Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Preliminary review of the year.

We are well ahead of last year. In fact, this looks to be a record month.

This increase is almost entirely due to new books. So next year's goal is to continue to expand new books as much as I can. There are a few more tricks up my sleeve. I can add a top row to the Young Adult books, and I can fit two book fixtures where the used books are now. I'll probably move a lot of the art books over there, clear away two book fixtures for new books. Also adding a new top shelf--a trip to Home Depot is in order. Move some of the offbeat books into the Indie graphic novel section.

Maybe more of a move into non-fiction books.

It's fun and it's challenging and it's what I know.

Comics have stabilized, though they are down a third from three years ago. Graphic novels have increased however. We've always had a good selection, and over the last year we've been displaying them better. We're maintaining the same level of space and investment. Sabrina is doing a fantastic job, reviving manga and Marvel graphic novels where I was falling down a bit.

I think we can maintain board games at about the same stock level, though I'll probably consolidate the space a little. We still sell the big three--Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne more than anything else. D & D continues to do well. We were a little down for Christmas, but nowhere near as much as I feared.

I've found a way to sell magic that works--keep the older brands around at regular price for as long as possible.

I pick up toys whenever I can get them at a discount, except for rare exceptions, (Baby Yoda?), and this seems to be the best way.

Jigsaw puzzles were a moderate success, more than paying off for their inclusion. Don't know how well they'll sell outside the Christmas season, though.

All in all, I'm very satisfied with the trends. I'm hoping comics can make a bit of a comeback, but really, if you start including the new young adult graphic novels into the mix, the art form is in great shape and it looks promising for the future.

We've had increased competition from the mass market in graphic novels and board games. We are somewhat protected from this because we are in a busy downtown and tourists are in OUR store, not Walmart. Our selection is unique enough to work. That's what I'm constantly trying to do--make our store different.

I'm really glad to be back to working in the store two-and-a-half days a week. It's fun to talk to people--with the added bonus that I almost always sell one or more of my own books to people. I've gotten really good and timing; when to mention "my" books into the conversation.

Plan to get back to writing and walking next year.

As I've mentioned. Next year will be Pegasus Books' 40th anniversary. I'll brag about it a lot. Heh.

I'm very grateful for the ways things have turned out.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Downtown street closures.

An article in the Bulletin a week ago about downtown street closures. I thought about not saying anything. I've sort of opted out of the whole issue after years of feeling like I was the only one who seemed concerned. I've adjusted my business toward the mainstream and street closures no longer kill business. They still hurt a little, they still add to the workload, but I've made my peace with it all.

Ironically just as other downtown businesses are finally speaking up.

The compromises are apparently:

1.) Advertise the downtown businesses more.

2.) Hold the events toward the middle of the street instead of near the sidewalks.

3.) Have a full-time liaison who can address merchant issues.

These changes seem a little cosmetic to me. You all know how effective I think advertising is. (NOT.) I'm not sure moving the booths will make that much difference. A liaison is a good idea. One of my biggest gripes was how inconsiderate and unthoughtful the vendors were about how they affected the long-time businesses.

For instance, the year I came to the store to find a giant refrigerator blocking my door, while ten feet away, the street was empty.

At least there is an acknowledgment that street closures do cause problems.

As I said, I used to complain about this every year. I was never that demanding. I understood that many of these events were traditional. My position was that we didn't need to keep adding events and extending existing events.

Nevertheless, I got a reputation as a disgruntled guy. I realized that if I was only one who was going to speak up, that the lobby for the street closures was much more influential: the vendors, the event organizers, the Downtowner organization, the city government, the advertisers, and most of all, the people who enjoyed coming to these events.

The biggest roadblock to change was the leadership of the Downtowners. I believe the previous head of the organization saw the events as part of his portfolio. Apparently, this has finally changed. A survey revealed the truth, that a large majority of downtown businesses are harmed by the constant street closures.

Which I already knew from talking to merchants. I even had merchants who were closing their businesses come in and say, "You're right about how the street closures hurt sales."

But there was a vocal minority of merchants who benefited from the events, and they outweighed the rest of the merchants who didn't want to rock the boat. I also realized that if I wasn't going to be active in the Downtowners, that I wasn't going to have much influence.

Anyway, change like this is slow and uncertain, but at least the trend is moving in a different direction.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas to All.

Feeling that wonderful Christmas release that my retail worries are over and all is well.

It's very hard to get in the Christmas spirit when you work in a store. I was slammed on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday--very, very stressful, and yet considering the alternatives, happy to have it so. The health of the store rides on Christmas to a large extent, and we never know until the final week if it's going to work out. But so far, no one has canceled Christmas.

But what happens is, the moment I turn the Closed sign on Christmas Eve, a total relaxation overcomes me. I'm filled with good feelings--a true Christmas cheer. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. I wake up the next morning still feeling that wonderful lassitude. A lazy Sunday feeling times ten.

Maybe you have to go through the fire before you can come out the other side and truly relax.

I pick through the store for presents for the family--and a couple of books for myself. Calendars, puzzles, D & D books for Todd, books, books, and more books. Todd home with dog Walt. New cat Jasper excited for the company (and actually approaching Walt for friendship, though he's a little leery.)

Linda wonderful, always.

Loved ones watching His Dark Materials while I write this.

Looking forward to the New Year. Back to writing and walking and enjoying books, both writing and reading, and the wonderful entertainment options. (The world has finally caught up to me. Heh.)

