Tuesday, December 31, 2013

So now I'm a painter.

Had an idea for a painting.  In my hubris, I took out the easel and paint set that Linda bought me a few years ago, and in even greater hubris, I took the one canvas I had and used oil paints.

It's called:  Kayak.   Two border stripes of dark brown, with black streaks.  In the middle, a big stripe of bright blue paint with white splotches, and in the middle a single red spot. 

Purely decorative.

And I botched it.

What the hell do I know about art? 

A third of it looks nice, two/thirds of it looks crappy.

I had an image in my head, and I tried to do it, but I didn't have the technique.  I'm going to let the oil dry for a week, and then try to paint over it.  A little more planning would have been good, but like my writing I just wanted to get it done.

I had another image in my head a few months ago, called Tumbling Geometric Shapes.  I need to buy some more supplies if I'm going to be doing this on a regular basis.

Anyway, this is purely for fun.  Just playing. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Comics flop in the chainstores -- again.

Marvel has chosen to remove their comics from Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.

If you remember, I predicted this.

Not because I'm negative but because I know how many comics I sell.  Which ain't many.  I couldn't imagine that the local Barnes and Noble would have anyway of knowing that you can sell 20 of this title, but only 2 of that title, when the titles look pretty much the same.  The only way they could do it was pick either number and do all the comics that way, and the more likely number was the higher number, which mean that there would be HUGE wastage.

At the time I wondered if it was the comic companies who were taking the risk or the bookstores.

Since this is Marvel's decision, I presume that it was the comic companies taking the risk.  The returns must have been enormous, if you figure the printing costs can't have been that high and yet the returns still made it a loser.

I'm going to say this flatly.  I'll probably get some argument, but I have 30 years and I know.

People don't read comics.  Just presenting them won't do a thing.  I've always said I  could hand 100 comics out to the first 100 passersby, and 98 of them would end up in the first trashcan on the street.

There was also the example of almost all of the drugstores and grocery chains removing comics years ago.  You don't remove profitable product, so why would it be different now?

People blame the direct market -- the market of comics in comic book stores -- for the state of comics, making it a "fan" thing.  But comics and their "non-returnable, but higher profit margin" model of business saved comics.  We take all the risk, we are careful to order what we can sell, and we have to know what we're doing.  It isn't a commodity that anyone can sell.

Chainstores are lousy at it.  If it seems like I'm dancing on their graves -- well, I am.  Suck it, B & N.  You thought you could just bulldoze us.

I also remember the example of comics in Waldenbooks.  They would have a spin rack, like I saw 20 of every title whether it made sense or not, and the rack would be hidden in the "dead zone" (every story has dead zones) and would be obviously neglected.  The comics would usually be damaged because they were displayed in a concise way, and a general rule of thumb is the more concise the display the more comics get damaged.  (Comic shops give comics room to breath -- open, with no places to bend them, with covers showing for each title -- very space consuming.)

Nothing gives off a message of not giving a damn about comics than letting them get disordered and damaged.

So, it doesn't work.  It will never work.  The American public will never read comics. (Yeah, yeah, except those of you who do.  I get it.  But the statement stands.)

Believe me, I wish it were different.  I used to think it could be different.  But after 30 years, I've decided it will never happen.  The bias is too strong to overcome.

It is a fan thing.

Ironically, that's what keeps us comic shop owners alive.  We'll never get rich, but we'll have a steady clientele, usually.  In a small town like Bend, it only gives me half a living, which is why I carry books and games and toys.  But a good steady base.  And I'm secure in the knowledge that even if B & N or ever Walmart wanted to do, they can't.  They try every decade or so and flop miserably.

Because, you know, you have to know what you're doing.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Pilot Butte Inn was haunted.

It's time to pick the next book to write.

I'm thinking of writing the third "Lander" book; Cobb and company;  called Ghostlander.   Basically, I'm thinking in terms of a haunted Pilot Butte Inn, in a world where that local icon was never torn down.  (Hey, it's my world, I can do what I want.)

I'm old enough to have actually been in the Pilot Butte Inn, though only as far as the lobby.  I remember it looming over the street.  So I think I can try to capture a sense of it.

I've had an astonishingly productive year -- really 16 months.  From September, 2011 until now, I've been writing just about every day, with short breaks.

However, I'm starting to worry that I'm getting diminishing returns.  The last two books have been problems.  It's not that they are bad books, it's that they will need extensive rewriting.  In both cases, I felt it was better to finish the books -- get the framework finished -- than not finish.

I'm fearful of the first book I don't finish -- that it will become a pattern.

I also think I've slipped on my work process, which was so effective for awhile.  I'm getting quota of 2000 words on most days, but I'm doing it a very time wasting way.  I sit around all day near the computer, taking constant breaks on the internet and TV and other time-fillers.  12 hours yesterday.

What was doing earlier was writing early in the day, and THEN thinking about the writing for the rest of the day.  That seemed much more productive and also allowed me to do other things.

Freedy Filkins, Death of an Immortal, Rule of Vampire, Led to the Slaughter, Wolflander, and Blood of Gold all came out pretty much the way I wanted them; most of the writing was complete in the first draft.  I'd like to recapture that if I can.

Of course, the first book, Faerylander, was a complete mess for most of the time I worked on it, though I think I've got a good book in my hands now.

Deviltree is what it is.  (I wrote it 30 years ago.)  Sometimes a Dragon (also written 30 years ago) was improved, but still needs a spark or two.

The Reluctant Wizard isn't bad, but needs to be fleshed out.  Spellrealm and Deeptower are going to need some major polishing.

Yeah, that's a lot of books.

Hopefully, Blood of Gold will be ready in the next month or so, completing the Vampire Evolution Trilogy.  

Then I hope to get Led to the Slaughter ready, sometime in late spring.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New word for me: Weltschmerz

Definition of WELTSCHMERZ

1:  mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state
2:  a mood of sentimental sadness 
 Came across this word reading the tenth Travis McGee novel, Dress Her In Indigo.   Actually, I kind of like John D. MacDonald's description better:
He...."felt such frequent waves of Weltschmerz, of lingering nostalgia for the lives he never lived."
"Lingering nostalgia for the lives he never lived."  Hard to come up with a better description of the feeling that good fantasy can evoke.  Tolkien was the best of all -- a nostalgia for a time that never really happened. 
Anyway, that's the feeling I want to capture in my writing.  It's fiction -- and yet, it's also a life not lived, but dreamed.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Back to writing.

With 5 days left in the month, I'd like to go ahead and finish the first draft of Deeptowers. 

I've got another Cobb and Company book in mind next.  Ghostlanders.  It will feature a huge haunted mansion, set here in Bend.  Bend is so new that it really doesn't have the kind of Victorian mansion I have in mind, or perhaps the Pilot Butte Inn.  Since it's fiction, I may just pretend that the Pilot Butte Inn was never torn down -- or create a Victorian mansion.

Linda and I are planning on one of our little three/four day excursions next month, this time to Eureka California which has some of the huge Victorians I'm talking about.  I also have in mind the Winchester mansion, the one where the lady just kept building and building because of the superstition that as long as she kept building she was safe -- but that is too far away to get to.  Always the google.

Dreamed last night that each room had a ghost and each ghost had a doorway between our world and theirs, that has to do with the way they died, and the puzzle it to figure out how to solve each murder.  Something like that.  Very vague.

Meanwhile, I've gotten on some kind of independent writers list on Twitter where I'm being Followed, and I'm just in turn Following them.  Hoping to gain some insight that way.  I know most are just hoping I'll buy their books, but there might be some info there.

Mostly, though, I'm back to focusing on the writing.

I'm still hoping to publish Blood of Gold in January; the third book in the Vampire Evolution Trilogy.  And still thinking of publishing all of them in one offering.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hungry to talk about art.

Whole family went to see 47 Ronin.  I was amazed we got everyone herded and organized.

I don't think the movie was as bad as the reviews are making it.  It was more serious than I expected.  If nothing else, it had some real visual mind candy.  The special effects weren't as over the top as I expected.  Keanu was Keanu.  (I kept thinking of the Sad Keanu meme all through the movie.)

So really, a better movie than they're saying.

Had a perfect ham dinner, and binged watched the first season of Sherlock.  Mostly, we talked about art all holiday.  Todd has gone back for his Masters in art, and his girlfriend is a talented artist as well.  Just goes to show how hungry to talk about art I am. 

I allowed myself not to write for the 4 days they were here.  My new resolve to fit my writing into my life, instead of my life into my writing.

Working at the store all day today. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas to all.

Todd and his girlfriend, Sharrone, made it home for the holidays.  Linda's brother Dave is coming over, so it feels like a real family get together, for which I'm thankful.

Watched a couple of movies and had pizza and went to our two stores and took some stuff for ourselves.  Today, a nice ham dinner and possibly a movie at a theater -- though might be hard to fit in.

Tomorrow I work at the store, and I'm expecting lots of people.  We've had a very good Christmas so far.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Good Natured Realist.

A Good Natured Realist?

I took a personality test and that is how I came out.

