Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Daily "Fateplay" rewrite journal, Day 4.

Woke up with the random line in my mind: "He was a big, virtuous limestone slab of a man." What does that even mean?

I've come to some conclusions.

1.) "Fateplay" is improved, without a doubt. In fact, I'm a little embarrassed that I thought it was ready. But you don't really know what it's lacking until you go through the process.

2.) the ten pages a day is a good number. That and going back to it several times after breaks and I seem to come up with these little improvements that add up.

3.) I'm not sure the changes will make any difference. Rejection will actually be harder, not easier. Then again, I'll know in my heart that I made the effort and that I think it's better. Whether it's good or not--that really isn't for me to decide.

Overhearing Linda listening to a "literary" novel and it sounds terrible. Boring and pompous. Of course, they'd think my little books silly, but damn they do go on about nothing.

Got started late, around 1:30.

Struggled with this one. It was more or less a procedural chapter, where all the bits of business and information are done so that the story can continue. Preferably, that could also be done in action chapters. Hopefully, it is intriguing enough.

Up to 47 pages. From here on, I can more or less follow the structure of the first draft, though it will have to be fixed as I go along to match the new premises. As I said above, I'm losing lots of interpersonal interactions based on the original history of the characters, which has now been changed.

But the story is streamlined, fits more the ending, and not quite as silly.  

Monday, July 30, 2018

Daily "Fateplay" rewrite journal, Day 3.

I went to bed with doubts, woke up with hope.

The story feels right to me. It's much more measured, not as much of an information dump, and I believe more sympathetic and believable. More complexity and texture.

I believe I have at least two original chapters to write, and the rest can be adapted. So of course, those two chapters are intimidating.

One of them I'm writing today, so I'm hesitating because I don't want to get it wrong.

I can see now the first version of this story had some major problems. I'm not having to completely rewrite the first 20% like I did with "Shadows Over Summer House." Though I'd have been willing if needed. This kind of scheduled rewrite is probably a step I should take with every novel, even if it adds a month or two to the process.

I've been looking for a trick to motivate myself to rewrite for years now. I think the whole idea was overwhelming. Where do I start? When do I stop? After all, there is no end to possible improvements. There is also no end of ways I can screw it up. Every artistic effort can be ruined by too much tinkering.

So I have to keep a sort of measured approach. Make sure I give it full thought, but try not to go crazy.

The 10 page a day goal is perfect for that, I think. In fact, I'm wondering if I shouldn't go ahead and subject all my finished but unpublished novels to that process. Just go through them one by one. Not sure I have the discipline or patience, but I don't doubt the books could benefit.

Which really is the answer. Take that little be of extra time to make them better.

Going to try to get started writing around Noon again. That seems to be the best time for me.


OK. I've got another 10 pages done, preliminarily. I'll have to come back in a couple of hours and go over it again, and then again after dinner.

I'm having to cut more than I thought I would. Luckily, the book is long enough to sustain that. If it ends up making it leaner, there's nothing wrong with that.

The biggest problem is that I've changed the main character--he's basically the same person, but with a different past. In one he's the lucky winner of a lottery, the founder of Pegasus Corp and Hyper-reality, but someone who lives modestly and is unknown. In the other, he's the son of the above character, someone who lives modestly because he doesn't know who he is. It turns out that is more a difference than I expected.

I losing some nice interpersonal interplay between the characters. All in service to the plot. Here's what I notice about reviews--people notice story above all. Of course, it's probably not a dichotomy; plot versus everything else; it's all connected, but when there is a choice to be made, I'm conscious of the story first.

Came back to it and added a fantasy scene at the end that helps explain the attraction between the leads. (Which I'd led up to more slowly the first draft.)


One last rewrite session. Decided that I needed to make the main couple a little less friendly to each other at first. I want Numera to be a little standoffish and skeptical.

Was actually an easy fix and reads much better.

I also decided that I might as well make Zach completely broke at first. Another easy fix. Makes him more of an underdog.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Daily "Fateplay" rewrite journal, Day 2.

Drank way too much wine last night and I'm a mess today. I don't drink hardly at all anymore and I totally miscalculated. I'm going to still try to get my 10 pages done.

I don't know if being drunk gave me any insights into the story. I made minimal changes. It did slow down my thinking, ironically, so that I could see it somewhat freshly.

Getting a slightly later start today. 12:30.

I think what I wrote yesterday was an improvement. In many ways, it's delving into the mechanics of the story and that always pulls me away from original vision. I just have to remember that the original vision is still there and that line editing doesn't detract. Nor does adding the elements that need to be there or taking out the elements that don't need to be there.

From what I've heard, some writers really love this part of the process. But I love the glow of discovery, of the raw story, and going back and reworking it dims that glow, the romance. It's like having a sports car and lifting up the hood and seeing all the gears and oil. 

This is turning more SF than it was originally, more strange, and I think that's a good thing; it covers me from not being accurate about Larping or cosplay. Instead, I'll be judged by my overall vision and descriptions. I do worry that the technology won't be completely accurate, but...dammit, the story demands certain things and the tech is always flexible. After all, it is the future. So I really need to be as vivid and colorful with that as I can be.

Here goes:

Finished the 10 pages. Mostly because I cut a hell of a lot. But I also wrote a bunch. This is turning into a very different story, in some ways. It is tighter, but has lost a bit of charm, I think. The charm was goofy, though. This is more mature.

Rewriting was definitely the right decision. I've really firmed up the plot and the flow. I'm losing some nice interpersonal connections, but I still think it makes more sense for the protagonist to come in from the outside, to be an innocent, to be an underdog.

The strange visitations I've added are good because they add to the mystery as well as prepare the reader for the big turn at the end.

I also think the 10 pages are the right number to attack each day. I may not feel that way while I'm doing them, but so far both days I've woken up the next morning with the certainty that the story was improved. I just need to keep on hacking at it, one chunk at a time.

I'd say about 20% so far is new, about 15% has been cut, and the rest is only slightly modified. Most of the big changes are happening in the first 50 pages or so. After that, it's more a matter of adapting to the new changes the rest of the way.

Didn't sleep again last night. Bad dreams, that when I woke up I was certain was brought about by the "poison" of alcohol. I think if I'm ever going to drink at all it has to be social and moderate, not alone and extreme. Heh.

