Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Random thoughts, Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

My mind started mulling over a short short story early this morning. Went back to sleep, and awoke with a clear direction. Went to my computer and wrote it out, with few changes. I thought it was rather brilliant, so I posted it everywhere.

Almost no reaction.

Sigh.

***

It seems that releasing books at a slower pace might be the way to go. Crossroad Press is taking "Eden's Return" seriously. David Wilson's comment was: "It's a solid premise and a great cover ..."

They're submitting it to major publications for review and offering it at a 40% discount on Ingrams. It may not amount to much, but it's being given a chance to shine.

***

I'm starting to think that the best solution to the economy is a re-set. July 1st takes the place of April 1st, and so forth going forward. Of course, it's difficult to figure out all the ramifications; no doubt, there would be unforeseen circumstances, but it seems the simplest way to restart the economy.

Of course, that doesn't take into account everyone who was working in the meantime. Seems like they would get a head start, but so be it.

***

Went shopping last Monday, with the bagger sneezing right next to me. So it's been 8 days. That's long enough for symptoms to start, yeah? Or is it a full 15 days?

Neither Linda or I have had any contact with anyone since then. Linda sewed up a couple of facemasks, but I still have no intention of seeing anyone until April 20, when our two sons will be home to help renovate the store. They're all worried about that, but it's a calculated risk.

***

I hate the incessant bad news...and yet, watching Rachel Maddcow and Lawrence the O'Donnell every night has reinforced how deadly this virus is.

Hero of the Apocalypse

Hero of the Apocalypse.

Yes, me, Duncan McGeary.

Respirators at first. In their hundreds. Convoys of trucks lining up in front of my garage. At first the neighbors were annoyed, but as the pandemic took hold, they cheered.

Then facemasks, in their thousands, piled loosely into cars and trucks--anyone who wanted them.
There was only one catch.

Don't ask where they come from.

I went to bed that night feeling pleased with myself. I was exhausted, for I'd had to move all those respirators and facemasks out of the garage all by myself. But it was worth it. I was saving the world.

Me, Duncan McGeary.

I woke up the next morning gasping for breath. The virus? Oh, my God. Was I to die before I could save the world? Oh, the irony!

But no, my chest is clear. I have no temperature. It's just that there is no air. I throw open the curtains.
Twenty dollar bills, plastered against the windows. Cracks spreading even as I watch. The roof above creaking under the weight.

And I know. My neighbor, Billy, a good man when he's sober. But he's never sober, always drunk, howling at the moon at midnight, hungover and begging for money in the mornings. He must have broken into my garage. He must have put a twenty dollar bill in the device. And five minutes later there was another twenty dollar bill, and five minutes later there was four twenty dollar bills, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512...you get the picture.

It's too late. I know this. I'd tried so hard to keep ahead of the curve, taking the respirators and facemasks out of the device when they started to get ahead of me.

Billy must have passed out. What time was it?

Too late, that's what it was. There was no way I can dig my way to the garage. The device will never stop. The house is groaning now. I hear muffled screams from my neighbors.

It won't be long.

I'm no hero of the apocalypse. I am mankind's doom.

Sorry about that.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Yep. The Paycheck Protection Program is a boondoggle.

I hate to say, "I told you so," but damn if this isn't exactly what I expected.

I spent the day wrangling with the banks, trying to get the particulars of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Apparently, it's the equivalent of 2.5 x the average payroll of one month, minus taxes.

It's supposed to last for eight weeks.

How is that supposed to help? Add in taxes and the program is giving you basically two months payroll. It's supposed to also be available for rent, utilities, and mortgage, but I fail to see how there is anything left over for that.

If, on the other hand, I lay my employee off, she will get a minimum of the same amount for whatever length she's unemployed. (By my reading, she actually gets an extra $600 a week, though I wouldn't be surprised if that's B.S. too.)

To qualify for the loan, I have reams of paperwork and proof I need to supply, some on tax forms that haven't yet been done. They want a Profit and Loss statement, plus other particulars that as a Sole Proprietorship I've never needed to do.

So I asked the first banker. "2.5 times my average payroll over too months minus taxes will only pay for my employee for two months. What's the point?"

"Well, some people have bigger payrolls..."

"It doesn't matter how big the payroll is. It's still the same percentage!"

So here's the thing. The way I originally read the program was that they wanted the payroll for a four month period--if I remember rightly, January thru April of 2019. Which they would then give 2.5 the amount for the loan, predicated on keeping employees on the payroll. If we are closed for two months, this would leave money for rent and utilities, plus. (I expected to pay back the unspent amount or roll it over into a regular SBA loan.)

That made sense. It would make the store whole, keep the employee on the payroll, and allow us to open without too much damage. (I still had existing bills from my wholesalers when the revenues stopped flowing.)

I'm wondering if the banks are misinterpreting the measure. I guess we'll find out.

Meanwhile, I was informed by my main bank that the amount of loans they set aside for the program was already gone, but I might be able to qualify for the next amount. He said that a bunch of businesses had already told him that they were simply going to lay off their employees instead of pursuing the PPP.

The second banker informed me that they were servicing existing accounts first. (Not my regular bank, so I'm at the bottom of the list.)

I was also told that the SBA was already overwhelmed, that one bank had already submitted 10,000 loans of which only 5 had been so far approved.

When I called my landlord's property management I was told by the agent that she'd applied and run into the same problem. That she probably wasn't going to go through the program either.

Meanwhile, I'm getting rent relief, so that only thing I really have to worry about is utilities which are the smallest portion of my fixed expenses.

Good job, Congress. You passed a completely useless measure. 


Sunday, April 5, 2020

For all you people who haven't done this before...

For all you people who haven't done this before.

This is how it might feel when (or if) the world starts up again.

It will be sensory overload. Lights and sounds and movement will all seem overwhelming. Crowds will be claustrophobic. It's be hard to distinguish the important from the unimportant details. It will be hard to concentrate, to center on your sense of self. You'll want to retreat the quiet and solitude of your house.

Welcome to my world.

When I'm writing, I force myself to go for a walk in the wilderness at least once a day. I go into the store at least once a week. Sometimes I feel a little cornered, but mostly it's a comfortable place to be reacquainted with the outside. Thankfully I have a wife and the chaos cat to bring randomness and unpredictability into my everyday life.

I remember once, about 40 years ago or so, when I was so deep into writing my first book, Star Axe, that I hadn't ventured out of my tiny apartment in days--maybe weeks. My friend Wes came to visit and he took me outside and it felt absolutely disorienting. The smallest sounds seemed sharp, the lights seemed blinding. The world whirled by, impossibly fast. It wasn't pleasant and I decided then and there that I wouldn't let myself go that far down the rabbit hole again.

There's a saying--"Isolation breeds isolation."

So get outside if you can, and talk to people, even if it from across the street, if you can. For most of you, it won't be that bad probably, but you might feel a little bit of that.  

Friday, April 3, 2020

Applying for the PPP loan.

My expectation was that the SBA loan would be laden with red tape and fine print and that there would be most likely some roadblocks and delays.

Got the preliminary information on the what they are now calling the PPP loan. Based on payroll.

As expected, I don't understand the language. I asked for clarification but got back some more boilerplate language. Oh, well. I'll work my way through it little by little. Seeing the actual application form may clear things up a little.
'
Normally, I'd be sitting across from a desk with a human beings who could guide me through it. I'm already getting the impression that the loan officer is overwhelmed, and he's dealing with businesses much bigger than mine.

I mean, one good thing about this is that I probably have a full month to do this, and I don't need the money immediately as long as I know I'm getting it in the longrun.

Which brings up the real problem for most of us. It isn't the delay as much as it is the uncertainty of it all. What if it falls through? That's the big quesitons.

The last time I went for an SBA loan they handed me a stack of paper an inch thick. I just gave up at the look of it. I got a short term loan for a much smaller amount of money, which got us through.




I found a secret path down to the river. It isn't marked, it's just a park by the side of the road and walk down type of thing.. Not really a path, though I saw a few footprints. I didn't see any "No Trespassing" signs--I'm a bit of a stickler for that--but this is almost too good to be true. Maybe because it down a bunch of winding roads. Hell, I might have a hard time finding it again. But it is by far the nicest spot I've yet found.

It's almost too good to be true. There's got to be a catch.




Thursday, April 2, 2020

The store has needed new flooring for years. Last time it was replaced was 20 years ago. The carpet is half dust and half fiber by now.

So we're going to go in on the last half of April and lay down some new flooring. Laminate this time instead of carpet. My sons Todd and Toby are at loose ends right now, so they can do the work.

It's a little scary because of the amount of product we have to move out of or within the store, but if we do it step by step, we should be able to get it done. If, as I believe will happen, we are also closed in May, I'll have enough time to put it all together again.

A silver lining?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Random thoughts, Wednesday, April 1.