I think I took the test wrong.  I was kind of surprised, but what the heck.  (What else would a good natured realist say?)  But it says I'm a ISTJ, whereas every test I've taken before has been INTJ.  So either I've changed or this test was wrong.

I'd have to say that when I'm "healthy" I'm probably closer to a ISTJ instead of INTJ, but I'm more likely an INTJ.  I recognize myself more that way.

Anyway, I find these personality tests very reassuring.  I'm pretty sure they have more validity than astrology.  There is something there -- but have to be careful not to read too much into it.

I think some people are afraid of being pigeon holed, whereas I believe I would have been glad to know some things earlier in the life.

For instance, the first time I took a personality test -- Myers and Briggs? -- it mentioned I had the rarest of personality types and that in a classroom of 30 people, I would feel like an "alien."

Good to know.  Would have been even better to know when I was actually in classrooms.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Beardmas!

I've let my beard grow out and decided not to trim until after the first of the year, then maybe trying a mustache for awhile.  (I thought maybe I had invented a new term 'Beardmas' but no, it's all over Google.)


Had a customer say "Happy Holidays!" to me in the store and I answered "Merry Christmas!"

Here's the thing, if she had said "Merry Christmas" I would have answered "Happy Holidays!"

Just a little change-up on the wording, but same sentiment.  Been doing it that way for years.

Anyway, I found myself mumbling, "Well, you know..."

"Yeah," she said.

"Actually I resent that I even have to think about what greeting to use."

"Me too."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

So far, so good.

Good Christmas so far, but the next 10 days are probably as important as the previous 20 days.  Still, I'd rather be ahead of last year, and even the year before, entering into this crucial period, than be behind.

What I'm really talking about here is paying down the credit cards -- either by a lot or by a moderate amount.  I was hoping for a lot, I think it will be moderate.   I think we're going to almost exactly break-even for the year, and probably end up beating last year just slightly in overall sales.  Knock wood.

It will be the last five days that take us over the top, if we do it.  Pretty strange, because we've been behind last year all year, but might end up beating it in the last week of the year.  The tortoise comes in at the finish line!

I really stocked up this Christmas.  I think I make a few excess orders -- because I was afraid of coming up short.  But it's material I can sell next year, so no real harm done.  Maybe a little drag on the cash flow. 

It isn't so much that people are buying the extra material I ordered -- that is, the exact same material.  They're just buying more because I have the extra material.

I'm convinced that customers pick up the signals when you've tried to really do a good job of stocking, when you're not trying to get away with minimal orders, and that they usually reward you for this.  Maybe it's the very atmosphere of "too much" which they catch, I'm not sure.  It's a mysterious thing, very akin to ESP, I think.  Customers read your intentions, somehow.

I meant to go in early this morning, but I didn't sleep well last night and then overslept this morning.  We've actually had people showing up in our extra hours this year, which again isn't something that always happens.

Amazing that word must get out that we're the place for boardgames.  I really stocked up this year, and it's paying off.

Anyway, three big days ahead of us, and then a big day after Christmas, and then an entire week of everyone still being out of school.  So what we lost in the short Thanksgiving to Christmas period, we'll make up a little by having a few extra days after Christmas.

I hope.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Worst List Ever.

So I see a link in Reddit to a list of 1000 books that is compiled from internet lists that You should read.

So I click it.  It took hours to download.  Hours.

It wasn't lined up in neat rows, so impossible to count.   It repeated books.  It made no sense.

I had read 35 of the first hundred books, 60 of the first two hundred books.  That seemed about right.  I read mostly genre, but I read enough other stuff to think I've read lots of good books, not to mention that many genre books have moved into the canon.

Then the drop off was extreme.  Basically, I've read only 40 out of the next 800 books.

I hated this list.  Too many books by the same authors, instead spreading the goodness.  Ridiculous.

The first link here is the actual link:  DO NOT CLICK!  unless you want to spend hours loading.


The second list is an Imgur that somebody did.  CLICK THIS.


Movies with too much, or too little.

I've become much more conscious that the quality of a movie or TV show is affected by the budget.  I mean, that's obvious, but when you watch a show it's usually thumbs up or thumbs down, regardless.

So I went to to see THE HOBBIT.

Very Minor SPOILERS.  (What?  You haven't read the Hobbit!!!!)

I enjoyed it quite a bit.  More than the first movie, I think.  Smaug was awesome, and designed the way a dragon should look.  (This is rare, actually -- movies tend to make them goofy, for some reason.)

But it was so embellished as to be distracting.  It's the Lucas syndrome -- too much money for special effects.  So, for instance, if you have a barrow jumping out of the river and bouncing along the bank and it rolls over a couple of orcs, that's cute.  When you have it leap across the river and land on a couple of more orcs, that's well, interesting, but yeah I got it.  When you have the barrel jumping around like three or four more times -- that's excessive.

Too many choreographs fights where the elves and dwarves are basically invincible and the orcs are just hapless stormtroopers without the armor. 

Too much of lots of things.  Could cut maybe a third of the embellishments and the movie might actually flow a bit better.

Then, last night, I watched HAMMER OF THE GODS on Netflix.

Low budget, but kind of clever in how they stretch the budget once you become aware that they're doing it.


So basically, this turns out to be a Viking 'Heart of Darkness' story, Apocalypse Now, if you will.

I thought that was an interesting direction to go.  The script and dialogue were pretty basic, the acting serviceable, the fighting choreographing a little too Hollywood.  But -- you know -- I wonder what they could done with a couple extra million.  A couple of extra million that The Hobbit wouldn't have missed.

Our culture is starting to lose Mid-List:  books, TV shows, movies.  Entertainment that doesn't try to be a blockbuster.  So it seems to be low budget, or ultra budget, with little in-between.

There will always be the creative people who manage to create something even in a low budget.  And apparently, there will always be directors who have so much money to throw around that they can't just have Legolas shoot an orc in the face and slight down a hill on his body, but he has to do it twice in the same movie.  And shoot a couple hundred orcs while he's at it.

And movies where the five main Vikings happen to land on the shore ahead of the fleet, (which is shown hazily in the background) because five Vikings is all the director can afford.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fitting the writing into the day, not the day into the writing.

Now that I know I can do this -- write everyday -- I'm trying to make it more convenient.  I've been pushing it further and further into the evening, for instance.

I don't believe I can continue to reserve day after day for writing and nothing but writing.  I need to try to fit a bit more activity in my life.  All well and good to procrastinate while waiting for inspiration, but I'm not sure it is completely healthy.  I was willing to do it for a year or so, but I'm ready to try to find a more moderate level of commitment.

I've written an extraordinary number of words, finished an amazing number of books writing this way.  If I can continue to write half this much, it will still be impressive.

At first, I think it took total commitment -- to see if I was serious, to see if I could do it.  But I'm still serious, despite all the setback, and I've shown I can do it.  So letting my mind and body do a few other things is probably called for.

I was spending whole days trying to accrue a couple of vague ideas I wanted in the next chapter and so on.  I'm thinking I probably could spend an hour or two and accomplish the same

I was able to establish a baseline, a method of writing, and now I can start to adjust it.  I've learned that 2000 words of raw material per day is enough to make some progress, but also leaves me hungry to do  more.  Once I actually sit down to do the writing, it is usually only takes a few hours -- as little as two hours up to four hours. 

The DVR is my friend.  I can use these early evening hours to write and then wind down later.

I'm going to let loose on reading again.  I had decided to read only mysteries or non-fiction while I was writing.  No S.F. or Fantasy or Horror.  Nothing that was anything like what I was writing.

But I'm loosening up.  Let myself read anything I want for enjoyment.

In other words, while I'm keeping writing important to my life, it is no longer going to be so primary that everything else is neglected.   Writing will still be a big part of who I am, but it won't be the only thing I am, like it has been for the last year.  I would have kept doing that if I was selling books, but if I'm writing for my own amusement, I need to cut myself a little slack.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Writing through the doubts again.

My confidence in my writing is shaken, but it doesn't seem to keep me from writing.

When I first started writing, 40 years ago, I was in the midst of the deep depression.  Writing was a way of escape.  I dreamed of success, of course.  But the writing itself took me out of myself and was therapeutic.

I was happy as a clam writing this time, dreaming of further success, knowing the odds were against me, but still...

Anyway, I think I'll just have to work myself through this disappointment for a few months until I get over it and once again regain my delusional self-confidence.  Then not expose it for a couple more years while I just write.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I'm shocked!

Shocked, I tell you!

To find that the guys on Duck Dynasty have homophobic views!  (I was so sure they were liberals!!)

That Gov. Christie would play petty politics!  (Even more shocked the politics are dirty!!)

That Disney sugar coated the true story of Mary Poppins!  (Even more shocked that Disney has sugar coated the story about sugar coating the true story of Mary Poppins!!)

That the Nook isn't selling well!  (And even more shocked that a $38.00 tablet from Asia is supposedly in the works!!)

That Santa Claus isn't imaginary, because apparently he's been seen and he's a big fat white guy!  (Even more shocked that he isn't anything you want him to be!!  By the way.  For all you kids out there, the Easter Bunny has brown fur.  He just does.)

That the Bitcoin seems to have radically different values from minute to minute!  (Even more shocked that gold does!!)