Going to start reading my new Michael Connelly mystery and just enjoy the day.

Friday, December 20, 2019

It ain't easy for anyone.

When I first started writing again, in 2013 or so, there were rabid proponents of indie publishing and equally rabid proponents of traditional publishing. That seems to have faded a bit--at least, from what I can see.

Partly this is because I'm pretty sure most writers have figured out that it doesn't make sense to choose one side--but to see what options are available.

I think the traditional publishers have decided that the best way to deal with ebooks is to basically ignore them. They've pushed the prices pretty high and that has hurt sales. I think this was totally on purpose.

Meanwhile, the proponents of indie publishing have quieted down because it's become harder and harder to make any headway self-publishing. Tricks that used to work have ceased working either because Amazon closed loopholes or because they were buried under the avalanche of new titles.

In other words, it ain't easy for anyone.

From the start, I've tried to keep an open mind. My first reaction to self-publishing came from my earlier career when it was called "vanity press." However, I listened when it was explained how the current market works. It made sense, and it ignited my urge to write again. (No more waiting months and years to hear back from publishers--that was the biggest plus.)

I can see some advantages to both sides. In the end, I chose a path more or less down the middle. Most of my books are published by publishers who aren't owned by the Big Five. (Five mega-conglomerates that have scooped up most of the major traditional publishers and imprints.) This has worked out well for me. They can do promotion that I can't. Just signing up for BookBub has been the biggest impact on my sales--and I don't know if that would have happened on my own.

I've been in a weird spot from the beginning because:

1.) I own a bookstore and therefore Amazon is a big competitor of mine.

2.) Most of my sales have been ebooks, made easy by Amazon.

3.) I personally don't read ebooks. Just more comfortable laying down and reading a physical copy, though I could see that perhaps changing in the future. Open mind, and all.

4.) Big publishers are arrogant, but lend credibility to a writer.

5.) Small publishers have made real inroads into credibility. Plus--bookstores, if they wanted, could actually buy my books from Ingrams--if at a lower discount.

I'm trying to keep all the pluses and minuses in my head without coming down too strongly on any conclusions.Obviously, these are big changes that are still shaking out.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Are Indie bookstores making a comeback?

There's been a spate of mainstream news articles about how indie bookstores are making a big comeback.

Well...yes and no?

About 5 or 6 years ago, all the talk was about how ebooks were going to extinguish physical books. I never believed that. I always felt that there would be space for books. I figured that many ebook readers would come back. I think that's what happened. There is room for book platforms, and most readers will probably combine the two.

However, the publishers are a little disingenuous about this. They talk about how ebook sales have dropped, without mentioning the ebooks are still selling well through non-traditional platforms. If ebooks aren't selling as well for the Big Five, it's because they've priced those ebooks too high.

I thought the difficulties bookstores were having had more to do with how they were being run. On my travels, many of the bookstores I've visited were lacking in inventory. They appeared overstaffed, with too much money spent on appearances and "image" and not enough on inventory. They carried the same "bestseller" books, which were also available at large discounts at the chainstores and on Amazon. There wasn't enough individual personality and idiosyncratic selection.

Most of all, I felt that too much space was devoted to things other than books. Coffee shops and restaurants and no end of tchotchkies and knickknacks. Both trends are still in full force and I'm still not convinced it's the right path.

Basically, it's a grand experiment that won't be proven for a decade or more. Meanwhile, there are books they can sell. Lots and lots of books.

My own store is the way it is because of circumstance. I'm in a busy downtown, with lots of foot-traffic and a good amount of tourism. Because of that, the more quirky my books, the better. Customers aren't in my store to buy the latest bestseller. More likely, they'll pick up that cult book they've heard about or that classic they've always intended to read.

Because of my limited space, I don't have room for lots of odd-sized tchoitchkies. Books are stackable and I can pile them up. I have no space for people to sit, and certainly not for people to drink coffee and browse. I have also diligently striven to diversify my product. Books, yes. But also games, toys, and most of all, comics and graphic novels. None of these product lines are viable in Bend by themselves, in my opinion.

What I have learned is very simple--the more and the better the books I carry, the more I sell.

As far as the numbers of new bookstores are concerned--I'm not sure that proves anything but the willingness and the desire of people start up bookstores. Not enough time has passed to prove that these are going concerns--and there seems to be a fair amount of evidence based on turnover that many of them are not.

Book sales really haven't risen all that much over the last decade--so the pie is being sliced pretty thin.

So yeah, it's true that new bookstores are opening. It remains to be seen if that is going to work.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Keeping it simple, stupid. Part 2 (x100).

I rarely base my ordering on increased discounts of less than 5%.

I'm not saying this is the right thing to do, but it's worth explaining. My approach has a lot to do with the history of the store.

First of all, I should admit that 5% is a significant difference. If I end up the year at 55% cost-of-goods instead of 60%, it amounts to a good chunk of money.

So why don't I do everything I can to reach the better discount?

Well, I do and I don't.

Basically, the higher discounts are almost always predicated on volume. For instance, my discount for DC comics is 4% less than Marvel, 3% less than Image, IDW, and Dark Horse. For DC comics, we hover just below the level we need to order to get a 3% better discount. It can be done if we're aggressive in our toy and graphic novel ordering, and if we take some chances on pre-orders.

