He Wrote the Book
By Donna Clayton Lawder
For Bob Swisher, Silver City is exactly the right place to be, and at the right time in his life. An author and recent transplant to the area, Swisher created a minor stir when he opened his dream store: Last Day In Paradise. The store is named after one of his most popular books, and in it, he sells his own books.
Only his own books!
"Oh, they were all taking bets," Swisher says of his business neighbors along Texas and Yankie Streets. "I think some of them didn't think I'd last three months." The talk was good-natured, for sure, but skeptical all the same.
OK, to be fair, his books aren't the only things in the store. Being part of the Yankie-Texas Street art community, and in developing his Old West theme, Swisher has filled out his store with bold acrylic and oil paintings, hand-crafted furnishings and some decor items—all in a contemporary western theme.
But a lot of books and some large arts sales later—not to mention a one-year anniversary weenie roast—and the neighbors aren't laughing anymore. They're happy to have this old cowboy on the block, adding energy and, well, "character."
Swisher's business style is decidedly casual. He gestures toward a display table and demonstrates his spiel: "I tell customers, 'These are my books.'" Giving a sweeping gesture toward the artwork, he continues, "and I tell them, 'This is the art.'" Most afternoons, his buddies up and down the street stop in and they all drink beers, customers or not. And he has been known to close shop for an hour or so and head over to the nearby Buffalo Bar for a celebratory beer or two after selling a pricey painting.
He keeps his store open seven days a week, on the theory that "You can't sell anything if you're not there." Besides, he fills his "downtime" between customers with writing.
Swisher is the self-proclaimed "most-published least-known author in the West." He's got 12 books published, and a 13th—written in the store this past year in his "downtime"—coming out this fall. Six more are completed but have never found publishers. Another "was written for hire," so he doesn't count that mercenary product. And he's burned four, books he decided not to finish or wasn't happy with once he did.
That tally doesn't include the handful of his books that are currently out of print.
Don't make the mistake of calling his books "Westerns," though. "They're set in the West, but they're not Westerns," Swisher insists. "The 'Western' format is this: Cowboy meets girl, loses girl, gets the girl back again and kills all the bad guys," he says, then adds, "Oh, and he loves his horse.
"My books don't follow a format like that. I think of my books as 'male love stories.' They're basically love stories as told from a man's point of view," he says.
An army brat himself, Swisher began writing poetry in 1966 while serving in Vietnam. Fighting in the war "showed me a different side of life," he says. "I'll tell you, you'll never make closer friends than you do in combat. And after that experience, you can never go back to trivial things." One of his novels, Love Lies Bleeding, is about a Vietnam veteran.
His novel publisher, Sunstone Press in Santa Fe, published a book of
Swisher's poems in 1976. He's also had more than 100 of his short stories
placed in literary journals.
Choosing the art for his store is almost as easy as deciding which books to stock, he says. "If I like it—it's that simple," Swisher says. "It has to blend with what else is here."
He notes the successes he's had selling the works of relatively or completely unknown artists, but gives himself almost none of the credit. "Art's a soft sell," he says. "I don't have to sell it. Art sells itself."
Having art in the store has yielded a benefit beyond foot traffic and commissions, in that the artists have all become Swisher's good friends. He recounts meeting multi-media artist Phillip Stephens, a.k.a. "L.C. Crow": "We just started talking and wound up laughing so hard, we were crying. I started carrying his stuff, just like that," Swisher says. He's sold a variety of Crow's artforms. The first paintings Crow brought in all sold within three days. Recently, Swisher says, Crow got the idea to make traditional santos pieces. He brought in several of various sizes, which began selling immediately.
Micqaela Jones-Crouch has had great success in Swisher's store. Several of her mystical buffalo paintings, in deep, vibrant colors and with price tags over $1,000, sold in no time at all. (See the cover of the October 2005 Desert Exposure.) Swisher also represents local artists Naari Toole and Victoria Chick.
Settling into Silver City, Swisher says his only goals these days are "to keep the gallery open, to see the artists' careers advance, and to keep getting covers (publishers) for my books."
Silver City, which he calls "the last of the true art towns," seems a fine place to do that.
"What we do here, we couldn't do anywhere else," he says.
In fact, you might just call it "paradise."
Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.
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