***I lost two days worth of posts. I have no idea why. Oh, well. Starting over with today.


***No April Fools jokes today. I loathe April Fools in the best of times, much less now.


***The comic industry seems to want to self-destruct. Some company of Point-of-Sales that I'd never heard of (I don't like POS) finagled some the publishers--we don't know who, yet, but probably Marvel at least--to sell comics digitally to our customers with the promise of physical copies later. For a bunch of reasons I won't go into detail about, this is a big NOPE. So far, a poll asking retailers is about 95% against.


***Driving into town today to leave Sabrina's paycheck at the store. I could mail it, but it's a good excuse to go somewhere. I went to the store yesterday and put away $1000 worth of games I got at 16% of retail. It's amazing when that much product simply disappears into the inventory.


***Got at least 5 phone calls in the three hours I was there. (I didn't answer--they'll get the gist.) I don't even have an answering machine. That's probably not so good.


***My estimation of curbside and online ordering was--it would be more trouble than it's worth. Especially for a store that has never been set up to sell that way. I've been waiting to see the results of those who went that way. Yesterday, this comment from another comic shop was a bit of confirmation.

"Curbside was slow; mail order to regulars has been slower, all despite spending more time and money on social engagements."


 ***There's a possibility that I could lay down some new flooring at the store in the month of May, assuming I can line up the labor and materials. Looking around the store yesterday, I quailed. When it comes time to do it--and it has to happen sometime--I'll just need to remind myself to take one step at a time.


***Watched the batshit crazy Bollywood movies, Baahubali I & 2 on Netfix last night.
Was all in on this one. So over the top it was funny and yet, I loved it.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wR48a1kLx0w

 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Workaholism is sneaky.

Linda has always said that I only slow down and relax when I'm sick. That is, I only really let myself do nothing when I have a bug. That same feeling of luxurious relaxation has come over me during the current crisis. It's the fact that my somewhat Puritan aspect is tamped down. Doing nothing is what I should be doing!

The funny thing is, I've always thought of myself as lazy--but I now believe that is just a sneaky element of being a workaholic. The constant spur to do more.

For example, I realized at some point that I was actually putting a huge amount of time and thought and effort into my business. But that thought and effort wasn't visible on the outside. What eventually happened is that I talked to enough other businesses to realize that it was possible that most owners hadn't really put a lot of analysis into what they were doing; nor were they as persistently relentless in their pursuit of it.

I think where this really shows up is that when I took a different route and started writing, leaving the store in Sabrina's capable hands, that the same thought and effort exploded into the equivalent of about 35 books. I mean, the whole time I was writing them, I still thought I was lazy.

In hindsight I can see how diligent I was. I mean, it's obvious now.

I compare it to what I saw my mother do. She was a great gardener, but it didn't come to her magically. She put huge time and effort into the process--and about 90% of it the public didn't see. I lived at home while this was happening, saw that she was absorbed by gardening from 6:00 in the morning to 9:00 at night, with a few breaks here and there. Her friends and customers only saw the magnificent garden and her encyclopedic knowledge of plants. She was inspiring, but I don't think most customers who talked to her understood the amount of work she put into her inspiration.

I'm not sure this is the best way to live. No one goes to their deathbed thinking, "Gosh, I wish I'd worked harder." Certainly, having a heart attack at the age of 66 is not an ideal result--though if stress was a contributing factor, I'd attribute that more to the stress of keeping a business afloat than the workaholism.

On the other hand I'm proud of what I've accomplished. 

Random thoughts, Sunday, March 29.

***Hopefully some of you find these random thoughts interesting. I used to check blogs everyday where there wasn't anything extraordinary about them, but they became a habit. Just a connection with another regular human being. (I probably should mention, many of these random thoughts occurred the day before and I'm just collecting them.)


***Nobody really seems to know what's going on with the stimulus bill. In fact, I seemed to know as much or more as the experts I talked to. I do tend to research things. Anyway, I'm in a phone queue at a local bank. What's for sure is that this isn't going to be a fast process. I predict some clogging.


***I am confused by the closing of trailheads. I mean, it's really, really easy to keep your distance outdoors. And it's a mentally, physically healthy thing to do. Even the beaches should be accessible, since it's usually pretty easy to keep your distance--at least, that's the way I've always done it. Just me and the surf and the sand.


***Not to be holier than thou, but I really think some of my retail brethren are kidding themselves if they think curbside pickup and all is going to make a difference to their bottom line--at least to justify the increased risk of an open vector. Just saying.


***Being a couch potato is your patriotic duty! Embrace the heroism!


***Young man who is our next door neighbor asked to come over to use computer to reboot his elderly father's phone. I wasn't happy about it, but what can you do? This is how the world ends.


***I have an itchy trigger finger on my book orders. So hard to hold back. I have great fun looking through the lists of books.


***It's noon and I'm starting my new regime. Sitting here at my desk for the next six hours, minus my hour walk, and trying to finish my stories. Part of this is establishing the habit of using my office for writing, instead of my bedroom.


***Every time I think I've found "my people," the differences arise and seem vast. I have to face the fact that I'm truly a loner. In the writing world, there seems to be a consensus that writing a first draft is hard and rewriting is a pleasure. For me, it's the opposite. What I'm noticing about the current isolation is that most of my retail brethren are making huge efforts to outreach socially, whereas I'm just shutting down until it's over.


***I've never been able to listen to music when I'm writing my stories. But my current rewriting seems to allow for that. In fact, it's kind of nice distraction so I don't get bogged down making corrections.


***The signals from Marvel and DC aren't good. It appears that they want to go around the comic shops. Which could undercut us to a deadly degree. Digital and through open stores. Horrible idea.





Saturday, March 28, 2020

Random thoughts, Saturday, March 28.

***I wrote a blog about the coronavirus on February 28th, "A Black Swan takes Wing."  I predicted that spring break wouldn't happen, and that it would be painful. Little did I know. The final line of the post is, "...if you live your life in fear of Black Swans, you may as well stay home."


***HEY!!! Shouldn't my book sales be going up? I mean, what else do people have to do?

***If you shave your beard at home and there is no one to see it, did you really shave your beard?


***My new walking route, only six minutes from the house, requires the old battered pickup truck I inherited (via Todd, from David.) I'm determined to get back to the daily routine of a one hour walk.


***Well, my guess right now is that I'm going to be home at least through May, probably longer. So I need to get something accomplished. Either start a new book, or spend that time finishing off my other projects. If I sit myself down in my chair from noon to six every day, I could probably polish off all four "Faerylander" books; the four "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities;" "Castle LaMagie;" "The Reluctant Wizard;" "Sometimes a Dragon;" and "Spell Realm;" the last four of which could be tailored to the "Spell Realms" series. It's just a matter of doing it. This doesn't require the concentration that writing a new book would so fits in with the overall distraction. So tomorrow, I'm sitting down and finishing off "Castle LaMagie." No ifs ands or buts.


***I know in advance I'm not going to be able to figure out the new SBA loan program. My accountant seemed to know less than I did, for now. So I called the Small  Business program up at COCC to get an appointment to help me through. I figure the line is going to get long, so the sooner the better.

What's weird is everyone seems to be confusing existing SBA loans for the new program. It seems clear to me, but it's obvious it isn't clear to others. LATER: OK, there was a previous program from last week's measure. The one to do is the one that was just signed.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Random thoughts, Friday, March 27.



***Crisis reveals character.
Assholes who draped themselves in "Americanism" are exposed as merely assholes.


***The magic doohickey tool on "Picard" was a bit much. Chabon writes SF adjacent, more a "magic realism" kind of guy.


***Big liquidation sale at one of my game suppliers. I basically bought every game offered--so a total of 77 new games. Not sure where I'll put them all, but the prices were too good to pass.  LATER: Well...they only had 21 out of the 77 still in stock, dammit.


***I read once that politicians, as a breed, are extraordinarily social and gregarious--except for the oddballs, like Nixon. So...Boris Johnson and all the other politicians you heard getting the virus. It seems like nature's way of saying, "Wake the fuck up!"


***The landlord came through with rent relief. Rent is by far my biggest fixed expense. We'll be taking damage for a couple more weeks, but after that, it's mostly utilities we'll still owe on. Now I just have to figure out which relief program to join. I expect it to be a mess. My dealings with the SBA in the past has been that they threw up so much red tape it wasn't worth it. Hopefully, this time it will be different.


***So a couple of days ago, I had a sore throat. I didn't have a fever or a cough or unusual aches and pains, and my breathing was strong. It was enough to put a little frisson of fear through me. If I could have gotten a hold of my doctor, I would have, but I didn't think it was worthy of a 911 call.
The next day, the sore throat is gone. So it was probably just from my allergy sinus runoff. Phew.



***Bob Dylan's new song. "Murder Most Foul." Can't decide if it's great or terrible or both. I decided a long time ago that Dylan's genius is that he's not afraid to sound foolish, and so he does, but then he'll do a passage that is pure brilliance. Wincing and wowing at the same time.