So over the years, we've done that. And we almost always end up with a lot of unsold product. This isn't as worrying as the amount of extra work it takes to get that extra 3%. It requires constant monitoring.  (More about the "extra work" later.)

Eventually, I always throw up my hand and say, "So be it." I accept the 3% less discount.

On the other hand, I used to do direct ordering from my comic distributor, which allowed me to get reorders in 3 days. It was wonderful to tell people, "We can have that for you in a few days."

Unfortunately, every time I special ordered, I had to pay $50 in postage, or $200 a month. That equates to probably 15 - 20 graphic novels. I had to ask myself--am I selling an extra $200 a month in graphic novels, and wouldn't I eventually make just as much by having an extra $200 a month worth of extra graphic novels in stock?

It was painful, but I went to regular shipping, and I haven't looked back. It also eliminated the extra work it took to order and stock the weekly shipments.

On the other hand, every time my comic distributor offers extra discounts of 10% or better, I jump all over it. The higher the extra discount, the more aggressive I am. Over the years, this type of ordering has brought our overall cost-of-goods to a level I would have been getting by ordering more in advance to qualify for higher regular discounts.

Monitoring extra sales discount isn't all that difficult--and can be fun. Monitoring the every day product constantly is much harder work. As I predicated, I'm not saying I'm right to avoid the "extra work," but I do know I've managed not to burn myself out. I still enjoy the store, and I'm pretty sure if I was counting pennies on a constant basis, I wouldn't be having as much fun.

With both books and games, I order from a middle-man distributor--instead of direct from the game manufacturers and book publishers. In both cases, I could probably save at least 5% by ordering direct. Not sure if our volume in games is enough to really make that work with game manufacturers, but because of the collapse of the distribution networks in books, and because of the consolidation of most books into the "Big Five" publishers, it is now at least possible to order product from publishers direct.

There is still a bit of a volume discount problem. For some publishers I might have to order multiple copies and/or marginal titles in order to qualify for direct shipments. It would probably mean constant monitoring to be aware of when we reached a large enough order to pull the trigger. The extra work? I'd have to set up accounts with each of the publishers I want to deal with, and I'd have to constantly assemble reasonable orders, and I'd have to wait until the orders are ready to ship.

On the other hand, by ordering from my book distributor, I need a relatively small volume to get free shipping, and I get the product one to two days later.

So, yeah, I'm giving up 5 - 10% extra discount, but I'm ordering exactly what I want, when I want it.

I will admit, I'm questioning myself on this. If by doing some extra work I can save 10%, it probably would be worth it.

This is where the history of the store comes into play.

The middle-man is a bulwark against the rising and failing trends of product. When I first started ordering, I was often ordering directly from the sources--but almost always I had to take what was offered. The restrictions are removed when you deal with a middle-man. You can get as little or as much as you want, and you can get it quicker. For that service, you may pay an extra 5%, even 10%.

I'm convinced I survived the collapse of several markets because I went through middle-men. Comics, sports cards, beanie babies, pogs, Pokemon, etc. etc. I'm convinced that having the safety of a middle-man to deal with the sources, instead of being aggressive on margins, has saved the store more than once.

Not to mention, it's much less time consuming and aggravating to deal with one middle-man instead of multiple publishers and manufactures.

I'm equally convinced that has saved tons of work, and may be the difference in my not being burned out after 40 years of doing this.

Anyway, this is the way I do it. I will tell you that almost every other store I've ever talked to has preferred to order direct from the manufacturers--but then, I'm still here and most of them are gone. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Screenplay vs a book.

When I wrote my first books, back in the late 70s, I sort of avoided dialogue, except where needed. The dialogue was serviceable, I think, but I mostly relied on narrative. They were fantasy books, so the setting and mood were more important, or so I thought.

When I came back to writing in the 10s, I found myself doing dialogue more and more often. I'm older, and I've had more conversations in my life, you know? But I've never tried to have the memorable lines--unless they came naturally.

Yesterday I had an idea for a store, as I related on Facebook.

"Dreamed an entire Kafkaesque story set in a gigantic nursing home, with an evil security guard (Ian McKellen-like) victimizing a new resident (me) and no one will believe me because they all love McKellen and think I have dementia, so I escape and I'm finding places to hide in the huge building and McKellen is chasing me down.

"And the nursing home is like a slice of American life, with the rich living in huge luxurious apartments on top and the poor living in tiny cells at the bottom."

Here's the thing. I see this more as a screenplay than as a book. But a screenplay relies much more on dialogue, and I'm still not sure that is my strong suit. I can see this whole movie in my head, but it would be driven by what is said as much as by the action. I mean, it's important to know your strengths and weaknesses. 

What it would take is a lot of thought for each line of dialogue. It would definitely be a new experience.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Ignore the hype.

I don't think I'm a very good prospect for retirement. If I'm not writing, I just don't have enough to do. So I'm glad to be back at the store. It's officially 2 days a week, but it turns into 3 days a week because I go back in to put the books away.

On my way yesterday, I stopped into Herringbone Books in Redmond. Brandon was talking about going to the Bend library for an author event to sell some books. In the course of the conversation we talked about the potential for burnout.

I found myself saying, "What I learned was to eliminate everything extra. For instance, going to the library to sell books for an event. Anything other than the basic showing up for work, having diligence and ethical standards, stocking the store with the best books I can. Doing the basics."

Of course, everyone gets the opposite advice. It is pretty much the standard myth that you should try everything you can to make the customer happy, by going that extra mile, by being better than everyone else, by bending over backward to please them. Extra customer service, that's the ticket.

