How can people donate?

RV: Unfortunately, our original attempt at crowdfunding with Kickstarter was not a success. It was our first time trying anything like this, and we feel like we made some glaring novice errors, including not getting the word out prior to launch. However, shortly thereafter, we turned to Indiegogo (which allows for flexible funding, meaning you get to keep the money even if you don’t fully reach your goal) and found some success with the second go-round. We didn’t reach our intended goal, but we definitely raised some very helpful funds and received some great press.

Beyond that, people can support us by purchasing subscriptions and our merch from the shop, coming to the bus and plucking a beloved book from our shelves, or donating post-crowdfunding and becoming a patron. We call them “Carriers.”

JGF: Will people be able to donate books as well as money?

RV: Of course! We’ve already received several donations, both from independent authors with their own books and readers wanting to share their favorite titles with others. If you’re interested and we’re in your town, you can bring donations when you visit. If we’re not nearby, the best bet is to E-mail us and we’ll figure out a mailing method that works for both parties.

JGF: Do you have any special events planned, such as working with local libraries or schools on any projects along the way?

RV: Not yet, but with Em’s storied background as a librarian, we plan to set up some events in the future. The bus boasts a large and carefully-curated kid’s section, so working with schools and libraries is a definite must for us.

JGF: Your Web site says you’re going to have an interactive map showing where the Road Virus is at all times. Will you also have a schedule so that people can plan to meet up with you?

RV: Our renovation and launch have been a two-step process. Due to some unforeseen delays, it’s taken longer than expected to get things off the ground. Therefore, we hesitate to set locations and dates until we know the renovations in Florida will be completely finished and we are 100% good to go. As mentioned above, our first leg will be heading north, going from Florida to New England. There will be a schedule posted on the website as well as sent via the newsletter, as well as across our social media.

JGF: In closing, I just want to wish you good luck. This sounds like an amazing project. Where can people find you on the Internet?

RV: Thank you so much, JG. We appreciate your time and interest, and, hopefully, we’ll be in a town near you soon so you can come check us out in the flesh. The work that you and the HWA have done for not only horror, but also literature and writers across the globe in general, is outstanding.

You can find us on our Web site: http://theroadvirus.com

Our blog, where we write 3-4 weekly themed posts: http://theroadvirus.com/blog

Our shop, which hosts all of our merchandise and our subscriptions: http://shop.theroadvirus.com

And across social media, which we’re very active on: @roadvirusbus (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Snapchat). We also use and track the hashtag #ReadingIsInfectious

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