***How handy that our doorknobs are the kind we can push down with our elbows.


***If we have to self-isolate, I'm glad we have Jasper the Chaos Cat with us.


***They say you can wear blue jeans forever without washing. I'm putting that to the test.


***I can't decide whether to shave off my goatee and not look in the mirror and let my skin heal for a week or so; or to let the beard grow in. Or...just keep on keeping on.


***How much of right wing wingnut do you have to be to have even Trump calling you out? Hope the voters send you home permanently, Rep. Massie. 





Thursday, March 26, 2020

Random thoughts March 26

***I keep thinking the store is open. It's like a vestigial limb. Pegasus Books hasn't been closed in like 36 years! (At least, no for more than day at a time, like Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

Meanwhile, some of my compadres in the book, comic, and game business seem to me to be skirting the edges of the rules, looking for loopholes. They proclaim that they need to do so to survive.

Hey, you know, and I don't?

It's on their heads. I don't feel like risking myself, my wife, or Sabrina and her wife, or anyone else we might come in contact with.


***I told Sabrina I would continue to pay her wages, but I'm now uncertain what the best thing to do. If she goes on unemployment, she will probably take home more money. The downside being that there will be loads of red-tape for her to wade through.

Meanwhile, if she stays on, they are offering a loan program that will give me 2.5 her wages last year that will be forgiven if I use the money for utilities and rent and such, but I suspect there will be even MORE red tape.

I think I'll leave it up to her.

Later: I talked to her and we decided to take a wait and see attitude.


***Started reading one accountants detailed explanation of the stimulus package and my eyes rolled back in my head and I groaned. I have such a hard time with "fine print." I mean, I'm going to have to figure it out, but...


***Advertisements for face masks and TP on Facebook.

Look, I don't need a face mask. Doctors and nurses do.


***In a weird sort of way, there isn't much news. Or rather, there is a lot of news but it's all the same news.


***Went for another walk. Have found a place only six minutes away--the closest public space that isn't a park.

I keep hearing that people are being irresponsible going out of their house. Pardon me, but I think the term is "social" isolation, which has a measure of physical isolation, but not completely. When I'm in my car, I'm perfectly safe. Out walking, I was never closer than a hundred yards from anyone else with zero chance of touching a surface that someone else touched. 

***

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Random thoughts for Wednesday, March 25.



So I'm going to be doing this "Random Thoughts" thing for a while, since it feels pathetic to flood Facebook and Twitter with them (not that I use Twitter all that much--it's a totally inexplicable application to me.)

***Whenever I assemble liquidation book orders, there are always really good books that they have only one in stock. By the time I push the order button, they are usually gone, except for the ones that popped up that day.

Currently, these books seem to be staying available. Which means to me that no one is actually ordering anything.


***Amazon Author Central is no longer telling us our author rank. How can I live without knowing I'm the 40,000th most read author in America?


*** Let me preface this by saying I think this two trillion dollar bailout is a necessary measure. I certainly could use the help in my business. However, I also predict this is going to go down as the biggest boondoggle in history. Every scamster in the world is going to come out in full force.

I predict that after the first rush for "free money" that the so many preconditions and red tape and proof of need is going to be imposed that it will become almost unusable. Certainly, I don't intend to "borrow" money unless there is a good chance that the loan will be forgiven.

Sorry to be such a downer.


***Stress? My eyelids are twitching, I have a rash around the edges of my mustache which I've never had before (going to stop shaving there) and last night Linda and I watched the new "Invisible Man" and the anxiety level of the movie seemed to match what I was already feeling, to the point where Linda was patting my arm. (Usually, it's the other way around.) So...an unseen danger stocking me? Yeah, that.


***I've always imagined the future as a road I travel down. Last night, I closed my eyes and saw it as something rushing toward me, speeding up.



***Linda keeps showing me memes she finds on the internet. "Have you seen this?"

To which, I always answer, "There's no meme I haven't seen."


Tuesday, March 24, 2020


Was out for my (hopefully soon to be reinstated) daily walk when it occurred to me that we’re likely to see a giant wave of post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction. That is, you know, if we don’t start living it ourselves (and kill off the genre entirely.)

The dystopian stories from now on are likely to be a bit more realistic—oh, not in the action; I mean, a whole culture of couch potatoes isn’t exactly exciting, but in the feelings that such invisible danger and isolation engenders.

The best post-apocalyptic literature in the past—books like Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon—were able to evoke feelings of doom and hope which felt real.  

It’s brisk, windy day, a bit of hail, and a cold sprinkle. Dark clouds blowing overhead, a herd of twenty deer running across my path, the river flowing by, high and noisy, and it occurred to me that nature doesn’t give a damn about what happens to the human race.

If nothing else, this has made me much more introspective and reflective. So far, I’ve been spewing these ‘deep’ thoughts on Facebook, but I think I’m going to turn to this blog more often. I suspect I’ll be back to daily blog posts, probably more than one.

Anyway, maybe because I’m not writing fiction, I find myself doing these little essays instead. So here they are.

-->

Hermetically sealed.

I told Linda that as long as we're doing this, let's do it right. Cut down vectors to zero. I'm even kicking the newspaper inside the garage. That leaves the mail, which we haven't quite figured out. I figure getting in our cars and driving to deposit mail is OK or driving around just to get out of the house. I suspect we'll need one grocery run before this is over.

I figure it's all right to go walking in the woods by myself.

Bundled up last night around 10:00 and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Beautiful dark sky with bright stars. Didn't see a single car. A guy whizzed by me in a wheelchair, his boombox blasting, and he didn't acknowledge my greeting. Surreal.

Meanwhile, I'm not making much use of the extra time. You'd think it would be the perfect time to be writing, but I feel too distracted so far.  Lots of time online, mostly Facebook, so I've gotten into a few spats there with scofflaws, which is useless.

To my mind, curbside service and delivery are vectors--which is OK for food and medicine, but hard to justify for anything else. It bugs me that people are using loopholes and work-arounds for themselves without seeing how unfair that is to everyone else

I've been staring at the screen so much, my eyes hurt.

The current novel I'm reading is just good enough to keep me semi-engaged, but not enough to read it for long. I'm 2/3rds through so unwilling to give up. Besides, for some reason I don't read during the day anymore and I've always hated watching TV before dinner.

Not that we have established meals. Linda and I are extremely easy about meals. No fixed times, we fix meals for ourselves or if what we fix can be shared, we do that.

What's weird is this isn't really all that different from normal and yet feels completely wrong. Context is everything, I guess.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Well, I went and done it.

NOTICE!

For the safety of ourselves and our customers, Pegasus Books is closing for the next two weeks, starting today, March 22-April 6, pending further developments.

We are going to try to accept normal shipments, so rest assured your stuff will be waiting for you when this is all over.

Take care and see you on the other side!
 
 
Knowing what I know, I just couldn't justify staying open longer. I was hoping we could close at the same time as the seemingly inevitable state closure, but every day that went by, I was more uncomfortable asking Sabrina to work. Early on, there was the thought that young people were mostly safe, but that doesn't seem to be completely true. 
 
So we're closing as of today. I've already told Sabrina she'll get a regular paycheck for the next couple of pay periods. 
 
It's the right thing to do. Taking the moral high ground is never the wrong decision. 
 
Financially, it will obviously hurt, but we're in good enough shape to deal with it. So there it is.
 
If I have to self-isolate, I'm going all the way to make the best use of it. So no interaction with the outside world. I'll kick the newspapers inside the garage, let the mail sit in the garage for a couple of days before opening and otherwise be untouchable.
 
I'm drawing up the draw bridge from the ravening hordes. Yea!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

"This is going to be interesting."

I haven't posted for a while, not because I don't have anything to say but because I have too much to say, but it's the same stuff everyone else is saying, so why bother?

We're staying open at the store for now. Waiting for further developments. Generally we have less than 5 people in the store at any one time, so I think if we take precautions, it's an acceptable risk. I mean, risk wise, staying closed for a month would be devastating.

I think the decision may be taken out of my hands anyway. Closing down all retail is on the horizon, I think. I've told Sabrina that she'll get paid nevertheless, which is another costly thing, but the right thing to do.

The comic business is one business where closing down is extra harmful because we get weekly shipments, and have trained our customers to come in on a weekly basis. I can just stop ordering books and games, because we are extremely well-stocked as we are, but comics come in no matter what.

(Think about the ramifications of that--I don't buy anything, the companies who make, distribute, and transport those things also don't make money.)

As I was going to bed last night, I was thinking "This is going to be interesting."

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Writing a book. What happens if the worst...

Every time I've published a book I've had the fear that THIS will be the one no one likes. That's why I have a dozen books I haven't published, because each one has a weakness of some kind. Whether they really do have those weaknesses as compared to what I actually sent out into the world, I can't be sure. But since I've had books ready for each window of publishing opportunity that I was happy with, those are the ones I went with.

"Takeover" was a challenge from the start. It started out as character sketches, which I realized could be combined to make a story--which worked for the first third of the book. But then it became TOO challenging--that is, I began to believe it required writing skills I didn't have.