Of course, there is no end of that. I found that just doing the basic job was enough--that my energy level almost exactly matched doing the basic job. That I'd be tired at the end of the day just doing the the regular stuff.

I learned this the hard way. In the beginning I stayed until midnight much of the time. (The first 15 years or so.) I went to conventions, I promoted as much as possible, I held sales, I made newsletters and created advertising campaigns, I spent a lot of time learning everything I could about every product line, I special ordered product, took preorders, took on consignments, bought and sold collections from off the street, and on and on and on.

Of course, I did the thing that every red-blooded American business owner is supposed to do. I expanded and replicated. At one point I had four stores in Bend, Redmond, and Sisters, with close to a dozen employees.

I found myself being the little Dutch boy, running around trying to plug the leaks in the dikes.

It all collapsed around me. I managed to save the main store by working seven days a week and being very active.

I was exhausted and burned out. I only stuck with it because I didn't feel like I had any options.

But when we finally did get out of debt, I decided that I would do the basic job of a store owner and eschew everything else. I expected it to cost me, but I didn't feel like I had any choice.

And it may have cost me, in the short run. But little by little, I built the store back up on my own terms. No promotions, no sales, no special events, not staying until midnight, no buying off the street, and so on and so on. For the last 20 years of so, I've stuck to the mantra of "keep it simple."

Just buying and selling product. Being open during the hours posted, having relatively good knowledge of the product,  buying wholesale and selling retail, and just trying to have the best mix of product I could. (Keeping the store neat and tidy and organized, etc. etc. The basics.)

And the store started to be fun again. I made Sabrina the manager and gave her more and more responsibility. I kept the book ordering to myself because that the part I like the most and am the most knowledgeable. Managed to keep the store simple and functional.

I know I talk about this a lot, because I think that it is the biggest untalked about danger to being a small business.

So there it is. Keep it simple. Do your job. Have the courage to say no to anything that isn't part of the basic job. Ignore the hype.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Short reviews.

Reviews done right are hard work, so I end up not doing them.

But I've decided it's silly not to say something. So...yes, I revert to cliches when doing reviews off the cuff. Please forgive me. ("off the cuff;" "out of bounds;" "letting the air out of the tire.")

I'm not sure what to make of "Redshirts." On one hand, I always like riffs on Star Trek. On the other hand it's a little too meta for me. I mean, it's kind of silly. If this can be done, then nothing I can think of to write is out of bounds, right?

Trying different shows on for size. Gave up on Jack Ryan after a few episodes. Also Stumptown. They are a little too by the book, so to speak. I've lost all interest in network programming. Linda will still watch Stumptown for the Portland connection. I watch The Rookie with her even though it's a pretty bad show. Other than that, I am done I think, with the formulaic drivel.

Decided not to watch Walking Dead this year. The vague dissatisfaction of the last few years finally accumulated to discomfort.

Watched the first season of Fargo and loved it. It's cool that I have three more seasons to watch.

The Mandalorian is great. It's perfect for what it is.

Castle Rock was pretty good, but not so good that I feel impelled to watch season 2. Maybe when I've run out of options.

I have a whole list of shows I want to try. The Boys, Man in the High Castle, Good Omens, the Watchmen.

Watched the first couple of episodes of Good Omens and for some reason it just didn't catch. I've often mentioned that I like my fantasy, SF, (and thrillers, come to think of it) as straight drama. (Part of my problem with Redshirts above.) But Good Omens the book was an exception to the rule. I remember really liking it. I'm sure we'll finish the show. (Part of it is that sometimes I can tell Linda doesn't like something...which lets the air out of the tire.)

Watched the Nightingale movie. One of those UK/Australian/NZ/Canada low budget movies that make the most of what they got. Vaguely unsatisfying though. I have the same problem with most of the clever low budget horror movies. Finally saw A Quiet Place. It was well done for what it was, but I also thought it was a little thin in plot.

I wanted to watch the new 4th season of Veronica Mars, but got caught by the first season again. It's as good as I remember, but I just don't like watching things twice. Linda on the other hand can watch things over and over again.

Waiting for The Good Fight to come back. Best written show on TV, I think. Politically right up my alley. Waiting for the Orville (or it may be ready.) The Witcher. (Tried the books, didn't do it for me.) Picard (love me well-done Star Trek.)

Lots more. We have almost all the premium and streaming channels now.

Friday, November 29, 2019

I've gotten a little lazy.

Bound and determined to finish the rewrite of "Eden's Return" over the next two days. I only have 30 pages to go. 15 pages a day shouldn't be beyond reach. I'm three months behind schedule on it.

Meanwhile, I haven't been able to get the cover images my cover artist needs. For some reason, I'm not able to join the "commercial" area of the site. I'll try again over the next month, while Lara edits the book.

"Deadfall Ridge" keeps selling on the USA Amazon, so we're keeping the price at 99 cents. It seems to be having a small effect on "Takeover" sales. Mostly, I just like the idea of selling hundreds of books more than I would at full price, even if the payoff isn't great.

It sold pretty well in the UK for a month, too.

"Takeover" hasn't been getting great reviews. Too few of them to really tell. I know the book was a little bit of an experiment. The politics are tricky, so that may account for a couple of the negative reviews.

Just had a reader give a rave shout-out, so that was nice.