Still, despite being groggy all day, I did make some substantial improvements, so I'm hoping for today.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Daily "Fateplay" re-write journal. Day 1.

I'm going to work on 10 pages a day. No more, no less. I'm going to spend the whole day doing it. It should take about 30 days.

I woke up this morning with an addition to the first chapter that I think will work, though it definitely complicates things. But I like that. Complications are interesting.

I knew that I wanted to add a little family history to the first chapter. That I wanted Zach to get an anonymous ticket to the Portland Pegasus Convention. Most of all, I knew that I wanted there to be both a mysterious warning and a mysterious attack.

So the solution I came up with this morning will do all those things. But it will add a new element that will have to be addressed through the rest of the book.

10 pages at a time.

Complication #1.

The whole second chapter will have to come later. So I'm just setting that aside and working on the next five pages.

OK. Rewrote the entire first chapter. Took a couple of hours. It came out well, I think. I cut some of the info dump and added some more action. There is about two pages of new writing, and I cut about half a page, so the five pages turned into seven pages. Going to take a breather and then tackle the next five pages.

Six hours later:

The second chapter is now going to be the third chapter. I took parts of it to do the second chapter and added a bunch. I've hit 13 pages on the new version, which is think is roughly comparable to 10 pages on the original version.

Most of the real revisions are going to take place in the first fifty pages of the book, so that's where the real work comes in.

This was every bit as hard as I thought it would be, but I do think it's better.

Two hours later:

Realized that I needed some action at the beginning of the second chapter and also a better motivation, so added a scene. Now up to 15 pages, which I think means I reached beyond my 10 page goal of the original manuscript.

Ready for tomorrow.

Friday, July 27, 2018

As you know, I don't like rewriting.

I've decided that for "Fateplay" I'm going to knuckle down and really do it.

10 pages a day. No more, no less. Read it, think about it, maybe go off and write the same scene again without referring to what I've already written, come back and consolidate the two versions, write some poetry, see if any of it fits. Look for more: more emotion, more character, more action, more plot, more connections, more depth and texture, more theme and symbolism, more everything...

Cut and sharpen, pare down and exfoliate.

Research and extrapolate, consider the ramifications, make sure I haven't missed any opportunities.

Set it aside, take a nap, come back and do it again. Go for a walk, mull over what I've done, come back and do it again. Drink a couple of beers and read it again.

Ten pages. A measly ten pages. Just do it, dammit!!!!

 Go to bed.

Wake up and do the next ten pages, no more no less.

Read it, think about it....

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Feathering the lily, gilding the nest.

Once you have a well-stocked store, everything gets easier. You can start cherry picking or picking up bargains. Little additions here and there, plus the constant reordering of what sells well and an ear for what is new.

By ignoring the bestseller lists, I'm not impelled to spend money on titles I don't know anything about (other than the fact they are on bestseller lists and will be carried by almost everyone else, probably in larger quantities and cheaper.) By concentrating on known and established titles, I can constantly upgrade.

Whenever I go into another bookstore there are always a few covers or titles that leap out at me. So I write them down and go back and order them for the store.

It's a constant upgrading. Sometimes what I think is cool will sell, and sometimes it won't, but I know at least that the new books are good, that they had something that grabbed me.

In a sense, being a bookstore is discovering what books sell and what don't. I mean, that sounds obvious and simple, but it's a constant learning process.  Basically, if I can assemble enough titles that will sell on a regular basis, then I've got a going concern.

I mentioned that I ordered a lot of cult books--that is, books that have a small but fervent following. I've learned in the past that these types of books sell well. Sometimes it's obvious, like carrying the Vonnegut or Palahniuk books. But sometimes they are a little off the beaten track.

So one of the books I ordered was a Celine book. I had a woman come up to the counter excited that I had the book and was getting ready to buy it when her husband came up and said, "I have that."

"Damn," I said. "You were just about the justify my taking a chance on that book." (I say this in a joking manner, of course.) "Hey, have you seen all the Bukowski books I have?" (Pure guess.)

"As it happens, I learned about Celine because Bukowki talks about her."

Ultimately, they left without buying anything, which is frustrating. They like offbeat books as long as they are offbeat books they already like.

Sometimes these books serve as advertisements. The very fact that I have them gives me credibility, even if they don't sell.

I'm refining the process all the time. For instance, I've learned that cook, funky covers are always a good choice. Often, a more elaborate and expensive cover sells even better than a mass market paperback. After all, if they want to have Dune in their library, a cool leather bound cover will be very attractive. I've sold the deluxe green Hobbit book many times over the years. In other words, it's not the cheapest option I should be going after, but the coolest option. That's the nature of my store.

With SF and fantasy readers, mass market paperbacks do well. With mysteries readers, mmp's also do well, but they tend to want used copies more often. With literature, the nicer the book, the better. With new fiction, trade-paperbacks (larger paperbacks) fit the bill.

The true irony of what's been happening is that for several years now I've been frustrated by the young families that come in. Kids can be rough on the product sometimes (I only can afford to have the one copy) and they can be rather picky--not a lot of exploring, they want what they already want. Plus, there are thousands of young adult series, and hundreds of them that have a following. Even with a much, much bigger store there is no way to carry them all.

Nevertheless, in conjunction with the fact that I can often get the younger books cheaper, and that young adult graphic novels are a "thing" I've been slowly but steadily moving in the young family direction.

And suddenly, they have become a major part of my business. Partly because I gave up several years ago trying to control the situation, and partly because I've apparently finally got enough of those "good" series to make a difference. That is, I will more often make a sale to a vacationing family than not.

Once again, I've reached the limit on my space. I still have plenty of room in literature and SF, not so much in mysteries and young adult and young readers. So I'll have to get creative again, because the response has been strong.

All of this is also a lot of fun. I love figuring it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Doors close, doors open.

My marketing so far has been basically opportunism. A door opens a little bit, and I try to pry it open wider. If the opportunities don't present, then I'm more or less stumped.

I thought I was done with "Fateplay" but an opportunity has come up and I don't want to blow it. This book needs to be as good as it can be. So I'm going to make the changes I envisioned which will hopefully make the book a little better.

Major rewrites are always a risk for me. It's not a sure thing. These changes will be a lot of work but my hope is that it will make the book better.