The idea was to make it as realistic as possible and to also deal with the difficult politics and personalities of the real event. It was based on the Malhuer occupation.

After writing about a third of the book, I realized I couldn't quite pull off the realism. I had a choice--continue to write it the way I was or turn it into a thriller.

I turned it into the thriller.

Then I was left with the difficulty of dealing with the first third of the book, which didn't quite work. I mean, it was a valiant effort, but I could see that it didn't have the depth I was hoping for. I moved chapters around, tried to fit it in, but it wasn't coming together. I set it aside.

When "Deadfall Ridge" did so well, I decided I could turn the main protagonist of "Takeover" into Hart Davis. Wrote a couple of new chapters, rewrote the other early chapters, and damn if it didn't work.

But the difficulties with the plot remained. I tried hard to smooth them over, to be ruthless in cutting out parts I liked which no longer fit. It has too many characters, basically, with first person viewpoints, but that was sorta the point.

In the end, I thought I came up with a pretty good thriller with some political developments and some characterizations that I liked. I also thought it was possible that the politics would turn people off, though I tried to be even-handed. In fact, I thought I might piss off both sides of the divide.

I waited anxiously for the reaction. It sold better than most books, probably because of the connection to "Deadfall Ridge," but I've gotten only one review, a three star:

"Interesting, but hard to follow at times.. I can't see the native Americans not getting into the story more"

Fair enough. I knew the number of narrators was going to be confusing. 

Meanwhile, I've gotten 15 ratings on Goodreads, coming in at a 3.60 level. A number of one stars, which are unexplained. So that would be the worst ranking of all the newer books. It could be because of the politics--I wouldn't be surprised--but it could also be because it was a difficult format.

But you know what? The more time passes, the happier I am with this book. I think it has some real merit. It may not have come out perfectly, but its got some true substance to it.  

So now I know how I would react to less than glowing reviews. It doesn't faze me, as it turns out, because I'm proud of the effort. I'm taking another look at the books I've set aside. They all have merit, as far as I'm concerned. Time to finish them up.

Friday, March 6, 2020

An experiment in capitalism.

This is going to be an interesting experiment. How many and for how long are customers going to stay away? How long can the average small business survive? How will the suppliers and landlords handle it?

If this had happened 20 years ago, it could have been the final nail in the coffin. I would reach the corner of Bond and Minnesota Ave. everyday and  have the same exact thought: "Anything happens today and we're done."

But we kept dodging disaster month after month until the thought stopped coming. Over the last twenty years we managed to get rid of most of our debt, build and diversify the store's inventory, and we've seen a resurgence in foot-traffic downtown.

But there is something people should understand. Few businesses have large margins for error--basically, because competition pushes us to the very edge of profitability. (Too profitable? Someone will soon be along to take a slice...)

It's tricky to start cutting back on orders before you see a significant decline--though that is the time to do it. When the decline starts, it's too late. You're going to eat inventory for as long as it takes to adjust.

We can afford to take the risk nowadays, so we're going along as normal. But I know a lot of businesses are going to shocked by what happens if they've never been through a Black Swan Event. My first twenty years were full of these out-of-the-blue disasters, mostly because we were too dependent on timely material and--to an uncomfortable extent--fads.

Fads don't happen the same way anymore, and we are much less susceptible to the problem of products that have a short shelf life. We have considerably more resources.  But obviously we aren't completely immune. It still hurts to lose money. I was well on the way to this being the first year in our history where I ordered everything I wanted for the store and still didn't go into debt--in fact, I was hoping to eliminate the last chunk of debt from years past.

We'll handle it. But I'll be curious to see how others handle it.

Monday, March 2, 2020

I don't want to get into any arguments with Bernie supporters--I like him fine. But there seems to be an attitude that anyone who doesn't support Bernie, or even worse support Biden, is doing it to stop Bernie in league with cynical old-timers. 

If Bernie can't get an enthusiastic response from black voters, it isn't some vast conspiracy.

There are also a lot of us older voters who remember the George McGovern massacre. He was branded as "far left." Those voters are still out there. It hasn't been proven to me that the "young" voters will turn out in force--but we can be sure that older voters who remember how strong the smear of "socialist" (Commie Pinko) was--will.

I'll support Bernie if he wins. I hope the Bernie voters will support whoever comes out of the convention--but I fear they won't.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Black Swan spreads Its wings.

I'm trying to figure out just how damaging the coronavirus outbreak will be to business.

On one hand, I've got examples of past "panics" or Black Swan events where business dropped off radically--such as the invasion of Kuwait. (Ironically, 9/11 wasn't as bad, maybe because Bush urged people to spend money as a patriotic duty...)

On the other hand, I know that most people don't think THEY'LL be the ones who get sick.

But I'm pretty sure this is different, because it's an epidemic, because of the scary news.

Seems most likely to me that people will hunker down, that they'll just stay home. Since my business is so dependent on tourism, that could mean a major hit during Spring Break, which isn't far away. So perhaps the prudent thing to do is to stop buying stuff now.

It doesn't matter how good your inventory is if people aren't coming in. 

But if I cut too much, I'll guarantee that there will be a downturn in business.

The answer, of course, it to moderate my spending. I've been very aggressive buying books, trying new titles, expanding categories. Which seems like the right thing to do when books sales are increasing by 125%. But I can moderate this to simply replacing the best-sellers and ordering the best new sellers. Not as satisfying, but does the job.

Same with games and graphic novels. Keep the store well stocked, but stop experimenting.

Of course, if the shit really hits the fan, no amount of cutting costs will cover the shortfall. But then, we'll all be in the same boat. Allowances will need to be made by landlords and suppliers.

Ironically, it's the first time I can see a negative to being in a high rent district. I've always maintained that moving away from a high-rent district is a mistake because the loss in foot traffic will be far more severe than the money you save on cheaper rent. For the first time, I can see how having a low rent might be an advantage during emergencies.

Then again, living for emergencies is a pretty stupid way to live. Yes, they come along, but if you live your life in fear of Black Swans, you may as well stay home.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

I so want to steal a story.

When Linda and I owned the Bookmark, we'd get in some weird tomes, some of which I took home. One was entitled: "The Real Bohemia: A Sociological and Psychological Study of the 'Beats.'"
It was written in 1961 and it's unintentionally hilarious. It treats the "Beats" as if they are from outer space, a completely alien culture. It was written in the narrow window of time between the Beats and the arrival of the Beatles and the complete transformation of our culture. It's the equivalent of reading "The Forest People," by Colin Turnbull, or Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa.

It's a book version of "Reefer Madness," a couple of square scientists trying to figure out what this strange new species of humans are about and coming to extreme conclusions.

I kept the book as a curiosity.

But I recently had an idea for a book about gnomes--only my gnomes aren't cute and quaint, but dirty, nasty, and anti-social. They've recently come out of hiding and are all around us, though making no attempt to integrate with human culture.

They are basically an analog for the homeless--dumpster diving, begging on street corners, yelling curse words at passersby.

 I pulled out "The Real Bohemia" and started typing it, substituting "Gnomes" every time the authors used "Beats" and it's hilarious. (Actually, it might make an even funnier book if I substituted "Hipster" for "Beatnik."

Entitled: "The Unknown Gnome: A Sociological and Psychological Study of the Fairda."

I mean, it really, really works as a satire. But damned if I can figure out a way to do it without plagerism. I mean, I could start from scratch and try to imitate it, but it works so much better with their dry, unintentionally square commentary.

Yeah, but I'm pretty sure I can't use it. Dammit.

I looked up copyright, and open domain isn't as far away as I thought: 70 years, which means I'd have to wait 11 more years. By which time, if I'm still around, I'll probably have forgotten all about it.  Heh.

At worse, I can try to imitate the tone for the chapter headings. In fact, that's probably what I'll do.  I still like the basic idea of the book.
Suddenly, the thought of writing a book is daunting.

But the real question is, not whether I can write another book--I can do that--but whether I want to challenge my capabilities.

But what challenging my capabilities really means is--do I want to challenge my frustrations? Because when I attempt to do more than what is possible, I'm pretty much insuring that I'll fall short.

The novel as a Platonic Ideal.

I've taken a break from writing. I mean, I'm more or less doodling right now, keeping myself in the game, but I haven't committed. Writing an entire book has suddenly become daunting.

So I've been asking myself -- what am I trying to accomplish? I've been asking myself that from the beginning, and I've never had a clear answer. It usually comes down to whether I want sales or good reviews or to simply satisfy myself, or some combination thereof.

But all along I've had the concept of the "good book." The Platonic Ideal. The book that exists in my head.

So the question right now is--and this has also been there from the beginning; do I reach this Platonic Ideal of the "good book" through intuition or intellect?

Of course, the answer is, and always has been, both. The Platonic Ideal of the Duncan McGeary book requires everything I have, put together in just the right way, with just the right combination of elements. 

So then question becomes--is it possible to write this book? And do I have enough time to do it?