Oh, and "Fateplay" is soon the come out in paperback. I'm really appreciative of my publisher because, really, the book hasn't sold all that well.

But in the course of looking at the PDF, I remembered how much I like this book. It is maybe my favorite book. My first love has always been SF and fantasy, and this is a blending of both genres. It was inspired by Ready Player One, which I enjoyed, though it came out very differently.

Anyway, I'm trying to keep things going, though I have gotten a little lazy.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Cat parent.

My friend Jennifer posted a picture of a 10 year old male tabby from the Brightside Shelter. On an impulse, I called them up and said, "I want him."

The decision was impulsive, like most major decisions in my life, because if I have the time to think about it, I almost always talk myself out of it. I could tell Linda wasn't sure, but she went along with it. She's still mourning Panga.

Jasper has a very different personality. 

Jasper is the friendliest, most talkative cat we've ever had. He's a solid 14 pound chunk of muscle. He strides around the house, mumbling meows. He loves laps, petting, and scratches--when it's his idea. Then he turns off and nothing you do gets a response out of him. He doesn't like being picked up, strangely enough. He always likes to be in a room with one of his humans.

He's also the first male cat we've had. He wants to spray, his tail quivering, but thankfully nothing comes out--or our entire house would have been hosed. Lucky, that. 

I have to resist my impulse to tease. I'm never going to be able to turn him upside down and blow raspberries on his belly.

This morning he finally used the cat box, which was my last worry about him. We weren't sure if he was an indoor or an outdoor cat, but it's pretty clear from his mournful looks out the door and windows that he's accustomed to going outside. Unfortunately, his first two days here we've had 10 inches of snow.

I think it's slowly sinking in to Jasper that this is his new forever home. He's an active cat--we're going to have to go get some cat toys. (Panga never responded to cat toys.)

We're all going to have to get used to each other. But we're off to a good start.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

"There's a problem. No drugs in your system."

I went to see my regular doctor because of something about my drug test. Since I already felt like a criminal, there was some trepidation.

"The problem is--you have no tranquilizers in your urine," he says.

"And that's a problem?"

"No...I'll just tell them that you take such low doses and so intermittently, that's why."

"Let me get this straight--the problem was I had NO drugs in my drug test?"

"Yeah, the government is cracking down."

Anyway, as long as I was there, I asked him some questions about my heart. I ask my doctors lots of questions. I know they are rolling their eyes, but I get something out of every session. I asked if, since the problem arose because of plaque in my arteries, couldn't the same thing happen again at any time?

"No...they more or less rotoscoped your artery, and with the medications, it probably won't happen again any time soon. You mostly had it in that one spot, which is unusual."

"What about my other arteries?"

"You have minor plaque buildup in one of your other arteries--but the new medications should keep that down. But at your age--anything can happen."

Over the next day or two, I realized that I was suddenly thinking long-term again. Until that moment, I hadn't realized that I wasn't thinking that way. It might explain why I've quit writing--I mean, the whole process is so time-consuming that I wasn't sure I wanted to dive back into it.

I'm still not quite ready, but more so than before.

New ending or leave well enough alone?

I'd planned to finish the rewrite of "Eden's Return" by September 1. Instead, I'll be lucky to get it done by December 1.

I'm not sure why I stalled out.

I managed 10 pages yesterday, which means I have 30 pages to go (in a 200 page book.) I've been tempted to send it on to my editor as is, but have fought the inclination. Re-writing always improves the book.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I could write a twist ending that might be more satisfying to the reader. I even thought of one. But like all twist endings, it's been done before in one form or another. I mean, it's more than serviceable.

The current ending is soft--on purpose. The whole story is meant as a philosophical mood piece, within a harsh survival story. The soft ending matches the story.

I'll probably stick the ending I have rather than compromise. But I'll probably always also wonder if it was the right decision. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Carrying Jigsaw Puzzles.

There are certain products that I'm constantly tempted by.

Warhammer is probably the best example. I like their miniatures, I like the idea of painting them, of creating a panorama. But every bit of information I have, including my own aborted experience, tells me it would be a bad idea. We can in no way do them, don't ask.

Jigsaw puzzles are another product I've often thought should work. We tried it at Linda's store, and they did poorly. I'm not sure if it was just the wrong venue or because we didn't have the right puzzles or because jigsaw puzzles just don't sell well.

We've carried a smattering of jigsaw puzzles over the years. People ask, we show them, and they walk away.

Anyway, in the course of working at the store, I tend to move things around. Yesterday I realized I'd opened a good space for displaying jigsaw puzzles face out. Even more importantly, we could have them at eye-level instead of high up the way.

So now the question becomes--can I get good jigsaw puzzles from my book distributor? (I can't afford to open an account with jigsaw puzzle makers--there are minimums, and it restricts me to whatever company I decide on.)

I've always had a bit of a problem figuring out what posters and t-shirts people want. Put bluntly, my tastes are apparently not what people want. I think a design is really cool and no one buys it. I think a design is ugly and it sells out.

I called Brandon at Herringbone Books in Redmond asking for advice.

"Easy," he said. "Order the opposite of what you like."

I asked a lady in the store yesterday what kind of jigsaw puzzles she liked.

"Thomas Kincade," she said.

I tried not to roll my eyes. Aesthetic taste is individual, after all. But to me, Kincade is like a cake with whipped cream on top of chocolate frosting on top of syrup on top a cup of sugar.