To be completely honest, I think the book is pretty good as is. But if this opportunity pans out, I'll need it to be better than "pretty good." I'll need it to be fully thought out and fleshed out and sharp.

So I'm committing to the process.

Apparently, all I needed was the motivation.

For a couple of years, I had a great opportunity with a major publisher, who did in fact buy a book from me to be published under a much more famous name--a guy who recently had two bestsellers in the top ten! (Not Patterson, heh.) So my writing is apparently good enough to become a probable bestseller--but not under my own name.

This was the publisher who sought me out after reading Led to the Slaughter to tell me that it was a "brilliant premise and beautifully written."

Mostly ever since, he's ignored me, except to take the one ghostwritten book. He's pretty not responded to anything else I've sent, so I think that opportunity has disappeared. (The ghostwritten books is not on the publisher's schedule, so I have no idea what's happening. I guess as this point I'm just letting it be...or not to be.) I'm trying not to be put out about it: the editor has his own work and is probably overwhelmed.

Anyway, after a month off, I'm ready to plunge back into the book. If any larpers or cosplayers out there would like to beta read my first draft and give me advice about that world, please let me know. It's not a natural fit for me, so I need to get that terminology and stuff down.

So here we go again.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Downtown Bend is booming. The world has turned nerd.

Downtown Bend is booming. I wish I could go back thirty years, pull myself aside and say, "Duncan. Hang in there. Someday your store will be a happening place."

It sure showed no signs of that back in 1984. My neighbor and I used to sit out on the sidewalk and play cribbage for hours. If a customer came along, we'd get up and do our business, then come back out and continue our game. We were rarely interrupted.

You could have shot a cannon down the middle of the street and not hit anyone.

It's not all great. There are still slow times, but, man---when it is busy, it is really busy, especially if the events don't get in the way. (Last weekend was 20% better than the Bend Fest weekend.)

A few years ago some real estate guy was quoted in the Bulletin as saying that this growth was "inevitable," what with the river and the great old buildings. Well, the river was always there and the buildings frankly aren't all that great. It wasn't inevitable. It was a long slow build, and I believe it could have tilted in a different direction.

Admittedly, we had some high powered developers around here who made it happen. But still...this is the kind of thing that takes time. I see downtown Redmond slowly moving in that direction too.

We've been fortunate to be able to stay in the same place for 37 years. The rents have gone up considerably, as you might imagine, but I always calculated that the potential increase in foot traffic would pay for it. It was a gamble, but it worked out.

As in other parts of my life, I haven't changed all that much. I was always a big nerd, the store has been there forever, I've lived in Bend my whole life. Instead, the world has shifted in my direction.

It's kind of startling, really.

Who knew the whole world would turn nerd?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Once upon a time, I decided to write a book.

So, about seven years ago I decided to write a book.

I just wanted to see if I could do it again. My basic idea was a war between Cthulhu and Fairy. I wrote the first hundred pages or so and stalled. I frittered around for a few months, then went on a "writing vacation" to Baker City, holing up in the Geiser Grand.

I came up with a solution and forced myself to finish the book. It was the wrong solution. It didn't really work. But I finished the book, and that was my goal.

I handed it to my friend Martha and she tried to be encouraging but it was obvious she didn't think much of it. "All the characters sound like you." Ouch.

I set the book aside and tried again. This time a fantasy. Again, I struggled with it, and the end result was relatively bland, though I did start to get some of my old rhythm back toward the end of the book.

By now, about eight months had passed and I didn't really feel like I'd accomplished much.

I thought back to my inspirations, and there was no bigger inspiration than The Hobbit. So I updated The Hobbit into a cyberpunk story. Not a copy. If you didn't know what I was doing, you might not guess. But I used it as a template.

But most of all, I did Freedy Fikins for my own amusement and I wrote it fast and by the end of the book, it clicked.

"Oh, THAT'S how you do it!!!!"

I woke up one morning with a vampire story.

"NO, don't write a vampire story. Everyone is writing a vampire story--worse, everyone has already written a vampire story."

But I'd decided after Freedy Filkins that I would write whatever inspired me at the moment. So I wrote the book and damn if it didn't come out relatively well. I immediately dove into a sequel and it turned out even better.

By now, Sabrina was manager of my store, Pegasus Books, and I was free to write. 

I'd had the idea for a supernatural Donner Party story for a long time. I was completely surprised that no one had done it yet. So I sat down and wrote the Led to the Slaughter and at the end I felt it was a mature book, that I'd hit my stride.

I wrote a short scene about a super-intelligent pig that was out to kill people and before I knew it, Tuskers had popped out and...it was fun.

After that, I sort of fell into a black hole of writing for a year. I mean, I just didn't pop my head out for months at a time, but wrote and wrote and wrote. Whatever story grabbed me at the time, I didn't think about it, I just wrote it.

I suspected that it was a weird confluence of creative energy and free time and I'd better not squander the opportunity.

That runaway train continued for the next three or four years. Writing every day, honing my craft to the best of my abilities. I started hitting hills, but the momentum was so strong that the train just kept chuggy.

I ended up writing a a bunch of books, about half of which are viable, mature books that I think offer something to the world. I let nothing stand in the way. I was disciplined and the creative flow just kept flowing.

Well, the train has finally slowed down a little.

I have little doubt that I could continue writing, but it would be more like work than play. I've decided to slow down. To consolidate and think about what I've done. I knew from the beginning that the creative energy was something special and wouldn't continue forever.

I'm pretty amazed looking back.

I just wanted to write a book.

"I never shop downtown. It's too busy."

It's funny how often I get the comment, "I never shop downtown. It's too busy."

As a store owner, I just sort of tilt my head and say, "Ever heard of Yogi Berra?"

I am getting about $6000 worth of books on Monday. I think I have room for them. They are all choice books, selected, curated. The best of the best.

Basically, I've finally sprung for the wishlist.

That's on top of spending a month buying books every week, so probably another $6000 worth of new books. The reorganization has opened up the space to do what I've been itching to do. Meanwhile, our displays of graphic novels are great to look at and I do believe have had an impact.

This is one of those periodic re-inventions of the store that invigorate me and keep the store moving forward. It's one of the ways to avoid burnout--constantly moving in the direction of one's interests, whether profitable or not (within reason, of course.)