I'm shocked by all the shocked headlines on Huffington Post and Slate and Salon and Business Insider and Buzzfeed and all the others.

Shocked I tell you!!!

Filling my computer with books.

I'm basically filling my computer with books.  (Cloud backup).

I'm actually starting to lose track of how many books I've written.  Some of it is in a grey area -- does completely rewriting an old book from beginning to end make it more or less a new book?

How about if I just keep track of how many books have a solid first draft and may someday be published?

It's a lot.

And I'm just going to keep going.

I'm 50,000 words into Deeptower.  It has come very easy.  The plot just came together, the characters.  It helps that I did most of the world building in Deviltree.  There is no way this book isn't going to be finished, now that I'm this far.  I have the ending in sight.

After that,  I've got at least three or four series going that could be continued. 

The Spellworld fantasy books. (These books are an inchoate mess, contradictory, premise faulty, and of different tones.  But I think they are the same world.)

The Cobb and Co. dark fantasy books.  I really like the characters and the premise and have a number of ideas for books.

The Virginia Reed historical horror books.  I ended up liking the main character so much that I want to continue writing about her.

The Deeptower books.  The whole premise of a mystical well that connects worlds is designed to be a series.

I've finished The Vampire Evolution Trilogy, with the third book hitting the airwaves in about a month.  I'm thinking of binding all three books into one book, and offering that along with the single books.

I'm torn between trying to write something completely new, or continuing writing on the worlds I've already constructed.  My inclination is to continue on the different series until I run out of ideas.  Use them as practice.  Keep learning to write by writing. 

Truth is, I don't know what I'm going to write next until it happens.  I had no idea I was going to write a sequel to Deviltree.  I didn't know that Death of an Immortal was part of a trilogy.  I started writing Wolflander, my sequel to Faerylander, while the first book was still an unmanageable mess.

I'm just guessing, but I suspect my next effort will probably be another "Lander" book, but it could be the middle book in the Spellworld series, or possibly a complete rewrite of the first book.  I'm trying to fit in a rewriting session between each new book.

I don't know how long this will continue.  I have a memory of being completely stumped after my original third book was published.  The 4th and 5th books were just wandering in darkness, and reading them these many years later, I'm astonished by how much of a dropoff in quality there was between Icetowers and Bloodstone.  The 4th and 5th books just can't be saved,  even for someone as prolific as me.  Truth was, I just didn't have a book until Deviltree came along.

The period of time between buying the store and this latest writing period (25 years!)  wasn't really a blockage.  It was simply a recognition that I needed to make a living.  It was a suspension of writing -- that just lasted a whole hell of a lot longer than I expected.

So I know that I could hit a roadblock at any time, so it seems to me to make sense to keep filling my computers with original material as long as they keep coming to me. 

As I keep saying -- the writing of books and the marketing of books are two completely different processes.  And my inclination is to spend all my time on the former, rather than the latter. 

Even if all it does is fill my computer with books.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is the Bend Film Festival really so successful?

Is the Bend Film Festival really so successful that it needs to reorganized, or is something else going on?

All I know is, I've barely noticed it the last few years.  It seemed like it was everywhere those first few years.  I remember the big plastic blowup stage they installed on Minnesota St., so big it basically stretched from the buildings on one side of the street the buildings on the other side, with very little room to walk by.

Of course, if they had bothered to ask any of us merchants on the street if that was a good idea, we would have informed them that Minnesota St. is a wind tunnel at the best of times, and a hurricane corridor at the worst.  I believe they had to take it down prematurely, but that's just a hazy memory that could be wrong.

Anyway, I remember the constant headlines, the many stories in the papers, the pictures of the lines (which if anyone ever wanted to frame the word "hipster" with a picture, those lines would have worked.)  Like I said, I barely noticed that it even happened this year.  In fact, I remember asking people if it had actually happened.

I don't have anything against the Bend Film Festival, but I wonder if it one of those things where they mistook Bend for a "happenin' place" and aren't ready to give up the dream so the event sort of slowly dwindles into chaos and irrelevance.  Often, a charismatic and energetic founder gets it going -- and being charismatic and energetic, flakes out after a couple of years and no one ever really replaces them.

I often hear "numbers" that seem to contradict what I'm seeing.  The buses, the Cascade Music Festival, the golf tournament.  Everything seems to be hunky dory right up to the point they're not.

Meanwhile, though, we still have a spandex race every few days, so we got that going for us...

Impulsive is bad in a good way.

My Dad used to say,  "Do something, even if it's wrong."  Which I always understood in an intuitive sense, if not a rational sense.

At the same time, I love my routines.  I was telling Linda the other night that she goes to bed at radically different times, anywhere from 9:00 to 1:00.

"I like to do things differently, even if they are little things."

Me?  I'm the opposite.  Everything the same, all the time, as much as possible.  My theory is life will throw you enough changes, even when you don't want them.  I don't need to add to them. 

Anyway, it doesn't make me exactly spontaneous.

Sometimes, though, I do get impulsive.  Often it's because I'm out of whack for some reason; sick, sleepy, tired, drunk, whatever.

So I'll so something that I ordinarily wouldn't do.  This often has some beneficial results -- and occasionally disastrous results.

I woke up from a bad dream early yesterday morning and had an idea.  I got up went to my computer and did it.  It seemed like a really good idea at the time.

By evening I was regretting it.  For one, I did it badly -- I didn't think it through enough, and then I looked like a ninny going back and changing it several times.  For another thing, as the hours passed it seemed more and more cynical and crass.  What had seemed a brilliant idea of cooperation and mutual benefit, now seemed like a craven attempt at bribery.

Here's the thing.  It could still turn out to be a good thing.  It was a different approach.  My old approach wasn't working.  The worse that can happen is nothing and I was already getting a whole lot of nothing.

If I had put it off, I probably wouldn't have done it.  If I had thought about it longer and tried to get the whole proposal right -- more thought out -- I probably wouldn't have done it.

Sometimes I just have to do something badly impulsive to do anything at all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The crunch point.

I'm ahead of last year, but I'm realizing it doesn't matter.  Just two or three bad days in the latter part of the month and that increase can disappear.

This period, from the 15th of the month on, is out of my control.  I've stocked the store, I'm open, that's about all I can do.  I will do at least twice the business than I normally do.  I hope.

This is probably the most stocked with games I've ever been.  I may have a bunch of Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride left at the end of the year, but they are such evergreen sellers that I'm not worried about selling them later.

A couple games are unavailable again -- the same games that disappeared last year, and I know the chainstores have scooped them up.  I told my game rep that I thought it was a stupid idea to stiff the game stores during Christmas, but they do it anyway.

But really, it's only one game, Pandemic; I managed to pick up plenty of copies of Ticket to Ride from my comic distributor instead.

I've also completely filled my wish list for books this year, making orders that will still arrive this week.  By the end of the week, it will be pretty much too late to get anything else.

So this is the start of the real season, and all I can do is keep my fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Risk is fun -- for the other guy.

One of the big comic retailers has bought a second store after more than 25 years of business.

Of course, everyone is encouraging.  People are funny that way.  Ever noticed how risk is always worthwhile -- as long as it is the other guy taking the risk?

Jump off that cliff?  Yeah!  Go for it?  You'll totally land in the water!

I want to write the guy a warning note, but I think that would probably be presumptuous and not appreciated.

I had four stores once, and as long as things were humming along, they worked.  The minute things started going wrong, I was like the Little Dutch Boy running around trying to plug all the holes.

But assuming that his business plan is solid, that he has the organizations skills to do it -- (which I did not) -- there are still dangers to watch out for.

1.)  Employees become even more important.  When you have one store and one of the employees quits, you can usually manage -- even if you have to plug yourself into the hole.  When you have two stores, then you have a problem if both stores have employee problems at the same time.  After all, there is only one of you.

Moving employees around is pretty disruptive.

2.) More things to keep track of.  Whatever quality control you've managed to create in one store will get stretched when it becomes two stores.  The danger isn't just that you won't manage to create the same quality in the second store, but that the second store will drag down the quality of the first store.

3.)  Inventory stretch.  The temptation is to believe that you can spread the risk, take unsold material and distribute them to each store.  But you can only really be in one store at a time, and it is natural to pay more attention to the store that you're in the most.

You cannot give second rate material to the second store.  You can't slough off the unsold material.

You'll have to take good material you know you can sell in the first store, and give it to the second store where it might not sell.  But to do anything less is to give the message that you don't care about the second store as much.

4.)  People will expect the second store to be as good at the first store -- which may be difficult to do because you've done the first store for years.  If not, they'll start drifting to the first store, which will make it even more difficult to make the second store work.

5.)  By the time you set up the second store and fully staff it, you usually are taking most of the profits to pay for the employees.  If you want a fully responsible manager, you need to pay them, and in my experience, that takes most of the profits.  Expenses just seem to eat up the extra revenue -- for one thing, it is much harder to be efficient.  Losing four or five percentage points in efficiency can really start to add up over time.

6.) Being stretched too thin.  Look, it took how much effort to make your first store work?  Well, it will take an equal amount if not more to make the second store work.  Why wouldn't it?   So -- you're looking at twice the effort -- maybe not quite that much, because I'm sure a certain amount of the first store is on autopilot, but still.

