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50 Years of Island Books: Kevin O'Brien

Before his thrillers landed him on the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists, Kevin O’Brien was a railroad inspector. The author of 21 internationally-published thrillers, he won the Spotted Owl Award for Best Pacific Northwest Mystery and served on the board of Seattle 7 Writers. Press & Guide said: “If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today and writing novels, his name would be Kevin O’Brien.” Kevin O’Brien’s latest nail-biter, The Enemy at Home, just hit shelves in August 2023.

Miriam: Welcome Kevin! What does it take to get you over the bridge to visit us at Island Books?

Kevin: It’s a bit of a challenge for me to get to Island Books. I live on Capitol Hill and don’t have a car. But when my friend, Garth Stein, had a book signing there, I was up for the task! The light rail and a bus got me to Island Books in just over an hour. The store, at first glance, struck me as “quaint.” Then I stepped inside, and saw it went on and on and on! Laurie and the staff were so warm and friendly—and total pros. And what a wonderful selection of books, cards and fun knickknacks. I became an instant fan of Island Books. The customers and sales people all seemed to know each other. I kept thinking, if “Cheers” was a bookstore, it would be Island Books.

In the summer of 2019, I was over the moon when Island Books offered to host a signing for my newly-released thriller, The Betrayed Wife—with Garth interviewing me. It was a blast—more like a party with thirty friends than a book signing. And the thing is, I only knew about a third of the people there. Island Books is one of the friendliest bookstores I know. 

Miriam: It's funny, you're not the first author I've interviewed for our blog who compared our store to the show Cheers. At this rate, people will think Laurie's serving something on tap. It's interesting that you first came to us for a signing with Garth, and that prepared and led to your own store event. I love how authors bring more authors in. Getting off-island traffic into the store can be challenging when we host events, so the fact that you took the light rail and the bus over to see us counts for a lot!

You're also an incredibly prolific author and so supportive of other writers. Will you tell us a bit about your work with the Seattle 7 Writers and Hugo House, and how you've seen our local indie bookstores support the surrounding writing community?

Kevin: Being part of Seattle 7 Writers was an honor and an absolute blast. I joined early on in 2009, but wasn’t one of the original seven (actually ten by the time they made it official: Garth Stein, Jennie Shortridge, Maria Semple, Erica Bauermeister, Carol Cassella, Stephanie Kallos, Randy Sue Coburn, Kit Bakke, Bharti Kirchner and Mary Guterson). Garth was in my writers’ group, and I think he desperately wanted another guy in the Seattle 7 when he recruited me! For the first couple of years, I was just an enthusiastic participant/promoter for events like The Novel Live (a five-day live-streamed writing marathon at Hugo House, which became Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices; an auction during the event and the resulting book raised over ten thousand dollars for literacy programs) and Write Here Write Now (a day-long writing program where noted authors taught classes and individually coached new writers; another fund-raising event where the profits went to literacy organizations). I also showed up at fellow members’ book signings, which was always fun.

There’s strength in numbers. Local independent bookstores like Island Books became incredibly supportive of Seattle 7 Writers. They could count on several of us showing up whenever they had an event or hosted a book signing by one of our authors.

We also worked closely with Hugo House, where I taught classes and donated my books for auctions. When I served on the Seattle 7 Writers board, I assisted on projects, wrote Thank You notes to donors, and help promote events. By 2019, when we retired Seattle 7 Writers, we had 80 members (including some high-profile authors like Tom Robbins, Terry Brooks, Timothy Egan, Elizabeth George, Kristin Hannah, Daniel James Brown, Erik Larson and Susan Wiggs, to name a few). It was bittersweet wrapping it up. But fortunately, many of us are still pretty close, and the bonds we’ve formed with local bookstores are as strong as ever.

Happy Anniversary, Island Books. Thanks so much for inviting me to participate in celebrating the anniversary of one of my favorite bookstores!

Miriam: I love hearing all of this and am grateful you could share it here on the blog. These connections explain how deep our literary community goes and demonstrates how essential indie bookstores are to a thriving creative community. It's always a pleasure to hear from you, and I can't wait to read The Enemy at Home and spot it on our shelves.

To our customers, stay tuned for the next 50 Years of Island Books installment, featuring two authors who've left their mark on the store, Ashley Ream (The 100 Year Miracle) and Lee Kravetz (The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.). They have a good story of how Island Books brought them together.