For some reason, I've been tilted toward the store again. Part of it is going back to work on Mondays, another is this re-organization. I've enjoyed the interactions, been somewhat surprised by just how many people I've been friendly with. I can forget how many friends I've made there.

I think the next few years should be fun and I think customers pick up on the feeling. I'm thankful that I've made it this far and still feel enthused about owning a business.

Meanwhile--my writing.

I had a good solid six years writing. I've written better books than I thought was possible. But I think it's time to slow down and take stock. If nothing else, finish the books I've already written. I'm going to try not to plunge into a new book.

Unless of course a premise and story comes along that is so strong I can't resist...😛

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A more ambitious book.

So I've proven to myself that I can write a book...or two...or twenty.

In my previous little career, I got bogged down by bad habits and expectations, so I was determined for that not to happen this time. I decided I would write the ideas that came to me, finish the books, and enjoy the process.

That wasn't a bad decision. I've learned by doing, I've liked everything I've written.

As I've mentioned, I discover the story by writing.

Every time in the past where I've tried to find the "killer premise" and then research it or try to outline it--the book doesn't get written. Thinking about it too much only brings up the doubts, and then I start questioning whether it is really a killer premise, and, well, the book never gets written.

I spent months researching a Middle Eastern story back in the 80's and I still think it could have been cool, but ultimately decided it was over my head. This has probably happened more often that I've actually written books. Not because they weren't good ideas but that ultimately, I talked myself out of them.

The only problem with discovering a story by writing is that I often discover more than halfway through that I've missed some good bets, or I've left out things I could have done that would have made the book better, or I've written myself in a corner, or...I just haven't completely and fully explored the ramifications of the story. Usually, I go back and try to fix those things, and usually I can do it. When I can't "fix" it often turns out that what I've done is just fine--it's just me trying to be a perfectionist.

I've been wanting to write a classic Fantasy trilogy from the beginning. What's stopped me that is that I intend to do a lot of world building first, and that is hard for me to do without stumbling upon the world by writing, and that's what I'm trying to avoid.

One way around this block has been to write a series of novellas based in the same world: Tales of the Thirteen Principalities. Each time I've written one of these novellas (4 and 1/2 and counting) I've come up with more of the background. As long as I don't publish these stories, I have a chance to go back and take all the discovered elements and made them consistent. When I have enough of a background, I can do my "trilogy."

The second way to discover a story though is to actually write it and then put it aside and write it a second time with all I've discovered. I actually did this with the first 1/3rd of Shadows over Summer House. But it seems somewhat crazy and wasteful to do that every time.

My latest book, Fateplay, deals with Larping and Cosplay and VR and holograms and A.I's and robots and so on. I set out to write a Ready Player One book in tone. Don't know if I accomplished that, but I enjoyed writing it. But about halfway through I realized that the ideas in the story were so large that a much more ambitious book could be had, one that could really explore the ramifications of the premise.

I decided not to go back and change this adventure story and load it with "ideas." It's a good book as it is. But in a way, I discovered a larger story that could be written about the subject.

So I've sort of decided to do that. Spend a few months mulling over the ramifications of the premise and see if I can't construct a storyline in advance, hopefully with a beginning, middle and end. This will be my Box book, where I think about the premise and job down ideas and drop them in a box.

The question is--will the book ever get written? Can I stay intrigued by the story long enough to think it through without actually writing? Will I talk myself out of it?

As I said, I've proven I can write a book. I'd like to try to be a bit more ambitious next time, but without losing the fun of it.

Meanwhile, I've got a bunch of books to rewrite, so this is probably the perfect time to plan a book.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Musing about bookstores.

It's interesting how people conflate the opening of stores with the success of stores. One does not mean the other. Stores are always opening in downtown Bend--but think about that statement, "Stores are always opening in downtown Bend." We have a finite number of spaces that are usually full. So where are these new stores opening?

Apparently, when Amazon came along around 1995 there were roughly 3300 indie bookstores. The number dropped by 43% after that. When Kindle came along, everyone predicted the imminent demise of all brick and mortar stores.

But indie stores have increased by 34% in the last decade or so (probably more since the stats end in 2015.)

I'll just say this. That's too soon to predict success. Yes, stores have opened, but does it mean they are making money?

Just as an aside--I've heard figures of something like 7500 indie bookstores before Barnes and Noble and Borders came along, so that would represent an even bigger drop. As I mentioned yesterday, the big chain bookstores are more of a menace to indies than Amazon is. The fact that indies are making a resurgence while Amazon grows ever stronger and Borders crashes and B & N struggles--I don't think that is a coincidence.

What worries me about all these new indie bookstores is that most of them are following the ABA model. That gives them a certain consistency, sure. Which to me is boring. I can walk into an ABA model bookstore and almost predict what I'm going to see.

It seems to me they are weighted heavily toward women, heavily toward literary, and heavily toward new titles.

There is nothing wrong with that on its own, but I think most of them are missing a bet on backstock, on classics and cult books, and especially--and this drives me nuts, they underutilized the genre market.  Usually a couple of shelves of SF and fantasy, a bit more on mysteries, almost nothing in romance and westerns and horror.

I sell genre more than literary, I sell established books more than new books. Since my clientele for books are mostly drop-ins, often tourists, I think this is telling. That means if you take a random sample of the reading public, they will gravitate toward these titles. I usually have several of the new bestsellers on the display rack--more to say, "We're a real bookstore" than anything else--and while those books sell, they don't sell at any greater frequency than backstock.

Personally, when I look at the "best-seller" lists I see a lot of junk--junk that is available at Walmart and Costco for half price, or on Amazon, or any number of places.

The indie stores pride themselves on "curating" their selection, but if they are all pulling their titles off the ABA lists, how is that curation?

The second thing you see recommended for indie stores is lots of events and signings and especially--it seems to be almost a requirement now--a coffee shop.

I've expressed my doubts about these goals before. These things seem costly and time-consuming and space and energy consuming--for what? For books that may or may not sell. Believe me--burnout is a huge danger. Spending all your money on employees in order to gain more business can be a never-ending rat race.

The same time and energy can be used toward figuring out what books WILL sell. Spending your time talking to customers or cleaning your store or--well, just about anything to make your existing space better. The money can be used on backstock.

But even if you do these extra things, bookstores need to make sure they've done the basics of carrying a decent stock of books first.