In contrast, I have a Frazetta puzzle. "Deathdealer." What middle-aged woman doesn't want that?

Anyway, in the end, I sort of blurred my eyes and ordered the pictures that popped. The ones that were visually arresting, no matter the content. (Though I did take Brandon's advice and tried to order nature pictures.)

The puzzles are going to be here by Thanksgiving. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Poverty with a View.

How do I say this without being snide, which is not my intention. This is not so much a, "You should have known better" as a "Let me give you a warning."

There's an article in the Bulletin about 'artist spaces' being priced out of the market. The owners of a gallery said they thought the rents would stay somewhat stable for "nine years." All I can say to that is, the last 30 years of growth should have given them pause.

Anyway, as the article says, this is a constant problem. Artists move into a place, make it cool, and then get priced out. This describes what happened to downtown Bend. There's just a few of us merchants left who moved into the area when rents were low. The rents have steadily risen. I chose to stay in downtown Bend because it felt to me as if the foot-traffic was keeping up. We're in a bit of a sweetspot for Bend--the rent can be covered by the customer count. Barely. Once I figured out that I needed to mainstream the store, it became possible to stay.

As the article says,  "Finding a space that's affordable and provides walk-in retail traffic can be hard for an artist."

It's called Gentrification, and it happens everywhere.

But it happens more often, I believe, in Bend.

"Poverty with a view."  The idea that Bend is so cool that people can charge higher rent; but the returns are not what people think.

The problem is that people are somewhat fooled by the look and feel of Bend. The population numbers don't look too bad, as a standalone number. But what no one seems to see is that it is an isolated population. Past Madras and La Pine it is nothing but sagebrush and pine. We are nowhere near an interstate. Our four year college is at its early stages.

We aren't Portland. We aren't even Eugene, Medford, or Salem, all of whom have roughly double the metro area population. And all are a half an hour away from another metro area.

I had owned my store for a decade before I finally realized that there was a glass ceiling imposed by the population and isolation of Bend.

As far as there being wealthy people in Bend. Well, no one comes into my store and says, "I'm rich and I'm going to spend tons of money." That's not the way it works.

I don't know if there is any way to warn people who choose to open businesses in Bend. I'm probably the only one saying it out loud. But here it is--make sure you have plenty of margin for error.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Why are fantasy books so unsatisfying?

I keep having the same experience. Someone recommends a fantasy series, or a fantasy series wins tons of awards, and I'm hungry for a good fantasy, and so I finally take the plunge.

Most of the time, I'm disappointed.

It comes down to the world building, I think. 

Most fantasies I read seem half-baked and/or incoherent. I can tell when the author finally figures out the world they're writing about, usually well into the book. But even then, most fantasy authors aren't consistent. The premise is often gimmicky or obviously intellectually constructed, and yet they are rarely original.

When they are original, they are so artificially constructed that they are annoying. That is, they are trying so hard not to be standard fantasy that they go off the rails.

These misses are mostly latter-day fantasies. When I first became disillusioned with fantasy books was because they followed the formula a little too much. I went away from reading fantasies for a couple of decades, though I was lured back on a regular basis by someone's insistence that THIS fantasy was different.

And they rarely were.

Well, which is it, Duncan? Too standard or too different? Will anything satisfy you?

I don't actually care if it's standard fantasy or a upside down version of one--as long as they are well written, consistent, and well thought out.

Every decade or so I find a series I like. Which is pretty slim pickings. I'm probably a little too picky. Maybe I was spoiled by my early discoveries. Lord of the Rings; REH's Conan; Narnia; the Earthsea Trilogy; the Elric books-- are still the best fantasies out there. I found that old pros in SF also constructed some very satisfying fantasy: Jack Vance, Robert Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle, that kind of thing.

But pure fantasy writers struggle to really nail it.

One problem is that almost all fantasies are not stand-alone. So you have to read an entire series-- which, if I don't like the first book, I don't--and that is very unsatisfying.  SF and mystery books are more often stand-alone books, even if they are part of a series. So that's what I've been reading for the last 30 years.

I always thought when I came back to writing that it would be fantasy. Instead, I've been writing soft SF, thrillers, horror, and dark fantasy. Epic fantasy is something I want to try sometime--but only if I can avoid the above criticisms.

Of the more recent fantasy series, I can narrow down the ones that I thought were great to a few:

"A Song of Ice and Fire," by George R.R. Martin is every bit as good as it is given credit for.

"The Kingkiller Chronicles," by Patrick Rothfuss, while not perfect, are very good.

and a third, less known series, that I highly recommend;

"World of Five Gods," by Lois McMaster Bujold.

That's about it.

I'm not going to say the name of the writers and books that I haven't liked. But believe me, I've tried most of the ones people are likely to recommend. Many fantasy books are competent and moderatelly entertaining, but I'm looking for something more than that.

What happens whenever I talk about this is that people will say, "Oh, you need to try this!" and then the cycle starts all over again. I'll be sucked in again, because I truly love fantasy. And maybe I'll get lucky.

In the meantime, back to my SF and mysteries.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

When you've been lucky.

When you've been as lucky as I've been, I don't think it behooves me to express my opinions about everything. I'm grateful, because I don't figure I completely earned it.

OK boomer is totally fair. It's time for our generation to let the younger generation take over.

I slipped through this life somehow. Was talking to a friend of my dad's yesterday at the store. "I had rough 20s," I said. She nodded. Then I blurted, "But I had a great 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s!" And I meant it.