7.)  For some reason, you don't just work twice as hard with two stores, you work three times as hard  The problems compound, the extra number of employees multiples those problems, keeping track of everything is complicated -- it's very easy to drop the ball.

There are plenty more problems, but these are off the top of my head.  I found I could make as much money and do a better job with one store.  (Our second store, The Bookmark, is Linda's store -- she runs it.  So if you have a spouse who's willing, a second store can work, if you let them run it.)

I think it's the great American way, that if you're successful you expand.  It takes real willpower not to do that, to question the wisdom of it.

It's the Peter Principle for stores -- stores will expand to their level of incompetence.

A "serious" book.

Started writing a "serious" book yesterday:  Here and Gone.

I'm not sure what it will lead to.  I suspect if I continue it will look and sound quite different than what the first draft is coming out as.  Wrote about 1000 words.

It almost immediately turned into an almost genre mystery, which was not my intent.

Strangely, my writing seems almost too florid for serious writing.  And at the same time, not florid enough.  I'm thinking I'll need a style that works.

But first, honest emotion.  That's what I'm striving for.  Authenticity.

I'm placing no burdens on myself to keep writing this.  I still enjoy the storytelling of genre fiction, and also think that having a "serious" novel published is even more impossible than a genre novel.

My intention is to turn to it every once in a while and see if anything can be done with it.  For my own edification.  Practice.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The existential angst of a writer.

JOURNAL:  12/14/13.

I realize that no one wants to read my existential angst about writing.  But that insecurity fills my waking moments.  (Actually, it fill my dreams too.)

If a book is written and no one reads it, does it really exist?

I think the only way I can justify continuing to write at this pace is to tell myself that I'm improving:  that someday I'll write something so absolutely wonderful that no one can deny it and that everyone will just have to read it.

It's still early, especially if I consider the start to my writing as being September, 2012.  That's when I began writing The Reluctant Wizard, after struggling with Almost Human (now Faerylander) for two years.

What is writing?  Is it the words themselves that are important -- their artistry and fluidity and uniqueness?  Or is it the thoughts behind the words?  Is the story more important?  Is it the world-building, or making characters real?

It's all the above. 

I've always had two things that impelled me to start a story -- one is just following the flow of words and seeing where they lead.  The other is coming up with a story I want to tell.

A book only works if I'm doing both those things.  I no longer follow the flow of words for very long before I start thinking of the pitfalls, or where I may be creating an unsustainable premise, or where I may be trying to write something I'm not capable of achieving.  I've discarded books after understanding that I didn't know enough about the subject.

So I'm trying both to be smarter about my choices and yet allowing myself the freedom to write.

I might be better off writing a new storyline each time, but for learning purposes and for pure satisfaction, I've been writing sequels and trilogies and series.  Which is a little crazy, since if the first book doesn't go anywhere, it's a bit like hitching your wagon to a dead horse.  Still, as I say, I really think I'm getting incrementally better with each book.

My basic strategy to get better is to just keep writing.  Fine-tune it as I go along.  I've realized, for instance, that while I can write more than 2000 words a day, that is the optimal level for me to keep the freshness going.  Writing 2000 words a day is a lot in the scheme of things -- it also means I'll probably have to go back and spend another day or two on each 2000 word chunk just to make them work.  So that 2000 words a day will probably eventually turn into a more sane 750 words a day on average.  But getting the story down while it's still alive in my mind and heart is the first step.

I've learned that I can rewrite, if I totally re-immerse myself back into a book.  That prospect looked dodgy for awhile.  And I learned that I can fiddle with the book as I go along without going off course.  My actual work process has improved, and was already much better at the start than when I quit last time.  And the technology is miraculous and has made all this possible.

This writing of 2000 words takes the whole day, though the actual writing may only be a couple of hours.  Things are always percolating under the surface.  I have to give myself time for that process to work.  (I just discovered that I only read 18 books this year!  Which is about 20% of what I usually read.   But it makes sense if you consider that each of the fifty books I didn't read might have taken 8 hours, which turns into 400 hours that I was writing rather than reading.)

I've realized that I don't need to publish a book until I'm ready.   That I can write each first draft as they come along, and go back later and rewrite them when I'm ready.

I learned that I was not that much better when I re-started as I was when I quit; perhaps worse, because I wasn't putting quite as much work into it.  On the other hand, I don't feel any older and stodgier than I was back then -- maybe less so.  I have a luxury I didn't have back then -- knowing that I can spend so much time at writing and still pay the bills. 

(I've never doubted that I made the right choice to earn a living by running a comic and book store.)

But I do think I've regained my mojo after struggling for a bit.  Rededicating myself to telling stories.  I've loosened up on the writing, letting myself write what I want to write.

Most of all, I've given myself permission to be as prolific and ambitious as I want.  Lining up a series of 4 trilogies might seem crazy -- except that I'm more than halfway through the process.

So if I consider this a long term project, I'm just doing the equivalent of a beginning writer spending a couple of years writing that first book.  Except, I have the bonus of having had a previous career where I made many of the beginner mistakes and was able to start at a slightly more advanced level.

I feel that I'm getting a little better with each book.  I'm getting more proficient.  I'm learning the relative values of the different tasks it takes to finish a book. 

For an example, each chapter I've written of this new book has the basic story I came up with, but each chapter I've tried to put one or two sort of change-ups, or flips, or curlie cues.  I don't know what to call them.  Little additions that make the story more alive somehow.

This comes from practice, I think.  I'm much more steady on my feet about pace, and yet at the same time, letting the story dictate how much dialogue there is, or how much action, or how much narrative, or how much description.

By continuing to write, I think I'm learning what I'm good at -- and doing more of that.  And what I'm bad at, and trying to avoid doing too much of that.

I think if I can keep up the writing despite my existential angst, that I'll come up with stories that not only are good enough (which is where they are now -- I think they deserve to exist and be read, but I understand  the near impossibility of convincing others of that) to something that is really super good.

It may still end up being existential, in the sense that I may write that spectacular book and only I know that I did it.

That idea, of writing something really good and no one knowing, is the ongoing angst of the whole thing.

When you're young, you can be all romantic about the notion.  You can think you're Van Gogh or something.  Little harder to do when you get a little older and realize that the universe isn't always fair.

It all comes back to the question of -- if no one reads it, will it have been worth doing?

But I won't know that until I've done it.

The phrase I used early on still applies:  Writing through the doubt.

What else can I do?

Friday, December 13, 2013

A couple who writes together...

Linda is getting ready to publish her book, Telling Tree.

She's pretty excited.

Linda and I met in writer's group 31 years ago, and we've both had times when we were writing and when we weren't writing, sometimes at the same times and others times by ourselves.

But we've always understood each other, always been supportive.  When your significant other disappears for hours, days, weeks, and months at a time -- it probably would be hard for a non-writing spouse to understand what's going on.

When I hear hours of silence in the dining room, I know exactly what's going on.  She's at the table, totally engrossed.

She has a wonderful imagination and tells a great story.  The technical aspects, spelling and grammar, were hard for her at first, but she has learned exponentially, and the modern technology has been a wonder. 

I stay out of her way.  I'd like to be an editor, but I've learned that what I say can demotivate her, so I've stayed away.

But I intend to be the first buyer of her book!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas is coming like a freight train.

It seems like I barely caught a breath after Thanksgiving.  The slow period after that holiday is rapidly coming to a close.

The last ten days before Christmas is when all the action is.  So, perhaps starting this weekend.

I'm not really out of stock of any product that I should have -- I could goose a couple of product lines just to make absolutely sure.  I could make another moderate game order, another moderate book order, another moderate card order.  Depends on how much I want to dump into January, which is the slowest month of the year.

That is, I have to save some of my Christmas "Profits" to pay for late orders -- which means they aren't profits at all.  Then again, if I have to reorder in January, the same thing is true, so it makes sense to try to sell the product in December.

I'm still undecided, and really, if I don't decide in the next day or two, I may as well skip it.

I'm much better stocked than last year -- and if the cold snap hadn't slowed business a little, I probably could have kept an extremely high level of inventory right through the end of the year.  As it is, I probably have more than enough, and all I'd be doing would be making absolutely sure.

The danger of being "absolutely sure"  can be overkill.  My game distributor was out of the Ticket to Ride games, for instance, so I ordered 11 more of them from my comic distributor instead.  Then I realized the games wouldn't get here until the Wednesday before Christmas, so I made a "direct ship" of 9 more.  Unfortunately, for whatever they didn't do the 2-day ship, so I'm getting 20 boxes on the 18th.

That might be a years worth of that game, frankly. 

Meanwhile, I have multiple copies of the game in stock already.

So -- that kind of "Making Absolutely Sure" type ordering almost always results in overordering.

The good thing is that we're financially solvent enough to carry the product through the year without it hurting us.

Stockpiling is such a temptation.  A couple of years ago, DC offered all their graphic novels for an extra 10% off.  I ordered a few hundred dollars worth of the "Evergreens" and wondered how long I would sit on them.  Well, I sat on them for a short period of time, as it turned out.  I could have ordered 10 times what I did and saved money all year.

