Mr. Brewer attended the University of Alabama, where he studied journalism. He graduated from the University of South Alabama, where he received a B.A. in English and creative writing. He acquired a license to teach high school in Alabama. "But," Mr. Brewer sighed, "I couldn't get a teaching job."
Brewer said that he loves Fairhope, where he's lived now since 1978. "It's where both my sons were born. My wife was born and raised across the bay in Mobile, good Catholic girl from a big Catholic family. And cousins and cousins and cousins over in Mobile, but they're over there, and we're 20 minutes away on this side of the bay."
"When did you open the bookstore?"
"We're finishing up our ninth year. It's been tough. Independent bookstores struggle with this modern era of ordering books and having them in a day without leaving your desk, and that's a tide that you cannot turn back. I was about to declare bankruptcy because my bookstore was failing. I had an appointment on a Thursday morning at 10 a.m. to sit with a lawyer and discuss the option of bankruptcy.
"At 5:00 on Wednesday afternoon, the day before, my agent, Amy Rennert in San Francisco, phoned me and said, 'Ballantine has made this offer.' Their offer -- a six-figure, two-book offer -- saved my bookstore. Things are working well with the book, so even though I have a life on the road as a writer guy now, I still love this bookstore, and even if I should enjoy financial success from the book, I would keep this bookstore. It's better than a pet cow.
"You get to read, you get to meet writers who want to come to read their book, and through the association with those other writer guys and gals have grown the stories from The Blue Moon Cafe Anthology that is now three volumes out, and I just put the finishing touches on volume four. All that came through the doors here at the bookstore. We have to have a living, we have to have a rent, and we have to have coffee, and we have to have a slice of bread to butter, we have to put gasoline in our automobiles, so we can't be silly about it.
"But you also have to open the doors of your bookstore and let 60 people come in and hear a woman read from her novel and go away having only sold seven copies of the book, but you do it. And you enjoy the evening, and people are enlightened and moved by the experience. And it ain't always about the money."
I asked Mr. Brewer how he became interested in Henry Stuart, the real-life narrator of Brewer's novel.
"I first discovered Henry Stuart by discovering the house that he built. I pulled into a parking lot, maybe 25 years ago, a real estate office complex about three miles from where I'm sitting at this bookstore of mine. I was going to sign up for a real estate course to try and find time in the day to write, and I thought if I was selling houses I would make all this money and have tons of time to write.
"When I pulled into the parking lot for my first class, there in the middle of the parking lot, surrounded on three sides by pavement, was this round, concrete house with six little windows and a door. I was stunned. It was obviously authentic and not something from a movie set because the lichen and moss were covering the outside of it, and the vines were growing up around it. I said to the woman getting out of her car beside me, 'What is this?' She said, 'It's the hermit hut, don't you know?'
"I said, 'No, I don't know anything about it.' She said, 'Go into this office building, where we're going to take our class. There's a newspaper article hanging on the wall, matted and framed, and you can read about the hermit who built this about 80 years ago.' So I went in and I found the newspaper article, and there was a photograph of Henry Stuart.
"He had a long, white beard and long, white hair, and the most piercing eyes, and the biggest, flattest bare feet you've ever seen. I was immediately drawn to his story. The next day I took off to the library and found all that I could about Henry Stuart. There wasn't much. Maybe three newspaper articles, a scrap from a magazine, two or three vintage photographs.
"I discovered he had a degree in divinity from Mount Union College, class of 1888, and yet there he was in the newspaper, being quoted, answering up to why he didn't go to church. He said, 'I have no need for the institutional church. I worship God here in God's own temple, under the stars, down these paths that I walk each day by the trees.'
"He was a transcendentalist kind of thinking fellow. I had to know more about him. I wrote maybe two magazine feature articles about Henry over the years. I wrote one newspaper piece about him, and so there he was, from the beginning, just a kindred spirit."
Why did Mr. Brewer decide to fictionalize Stuart's life?
"I decided pretty quickly I would write a novel because what I was after was the spirit of the man and not the letter of his biography. I even changed some of the facts of his life as would suit the story that I wanted to tell. But I believe that I have captured accurately and precisely the spirit of the man who was Henry James Stuart, if not the letter of his life.
"What did I change? For instance, Henry Stuart did not die on a train leaving Alabama being fetched back out west by his son. He was, in fact, brought back out west, but he lived to make that train ride and he lived for two more years and finally died in Eugene, Oregon. But in my book it seemed appropriate that a train brought him here, escorted him into this new life that he found in Alabama, and then it felt good to me that a train escorted him out. That's the license that I took."