I'm not sure I did anything to deserve how well things have gone. I can easily see parallel universes where it all went off the rails, more than once. And, I do admit, it was tough keeping the store going for a long time. We have always lived modestly. But we came out the other side.

This sounds way too smug--and I don't blame you for thinking, "fuck this guy," but no doubt there is a comeuppance in the hear future. If my little heart attack did one thing, it made me grateful for what I have.

I'm enjoying the store. I was worried the first couple of weekends I worked because I was so tired, but I think I'm getting acclimated. Sunday and Monday this week were both pretty busy, and it's just so great to see people coming in the store in a steady stream. This still feels unusual to me, though it's been happening for a while. I think the slow years will forever be my starting perception. Sometimes when it's really busy, it's like being a ringmaster of a three-ring circus, and just the negotiating of all the difficulties is very satisfying.

"Deadfall Ridge" continues to sell in larger numbers than I expected. Of course, at .99 cents the money doesn't amount to much, but I'm vain enough to enjoy the higher numbers of downloaders even if it doesn't make me rich.

They made the repairs on the ceiling yesterday. Was closed for the first hour of the store. Came in and they had completely fixed the problem. Way smoother than I expected. I had to empty the middle of the store Sunday night and then put it all together again on Monday.

I drove to the store about 11:45, or 45 minutes past the normal opening. The parking lot was completely full, top to bottom, because of the Veterans Day parade. Since I had a sign on the door, "Closed for Repairs," I just drove away, spent another half hour at Big Story buying some books, then came back as the flood of people left downtown. Not a huge number of customers, but the ones who were there spent more than normal.

If nothing else, coming back to the store has reassured me about its health.

Going to see Terminator today. Saw Zombieland last week, which was mildly amusing. I'm avoiding downer movies like Joker and The Lighthouse. No doubt they're good, but I'm just not in the mood. I've been enjoying Jack Ryan on Amazon for the same reason. No angst, just intrigue.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Watching the shitstorm.

A large percentage of my Facebook friends are in the horror community. Over the last few days, there has been a bit of a shitstorm. A horror writer announced that he was leaving the field because of how he'd been treated for complaining about not being paid by a small but prestigious horror publisher.

Apparently, most writers had been too afraid to speak up. Once the damn broke, a flood of stories came spilling out about said publisher. Not just about not being paid, but about being mistreated.

Ironically, the whole thing started with some of the followers of said publisher jumping on the writer. Slowly, but surely, the worm turned. Now the publisher is definitely on the defensive. To the point where you wonder if it will survive.

Trouble with this, of course, is that a lot of innocent writers are also going to be harmed. On the other hand, such behavior needs to be held to account.

I've stayed out of it, because I've never dealt with the publisher in question.

The small press horror community exists because the major publishers more or less turned their backs on horror. (It still seems ironic that a genre that includes Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Clive Barker, and a seemingly endless tide of Netflix horror movies could be considered too small to bother with.)

Small publishers came along to pick up the slack, but like the many comic and game and bookstores I've seen over the last 40 years (including mine) they are under-capitalized to say the least. Many are unprofessional.

I've had three publishers fold from under me. Fortunately, all of them had the integrity to pay what they owed and to release me from contracts. One of my current publishers--Crossroads Press-- pays me monthly, which I think is pretty much unheard of.

It just seems to be part of the business these days.

Even though I'm not involved--despite being Facebook friends--I'm sort of an outsider. I mean, I was really impressed about how my books were accepted by the horror community, but I haven't met any of these writers or publishers in real life.

The drama is fascinating, like watching a car wreck. I just saw a fatal car crash a couple of days ago--it went by in a blink and I had the feeling of being a spectator, of also watching it all happen in slow-motion as if from a distance.

Life is messy.

Monday, November 4, 2019

I like the store.

I've realized that I really like my store. I mean, I was away writing for 6 or 7 years, and I did need a break from customer service, but it didn't mean I didn't enjoy Pegasus. I just wanted to write so badly (and I did that, write badly) (Linda objects to my self-deprecation. I don't mean it, by the way, I think my books are pretty good) that I focused on that for a long time.

But now that I'm back paying attention, I realize that I like hanging around the store. I've been doing little cleanups around the edges. For instance, when I worked full-time I would regularly clean the front of the store by getting on my hands and knees with some windex and paper towels and just wipe, foot by foot. It works, it really doesn't take that much time, and it always looks so much better. I'm not blaming Sabrina for not doing that. It's my fault for not having a better method of cleaning than that--but it always worked for me.

So I go around all day and wipe things down, and try to get the vacuum unclogged and picking up detritus around all the edges. Straightening up is a constant. It's really what makes the store look clean and tidy--even if, when you look closer--it may not be that,

Eventually, I'm hoping to start bagging some of the comics for backstock. I'm going to start with the big titles: Batman, Spider-man, Avengers. Then move my way through the rest until I run out of room. Which won't take long.

It was good to take a break, though. The little things were starting to get to me and I was overreacting, so I've come back with more perspective. I hope. And I'm trying not to let it get me down.

People can be interesting, and I enjoy talking to folks. I was missing that when I was away writing.

Anyway, I'm enjoying being back at the store more than I thought I would.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Bob Dylan is a genius. Well, duh.

I've been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan over the last couple of months. Apparently, his stuff has finally made it to YouTube. Before that you could see some of his later concert stuff--good luck with finding anything good there.