I'll never know the answer.  I can only try.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A matter of inches. More books!

I have opened 5 different stores, I've doubled the space of 2 stores, I've done a pop-up store.

I've closed 3 stores. The last store I closed--Redmond--I had to pretty much do it myself, leveraging and lifting more than I should. I literally gave myself a hernia. (There are only so many times you can ask people to help you--same goes for asking friends to buy your books...) Linda's store was bought as is--though the new owners pretty much changed everything. I ended up buying back the bookcases, which--again--was almost the same as closing a store.

In other words, it's a lot of work.

I'm very happy with my downtown store, except that I've been out of room for years now. I waited for decades for downtown to take off like it has. We are doing well with the tourists, especially with new books and graphic novels.

So the focus has been on buying product than I can actually fit into my store. Mostly, this means the product has to be stackable--such as games, books, jigsaw puzzles, that kind of thing. I have wall space above the seven foot range which is suitable for toys--probably only suitable for toys.

So the mix is pretty good.

Anyway, the point of this is that I'm scrounging for space. Inches of space. Yesterday I started a little renovation I've had in mind for awhile now. I'm replacing the two used bookcases with bookcases suitable for new books. (We are done with used books.)

Originally, I thought that's all I would do, which would have been work enough. Boxing up all the books, carrying the bookcases downstairs, bringing new bookcases up, putting everything in order. But yesterday I realized that I could squeeze a few more inches out of it.

I have two sizes of bookcases. One size is three inches wider than the other.

I decided to replace four of the smaller bookcases, for a 18 extra linear inches per case; a grand total of 72 inches of linear space. It's a lot of work for just a few inches of shelves, but every inch counts. My store is completely packed, from top to bottom.

As it happened, an outward display in the store fell down on a kid who was trying to climb it the other day. Sabrina took the fixture downstairs. Rather than risk that happening again, I decided to put another bookcase in its place.

The end result is that I have equivalent of four new bookcases.

One is going toward expanding our mystery section. Two are going to be dedicated to non-fiction books. And one is going to be used for graphic novels and art books.

Every time I do this kind of ergonomic reorganization, I swear I've reached the limit. But there always seems to be another inch or two to be found if I think about it long enough.

Hopefully, there will never be an earthquake, because we'd be buried.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

So this isn't working.

Waiting for inspiration.

If I want to keep writing, I'm going to have to set a daily goal. It doesn't have to be 1500 to 2000 words like it was during my prime; maybe 500 words, something like that.

There have been moments when the words have come--but they've almost always been at inconvenient times; late at night as I'm falling asleep or on the drive to Bend going to work, that kind of thing. Which--if I give into to urge--means either insomnia or being late for work.

I sort of knew this going in, but I was hoping for the best.

The thing is, writing books had finally become a JOB. Which, you know, it isn't. I mean, I earn my income elsewhere. I want good selling books, but that isn't the main goal.

But the problem I started having was, I knew that could plunk down another book every four or five months or so--but that's just what it would be: Plunking Down a Book. I wanted to try something new.

I'm still contemplating this dilemma, before I commit to a disciplined schedule again. But clearly, my magnum opus is never going to be written waiting for inspiration.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

90% drop in book sales in China.

I read the headline in passing, not knowing I was going to write this, so it may be it's just the province in China. Still it's a timely reminder of what could happen.

There have been several instances of gigantic sales drops over the last 40 years. Some are systemic, such as the collapses of bubbles or steep recessions.

But some occur because of Black Swan events. The one that Linda and I both remember is the invasion of Kuwait. For some reason, this one had outsized effects. No business for weeks. It more or less was the final coffin to our Sisters store.

9/11 didn't have as big effect. I hate to credit him, but Bush's call for people to keep spending must have helped.

Anyway, there is always a chance of something like this happening, and if you don't have reserves, it can do you in.

Just another reason not to get overextended.
Last year, we were a little unlucky in the first part of the year (though the rest of the year was good). There was a steep dropoff in sales in the last ten days in January, and then the absolute snow disaster of February.

This year, we didn't have the dropoff, and so far February has been decent. Plus the budget seems to be mostly under control. Partly, I think, because we aren't adding new product lines presently. We are simply resupplying, plus a little new, plus a little discounted.

We got a little lucky in the last week in that sales were better than normal just as some bills came due.

Usually there are spot shortages, but for some reason the sales are pretty smooth across the board. The only thing we sold out of was D & D miniatures. Everything else is stocked in the 80% to 100% range.

It's fun to see the store performing well after all these years.

In fact, we've been busy enough that I haven't been able to effectuate the changes I wanted to make. I'll probably try to do those in my next two working sessions. 

We are going to double sales on new books again this month. This is almost entirely due to my coming back to work and figuring out a consistent ordering pattern. (Once a week for new books, order on Sunday, receive on Tuesday. Twice a month for liquidations.)

I think it's just a matter of keeping up, for now.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

I'm not saying it's easy...

...but it seems to me that new books are a much easier product to carry than comics. For a number of reasons, but this morning it occurred to me that one good reason is that with books I can actually wait to see if a title is a hit before I order it. Not only that, but I have a couple of hundred years worth of titles that have proven track records.

With comics? It's a guess, and if I don't order them upfront, I don't get them at all. Graphic novels improve the odds--the hit series can be collected that way. But as a full-service comic shop, we have to order any significant comic title up to months in advance, with limited information, and no ability to return unsold copies.

Not that I return new books. I've decided that the discipline of ordering only what I think will sell should be applied to any product.

Books are now my best selling category--if I split comics and graphic novels into two categories. Comics and graphic novels are still my most important product, accounting for roughly half of all sales, but new books, games, and toys are a good solid other half, and I can adjust my orders accordingly.

I've kept the store completely stocked during the last couple months--something I've never accomplished before. Usually by the time I pay off all the end of the year bills, my store is somewhat depleted of product and the money to restock. I've always been aggressive about restocking, willing to go into debt to be paid off in the summer, but this is the first year I've stayed stocked from day one and also stayed even in my accounts.

I'm happy with the mix of product, and I don't feel like a major reinvestment in something new is needed--also one of the first times in my career that this has happened. Now I'm just trying to make what I've got better on an incremental basis. 


Saturday, February 15, 2020

All my favorite detectives are getting old.

I turned to thrillers for my main reading diet in the 80s. I sampled a ton of them and eventually settled on a coterie of writers whose every book I read. I've kept that up until this day.

From literary, like John Le Carre, James Ellroy, and James Lee Burke to fast, simple reads, like Lee Child and John Sandford, and everything in-between. Daniel Silva, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Thomas Perry, Stephen Hunter. (I'm aware they're all men--I liked early Nevada Barr, Patricia Cornwell, and others, but eventually lost interest. I never could get into the smart ass detectives, male or female. Just as I can no longer stand James Ellroy's style or John Le Carre existentialist angst.)

There is usually a bonanza of new books to read in January and February--novels that came out at Christmas and are finally available used.

I'm currently reading the latest Bobby Lee Swagger book, by Stephen Hunter. Swagger is an old man now, with a hip replacement. The gun fetish is a little much--gun porn.

But it occurred to me that all these old detective/spies/cops are getting old. Connelly's Bosch is retired, picking up odd cold cases. All these old guys are finding it hard to get around and chase the bad guys. My favorite current thriller writer, Thomas Perry, has somewhat avoided this by writing diverse characters. Then again, one of his latest books is called, "The Old Man."

It can get silly, like Lee Child constantly trying to find ways to get Reacher in the thick of things, or Gabriel Allon being an active agent though he's now in charge of everything. In fact, all these guys have either reached the pinnacle of their career--and therefore have the Star Trek problem of having the leader of the whole enterprise (heh) doing away missions, or have washed out of the department and therefore have no access to the procedures--which is a problem in a procedural novel.

So this would be the downside of having a franchise character. Eventually they age out.

Just as I have apparently aged out. What's alarming is that I haven't been able to replace these "old" standbys with new writers. Were the 80s a Golden Age for these kinds of books, or have I just missed the boat? I know I try new writers all the time, but almost none of them fit the bill. Most I find either adequate or bad or gimmicky. (Gimmicky seems to be the new thriller model...)

Eventually, I'm going to need to find good replacements for these guys--or switch genres again. I've always read SF, and a bit of fantasy, occasional horror, some non-fiction, and the occasional literary novel (less and less of those, because--my God, most of them are boring.)

The fact that I haven't really liked most of the SF award winners from the past decade is probably just me getting old and not getting into the swing of things.

It's my own fault--and somewhat alarming to realize that I've become so predictable in my tastes.


Friday, February 14, 2020

15 millions books in print and nothing to read.

Started watching a documentary about Internet Cats last night.

It was exhausting. Everyone doing everything they can to get their 15 minutes of fame.

What's obvious is that the real successes came early and by accident--by luck, pretty much. The people who came along later and tried to cash in on the craze mostly failed. But even if they succeeded, the pursuit of the venal was just too dispiriting to watch.