Then again...there are no guarantees.

I arrived at a "just in time" model of business years ago, mostly because it was what I could  afford, but also because it gave me more flexibility.  Things have gone well enough over the last two years or so that I'm thinking maybe I should be investing more whenever a bargain comes along.

Sort of like floating myself a loan. 

Anyway, time for everyone to get going on the Christmas shopping!   I'm sure I'm not the only store that is facing the short period between Thanksgiving and Christmas to do my re-ordering.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cold weather damage.

Adding up the damage from the cold weather.

Broken spring on our garage door opener.

Two frozen faucets (one frozen pipe?) but escaped pipe bursting.

Slower business than it should have been.


I belong to a writer's group, which is having its Christmas party this Saturday.  There will probably be 20 or more people at this party, even though only about 5 people usually show up for the actual group -- the same five people, usually.

I'm going to screw up my courage and stand up and nag some of these guys to start coming to to the real group once in awhile.  If everyone went to two meetings a year, minimum, the whole thing would work better.


Had a young man show up for group last night.  It was funny, he was a college English major and he knew all the correct "grammatical" terms. 

He'd be great if he kept coming, but our group is full of middle aged or older duffers and young people don't usually keep coming, sadly.  I wish they did.

Age is so ridiculous.  I really do feel like I just came back to writing after a couple of years off.  Really, I feel like maybe a 35 year old.  

I didn't come back as that much better a writer as I left off -- which kind of surprised me.  What I did do is jettison a lot of the unnecessary doubts.


He mentioned that I had some one sentence paragraphs that didn't need to be so short.

I know where this came from -- it came from this blog.  Short pithy paragraphs work better in the blog.

When I started rewriting Deviltree it was interesting how long the paragraphs were -- too long, really.

So, yeah, I'm going to be more conscious of that from now on.

Or should it be:

He mentioned that I had some one sentence paragraphs that didn't need to be so short.  I know where this came from-- it came from this blog.  Short pithy paragraphs work better in a blog.  When I started rewriting Deviltree it was interesting how long the paragraphs were -- too long, really.  So, yeah, I'm going to be more conscious of that from now on.


Rapidly reaching that point in the season where I wonder if I should do more reorders.  In another week, whatever I reorder will show up in the January bills, and I don't want too much of that.  Also, it will give me just a few more days to sell things before Christmas.

So I have to pick that perfect moment for the last order -- somewhere between now and about the 16th or so.

What's nerve wracking about modern Christmas's is that everyone waits until the last moment.  The last 10 days or so.  By the time you can get a good read on how it's going to go, it's almost too late to do anything about it.

So you have to gamble, try not to buy too much or too little.

It's such a weird sensation to do average business for the first half of the month.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Writing another book, I don't know why.

By the end of this week, I'll be 2/3rds of the way through another book.  This one is a sequel to a book I wrote 30 years ago, Deviltree.  It's called, Deeptower. 

I've enjoyed doing it.  It seemed like a natural thing to do.  I'm getting more and more used to writing books in a series.  There are some big advantages to doing that.  The World-Building is already partly done, which is a pretty big deal.

On the other hand, writing sequels to books that haven't sold in the first place is sort of trying to hitch a ride to a dead horse.

It seems pretty clear to me by now that my books aren't going to be found by accident online.  I've found almost no readers that way.  The books I've sold are because I've out and out asked people to buy them, and I don't much feel like doing that.

So I'm being an artist for art sakes, it looks like.

I'm creating this mass of raw material, and occasionally going back and working on them, then moving on to the next new thing.

I have a weird faith that good things will happen, if I do the work.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"We Are Not Drones."

The Inklings, a store in Washington, came up with that slogan.  I like it.

We actually hand the book to you with our own little flesh and blood digits.  Try talking books with a robot.


The SEC is investigating B & N for financial irregularities.  More on that later.

For a couple of years there, it looked like ebooks were going to run book/books out of town.  But I think that possibility is receding now.  People still want book/books.

There is no reason the two formats can't co-exist.

I sort of predicted that, based on gut instinct.  The way I thought of it was this:

I'm a reader -- I love books -- therefore readers love books.

I've thought from the beginning that Barnes and Noble would be viable if they just stuck to selling books.  But it looked like they were doing everything they could to subvert that.  Turning large sections and manpower to the Nook.  Giving every indication that they thought books were a goner.

I tell you, nothing turns off a buyer like shoving the product to one side as if it doesn't matter.

B & N doesn't love books -- readers love books -- therefore readers don't love B & N.

I understand the impulse, but I think it was panic.  A wrong move that didn't think through the consequences.  They made the wrong analogy of being like DVD's or CD's.  Sure, they look the same, but I believe where it matters, in the heart of the reader, they are completely different.

What do I care what format I get my music in?

But I do care what format I get my books in.  Apples and Oranges.

How was the Nook ever going to beat Apple and Amazon and all the cheap knockoffs?  They were always going to be in the middle, which is a very uncomfortable place to be with new technology.

Anyway, if I'm reading this SEC investigation correctly, what B & N did was manipulate the financial records to make the Nook look like it was doing better than it was -- I'm assuming at the cost of making books look like they were doing worse.

When you have a losing strategy, it seems to me that you don't throw out the winning parts to support the losing parts.

You stop doing the things that you are losing in.

If  billionaire came along and bought this company and made it private and concentrated on just selling books -- I think the chain would survive.  They might need to scale back, but they've got the infrastructure, and as I said, I think there will be a demand for books.

Meanwhile, despite all the doom and gloom, independent bookstores continue to make a comeback.  

You don't know what you aren't seeing.

I'm still surprised that people don't know what Cthuhlu is.  I would have thought the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon would have been triggered for most people by now.  I know that I see references to H.P. Lovecraft and his inventions absolutely everywhere.

I guess you don't know what you aren't seeing when you aren't seeing it.

Other examples in my life of Baader-Meinhoff.

***Bettie Page.  Loved Bettie as a character in a comic.  Didn't know she existed.  Found out she existed, and then she was everywhere.

***Settlers of Catan.  Once you're aware of the Euro board gaming trend, you see references to it everywhere.

***"Talking Points."  I spent the whole last election arguing politics with people and being accused of using liberal talking points.  But since I didn't go to any liberal websites and or TV shows or anything else, they actually were my own thoughts. Yes, my very own thoughts.  So I didn't know what the fuck they were talking about.

Then I started seeing those websites and TV shows and went ...."OOOhhhhh!"   Basically, they were accusing me of doing what in fact they were doing....

***And finally, Baader Meinhoff, itself.   Heh.  Now it seems to apply to everything.

***A thousand other examples, I just can't think of them right now.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A wall of good.

One of the funny things that happens when you write is that people are quick to reassure you.

"Well, there are a lot of bad books out there, so you can't be any worse than that!"

Well, since those books are published and I'm not, apparently I can be worse than that.  Thing is, I believe that almost every published book has something going for it.  Sneer at your own peril -- or show you can do better.

I was talking to a customer who said, "Yeah, you're facing a wall of "good."

I think that's right.  It isn't so much that there are bad writers out there that you can outdo, it's that there are so many writers out there who are good -- or at least as good as you are.

I mean I'd rather think I'm good but they're better, than think that they're bad and I'm worse.

If I'm to take responsibility for getting better at it, then I have to accept that.  I need to get better.

In the end, if I write a really good book, it will speak for itself -- and all the rationalizations won't matter.

Improvement that can't be seen.

I've been trying to take responsibility for not being good enough.  The only answer to that problem is to get better.

Am I getting better?

I can't prove it, but I'm pretty certain I am.  As I've been saying, I'm getting more proficient.  I'm planning my plots a little better.  I seem to be lining up scenes better.

Most importantly, I've broken down my resistance to re-writing.

But in spite of all this, it may not matter.  I'm looking at most likely doing this for a long time without much recognition.

So bottom-line, the question is, am I OK with that?

Ego wise, I've been both accepting the verdict and rationalizing it.  So that process is well underway.  I can still hope for the best.

The doubt about whether I should be spending so much time and money on it?  Just taking a two or three week break from writing answers that -- I waste that time anyway, I don't use it any better.  So I may as well use that time for my creative pursuits.

This really is a lot like when I'm trying to make changes and improvements at the store.  There is a long planning stage, a long preparations stage, a long installation stage.  During most of this time, it's a drag on earnings.  It doesn't seem like it is having any effect.  Even after it's done, it often takes time for the customers to respond.

But I always have a sense of where I am in the process, a faith that I am improving things, and even if other people can't see it, it will eventually have an effect.  And it almost always does.  There are the occasional flops, but most often what I think will be an improvement is a real improvement.

Most of this improvement, for most of the time it is being accomplished,  is under the surface, and isn't readily apparent.

If I improve each stage of my writing, then ultimately all those stages will come together to produce a good book.  I have to have faith in that.  I'm certainly being diligent about the process.  And again, my experience in business is that if I'm diligent and persistent for long enough, it will eventually pay off.

I don't think this is the way it's done.

I spent most of the day within 10 feet of my laptop.

Waiting to write.

