The quests of many fantasy novels lead to a specific destination. If you’re under four feet tall and travel barefoot, say, chances are you’re going to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mordor to unload some troublesome jewelry.
Readers of the genre of all sizes (but preferably with shoes) will be happy to know that a new destination awaits: Word Horde Emporium of the Weird & Fantastic, just past Rivendell in the shire known as Petaluma. Proprietor Ross Lockhart, a veteran bookseller and publisher, specializes in weird, horrific, fantastic and speculative fiction for all ages (including a “spooky kids zone”).
The store quickly became a favorite of my 12.5-year-old son, an avid fantasy reader, who recently interviewed Lockhart for a school project. And since I’m not above cribbing notes from my own kid, I’ve poached from his interview for this annual Spring Lit edition.
“I have worked in a lot of bookstores over the years… I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to have my own bookstore,” says Lockhart, who had previously worked for a small press that met its untimely demise in San Francisco, which spurred him into his own publishing venture, under the Word Horde imprint, in 2013. “I was out of a job, so I said, ‘I’m going to publish books.’ And then this past year, just because with the pandemic going on and everything, we decided we were going to take that step and open up a bookstore.”
Suffice it to say, it takes a particular kind of stoutheartedness to open a new business during a pandemic and with specialty products like horror and fantasy books and role-playing games. But the roll of the 20-sided die is paying off as fans, friends and families have embraced the store. Moreover, Lockhart relishes that he gets to “talk about books with people all day.”
On the horizon is a quest for a new space.
“Ideally, I want to find a bigger place,” says Lockhart, who’s on the hunt for more permanent digs (the sands of local real estate tend to shift under the feet of scrappier ventures). His ambition is to create “a good community hub.”
“They call it the third place,” says Lockhart citing the work of urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. “It’s not your home, it’s not where you go to work, but it’s a place where you can gather and talk and create community.”