That's what I've noticed is the lack of inventory in a lot of indie stores. (I have an excuse--I have limited space and the books aren't my primary object, but nevertheless I pack my store as deep as I can get it.)

So these are contrary views, and they be construed as negative, but I think people need to listen to th downsides as well as the upsides.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Leftover Nazi

Duncan McGeary

The key still fit. Fingers shaking, I unlocked the door and slipped inside. I leaned against the door, not believing I'd done what I'd just done.
Where would she keep it? She wouldn't bother hiding it, for she'd dismissed me from her life and her thoughts. But I'd never been able figure out what Jenny would do in even the simplest of things. The puzzle of her was the attraction.
The package was important to her, but she could just as easily have tossed it in a corner and forgotten it. Jenny's soprano laugh knifed through the closed door. I ran for the bedroom, unthinking, spurred by the unreasoning memory of safety.
Their voices murmured from the kitchen. There was a familiar tone in Jenny's voice, soft and seductive. 
"Oh, God no," I thought. But the voices came closer. 
I slid under the bed.
And then, to my horror, my ex and her boyfriend fell onto the bed and started to tussle, tickling and squealing, and then...inevitably...the squeals became sighs and the action became rhythmic, and each downward motion of the bed frame tapped me lightly on the forehead, as if to say, "fool....fool....fool…”
In my mind, I heard a scream. If any of it leaked from me, though, it was smothered by the frantic grunts and moans overhead. 
Bumping beneath the humiliation was the realization I was in danger. 
I wasn't worried about the poor schmuck. And who was I--the epitome of cuckold--to be calling a schmuck? But my ex-girlfriend would kill him if she found me. With her bare hands, if need be. Or any handy nearby sharp or heavy object. Or...she might have one of her guns nearby even as she was fucking.
The torture didn't end when the pounding stopped. I stilled my breath as the two lovers exchanged sweet fucking nothings, the same sweet fucking nothings I used to hear. 
Beside the bed, where the schmuck could see it, would be a picture of her grandfather. A hollow stare, lank hair flopping over his forehead.
"He looks like a leftover Nazi," I'd told her.
She frozen next to me then let out a strange little laugh. "You have a weird way of seeing things.”
It wasn't until I was halfway home from the first time that I remembered her name was spelled the German way: Schneider. Had she meant that what I saw was weird, or that I had a weird way of seeing things?


"Schmuck," she'd said, after I moved in. "That's a Jew word, right?"
"Jew word?" I said, and laughed.
"Yiddish, right?"
"Yeah, my dad used it all the time. Oh, my God, I'm turning into Dad.
He spoke Yiddish?" 
"Of course not. No more than me or my white Protestant roommates. Gary knows more Yiddish than I do."
"Sounds more real coming from you, though."


"Talk Yiddish to me," Jenny said. At first I thought it an auditory hallucination, brought on by fear and memory.  
The schmuck answered. "Ikh hab dir lib...don't ask me more, because I'm tapped out.”
"Martin, you need to fuck me again. Right now."
"I don't think my schlong is going to respond."
"We'll see about that." 
In the dark, beneath the bed, I could still see her perfect body rising over him, her head lowering.  
 Oh, hell. Might as well let her kill me now. It was only luck I got away the first time.
 Three weeks before, I'd woken to something dripping down my neck. Strange I should have felt the trickle of blood instead of the pain of the cut. Jenny held a knife to my neck. "Try anything and I'll cut your throat."
"Try anything?" I echoed. 
"You know what I mean. I've got a gun too."
I got up without looking at her and got dressed, went to the closet to grab my bag. The moment I lifted it I knew it was light. I unzipped it and looked in. "Where did you put it?" 
"I'm keeping it just in case you've got any ideas about coming back. You even call me and I'll show everyone."
"You're a crazy bitch and I'm not coming near you. Just give it back to me."
"Fuck, no. I'm going to burn it. It shouldn't exist. You shouldn't exist. Get out and stay out."
I turned at the door for one last look. She was still naked, long and lean but with nice breasts. The Jewish Princess I'd always wanted. 
"You liked it, Jenny. You were turned on by it."
"You're a sick fuck. Get out."


The schmuck and Jenny were lost in their lovemaking. I slipped out from under the bed. I reached up to the dresser drawer and pulled it open silently. Jenny would be on top, grinding for an orgasm, her eyes closed.
My fingers felt the butcher knife, traced down to the handle, pulled it out. It's tip caught the top of the drawer with a ping.
Sudden silence and then Jenny's scream as I rose up. I'd taken off my clothes while under the bed. I had a raging hard on. I slid the point of the knife into the open mouth of the schmuck. Jenny moved faster than than I'd have thought possible, running for the closet. She turned, pointed her pistol. Nothing happened. 
I stood in front of her grinning. I pulled the gun from her hand, checked to see the safety was on. She stared at me with her big dark eyes as I slammed the pistol down on top of her head. She slumped into my arms. I put her on the bed.
It took me an hour to find it. Grandfather would have never forgiven me for losing it. Even though the old man was dead for all these years, I still heard his voice. "We should've finished the job. You wait, it will all come back. Our cause is too strong. It'll return and when it does, you be ready. You tell them who I was, you show them the flag. I made it from the skin of a Jewish resistance fighter. Sewed and colored it myself.”
I pulled out the floppy parchment. It always had an odor to me of rotting flesh though I was pretty sure that was in my head. The red color was faded, all but black zigzag, which was as sharp as ever.
I turned, caught a glimpse of the picture of Jenny's grandfather. I'd planned on leaving, but Jenny's story of his escape, the pride in her voice, came back to me.
Pulling the knife from the schmuck's mouth, I turned to Jenny.
Time to make another souvenir.
I placed her grandfather’s picture so the old Jew could watch. I leaned over Jenny. Shame to waste such beautiful skin.
There was a shuffling sound behind me. Jenny’s grandfather stood at the door looking even older than the picture. He didn’t look surprised or alarmed…he looked mad. There was a darkness around his eyes that froze me in place.
He lifted his cane and shed the top half. A wicked looking blade emerged. He rushed me, and I raised the butcher knife.
The old man’s sword was longer. It caught me in the chest, ground against one of my ribs, and slipped past the bone and into my heart. I felt something against my skin as he withdrew the blade. Blood spurted out, and without thinking I placed grandfather’s flag against the wound to stanch the bleeding.
I fell, the now bright red flag falling to the floor beneath me.