Twice in that time, I got busy for a short flurry.   I wrote my quota of words.

I also ruminated on what was planning to do, and came up with some ideas --which is almost as valuable as the actual writing.

So, more or less 14 hours near the computer, of which only a couple of hours were actually occupied by writing.

I don't think this is the way it's done by most writers.

I've gotten very much into a mode of saying to myself -- I have all day.  Don't rush it.  Let it come.

So I spend all day waiting, and really not getting anywhere.  I browse the internet.  I play a lot of solitaire.  I hit 1905 on my cumulative score, which if it isn't a record, is pretty close.

Thing is, I got pretty spoiled there for about a year, I was writing so much, it amazed even me.  Now the old procrastination habits are creeping back.

But...spending 14 hours near the computer with the intention of writing -- that's got to mean something, right?  I feel like I'm close to being good, but I need to put more thought and work into it.

But I bet this isn't the way most people do it...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cancel Christmas.

 I regret to inform you that we have cancelled Christmas.

It's winter, and it's cold and there is snow on the ground.  Very dangerous.

The crowds?  You could get crushed in those crowds, we just can't risk it.  I mean, look at the traffic!  More cars on the road mean more accidents!

You really shouldn't be spending money on silly gifts anyway.

The amount of fattening foods that are consumed on the Holidays is just scary.  Really, we need you to scale that back, folks.  Forget about Christmas, it's dangerous and expensive and a pain in the ass.

Having to get the family together, and then listen them to them bicker the whole meal?  Really, for peace of mind, this cancellation is necessary.

Sure, you could bundle up or choose not to go.  But we can't trust you to make the right decision for you and your kids.

Cause --- winter! 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Missed my 7th year blog birthday.

Missed my 7th year blog birthday.

I've blogged every day since November 29, 2006.

Every day.

It isn't hard, for some reason.  I just sort of blurt out stuff and move on.

Been lots of ups and down in the economy since I started, mostly down.  Lately, a slow recovery.
None of it caught me by surprise and the store weathered the whole collapse rather well, simply because I prepared for it.  (The original Bubble Blogs helped confirm my own feelings about what was going to happen -- but I would have been convinced anyway.)

I've gone from talking almost exclusively about business and the economy, to talking about writing. (And shedding most of my readers probably because of that...)    I've been consistent about talking about what I want to talk about, not worrying about whether anyone reads me or not, not worrying about links and connections and all that.

Mostly a low-tech word blog.  Added my picture a year or so ago, but that's about it.

I really miss Bend Blogs, which was the conduit that most locals used to find me through (and through which I found other local blogs.)   I get a goodly number of hits these days (for me, though very tiny compared to many blogs) but I'm pretty sure lots of these hits come simply because of the sheer volume of material I've created.

99% of what I've put on my blog as been original content, by me.  Don't see the point of all the blogs, twitters and emails and Facebook posts that simply copy other material.  Really don't.  I'd rather read just about anything by a real person than another fucking meme.

Blogs have gone from being cutting edge, to old news.  So who cares?  Wouldn't be the first time I was left behind, nor would it be the first time I was ahead of the curve.  I don't seem to be much affected by what's popular.  (Which isn't terrible helpful when I want to sell my own books -- I'm just allergic to hype.)

This blog has become such a habit to me that I think I'd go through withdrawal if I quit doing it.  It's leaving behind a record -- I'm not sure of what.  Maybe some historian in a hundred years will find something valuable in the everyday life of an obscure writer and small business owner in the boomtown of Bend, Oregon.

Meanwhile, I see no reason not to just keep on blurting.

Social media is broken.

You are rewarded for re-posting, not for expressing your own thoughts.

You are rewarded for lists -- of titles, and for namedropping of all kinds.

You are rewarded for being an ass.

You are rewarded for posting pictures, graphs, quotes.  (None that you did yourself.)

You are rewarded for being provocative.

You are rewarded for being mundane.  (There is a Christmas festival this weekend!  Oh, oh, a new brewery has opened!  Blah, blah.)

You are rewarded for being a suck-up.

You are rewarded for being a single subject, single issue kind of guy.  Ride that hobby-horse to death.

You are rewarded for being insanely upbeat.

You are rewarded for being insanely downbeat.

You are rewarded for not being nuanced or dwelling in gray or for not over-explaining.

You are rewarded for how much you network.

One last thing, which isn't a reward.  Social media is totally infested by commercial interests.  They sneak in everywhere.  

Do all the above and you'll get more hits.

Write a moderately toned, thoughtful post of your own thoughts and feelings, and be prepare to be ignored.

This isn't sour grapes.  I do all the above rewarded things, and I get more hits on those posts as a result.

But I at least I sort of do them more or less accidentally...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Write first, think about it second.

I had no intention of writing a sequel to Deviltree, yet here I am.   Thing is, the premise of the Deeptowers absolutely lent itself to a series, and I've now set up a series of villain, like E.E. Doc Smith's Lensmen, where the Big Bad is revealed to be the flunky of an even Bigger Bad, and so on.

I'm about a third of the way through Deeptowers, already.  What's interesting to me is that the plot points are coming along just about where I'd want them, and the characters are popping up just about where I'd want them, and the explanations are happening just about where I'd want them.

This is what I mean by being proficient.  I'm not second guessing when something happen, or how it happens.

It is coming naturally.

The writing is more or less proficient too, but I'm aware that it needs some work and some fleshing out.  The great thing about that is that I finally got over my fear of rewriting, and actually kind of like the process.  I've learned a few tricks, but the main thing is that I'm letting myself go back as I write and do changes, because I now trust myself not to make such big changes that I lose my way.

I'm continuing on with the philosophy that I write so fast, and the stories just keep coming so fast, that I should just write them and worry about them latter.

Write first, think second.

Every book I write, I seem to learn a little more. 

At first, I was probably using 90% of time and effort just trying to get proficient -- readable.
Now I think I start off 50% proficient, and that gives me more energy and time to improve on it, try to add a little more art and depth.

Interesting to me though, is that the tone of Deeptowers is so similar to Deviltree, even though there is a 30 year gap between the two books.

I don't feel like I'm a 60 year old writer versus a 30 year old writer.  It's more like I took a couple years off, and I'm a 33 year old writer versus a 30 year old writer.  Anyway, that's the way if feels inside.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Are the locals winning?

Interesting discussion on KTVZ about the relatively recent loss of national and regional chains here in Bend.  Quizno's, Papa Johns, Outback, Sears, Rays, etc. etc.

First of all, I'm not sure this isn't a normal rate of business turnover.  Some places work and some places don't -- and I think that holds true for national chains as much as it does for local businesses.

Some comments about how the locals must be doing better, but local stores go out of business at a much faster pace than national chains, they just don't get noticed as much.   (And the percentage of failures by chains seems to me to be miniscule.)

I mean, I've been surprised that we have as many major chains as we do, and that they seem to just keep on going.  I think many of them were lured here during the boom years, and I'm betting some of them are wondering why the hell they opened in such an isolated backwater.  I mean, when you wander through an empty Kmart or Sears, you wonder how they manage to keep going and going.  (Not that Kmart or Sears were new -- but the older stores are the canary in the coal mine.)

So the big chains come to town, even when the town probably can't support them, but they go on for year after year once they're here.

Until they don't.

Also interesting to me, is I didn't particularly didn't like Quezno's and Papa Johns and the Outback.  Bad experiences at all three.  So they may just have been badly run locally.

Another comment was wondering how they could have made it through the Great Recession and then collapse when the economy is getting better.

First of all, is the economy really getting significantly better?

Secondly, it probably was the Great Recession that killed them.

It's as if you had a major illness and you're just getting back on your feet and a minor bug comes along and finishes you off.

Meanwhile, there is a local business that I see is moving again.  This is at least the third time in the last year or so.

I don't understand this.  This is one of the worst things you can do, in my opinion.  I think that sometimes people open stores and they don't get the results they expected and so they think the grass is greener somewhere else.

But I think every reboot just resets the clock and makes it all that much harder the next time.  (Not to mention being disruptive and costly and stressful.)

I think you figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your location, adapt your business, and hang in there until enough people find you.  (Assuming that you're in the middle range of suitable locations.  If you picked a really bad location, I can see how you would want to move -- but moving three times in a year means you don't have the location, location, location knack...)

The other side of Black Friday.

What no one talks about are the days immediately following Black Friday.  By Sunday, the frenzy has worn off and it is a normal day.  Monday and Tuesday are usually abjectly horrible.

I drove to work yesterday and the entire street had empty parking places.  This is unusual at any time of year.  But there it was.

The store did about half normal business yesterday, and I expect it won't do much better Tuesday.  (It did worse...)

When you take the much lower sales in the week after Black Friday, take out the day of Thanksgiving itself, and average it out, it doesn't look all the impressive.

The Cold weather isn't doing us any favors.

Meanwhile, I commented to my manager, Cameron, that this was the season when we would start missing shipments.  Sure enough, this week's shipment didn't arrive.  (The customer should see it on time, but we have to scramble).  I looked it up online and they had left a box on the warehouse floor.  Probably some temp didn't feel like loading it that minute. 

