Booksellers and Writers: Keeping It in the Family

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Cheryl Clarke Kitzmiller

Writing and bookselling are family affairs at Books & Crannies in Tehachapi, California. Cheryl Clarke Kitzmiller, also known as Chelley Kitzmiller, author of several historical romance novels and many newspaper and magazine articles, opened the 2,000-square-foot bookshop with her daughter, Gina Christopher, in 2001. The two split a 4,000-square-foot space with the local Radio Shack, owned by Ted Kitzmiller, Chelley's spouse.

Chelley Kitzmiller's titles include Embrace the Wind and Fires of Heaven, both Topaz Historical Romances.

Gerald Clarke

Kitzmiller's brother is Gerald Clarke, author of Capote (Carroll & Graf), the 1988 biography on which the current film is based. Clarke also wrote Get Happy (Diane Publishing), a biography of Judy Garland in 2001. He's a contributor to Architectural Digest, has written for Vanity Fair, Time, Esquire, among others, and is currently at work on a novel.

But that's not all: Kitzmiller's brother-in-law, Martin Dardis, also an author, is known for his outstanding investigative work. In 1972, it was Dardis, as the chief investigator for the Dade County State Attorney, who discovered that the money found on the Watergate burglars came from the Committee to Re-elect the President. He was cited in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book, All the President's Men, and portrayed by actor Ned Beatty in the 1976 film. Dardis also co-authored Money Players: Inside the New NBA (Pocket Books), an acclaimed examination of pro basketball.

The front window of Books & Crannies reflects the surrounding mountains.

Books & Crannies' used-book section.

Gina Christopher in the main section of the store, which features new books.

The popular coffee bar.

Then, five years ago, in a surprise revelation, Kitzmiller discovered yet another writer in the family -- but one who had kept her published work a secret from her youngest child. According to Barbara Dardis, Kitzmiller's older sister by 13 years, their late mother, Inez Clarke, had written for "true confessions" magazines, "back when teenagers read them under the covers with flashlights," Kitzmiller told BTW. No one has uncovered any extant copies of her work, and, unfortunately, Kitzmiller was never able to share their common interest with her mother.

Kitzmiller and her sister Barbara, a former kindergarten teacher, have collaborated on two children's books, and Kitzmiller continues to write.

When the Kitzmillers first opened a Radio Shack in a smaller location in 1988, Chelley carved out an 800-square-foot space to create Celebrity Books, a used bookstore. She sold it in 1991 to devote herself to writing full time. In 2002, when the Kitzmillers relocated the Radio Shack to a larger space, she and her daughter opened Books & Crannies as a joint venture. "We went into retail together as partners," Kitzmiller told BTW. "She put up as much cash as I did. We both love customers and love books. It's fun having great conversations with intelligent people. It's known as Tehachapi's gathering place."

Putting the two retail businesses into one unit has been a great success. Customers enter through a double door and turn left for books and right for electronics. "The bookstore feeds off the customers coming in to Radio Shack," Kitzmiller said. "Before, the wife would often sit in the car and wait [while the husband visited the electronics store]. Now they can split at the door." Kitzmiller finds that patrons of one also visit the other, often because of the inviting aroma of fresh coffee and chai teas served at the bookstore.

The Kitzmillers plan to move the Radio Shack again to a more central location to facilitate a sale when they both decide to retire. Books & Crannies will then have all 4,000-square-feet to itself and planned is an expansion of the bookstore's beverage service, events, and book selection.

Writing is not the only talent that has stayed in the family, Kitzmiller told BTW. Her intention "was always to teach [her daughter Gina Christopher] everything I knew about the book business, help her get it up and running, then give it to her." Then Kitzmiller happily made a true confession of her own -- "I just did it. Now it's all hers." --Nomi Schwartz