Ten days before the publication of my debut novel, my four-year-old daughter woke up with a fever. The second line of her home COVID test darkened instantly. At the pediatrician’s office, our eighteen-month-old tested positive for COVID and flu. My husband and I were next. As we muddled through cycles of fevers, fatigue, and brain fog, I sent panicked emails to my publishing team. It hadn’t been announced yet, but my novel, More Than You’ll Ever Know, had been selected as a Good Morning America Book Club pick. They were supposed to interview me in Laredo, where the book is partially set, that week. The interview, of course, had to be rescheduled. But I didn’t have the heart yet to cancel my book launch, which was set for the following week at Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio, where I live.
Nowhere is one of my favorite spots in town. Founded by bestselling author and native San Antonian Jenny Lawson, Nowhere was originally supposed to open in spring 2020, just as all “non-essential” businesses were ordered to close to prevent the spread of COVID. Lawson, who has said she imagined Nowhere as a haven for readers, a community gathering space, pivoted to virtual offerings. She created the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club, a subscription service for “magnificent misfits” that gets readers one new hardcover, selected by Lawson—usually literary fiction with an unexpected bent—delivered to their door each month, along with access to a Facebook discussion page. Thousands of readers, all stuck at home, found community in the book club, whose subscriptions complemented the store’s curbside and online sales. The bookstore officially opened in July 2021, and it now also offers the Happy Endings Book Club (romance), the Nightmares From Nowhere Book Club (horror), and the Little Bitty Book Club (picture books).
Not long after it opened, a friend texted me after a visit: “I checked out Nowhere Bookshop today—it has that magic spark!”
Magic. That’s what I needed. That’s what so many of us needed. Still, I didn’t actually make it to Nowhere until 2022, after the waves of Delta and Omicron passed. Instantly, I knew my friend was right. Outside, on the whitewashed brick wall below strands of twinkle lights, an exterior mural by local artists Jennifer Khoshbin and Nanako Kishi Pastol issues a distinctly Alice in Wonderland–esque invitation: “This way to Nowhere.”
Inside, the first thing I noticed were the floors: beautiful Saltillo tile, leftover from the store’s previous incarnation as El Paso Import Company. The ceiling is a moody blue, the wooden bookshelves labeled with sections for fiction and nonfiction, Texana, Jenny Recommends, staff picks, teen lit, children’s books, and more. The intricate window displays change seasonally: for summer, a miniature lounge chair and a shrub shaped like a dog’s rear high in the air, nose to the ground; for winter, a Christmas book tree. One wall is a gallery of small framed art: portraits of Frida Kahlo and Edgar Allan Poe alongside paintings of dogs, an anatomically correct heart, a raven perched on top of a skull. Along the back wall, a hand-painted quote by Rainer Maria Rilke (“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading”) draws the eye toward the cafe bar, which opened in September 2022. Now, just as Lawson imagined, readers can sit with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and linger for hours. Magic.
On June 7, 2022, the day my book was published, my COVID test finally came back negative. But I woke up with both eyes blood-red and crusted shut, and I could hardly breathe through thick congestion. I watched the Good Morning America announcement on my phone in an urgent care waiting room. When I left with a diagnosis of double pink eye and a sinus infection, I called my friend, the author May Cobb, who was supposed to drive from Austin to San Antonio to be in conversation with me at Nowhere that evening. “I think I have to cancel,” I said, and cried.
I’d been imagining my book launch for my entire adult life: after the collection of stories I wrote over three years in my mid-twenties, which I eventually shelved; and six years later, after signing with an agent for my first novel, which didn’t sell; and three years after that, after finally selling More Than You’ll Ever Know. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. I’m rarely lonely but I’m often alone, and a book launch felt to me like inviting people I loved into my private world, a readership in miniature. I was devastated to postpone it.
The incredibly gracious booksellers at Nowhere rescheduled my launch to two weeks later. In the meantime, they set me up with books and a payment system for an event in Laredo later that week. When I worried the fifteen or twenty copies they gave me wouldn’t be enough (Laredo supports its own), the store’s general manager and buyer Elizabeth Jordan—formerly CEO of BookPeople in Austin—wheeled out the boxes of books they’d had on hand for my launch. “We’ll order some more,” she said, then helped me load the boxes into my car.
Finally, on June 21, I put on a red dress to match my book cover. My parents, sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces drove up from Laredo to San Antonio, and together we caravanned to Nowhere, where I was terrified no one but us and May, who was game for the rescheduled event, would show up.
The first person I remember arriving was a friend from my high school Spanish class, whom I hadn’t seen in twenty years. He was on his way to the airport but wanted to stop by first, an act of kindness I’ll never forget. He bought three copies and asked me to sign them. Then my kindergarten teacher walked in. I learned to read in her class. I still have some of those books, with her neat handwriting in red marker on the inside cover: Good reader, Katie! She was with another retired educator from my elementary school, and we talked about my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Salinas, who’d given us blank white hardcover books and told us to write and illustrate a story. That assignment burned away the fog of any other dream: I wanted to write stories forever.
More people came: cousins, two of my high school best friends, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, friends from Austin, writer friends—including the one who told me Nowhere had that magic spark—and people I didn’t know at all, local Bookstagrammers and avid readers who have continued to support my book and me. As the adults mingled, my daughter and nieces took books over to the blue-cushioned window seat, “reading” to each other in the diluted amber light of a summer evening.
Here’s what I most remember: my parents’ proud smiles. My daughter giggling with her cousins, yes, but once, we locked eyes and her face was still, attentive, and I hoped she’d absorb something of this moment, this memory of her mother’s oldest, biggest dream coming true. I remember hugging all these friends I hadn’t seen in so long—hugging, after two years of closed-circle solitude—and wanting to weep for the joy of it all.
The night was a celebration of my book, but it also felt to me like a return—to community, to friendships long since put on hold. It felt right that it was hosted in a writer’s bookstore, itself a dream delayed but not destroyed by the pandemic that changed so many of our lives, then and now. I’ve returned to Nowhere many times since then, for events and to shop, and each time I step inside, I sigh the way you do when you arrive home after lengthy travel. I’m back. Thank goodness, I’m back.