Achieving horror.

For the second time in my career, I've written something so dark and twisted, that I don't think I'll show it to anyone.

Which is weird, because horrification is what I'm supposedly after. The story horrified me, which most of my stories don't. Where does that darkness come from?

I mean, I supposedly write horror, but I've always known my stories weren't heavy on the blood and gore, the twisted mental landscape, the sickness of depravity.

So when I actually got there, I'm a little creeped out about it.

It's part of the spectrum of writing, it's just a little farther to the dark side than I'm used to.

But again, isn't that sick feeling what I'm going after?

I think I may send it off under a pseudonym just to see if the story is as effective as I think it is.

UPDATE: I rewrote the ending to Linda's approval and have posted it on this blog. 

The fate of Barnes and Noble.

As you might imagine, I'm interested in the ultimate fate of Barnes and Noble.

I've always felt that the chain stores were more damaging to my business than Amazon. I don't have a ready explanation for this except to say that that they are different beasts living in different eco-systems. I share an eco-system with B & N, but not with Amazon.

The catchphrase is, "Amazon requires a click. B & N just requires a look."

Don't know if that makes sense, especially since a click is so much easier than driving to the store for a look. But people aren't rational. One is not the same as the other.

Besides....there is nothing I can do about Amazon.

Anyway, I don't have any fondness for B & N. I don't really understand why the American Booksellers Association is striving to save them. But then, I don't understand or agree with most of what the ABA model bookstores do. They seem to fail continually, and new ABA stores pop up to take their place, not having learned a thing.

One thing about being a small business is that you realize that everyone thinks--and I probably thought this at first too--that big businesses are more efficient, better at what they do. That's how they got big.

Well, the latter part of that may be true, but the former is no longer true. I'm ten times more efficient with my purchases because every dollar counts. Having been trained in the comic trade where I need to order product blind months in advance without any recourse to returning unsold product, I've learned to be lean and mean and agile.

I'm the little mammal scurrying beneath the feet of the dinosaurs. The Internet is the asteroid.

What I've noticed most about B & N is how feckless they are. They come up with a strategy and when that strategy doesn't immediately work, they change strategy.

So here's a clue: Choose a strategy and MAKE it work.

I had my doubts about their Nook from the beginning. I thought they'd be flayed by the higher end and the lower end, and that they'd be the mediocre middle. Turns out, the higher end Kindle was still cheaper than them, and that was a double whammy.

But they bungled even that attempt from the beginning. They were both overly pushy--their big booths--and yet also gave off a provisional odor, as if they'd abandon the effort if it didn't work.

You can't do that. The first time they offloaded some of the work, they showed their doubts and that was a deathknell.

Since then they have wavered back and forth with the strategy of adding other product than books showing doubt about whether it's a good idea or a bad idea. (Never mind Borders desperately tried to fill their store with knick-knacks and that didn't work. Never mind that Waterstones in England rededicated themselves to books and were successful at it.)

Ironically, now they're talking about building smaller stores, but I wonder if they have the assets left to do that. And...well, if they are feckless about it, wavering, it won't work. No one will trust them to follow through.

I'm not sure what will happen to the Big Five publishers if B & N goes down. But I do know they'll be a lot more interested in my little store than they were before.

With my luck, I'll have the only remaining Barnes and Noble in the country in my town. 😀

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Got lucky. The enamel pins and the Ingram's order and the stand-ups all showed up in time to be put away on Friday. Was able to fit them all in. Pegasus Books is as stocked as it's ever been. I have a rather large order of new books coming in about a week, which includes all the classics and cult books I've been itching to get.

Keeping up the game orders, a new Magic release, ordering lots of toys and graphic novels when they go on sale.

So we're set for the summer. After this, everything else will be maintenance. I should be able to keep up with everything on Mondays.

All in all, I've enjoyed the interactions at the store. Seeing old friends has been fun. I genuinely smile broadly when people come in. Plus an amazing number of people who have read my books.

Probably time to write the next Virginia Reed novel.

I've stopped spending lots of money on my writing because I've slowed down. I think slowing down is probably the right thing to do.

I'll get back to it this fall. The walking and the writing. But for now, I'm just trying to enjoy the time off. The Tuesdays with Linda are great too. We usually go to a movie, and I've enjoyed that.

So we aren't going to have a lot of money for retirement, but enough. I'm content. I can indulge my art and not have to worry.

I'll have ten days to read and revise Fateplay (Sabrina liked that title much more, so I'm trending back to that.) Then send it off to Lara.

Then the question is--what do I do for August?

I really think I need to finish Castle LeMagie and the Wyvern Riders, then dive into rewriting the Lander books one last time. I'd love to feel like that series is finished.

I do want to give Deadfall Ridge a quick rewrite, and I want to take a stab at Takeover.

When I'm done with all these, I'll have the three thrillers ready and the four novellas. Plus the four Lander books. Put them out every month or two for a year or so.

Write the next Virginia Reed by the first of the year.

If the store gets in the way of original work, I can work on the books that aren't finished or edited. Spellrealm and Castle LeMagie and the Deeptower books and so on.

I'm still intrigued by the Tales of the Thirteen Principalities.

Man, just talking about it makes me want to get back to writing!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Such is life.

I'm having great fun at the store. Of course it's always more fun when tons of people are coming in the door. It's been a very active place for the last couple of weeks, the changes give off a good vibe, and I'm enjoying the chance to stock the store again.

I'm also seeing friends and selling my own book, and talking to people who have read my books and seem to like them. Jumped all over a guy who'd said he'd read all my books and I said, "Review them!" and he laughed and said "You always say that," and then..."you shouldn't pressure me every time..." Oops.

Not meant to be pressure. Sorry. I probably should just stop asking since it doesn't work anyway. I've asked probably a couple hundred people face-to-face to do a review by now and as far as I can tell (and there are ways to tell) only one or two have ever done it. So...the danger of "pressuring" versus the actual results--easy thing to drop.

July is being given over to the store and to family and friends. It's probably time to take a little break. Let the books I've written sink in a little. I think the effectiveness of selling previous books drops when I'm always dropping a new one on the world. Heh.