I turned to Linda about 10 minutes in and said, "Had enough?"

"More than enough."

I think the thing that was most exhausting was the knowledge that the same thing is happening with indie writers. There were those who came early and caught on, and then there's everyone else. The occasional lucky or skilled media manipulator and the even more occasional genius--and everyone else.

I perhaps have a more jaundiced view than most because I also own a bookstore. I check the book liquidation lists every day. Hundreds and thousands of Young Adult series that look good on the surface but have gone nowhere. Hundreds and thousands of literary novels. Hundreds and thousands of genre books. Most of them being presented as if they are the "next" Harry Potter or Hunger Games or whatever the latest success has been.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" is going to spawn a million copycats.

15 million books in print--and not a drop to drink.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Drinking and writing.

There's a lot of literature on the subject, but I can only tell you my own experiences.

Way back in the mid-70s, when I was struggling to write my first books, I was drinking fairly often. I used alcohol to get me going. I seemed to need it to loosen my creative juices and to still my doubts. I'd spend time in a drunken haze thinking up wild ideas. I used the promise of a few glasses of wine or beer to sit my butt in a chair and write.

It seemed to help. It seemed to me that I had insights and clarity, in vino veritas. I suspect those first books wouldn't have been written without alcohol.

In hindsight I can see the drawbacks. I can see that many of the dysfunctional habits I developed can be traced to being soused. The biggest problems I had were the constant changing of narrative in mid-stream, the incessant starting over, and the obsessive rewriting.

Then I married a teetotaler, bought a bookstore, had two stepkids. I needed to stay sharp during the day, I found myself losing my temper more often after I drank (strangely, not so much while I was drinking. I'm mostly a happy drunk.)

I didn't stop drinking overnight. I never felt that I had huge problems with drinking, it's just that the benefit/cost ratio changed. The benefit of feeling loose wasn't enough to overcome cost of sleep disruption, stomach upset, and psychological dislocation.

I never made a decision to stop drinking. I still haven't. I'll probably drink some night in the future and won't feel guilty about it. But the habit just sort of petered to a stop.

So after a 25 year hiatus, I came back to writing with a vengeance. I figured that drinking would be part of the process, but something different happened. The benefit/cost ratio proved to be way out of whack. I didn't seem to have many insights, it didn't seem to help me concentrate, and the damage done to my body and mind seemed excessive.

So then I thought I'd save alcohol for moments when I was stuck or undecided.

That didn't seem to work either.

Meanwhile, I wrote a bunch of books stone-cold sober. I proved that I could do it, and there didn't seem to be any drawback.

I still harbor a hope that one night I'll have an epiphany while soused that will elevate whatever I'm writing--but so far, that hasn't come close to happening, so I'm not going there.  

The dilettante's approach to writing.

I read over a few months worth of blog posts yesterday (which shows I have time on my hands.) I noticed that I had 3 or 4 either starts or outlines of viable story lines. A couple of which I'd already forgotten.

This is the way much of the 25 year hiatus went. I'd get an idea, jot it down or write a page or two, and then forget about it. Sometimes I'd get as far as a few chapters.

It took me five years of writing and rewriting to get my first book written. When Star Axe was accepted by Tower Books way back in 1979, my Dad challenged me to replicate the achievement and he'd buy me a new typewriter--one of the new-fangled Smith-Corona daisy wheels. Top of the market back then. I'd already started Snowcastles by then and it was quickly accepted.

Anyway, I've never lacked ideas. Whether they're good ideas is a whole 'nother question. There's the old saying that everyone has one good book in them. (Maybe...but not everyone can write it.)

I'm sort of proud of the diversity of my efforts. I haven't followed the same formula, that's for sure. Maybe to the detriment of my so-called "career."

I actually feel kind of sorry for authors like Lee Child or Robert Crais, who have to write the same book 30 times. (I'm sure they're crying all the way to the bank.)

Coming up with ideas and letting them hang there is a dilettante's approach to writing. Dare I say that is what happens to most people who "want" to be a writer? Ultimately, it's very frustrating and unfulfilling.

The last story I tried to write, "Ruby Red and the Robots," wasn't finished. Followed by all these ideas that have gone nowhere.

I seem to have settled into the No Man's Land of the dilettante-ism all of a sudden. It seems to be part of a cycle. Even as I was writing heavily for the last six years, I knew that the time would come.

Interestingly, the difference between this fallow period and others is that I'm not drinking. I think I used to try to substitute discipline for alcohol. Not that that worked very well.

So I'm trying to figure out the path forward. Like I said, I'm not sure that just writing another book under the same regime will do me any good. Something has to change, I'm just not sure what.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Spending time with siblings can be a bit of a reality check.

Betsy and Susie were home for a few days and we spent a couple of evenings together. It's always interesting to check my memory of our childhood with theirs. My memory more or less sucks. I don't remember much. There are also the shifting experiences that each sibling had. Susie, the youngest, undoubtedly had a completely different experience than Mike, the oldest.

Linda and I have been watching "Evil" on TV. The family has four little girls who all talk at the same time. It's a maddening cacophony.

"That's not how it works," I told Linda, who was much younger than her siblings, almost an only child. We have that somewhat in common in that I was a middle child, in-between a couple of close couples of siblings as well as there being a 4 year gap between me and my sister Tina.

"What happens is that things shake out, that there is a priority of attention. When Mike and Tina were home, I couldn't get a word in edgewise. When they were gone, Betsy probably became the most vocal. I was probably quieter, and I think, so was Susie."

Anyway, much of the dysfunction in our family came earlier, and probably became less severe as time went on.

I've also always maintained that each of us McGeary kids married spouses who had much less fucked up notions about money. I think we also married people who had much more even tempers (which was probably just about anyone.)

Now what I may say about the "temper" issue may sound bad, but I've come to the conclusion that there was a positive side to it.

Basically, we all had volcanic tempers that could erupt and become a full-blown firefight.

But here's the thing. It was usually over fast, and no one ever held a grudge. It was just accepted that it was blowing off steam. It was so accepted that I don't think we thought it abnormal. There would be a huge fight in the morning, and by afternoon everyone would have forgotten about it.

Venture into the work-a-day world, and we find out that venting steam doesn't work too well. People tend to take it personally, and they don't tend to forget it. I also think each of our spouses had to make accommodations to us McGeary fireballs.

But here's the thing. We McGeary kids have never had any kinds of estrangements. We simply don't hold grudges. I'm not sure that letting out our grievances in one eruption and then forgetting it is the worst way to do things. At least, among us--who are accustomed to such behavior and understand it.

But I know one thing--it doesn't work when you're a boss, and it took me a long, long time to learn to adjust my behavior. I didn't always succeed, though I hope and believe that over the years I've gotten better with each new wave of employees.

It also doesn't work with spouses and friends who tend to see such temper tantrums as the end of the world.

Like I said, I think because of my middle of the family position, I became much more of a loner than the rest of my siblings, so I often missed out on what was going on. So talking to Bets and Sue is always revealing, mostly in a reassuring way.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

It's been exactly a year since my heart attack. It affected me in ways I wouldn't have predicted. I feel less motivated to accomplish anything than I did before. I'm actually exercising less. I managed to lose 20 pounds, but most of that happened before the event.

I've gone back to working at the store 3 days a week and I'm enjoying that.

But it is obviously affecting my writing. Driving to the store yesterday, I had an entire scene come to me, but I was busy driving. Some of the scene is still in my head, but I'm not feeling motivated enough to write it down.

I'd have thought I'd be more inspired to go traveling, see a little of the world. Instead, I just feel like staying home. There is a bit of existential angst there--like, what's the point of anything? Why does it matter?

I'm not depressed, I don't think. I remember what that felt like, and this isn't it. I'm more zen than upset, but everything has a tinge of the temporary. Nothing lasts, nothing will be remembered.

On the other hand, I'm probably more relaxed. I'm falling back into old habits. I'm reading more. I'm listening to music more. I'm contemplating the quiet more.

I was aware intellectually of my mortality, but I don't think I felt it. Still, I'll always remember the helicopter trip to St. Charles and how at peace I was with everything. I wasn't scared. It was what it was. (Sure, I was hopped up on morphine, but I prefer to believe that I was accepting of my fate.)

I've been very lucky. There was a time in my mid-twenties when I felt everything was hopeless. I had no prospects, no friends; I was a bit of a charity case for my family. So having come out of that feels like a huge accomplishment. Marrying Linda, knowing Todd and Toby, running a business for 40 years, writing 30 books. I'm grateful for it all.

I've never understood ambition. I just don't have that drive. I just want a little peace and quiet, and hopefully some security. A best friend and wife, and friends/acquaintances through the store and writing. I'm going to try to "enjoy every sandwich."

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Inspiration writes a page or two.

Since I've taken a break from writing, I've been feeling the creative wellspring refilling. It manifests itself in images and words and dreams and ideas.

