Last year at Easter dinner, my uncle Mike made the grand announcement that he was getting married. After asking my brother to be his best man, he turned to me and explained, “So Nic, we’re trying to get a pastor, and we are talking to an officiant from the cosmic church, but if they don’t work out, we totally want you to officiate the wedding.” After officiating my first wedding for my cousin a year before, I was no professional, but I was a little surprised I was third string behind the cosmic church.
But the day came and I was asked to participate by giving the family prayer, which I did and which went over well with everyone. One person in particular was my cousin Danny. After the ceremony he caught me and complimented my “blessing” skills. He asked what I was doing with myself these days and I told him that I was running a publishing company. Although this reply usually requires an in depth explanation as to what a publishing company actually does in the age of machines, our conversation turned back to him when I quickly asked how the vending machine business was going.
Cousin Danny took over NaVar vending from Uncle Danny almost 15 year
s ago after Uncle Danny’s death. Before that, Uncle Danny had run the company that he had built for about 30 years. But a lot had changed in that time. Smoker’s were no longer allowed to indulge while saddled up at their favorite bar stool. School children had to wait until after school hours to buy a candy bar or a soda. Corporate go-getters were asking for bags of carrots in lieu of bags of Cheetos.
Although my cousin completely supported these healthier changes in people’s lives, it still didn’t make his job any easier to supply goods in these machines that people would actually buy. In almost exasperation, he admitted, “I don’t know, the whole industry’s changing.” I countered by saying, “Tell me about it, sounds like publishing.”
Then almost as an afterthought, as I eyed a tray of mini cheese steaks, I said, “We should just sell books in vending machines.” I was about to intercept the passing tray when Cousin Danny grabbed my arm, and said to me with the utmost earnestness, “Yes, we should do that.”
For the rest of the cocktail hour we talked about the possibilities. Joke books in bars, scholastic books in school cafeterias. Finally we settled on short stories on cafes. I must admit that even at the end of the night, when we said our goodbyes and he told me to call him in the morning, I thought that the conversation was going to die on the dance floor where my grandmother and her new in-laws were doing the electric slide. But the next day, when I made the call, Danny already had a machine picked out.
For as Danny and I both realized that fateful night, these are two industries that need each other. Books need a creative and efficient way to get to readers, and vending machines need to start peddling goods that people won’t feel guilty about indulging in (that is until we start stocking romance stories).
So starting on December 5, we will unveil our first Chapbook Vending Machine during a release party at at Elixr coffee shop in Center City. The little spiral dispensers will be filled with chapbook size short stories from our Bigger Than a Breadbox Short Story Contest. These amazing stories were submitted by our illustrious workshop members and beyond. Some gems include a short story by the 215 Fest luminary Joey Sweeney called “Bob Marley the Delaware Years” as well as the heartbreaking childhood story “You Champion” by our workshop regular Patrick McNeil.
While our little experiment may be small potatoes compared to the Kindle or Mayor Bloomberg’s crusade against Big Gulps, we’re excited to see how people react to the machine and to possibly finding the answer to the age old publishing question: can literature be as appealing as a Snickers bar?