Went to see Antman and Wasp yesterday and that was a hoot. I found myself laughing out loud a bunch of times when no one else was because Paul Rudd's delivery of even the most innocuous line makes me laugh.

Staying away from politics for the month as well, for mental health. I just assume every thing is terrible and move on.

Haven't been walking or writing, gaining weight, going to bed an hour earlier than usual, feeling a bit more connected to the outside world, feeling both encouraged and discouraged about the store, feeling both encouraged and discouraged about writing but proud of what I've done. Linda is a joy, always. The cat is unexpectedly healthy. Lots of moral and ethical dilemmas being presented, mostly through the constantly changing cultural mores and political situation.

Such is life.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Stress and uncertainty and the spending of money.

I'm not sure whether to do this or not.

I started going through lists of cult favorite and classic novels and making orders for them. I figure there is somewhere around a couple of grand in solid books I could order right now. Because of the reorganization, I actually have room to display them for once.

These are the kinds of books that most often sell in my store. It's the basis of my inventory. In comparison, I checked the top-selling books in the country right now and there were only two I wanted: Stephen King's Outsider and the latest John Grishem in paperback. I mean, the rest is junk.

I wonder why I don't just have every significant Kafka book, every Camus, every Bukowski, every...well, the list is long, but really--I think it's more or less possible to get a lot of the significant novels over the last couple of centuries within my budget. Maybe my budget for several months instead of one month, so I'm trying to decide whether to take that chance.

I have most of July and August and first half of September to sell, and then I have Christmas coming up.

Am I sure most of these books will sell? Yes, pretty much. But not all at once. So it's a bit of an investment, because I'm going to want to keep them in stock. So they more or less have to sell 3 times to make them worth stocking in the long run.

But I've already decided that games and books need to grow and the only way to do that is to invest.

I can't be sure this isn't all a rationalization to spend money. I'll say this: I think this the kind of spending that has kept the store vibrant over the years---and it has also caused great stress over the years.

Then again, maybe running a store just involves stress and uncertainty.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Tons of books and toys.

I've turned back into a pumpkin.

It was only a matter of time. I'm not writing, I'm not walking, I'm lazing around the house.

But I had an intense five or six years of writing, which is pretty amazing looking back on it. I currently have 20 books for sale. (Though "The Darkness You Fear" seems to be MIA at the moment.) 

20!! Pretty crazy. I was very, very diligent, writing most every day most of the day. I'm not quitting writing by any means, but I'm definitely slowing down. Between changing the store around and family visits, July is going to be a wash.

I spent all day yesterday going through online lists of cult books and classics, and then going to my wholesalers and ordering them. Got a pretty big dent on them for a couple of thousand dollars--which would completely blow my weekly (or monthly) budget out of the water. 

On one hand, these are the kinds of books I want to sell. But it may take some time to sell through on them, especially the three times it takes to justify keeping them in stock. And yet--that's the direction I'm trying to move.

I've got both orders sitting there while I mull over the possibilities. It was a valuable exercise even if I delete the orders because I got a pretty good sense of how much I'd need to order to have a really good stock of this stuff. It's not an impossible number or an impossible amount of money, but it is stretch to order them all at once.

Meanwhile, I finally got a hold of a couple of toy distributors to set up accounts. I'm going to try to carry some tween type toys in the store, because that is a group that is coming in the store with their families and can never seem to find anything.

Toy catalogs. My God, so much stuff! I thought I was immune to sensory overload, but my eyes are melting.

Does the world really need this stuff? I mean, it's pretty incredible. So much of it is retro, and so much of it is cheap plastic, and so much of it is doubtful--like all the slime and little toys with small pieces. And why does everything have to be so potty mouthed?

I'm sure there is a whole range of toy material out there--but I need something that is less than ten dollars, that has some appeal, and also fits the image of the store. The thing about toys is that you have to buy them in units--half a dozen or a dozen at a time. Each company seems to have a couple of toys that I'm interested in. So I think I can assemble a viable product line. It's a bit of a gamble, but I need to try to continue to mainstream the store--we're getting the foot traffic, so I want to make use of that.

I don't want to make the store too tacky (well, even more tacky) though, so I'm going to need to be careful.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Dragons, and dinosaurs, and ooze. Oh, my.

Went into a toy store while in Crescent City.

First thing the clerk said, "We carry stuff the big stores don't."

They certainly did. It was almost all brands I never heard of. Heavy on the dinosaurs and ooze and stuff like that. It was kinda cool. Reminded me of Merlin's Toys downtown, which always had lots of cheap toys that were fun. I always wondered if I should carry a few brands.

This summer has convinced me. We constantly have the pre-teen crowd looking for something cheap to buy. (Sadly, not interested in books.) We have blind packs that are 6.99 each, which is a little pricey for most parents.

Anyway, this toy store had little mini pokemon figures that they sold for 2/1.00. They had dinosaur eggs that you put in water to hatch. 1.00 for the small ones, 5.00 for the big ones. They had lots of ooze and slime. 

I've been racking my brain for something to put where our last sports cards reside and I've decided to try some of these toys lines that I can sell for a dollar or a few dollars each. Just as an experiment. I won't try more than maybe a dozen brands at first, just to see if it's something we want to do. They could be more hassle than they are worth. I expect a fair amount of damage, but the stuff is price-pointed where it should still be possible to make good money.

I'll fill the sports card section with non-sports and be done with sports cards forever. Good riddance.

Meanwhile, the toy store. It was a little too linear, not a lot of imagination in the displays. I'm not sure how you shake that up, I just know that it works to break the linear line of sight. Also, I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to carry a few branded names to mix in, so that it doesn't look completely alien. I tried to interest them in Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride.

"Just try one of each and see what happens," I said.

They seemed skeptical.

My store is morphing a little again, just because of the large volume of foot-traffic downtown. I have lots of young families come in where they wander around as if they should be interested, but they aren't really into reading and most of the toys I have are too specifically comic related and or too expensive for the parents.

So those are lost opportunities, I think. I tried candy, found out I eat most of the profits. So having little five dollar dinosaurs and dragons and such might not be such a bad idea.

Then again, it could be a terrible idea.

I guess we'll find out.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Enamel book pins are sweet.

Reordered the enamel books pins.

I thought the $10 price would be intimidating, but we sold almost all of the first batch even though I had to order 4 of each.