That, in itself, is not enough to get anything accomplished. In a sense, my creative energy was being charged during my 25 year hiatus, and when I finally let loose, it came out in a torrent that lasted for five or six years.

I once again find myself having small ideas, which I sit down to write. I've had the title, "An Unknown Gnome," in my head for many years. Just liked the sound of it. So yesterday I got an idea of what that title meant and wrote a page.

That's basically what inspiration does. Inspiration alone writes a page or two. To develop that idea requires more effort.

As a writer, I run into people all the time who talk about wanting to write a book. I think I have the answer to that: writing a book is like any other kind of project. You have to put in the time and work. Simple as that.

Most of us have to work at something. So take that something and apply it to writing, and that's what it takes. But for most of us, that "work" is our day job, what we do to survive. Personally, I wasn't able to do my day job and also spend the same amount of time and energy on writing a book. I know there are people who can do that, but not me.

When I came back to writing, I just wanted to finish one book. It was a struggle and that book still isn't finished to my satisfaction. I sat down and wrote a second book, and again, it came up short. But toward the end of that second book, I sort of recaptured the feeling I had writing Snowcastles and Icetowers, and wrote Freedy Filkins in a hurry.

After that, there was no stopping me.

But I did have to bear down on each story, with an inner commandment--Thou shalt finish every story you start, good, bad, or indifferent.

In other words, it takes a commitment to be diligent and to follow through. I look inside myself and I seem to be lacking that discipline right now. Everything else is still there--the desire and the ideas. But the thought of writing a book is enough to tire me before I start.

I have a number of completed books that just require polishing, so I'm going to diligently work at that. It's at least a valuable an activity as writing another book from scratch--maybe more so. I'm still indulging my creative urges, just in a more haphazard, random way.

Which probably means I'll have a bunch of one or two page beginnings for a while yet.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Enjoying the store.

Sabrina called in sick yesterday, so I worked a day I don't ordinarily work. It was fun. I got to see some of the Wednesday crowd--comics are put out on Wednesday, so the most involved comic readers tend to come in on that day.

For one thing, I'm surprised that I seem to know as many people as I do. I mean, I was working almost every day for 30 years, so I met a whole lot of people, but I'd forgotten how many of them had become friends, or at least friendly acquaintances.

It helps that we aren't in deep debt, so there is less stress than there used to be. Honestly, the stress didn't bring out the best in me. Now I can be somewhat relaxed. So I enjoyed yesterday, sort of puttered around the store, having done most of my chores on my usual Sunday and Monday shifts.

The store is fully stocked--which almost never happens this time of year. We managed to pay down the debt to a manageable level over Christmas without stripping the store. Usually we spend the first few months of the year either trying to get by on existing inventory or going into debt to get back up to speed. This year we managed to keep the store stocked without going into debt. There isn't any category in the store where I don't feel like we're fully stocked.

It's something to be proud of. This was the store I always envisioned. Like I say, it only took 30 years to get here.

I'm also enjoying the talking to people about books, which is my first love. I can talk about books all day long, plus I'm talking to interesting people. It's also fun to sell one of my books almost every day I work.

So coming back to work has been an unexpected pleasure.

I guess the five year break was just what I needed to appreciate what I had. 


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Opinions, opinions, opinions...

Do you guys really want to hear my opinions?

I'm just working this stuff out myself, trying to figure out what's happening. So a couple of recent news stories.

1.) The resurgence of Indie bookstores.

First of all, I think this is slightly overstated. It's not like they're doubling overnight. There does seem to be a steady drip of new bookstores--but there is also a steady drip of bookstore closures. There also seems to be quite an overlap. That is, bookstores that opened less than 5 years ago already closing.

Anyway, as I always try to point out, opening a bookstore isn't the same thing as creating a successful business. I've noticed over the years that even businesses that are failing will hang in there longer than you think they will.

A recent article talked about how the closure of Borders opened the door to Indie stores. However, in Central Oregon, it obviously had no effect. We never had a Borders and the Barnes & Noble appears to be still going strong. Yet we've had a number of Indie bookstores open locally--and then close.

The other point this article made is that many of these stores are being opened by people who could probably make more money somewhere else or who have already had successful careers. I think this is true--and it isn't necessarily a good sign. Sometimes what helps a store survive is the necessity of making it work. Anyone who opens a business who doesn't NEED to turn a profit...probably won't, and also probably won't stick with it forever.

2.) Street closures. It appears that the downtowners are finally making enough noise about street closures to effect change. I have my doubts that they'll succeed, or that the changes will be significant, but more power to them.

At least there is the acknowledgement that it isn't good for business. It was something I started talking about, oh, I don't know THIRTY FRICKING YEARS AGO!

Ah, hem. Anyway, they are talking about limiting events to two a month during the summer instead of three, and making sure that the events are no more than two days INCLUDING the setup.

That last point is important. The biggest change that happened over the last twenty years wasn't the number of events but their creeping expansion.

For example-- the bike race (which is now gone), went from being a "Twilight" criterion, happening after closing, to a full day event, plus the setup the night before. Just about every event pushed the boundaries as far as they could push them.

So hopefully the downtowners will be able to get the changes made. But I'm not all that optimistic. It sounds to me like they're being placated by event organizers "communicating" better. Which is pretty damn useless.

"I'm going to negatively impact your business--but at least I'll tell you about it beforehand!"

My own store has mainstreamed enough so these events don't kill us--they are annoyances more than anything. But I'm pretty sure the specialized businesses downtown (imagine being a barber shop for instance) are still being hurt.

If the city councilors will only listen. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

What kind of books sell in my store.

Been thinking about what's working at my bookstore.

First of all, I'm concentrating on quirky books. Because of my location, I'm selling books mostly on impulse. The locals will never come around to seeing me as a bookstore. It doesn't matter what I do. So I have to sell to people who walk in the door and see books and think, "Bookstore!"

But what are those types of people looking for?

Not the ABA (American Booksellers Association) style books, the New York Times bestsellers, the books reviewed by NPR. At least, not as often.

Instead, I'll sell a worthy book that been around for a long time but not everyone has read. My clientele for books is mostly tourists or locals who are wandering around downtown, and it seems they want something different--something they didn't know they wanted when they walked in the door.

I can see the difference when I hang out at Herringbone Books in Redmond. Brandon has a steady flow of people coming in the door with specific requests. That is, it appears the majority of customers there aren't there to browse, but to find a particular book. Often it's bestsellers, books they've heard in the media, or books that friends have recommended.

Whereas at Pegasus Books, if they are looking for anything specific, it's usually something offbeat. I don't know if this is because my bookstore already appears to them to be a strange place, but generally I don't get asked for the bestseller of the moment.

Which I don't mind.

I concentrate on the backlog of great authors that people have either heard of or once read. Vonnegut, P.K.Dick, Murikami, Bukowski. Or classics that they've always wanted to read. Or cult books that they have heard about but never seen before.

For me, the quirkier, the better.

Oh, I've decided to carry the mainstream bestsellers, at least some, but they sell rather pathetically compared to their reputation.

What's great about buying books that are just a little to the side of the books that most bookstores sell is that it makes my store unique. One of my criticisms of ABA model stores is that they are all pretty much alike in what they carry.

Anyway, once I identify a quirky book as a good seller, I keep it in stock. So my job is to keep adding to that list.

For instance, I stumbled upon a deluxe hardcover version of Edith Hamilton's "Mythology." (A book that's been around since 1942.) I'd carried the paperback almost from the beginning and sold it a couple of times. But damned if the much more expensive version hasn't sold a bunch of times.

Or the deluxe version of "The Princess Bride."

What I've concentrated on is buying the most interesting version of a book. For instance, some of the old classics are being reproduced in their original format. These versions are dripping with nostalgia.
Another trick is to look for classic books with cover art done by current indie artists. (Often the same artists whose graphic novels I've been carrying for years.) So, for instance, a funky cover of Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums" by 'Jason.'

Finally, I try to carry books that are offbeat. I was visiting Artifacts bookstore in Hood River and I asked my usual question. "What book is selling that I wouldn't know about?"

I was directed to, "How to Talk to Your Cat about Gun Safety."

OK. I was doubtful, but why ask the question if I'm not going to follow through? Amazingly, I've sold that book over and over again based on the title alone. Those are the kinds of books that I'm looking for. Ones that stand out on the shelf, either because of the title, the art, or the general weirdness of the idea.

So I started off with a general idea of what people might be looking for based on years of never having a used book version of that request. Over time the list of books that are quirky but sell has been steadily growing. I'm certain that there are still tons of titles that will fit this category, and I'll discover them little by little. All of which makes the store that much stronger.

Plus it's fun.

And finally, I make a real effort to carry more the usual amount of genre books--especially SF and Fantasy, Horror, Mystery and Suspense. I'm very knowledgeable about these genres, and have read a bunch of them that I can recommend.

I just like books. I've always had a wide range of interests--and I've always been interested about where certain authors and titles fit in the scheme of things. It a big puzzle that I'm trying to decipher and it's a fun challenge.

