To commemorate its 30th anniversary, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, in Asheville, North Carolina, revived its Burning Bush Press imprint to publish Naked Came the Leaf Peeper, a collaborative work by 12 North Carolina writers. In print just two months, the novel, which was inspired by Naked Came the Manatee, a mystery-thriller parody penned by 13 Miami-area writers, is on its way to becoming a regional classic, said Linda Barrett Knopp, Malaprop’s general manager, co-owner, and senior buyer.
Bringing Naked Came the Leaf Peeper to print was a true group effort, involving not only the authors but also Malaprop’s staff members, customers, and community friends in the entire process. Brian Lee Knopp, Linda Barrett Knopp’s husband and the author of Malaprop’s bestseller for the last two years, Mayhem in Mayberry, came up with the idea of creating a serial collaborative novel and liked the way Manatee “involved a group of regional writers working together to craft a story that reflected local culture both humorously and in an honoring way,” Barrett Knopp told BTW. He also organized the authors, established the rules, and wrote the first chapter, introducing the main characters and the beginning of the storyline.
Emoke B’Racz, Malaprop’s founder, supported the idea from the start, and Barrett Knopp edited the novel and wrote the 11th chapter, which she took on after being warned it would be the most challenging. A customer and friend assisted with copy editing and local artists and designers contributed the cover art and design for the book. A number of customers served as early readers during the editing process and gave helpful feedback.
The featured authors were invited to contribute because of their strong connection to Malaprop’s, said Barrett Knopp. “Almost every author commented that this was the most fun they’d had writing in years.” The authors offered their work for free as the book is both a commemoration of and fundraiser for the store’s 30th anniversary celebration this year.
Brian Knopp asked the authors to take certain chapters based on how he felt their style and energy would contribute to the flow of the narrative. There was no narrative arc planned out, and no basic premise beyond what he began in chapter one. Each author received previous chapters, not knowing who had written them, and took the story in whatever direction they wanted, as long as they kept characters true to themselves and stayed clear of fantasy. “One response we’ve received again and again from readers is how well this novel moves chapter to chapter, as if one person wrote it,” said Barrett Knopp. “This really reflects the skill of the authors involved to keep a consistent and continuous tone with characters and the plot.”
On March 30, the store will hold “The Naked Author Jam,” where the contributors will come together and read from their book. A second author jam is planned for September at the Carolina Mountain Literary Festival.
To print Naked Came the Leaf Peeper, Malaprop’s turned to Ingram’s Lightning Source print-on-demand publishing service. “The folks at Lightning Source, and Ingram, for that matter, are a pleasure to work with – they make being a small publisher easy,” said Barrett Knopp.
Malaprop’s has been advertising Naked in the store via displays and posters, as well as through its e-mail newsletters. The contributing authors have also been promoting it on their websites and at their events.
In two months, the bookstore has sold 200 copies of Naked Came the Leaf Peeper, and with local press coverage of next month’s Author Jam planned, Barrett Knopp expects another good bump in sales. “Feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “We have repeat customers buying Naked for out of town family and friends because the book is hilarious and it captures the diversity of Asheville in all its wonderful weirdness.”
The next project for Burning Bush Press is Remember Me as a Time of Day, an anthology of poetry by the women involved in the Malaprop’s poetry critique circle, Women on Words. It is expected to be out for the store’s 30th Anniversary Celebration on June 1.