See, this is when we get 'temporary' workers, 'substitute' drivers, etc.

Big business likes to brag about how "efficient" they are -- but what they mean by efficient is cheaper.  What I mean by "efficient" is getting the job done correctly.  Those are opposite things.

But the public buys into the "efficient" myth.

I don't buy the bad weather argument.  I don't buy the increased traffic argument.

That happens every year.  It shouldn't be a surprise -- they should find a way to deal with it.  It isn't an act of god when it snows.  But it happens each and every year, costing us who knows how much.

But UPS saved a few pennies.

This is one of the reasons that I don't go crazy with discount sales.

If I do three times normal business on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving, and then follow up those with a week of half normal business -- basically, not much has happened. 

I'll give you an example -- and really, this is an example of how misinformed the media can be about business.  Really disgraceful reporting.

I was reading an article about half-price sales.  The magazine used the example of a business that did 16% better business for 10 days at half price.  The same business then did 8% less business over the next two 10 day periods.  The implication of the article was that the business had done just as well as normal.

But this is leaving out cost of goods.

First of all, my cost of goods is more than 50%, so under the above scenario I actually lost money on the supposedly higher sales -- and then proceeded to make 8% less the rest of the month.

Of course, this is all assuming that the "Sale" is for real -- I think in the case of most big box stores it is a manipulated figure, and pretty much bogus.

Christmas is undeniable better -- but it all comes down to those last ten days, and that seems like Russian Roulette to me.  One of these days, something will go wrong, and everyone will be in shock.
But it hasn't happened yet, and you can't operate a business on worst case scenarios.  You have to take a calculated risk.

This year, my calculated risk was to completely stock the store, top to bottom.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Procrastination city.

I'm really proud of myself for hanging in there and writing my quota of words yesterday.

I spent half the day on store business.  It looks to me that I'll be spending a fair amount of each day of this month on store business.  It's the Christmas season and I want to keep on top of things this year.  Last year, I was deep in writing and I let Christmas happen on autopilot and had a very weak season.

So this year I'm determined to get it back to the previous years levels, which means constant ordering and restocking.

However, after I've spent hours on this kind of activity, when it comes time to write, it just isn't there.  This is just half a day of activity, so it explains all those years when full time work precluded any writing on my part. 

It isn't so much the time, as the focus.

It was procrastination city, yesterday.

So I sat myself down mid-afternoon and wrote 500 words.  That was it.  Nothing else came.

So I sat myself down at around 6:00 and tried again, this time nothing.

So I sat myself down at 9:30 and finally the words flowed.  Finished up at midnight with the proper number of words.  Even more importantly, I liked what I wrote.

Having the whole day to devote to writing is a huge luxury.  Working at the store, and then giving myself the time to write, is harder.  It's more or less OK if I give up any other activity I might engage in, but requires a dedication to dead time that can feel like I'm wasting time.

But it isn't wasted if the results come in.

You, sir, are no J.D. Salinger.

Three of Salinger's unpublished stories have been put online.  One of them, apparently, holds up well.  As far as I've heard, he more or less completed it early in his career.  (It contains a letter from Holden Caulfield!)

I've read a review that said the other two stories were more or less unfinished drafts.

Here's the thing.  If Salinger strained and groaned and thought and giggled and ate and shat and walked around some and meandered and chased inappropriately young women and thought some more and put one word a day on a piece of paper:  he would have completed 18 thousand words in 50 years.

Two words a day, 36K words.

10 words a day, 180K words  (or two novels).

Ten words a day, that's all he had to do.

(The same number of words I just wrote on the preceding line.)


Monday, December 2, 2013

Books selling is getting weird.


"Who is it?"

Buzzzzzzzzzzzz.  zzzzz... .scrrreeepppp!

"Go away!"


"Person of the house!  By your heat signature, I can tell you're in there.  We have a package."

"I don't want it!'

"Person -- you ordered a book two hours ago.  If you do not answer the door I will be forced to use my hellfire missiles."

"Honey, where's the shotgun!"

Boom!   Buzzzzzzzzzz. zzzz......sccreeeeppp!   Boom!

"May day, May day. Headquarters, tell Jeff we're going down!"

"What was it, dear?  Who was at the door?"

"Alien invaders, I think.  Don't worry, I think I got them.

"What's with all the confetti on our porch?"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Getting proficient.

My strategy since I came back to writing was just to keep writing -- do the best I can each time, and then move on. 

My feeling was -- I would get better if I just kept doing it.

In the meantime, I'd just judge each book on its own merits.  If it was ready, then I'd put it out.  The Vampire Evolution Trilogy books seemed to be ready, right away.  Freedy Filkins was exactly what it should be.

The Reluctant Wizard was OK but could be much better and was part of a larger storyline.  Put it aside.  The rewrite of Sometimes a Dragon was better, but needs to be better still.  Spell Realm is a bit of mess, but has potential.  I'm using the word inchoate for my fantasies -- a lot of the elements are there, but they're also a mess.

Faerylander was a huge problem, and book needed to be rewritten and rewritten over and over again, until I was satisfied.  Wolflander, the sequel, came out fine.

Led to the Slaughter had so much potential that even though it came out fine, I thought I could improve it.   I'm happy with it now, and will probably put it out soon.

Deviltree is fine, and probably can't be improved very much.  It was written 30 years ago -- and a lot of work was put into it then.  So it just needs to be made ready.

And now I'm writing Deeptower, the sequel, and I'm really liking it.

What is happening, I think, is that I'm getting more proficient.  I've been fine turning the process, which is a big deal.  I've got a certain number of words I try to get in every day, not too little, not too much.  I have a good idea about the 'architecture' of each book.  I've rediscovered the tone I feel I'm best at producing. The work habits -- the things that allow me to be creative -- are to me just as important as the creative part itself. 

I've managed to really work out a process.

Getting down the story proficiently in the first place, gives me a chance to expend my creative energy on making it better.  I don't believe being proficient in and of itself necessarily makes the books better, but being proficient gives me more of an opportunity to make them better, if that makes sense.

When I first came back, I forbid myself from rewriting until I was done -- because of past experiences of changing too much and bogging down in confusion.  Now...I allow myself to go back and change things as I go along.  I allow myself to browse the manuscript and make changes.

I've figured out little tricks that guide me into rewriting, and I think my resistance, my dislike of rewriting is breaking down. 

All this is great.  But the original idea and plot are probably more important than all of that, and those are going to come on a hit or miss basis.  Which is another reason to keep writing books.  Writing a really good book is the goal each time, and each time I probably fall a little short of that -- but I'm not sure I'm the best judge of that.

It gets so that I don't judge it that way -- I just ask myself if it is a complete story; does it deserve to exist?  Do these characters and this world deserve to be read?  Whether it is any good or not, isn't up to me, I think.  That's a qualitative judgement on the part of the reader and will be different with each reader.

A really big discovery for me is the wonderous advantage of having already written a book, creating the characters and the world.  The second book is so much easier.  And the third and so on.

Except when it's all one storyline, like in the Vampire Evolution Trilogy, then it becomes more complicated.  But the complication is possible because the preliminaries have been done.

But the writing itself seems to be flowing without too much stress.  It almost feels too easy, but I know that if it comes out proficiently, than that is what I'm striving for. 

Then all I can do is try to make it better.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Small Business Saturday at Pegasus Books.

Had a couple of good days at Pegasus Books, Wed. and Fri., thanks to my employees Cameron and Matt.  They're doing such a good job I feel like I can concentrate on my writing and not worry.

I went to the store this morning expecting it to be cleaned out, but it looks as packed as ever.  The great thing about the holidays isn't just the higher sales -- though those are nice -- but the fact that much of the stuff we sell doesn't have to be replaced. 

Sometimes the stuff has sat in the store for half a year, but a tourist comes along and it's the very thing they've been looking for.

I wish Black Weekend was predictive of the rest of the season -- because it's been a good one so far -- but it really isn't. 

I have some faith this December will be better than last year because I'm doing way more restocking than last year.

I always have to get ready for the shock of the 10 days after this weekend -- always an enormous dropoff, sometimes even below normal levels.  Especially if the weather is as bad as predicted.

Anyway, a least we'll soon have this weekend under our belt.

Buy a Book for Christmas!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Buy a book for Christmas.

I'm pretty sure the whole -- "this is the day the stores make a profit" -- thing is bogus.  In fact, I seem to remember that the "black" part of the description was there because it was such a stressful, hectic day.

It was bigger for us early in our career.  I believe the chainstores have very efficiently siphoned off most of the frenzy.  It is also completely unpredictable.  The year before last, for instance, was 40% higher than last year -- for no apparent reason.

I doubt the deals are any better now than they will be in a couple of weeks.  And I doubt there will be any shortage of buyable merchandise closer to Christmas.

I don't have "Sales" at my store.  I don't stray from that during this season.  I strive to have as much merchandise as possible, and the more I can maintain regular prices the more stuff I can carry.  In fact, I really have even less reason to have "Sales" at this time of year when I'm going to have increased volume anyway.

I try to have good stuff at everyday prices.