The only one's left from the first order are:

(2) Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (a bit of a surprise.)
(2) Wrinkle in Time (a bigger surprise.)
(2) To Kill a Mockingbird (also a surprise.)
(2) Pride and Prejudice (not so much a surprise?)
(3) 100 Years of Solitude (not a surprise at all, but I do love this book.)
(1) Frankenstein
(1) Handmaid's Tale (a pretty big surprise.)

Reordered: (some of these I skipped the first time around.)

Alice in Wonderland
Ann of Green Gables
Charlotte's Web
Fahrenheit 451
Harry Potter 1
Harry Potter 2
Harry Potter 3
Jane Eyre
Joy of Cooking (wasn't sure about this one, but ordered it.)
Little House on the Prairie
Lord of the Rings
Moby Dick
Nancy Drew
Romeo and Juliet
Princess Bride (This is new--I ordered twice as many)
Sense and Sensibility
Slaughterhouse Five
Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Hobbit
The Last Unicorn
The Velveteen Rabbit

The only ones I didn't order are "Elements of Style" which I have a writer's objection to, and 4 thru 7 of Harry Potter, which is a bit of Potter overkill, I think.

Cardboard Standup Line up.

Ordering standups.

I love these things. I mean, they're impossible to display correctly, especially in a store as crowded as mine. But they are cool things.

Thing is, I never know what to get. Like posters and t-shirts and buttons, my tastes don't necessarily reflect what the public will buy. There is a gender bias I try to overcome.

I don't try too hard to overcome my nerd bias, though. I mean, the store is a reflection of me in that way.

There are a lot of licensed products out there I would love to get (or would have loved to get) but they never had a license. I could have sold Skully and Mulder all day long, for instance. Buffy the Vampire Hunter, and so on.

There are multiple Marilyn's and Elvis's and John Wayne's, so it's always a guess which one. (I usually go with the 7-Year Itch Marilyn and older John Wayne and Jail House Rock Elvis.)

Some superhero licenses are the movie and some the cartoon. So that's always a choice.

The price point is $40 which a lot of people balk at, but which I think is pretty reasonable. The postage is horrendous. This is one of those rare items that you really can't save much by buying online because of the postage. 

I put it to a vote with Linda and Sabrina and me (I made the first cut) and here's how we all voted and whether I ordered it or not.

First vote is Sabrina, second vote is Linda, and third vote is me.

Batman:                     8/5/5   Ordered (1)
Beetlejuice:                7/1/3        (1)
Black Panther:            8/10/8      (2)
Bob Ross                    10/0/7      (2)
Boba Fett:                   8/10/8      (2)
Captain America         6/9/6        (1)
Chewie                        9/10/8      (1)
Darth Vader                 8/6/6        (1)
Dobby the Elf              5/9/5        (1)
Han Solo (Ford)           8/8/7        (1)
NBX Jack and Sally    6/5/7        (1)
John Wayne                 5/1/8        (1)
Marilyn                       7/5/6         (1)
Pennywise                  8/7/3          (1)
Slave Leia                  7/8/7          (1)
Rey                            8/9/5          (1)
Sam Winchester       10/0/5          (1)
Dean Winchester      10/0/5         (1)
Frozen Elsa               10/8/4         (1)
Spider-man                5/8/5           (1)
Superman                 5/5/5            (1)
Thor                          5/10/6         (1)
Velociraptor             6/10/5          (1)
Wonder Woman      10/8/10         (2)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Pegasus Books changes in place. Looks great!

Most of the changes are done. A little finishing up today.

Looks fantastic.

I probably should have made these changes to Pegasus Books six months ago, in January. But that's the thing about these kinds of big changes--they happen when you're ready. I'm not sure what sparked this, just that I started looking around for fixtures and when I found six solid ones for a good price, I pulled the trigger.

Done by the 4th of July, so probably no harm done.

I'll have the rest of the rough outline in place by the end of today, but it will take months before the new space is used efficiently.

I've got eight bookcases worth of new space. Five of them have been used to move SF around. Three of them are for regular books. One of them is being used for YA. Mysteries and Horror are being given a bit more space, more effectively. The art books were moved to the comic section, so the outward display space is now used for YA.

All in all, an actual increase of about 30% for new books, which has been my fastest growing category.

I regret the necessity to cut down on the used books so much. Mostly because by appearances we don't have as many books, which was NOT the message I wanted to give. But I had no real access to used books anymore, so it had to be done.

The graphic novel section has been improved dramatically. From having almost no face-out space to over 240 linear square feet; room for up to 420 graphic novels to be displayed face out. I'm trusting this will help sell them.

It looks colorful and fun and gives the impression of more space to move around, which the store needed.

I'm giving comics and graphic novels full support at a time when they are a little weak. It's weird that movies and TV shows an be so HUGE and their source materials so small, but it's always been that way, to some extent.

The question to ask was--"Am I going to continue to be a graphic novel store?" and if the answer was yes, then retreating was the wrong move. So I'm making a statement here--graphic novels as an art form are continuing to improve and some of the younger generation especially are catching on.

Titles like Paper Girls and Lumberjanes and Saga sell like crazy to "those in the know." The old superhero crowd is the biggest part of the market, but if we can retain enough of them--and I think both DC and Marvel are trying hard--then this new crowd will someday be very helpful to the bottom line.

It's a matter of diversity. Sometimes you trade some of the hard core for a softer wider spectrum. And that takes time.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

"Do nothing" days.

I decided today, after two weeks of renovating the store and then going on a very tiring vacation, that I would absolutely "do nothing" today.


Well, it occurs to me that I often say that--that I'm going to "do nothing" today. Linda even have days she calls, "no go" days.

But you know what? I realized that because--for once--I'm really committed to the idea, that I rarely if ever actually "do nothing." I always feel pressure to accomplish something.

In fact, about the only time I ever truly crash is when I'm sick and that is almost a relief because finally I have an excuse to "do nothing."

I blame my Mom who would never let me sit around without telling me to go do something. As a kid I still resisted, but as an adult I seem to have bought into her Puritan ethic.

So a day is to never be wasted. Something must be done! Anything! Do anything, even if it's wrong!

I'm really enjoying this day.

Just as soon as I'm done weeding the garden and mowing the lawn.