And so far, it's paying off.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Even though the BookBub promotion was in September of last year, I've encouraged my publisher to keep the reduced (.99 cent) price on "Deadfall Ridge." Meanwhile, its sequel, "Takeover," is at the regular $4.99 price.

It's a strange thing to see that a book at full price that sells 1/10th the numbers of a book at a reduced price, but earns a profit of 33% more overall.

In this case, the full-priced book probably wouldn't be selling as well as it is without the discounted book bringing attention to it. So I'm good with that. I've gone ahead and agreed to another promotion from a different site--not sure if will be as effective as BookBub, but since "Deadfall Ridge" is on a roll, as least as far as number of copies sold, I'd like to try to keep the momentum going.

I mean, the idea is to get more readers, who hopefully will buy some of my other books. But damn, getting 30% of a reduced price instead of 70% of a full price makes it hard to make money.

If you've ever wondered about discounting, this should tell you everything you want to know. I spent years, decades really, having to reduce prices at the store in order to pay the bills. I rarely if ever had an official "Sale;" it was more a one-on-one situation where I'd try to sell an item to a customer on a customized basis: a good customer who I wanted to keep happy, or a one-time customer eyeing a one-of-a-kind item that I might never sell to anyone else, or any oversupply that needed to be weeded down.

 That kind of thing. There were a couple of lean years where I was hand-selling just about everything at a reduced price. Makes it very hard to earn enough to restock the store

Someone gave me the advice early on that you can tell the health of a store by how well they can stick to regular prices.

About 2002 or so, not long after I finally got out from under a huge debt, I decided that I would sell everything in my store at regular price. This mean not discounting anything, but it also meant not raising any prices because of the "collector" thing--with a few exceptions.  It also meant not buying anything off the street.

Everything is strictly wholesale/retail.

That doesn't mean that I don't occasionally sell stuff at reduced prices--again, at the "customized" level, but it's much rarer now.

I think it's a fair policy, and I'm very glad I made that choice. I never felt comfortable raising prices because of "collectability," but as as long as I was in that game, it was necessary. Now I let the customers decide whether something is collectable or not. I may be leaving money on the table, but it feels like the moral high ground, and it makes life so much easier.

As I say, "Collectability is what happens once it leaves the store."

That's not to say that I don't bump prices on toys or comics a little bit if the supply chain somehow demands it--like qualifying for certain incentives and/or exclusives, but I try to keep the price increases to a minimum--just enough to cover the risk.

We're sometimes confronted with a comic going way up in price--when that happens, we sell that comic for far below whatever ebay is selling it for.  There are many times when I know for a fact that I'm selling below market price, but a policy is a policy. (A policy that isn't followed isn't a policy at all.)

Fortunately, this situation is becoming much rarer. 99% of the time, I'm buying an item at wholesale and selling at Suggested Retail Price. It's nice predictable formula, but only possible because the store has reached a sustainable level.

In other words, the store is healthy, and the level of stock fully justifies the asking prices. (Not to mention the downtown location, trying to pay an engaged manager a fair wage, the taking chances on more obscure items, and so on.)

Surprisingly, few customers question it. Oh, I occasionally get someone who won't buy unless it's discounted, but I let them go their way. Sometimes I understand and sometimes I just shake my head. One of the reasons the store is interesting at all is because I'm earning enough of a profit to stock harder to sell items, to take chances, to buy stuff that a Walmart wouldn't bother to carry.

It took a long to get here. I'm hoping I can keep it going. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

They're waiting for my next book! ....aren't they...?

You may have noticed I'm not talking about writing as much.

That's because I'm not writing, except snippets here and there.

Apparently, after 7 years and 30 books, I've indulged my little whim to be a writer. Rather astounding to look back at. Somehow I kept that momentum going far longer than I ever would have ever thought possible.

In fact, I just wanted to finish one book. You know, just to prove to myself that I could do it. Finish, but not necessarily publish.

For 7 years I convinced myself that it was imperative that I finish the next book. I basically imposed a fake urgency to it all. I had all kinds of reasons--keeping momentum by releasing a book every 4 to 5 months, following up on success, convincing myself that publishers were eagerly awaiting my next effort (they weren't...), fitting into the schedule of my cover artists and editors, and so on.

Even as I was letting the pressure of these faux imperatives motivate me, I knew inside that most of it wasn't true. I kept wondering when it would fade, when I'd want to take a break, when I'd be called back to save the store or some other emergency.

I had a heart attack. That was the break point. Not sure why. I'm pretty healthy now, there really isn't an excuse. But once I took a break, the fever started fading.

I'm not going to stop writing, but the urgency isn't there anymore. I have a number of books that just need to be polished. Probably several years worth if I want to keep up the old schedule of publishing every 5 months. Polishing probably takes a month or less. So the other 4 months are free.

If I was thinking about money, I'd be writing sequels to Deadfall Ridge. I have a couple of plots already in my head. But the truth is, it's never been about the money. Working at the store would earn me far more.

(I'm also wondering when my ghostwritten book will be published. When it is, I'll be a Top Ten New York Times author--and I won't be able to tell a soul about it...)

Still, if something takes off, maybe that will spur me to try to follow up.
 
Meanwhile, I'm planning my big epic fantasy. Doing the research, thinking about it, starting some planning.

I suspect that what will happen is that I'll have to concoct some urgent reason that the trilogy needs to be finished. (Mortality?)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Poor, poor mainstream publishers.

Reading the website, Passive Voice, about the problems mainstream publishers are having.

It appears that 30 years ago they could pretty much count on selling a couple thousand copies of just about any hardcover they put out there. Between B Daltons,  Waldenbooks, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and the 12,000 or so independent bookstores, they could count on selling enough to make a small profit on most "mid-list" books.

It helped that they had (pre-internet) readier access to more venues than small publishers, and that most bookstores relied on the bigger publishers. The yearly BOOKS IN PRINT had about 500,000 titles available.

When indie bookstores started dropping like flies, and Daltons and Waldens went the way of the Dodo, and Amazon entered the scene, the publishers started buying each other up to maintain their thresholds.

There are now basically 5 big corporate publishers who between them own almost every publisher you've ever heard of.

There are also now 15 million titles available--not counting innumerable Print-on-Demand books.

But most of their mid-list books started losing money.

So they naturally gravitated toward "best-sellers." If a book doesn't have the potential to become big, they won't publish it. They handed that choice over to agents, basically. (It's more or less impossible to get a Big Five publisher to look at a non-represented manuscript.)

The market started going around these roadblocks, as tends to happen. Smaller publishers rushed into the bridge the void, and other authors just went ahead and published themselves. Admittedly, along with the good, there's plenty of bad.

But the Big Five publishers narrowed their focus just as the markets were expanding. They forced the ebook prices up--and then announced the ebooks sales were dropping. Meanwhile, most indie writers have found a sweet spot price of $2.99 to 5.99, of which the writer can get 70%.

Anyway, this is long lead-in to my point.

The publishers killed the indie bookstores by giving preferential treatment to Barnes & Noble and Borders. Most of the damage was done before Amazon even entered the picture. It wasn't so much that the smaller bookstores couldn't compete but that they weren't really allowed to compete. Exclusives, earlier shipping, greater return privileges, and higher discounts made it impossible for most small bookstores to compete.

Of the four indie bookstore that were here in Bend when Barnes and Noble came to town, none survive. We have had several new bookstores pop up since then that have also failed. Right now we have Roundabout Books, and downtown, Dudleys and Pegasus Books are carrying larger and larger selections of new books.

There are roughly 2500 indie bookstores nowadays. Not enough for mainstream publishers to depend upon. God help the Big Five if Barnes & Noble ever goes belly-up. Small bookstores are making a bit of a comeback, but I doubt they'll ever reach their previous numbers.

Thing is--none of this was necessary. The publishers could have supplied the big chainstores in such a way that they didn't kill the indie bookstores. But they chose the easy path, the short-term path--the greedy path.

After 40 years in business, it's agonizing to watch the game industry currently making the same bad choices. The chainstores are being given "exclusives, earlier shipping, greater return privileges, and higher discounts." (The sports card market killed off the small card shops the same way years ago--and killed their own industry while they were at it.) I think the only reason comics didn't do the same thing is that comics have never been big enough for the chainstores to risk selling them for long.

This won't end well for the board game companies. They'll have a few glory years, which will seem to validate their choice to go to Target and Walmart, and then--without the smaller stores supporting the actual playing of games--their sales will drop to nothing.

Oh, I'm sure that Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride,  Carcassone and a few others will join the iconic ranks of Monopoly and Risk--but woe to any mid-list or smaller game.

I used to get the comment--"Oh, you carry the stuff the big guys don't." To which I answered, "Why do you think they don't carry them?" So telling me to carry the 80% of low selling games, but making it impossible to make money on the 20% that used to make most of the money, isn't the answer.

It's interesting to see the same mistakes made by the larger players over and over again. I tell you--it's tough to be a long-term business in a short-term world.