I have to be careful to calibrate my inventory correctly.  I want more merchandise in the store before this weekend -- but I also have to be aware that there will be a dramatic dropoff in sales after this weekend for about two weeks.  Then the final two weeks before Christmas -- Boom.

The last two weeks have become so important, it is kind of scary.  I always worry that something catastrophic will happen -- events, weather, something.  That the Sheriff of Nottingham will "Cancel Christmas." 

Hasn't happened...yet.

There is a week less time this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that week is missing from November, and since I'm already ahead of last year in November -- with two big days left -- apparently it had little effect.  In fact, logically, it should make December all that much stronger.

I believe the mild weather has been working in our favor.  That and the fact that I really stocked up this year, especially board games and books.

Anyway, we're good.  We see an increase, to be sure, but not as much as I read other stores do -- in fact, I think I actually see a slight decrease in traffic from my regulars.  What it does do is position me to pay off a heft chunk of my bills and hopefully have some cash in the bank for the long dry spell of the first half of the year.

If I can beat last year at Christmas, I may beat last year altogether, which considering how careful I've been in my buying, will be a real achievement.

Meanwhile, everyone have fun.  Buy a book for Christmas.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ready to get going again.

Woke up at 5:00 in the morning, a prologue to Deeptower going through my mind.  I hadn't intended to have a prologue but apparently my subconscious begs to differ.

This is coming easy -- almost too easy.  I've already written 11,000 words. 

I worry when that happens, actually.   I feel like maybe there hasn't been enough of a struggle.  But then -- I'm sure that will come.

I think I'm benefiting from all the world building I did in Deviltree.  I can take that as my starting point, and move on from there.  It makes things so much clearer and easier.  I can concentrate on story and character.

I think Faerylander, in the end, benefited from all the problems.  It's a better book.  I don't know whether it's a good book or not, but it's like a problem child who I love and who I finally need to let go.

Let the little beast go out into the world and hope for the best.

I know that I cut what I could and retained what I could, while pushing for a forward momentum to the story.  I think I made the characters more sympathetic and their motivations much clearer.  I think I managed to add a little tension.  I cut most of the light and or silly passages.

There were some intrinsic problems that arose from pushing it through early on -- I was five months in and stuck and decided I needed to push forward, and I'm both glad I did and determined that I'll never do that again.  But I've worked and worked at ameliorating those problems as best I can,  and hopefully the reader won't notice.

I'd almost given up on Faerylander, but I'm glad I kept at it.  I think its a real book now.

After a couple of months, I'm back to writing.  The last original book I wrote, Spell Realm, was a real problem, which made me wonder if I'd lost my creative mojo.   But it has been gaining favor with me as the weeks have passed.  Some of the scenes are very clear in my head, which must mean they were effective to some extent and that there will be something to work with there when I'm ready.

Blood of Gold is with Lara, my editor.  I'm hoping to publish it early next year so that my Vampire Evolution Trilogy will be complete.

My intention is to just write next year.  Concentrate on the writing.  I have enough books finished and lined up to be able to put one out every 3 or 4 months.  Most of them still need to be edited, formatted and covers prepared.  But most of them won't need extensive rewriting.

The ones that do need extensive rewriting -- mostly my fantasies -- I'm setting aside for now, with the intention of going back occasionally and working on them.  They are just kind of inchoate right now, and I'm letting them be that way.  The way they are interconnected means I'll probably have them all done at the same time.

The Faerylander world, the Deviltree world, even the Led to the Slaughter world, all lend themselves to a series of books.  I think the Vampire Evolution story is complete.  Freedy Filkins is a stand alone (I'm not tackling LOTR's!)

So I'm creating a body of work that I'm proud of.  Maybe no one will ever notice, but I know what I've accomplished.  I'm starting to be really proud of it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To my future self.

So I've got this long drawn out analogy, which most of you will probably lose interest in. (Overthinking it much?)

But I want to get it down for my 'future' self in case I ever wonder why I made the choices I made.

The analogy is way at the end of this blog -- first I have a couple of preliminaries...


There is a freedom in writing for myself -- a liberating, euphoric freedom.

How to explain....... 

So I reach a point in a plot where I'm wondering -- do I do this or do I do that?  I ask myself -- what will people think if I do that?  Often, the answer is -- they'll probably think it's silly, or stupid, or hackneyed.

So I change what I'm doing, and try something else.

But let's say I really liked the idea and will always wonder if I could have made it work.

There is a difference in how I approach writing.  It comes down to whether I'm worried about what others think, or whether I'm writing for myself.  If I write for myself, I give myself permission to do anything.  If I start to consider how it is going to look to others -- then I start second guessing myself.

I'm free and light when I do it for myself.  I'm bogged down with all kinds of worries and concerns when I starting thinking about doing it for others.

So if I'm concerned about going through a traditional method of publishing, I think one way.  If I'm doing it for myself, I often think another way.  The doing it for myself gives me the permission to follow my own creative impulses.

The minute I start to consider how other people are going to think -- it changes.  It's less satisfying.  I'm not as willing to take chances.  If I do it for myself, I figure I can fix whatever is wrong with it, or perhaps come up with something wildly different.

So that means I'm just indulging myself, right?

Not necessarily.  This is similar to the idea that I have some control over whether a book is good or bad.  Well, of course I do, right?

Not that I can see.  I doubt anyone sets out to write a "bad" book.  Everyone is probably doing their best.

At least I am.  I'm not setting out to write a book I don't like.  I'm writing to my maximum current abilities.

Really, when I'm talk about that kind of thing, I'm really talking about how much time I want to spend on rewriting.  So, basically, the idea is that if I'm writing on a qualitative scale of 1 to 10, that if I start with a 6, and then spend two years diligently trying to improve it, that I end up with an 8.

(I don't think this is necessarily a given, at least for me.  It's more a three steps forward two steps back process.  What I gain in polish and perhaps depth, I lose in spontaneity and freshness.  Sometimes, I think, it's even a two steps forward and three steps back process.)

But say I spend much less time trying to improve it, and I end up with a 6.5 or a 7.

Obviously, an 8 is better than a 6.5.  But what if it takes two years to achieve an 8, and three months to achieve the 7?  So in two years I've achieved one 8 level book, whereas I might have had eight 7 level books -- or more likely, say one 5 level book, three 6 level books, three 7 level books, and one 8 level book.

It's worse than that.  Let's say by writing eight books I learn and get better.  So each book is a .2 improvement.  So by the eighth book, I'm at a 7.6 level to start.  I really believe this is happening.  Maybe it's a .1 improvement, but it's happening.

It's not all one thing or the other.  I can set aside the 5 and 6 level books and come back to them later.  I may improve a 7 level book easily, or take a long time but do other things while I'm at it.

(Again, overthinking it much?  ;)

So -- I haven't even reached the analogy yet, by the way...


Second part of the preliminary thinking.

I now think of writing with architecture in mind.  So, every book has a foundation, it has walls, it has different levels, it has rooms and windows and doors, it has plumbing and electricity, it has a roof, and so on.

So when I construct a book, I have to keep all those elements in mind.  I may build part of the foundation and part of the roof at the same time, I may build one room at a time, but in the end I have to put all the elements together.

The art of it is in how I construct these elements. So let's say, I decide to build a Colonial?


So here's where I start the analogy.

I just build the Colonial, because that's what I want to do.

But everyone is buying Craftmen houses.  Let's say -- Northwest Crossing.

Whereas, I feel like building a Colonial east of town, in the middle of the desert.

Pretty stupid.  I admit.  If my goal is to actually sell it, or even have people find it, I'm doing a very doubtful thing.

So there's the difference.  If I build in Northwest Crossing, I will have to worry about what the market wants, try to fit in, build where everyone else is building.  In doing so, I have to get permits, I have to hire contractors, I have trust that a real estate agent will sell the house.  It takes forever, I'm building to other people's specifications, and in the end there is no guarantee that the house will sell anyway.

But my little Colonial.  I do it all myself.  I build it quickly.  I don't have to have contractors or workers or permits or any of those things.  It's a little quirky, with a little tower on one end, a back room that's round.

Totally not the style anyone wants, completely out of place in the sagebrush and junipers.

Worse -- it doesn't have any connectors.  It doesn't have sewer line, or a water main, or an electrical line.  It's all wells, and generators, and so on.

But it's done.

So what?  Nobody will find it, if they do find it, they won't have any way of relating to it.  It will sit lonely and unappreciated.

But I compound the problem, and build another one...and another.  Each a different style -- whatever I feel like building.  Pretty soon I have a whole sub-division of misfits, which very few people will find, they have to take my word that the houses are livable.

Who knows?  Maybe someday Colonials in the desert will be all the rage.  Probably won't happen, but you never know.  Maybe the subdivision will fit into the larger picture someday. 


This is all just to say -- writing for myself is free and liberating and fast and fun -- but perhaps pointless.  But all I have to do is build it.  I don't have to worry about anything else.

Writing for others is second guessing, and frustrating, and takes forever, and isn't much fun, and constricting -- and maybe just as pointless.  But there is a chance, if a slim one.

So do I want to put up with everything else for a slim chance?

I've decided -- no.

Sorry you had to read my whole labored analogy to get here....