Anyway, I've come to realize that I had more or less stopped paying attention to Dylan after Nashville Skyline. There are several albums in the next few years that are equally brilliant. I've been listening especially to Blood on the Tracks and Desire.

My favorite Dylan song of all time is Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts--though I couldn't tell you what it's about.

The mid-Seventies were pretty bad for music--at least on the radio. I'd all but stopped listening until Springsteen came along. After that, I was all in with punk and post-punk and onward.

Amazing to be semi-retired and able to explore YouTube for all the music I missed.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Keep it Simple, Stupid.

I run my business--and my life, more or less--on Occam's Razor, on the 20/80 rule, and on a general averaging of numbers. In other words, "Keep it Simple, Stupid."

When I impart advice--which is hardly ever asked for and even less listened to--I try to keep it to one simple thing: "Don't complicate your business or you will burn out." Period.

The secret to my success--if success it can be called; more like the secret to my survival--is that I have over time cut everything extraneous to my core business. My job is to carry product people might want to buy.

Despite all the above, my business is, in fact, pretty complicated. But it is complicated because of the diverse product I carry. That's been reinforced lately by my coming back to work. I'm way behind on comics and graphic novels, which after all contain multiple universes. Heh. Fortunately, my manager Sabrina, has a good grasp on what's going on and she is here most of the time when it matters.

Meanwhile, I feel as though I'm very much up on books and I'm here often enough to get a good gauge on what's going on.

The other products--games, toys, card games, etc.--are sidelines and therefore don't call for us to know every little thing there is to know. I accept lower sales because of that. In fact, that may be where the "Keep it Simple, Stupid" idea comes into play the most.

Of these sidelines, games has always been the most seductive. There have been short periods where I have been the only place in town who carries a wide variety. But what I have learned over the last 40 years is that a new game store is always coming to town. There is always a place where people can go and play. This is doubly true of card games. And since I can never do that--I don't have the time, space, or expertise--going all in on games, no matter how alluring, is always a bad idea.

Anyway, over the last 15 years of so, the store has finally combined a mix that seems to be self-sustaining. This could change at any time, but right now, there's some flexibility in how I spend the money.

And I'm still trying to simplify.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The deep end.

Well, that was intriguing and daunting.

Sabrina called in sick, so I showed up at the store on Wednesday, otherwise known as "New Comic Release" day. I grabbed the comics off the counter and started putting them out. So far, so good. I'd spent the previous Sunday and Monday exploring the nooks and crannies of the comics shelves, trying to figure out what the current titles and trends were.

Luckily, I had the comics out before the onslaught began. In piled a bunch of shelf customers. (We have a shelf system where we hold comics for regulars.) Half of these customers I didn't even know. But I was enthused about how interested they seemed.

Ringing up $4 and $5 comics is still a bit of a wrench for me. I bite my tongue. Time has moved on. The past is a foreign country. This is the way of things and those up-to-date have no problem with it.

Anyway, before I know it, I'm swamped. I stay swamped for the next hour. Toward the end of the hour, the most voluble of my shelf people come in and start talking about comics and I don't really have a clue what they're talking about, and I try faking it for awhile (which I'm pretty good at and have plenty of practice) before I finally throw up my hands and admit, "I have no idea what's going on."

So every time someone asks something I don't know, I look it up on my computer. I'm in full steaming research mode by now, as well as trying to reorder everything people are looking for, and trying to figure out who wants what.

I ring up the total when there is a moment of temporary quiet, and I realize I've rung up more than our daily average in just one hour. And it sort of freaks me out.

The two guys are still talking about comics at the top of their voices and I interject a comment here and there (mostly historical context--that's what an old guy is good for--historical context) and finally I just stop mid-sentence and say, "You guys need to get out of here, I've got work to do."

Thankfully, they don't take offense.

The rest of the day is more normal, but I'm aware the whole time how deep in the pool I am and barely treading water.

What's amazing is this was normal for me for 25 years or so. Could I do it again? Man, I don't know. I'd probably find a way, but wow.

It makes me appreciate Sabrina even more. I've left her to deal with this stress, and bless her, I'm going to try to help out more. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Some legs on that beast.

I'd thought maybe that Crossroads Press would resubmit "Deadfall Ridge" for a domestic BookBub after the international one was done.

Instead, starting around the first of this month, the book seemed to start selling in the US anyway. So much so that I think we're already scooping up those people who want to buy it for 99 cents. Last two days have been the highest sales so far.

Of course, at 99 cents, minus Amazon and my publisher's cut, there isn't a lot left over, but it's still cool to know that people are finding the book. Still getting mostly good reviews, too. Extra bonus, six new reviews in the UK, which apparently has its own ratings system. Five 5 stars, and one 2 star. Still selling in the UK after a month and a half, while in Australia and Canada, it stopped selling after about three weeks.

The only thing missing is some kind of crossover effect. It amazes me that I can sell so many of one book, and hardly any of my other books. Just goes to show that there is only as much space for new readers as one book at a time, if that makes sense.

I'm tickled that people seem to like the book. I thought, personally, that it was a little far-fetched. I tried to leaven it with a bit of humor-- the ever-present, decaying, stinking, bullet-proof Bigfoot costume. Too much for a couple of reviewers, just the right amount of weird for a couple others.

"Takeover," the sequel, was meant to be much more serious. Especially at first. In the end, I reformatted it as a straight thriller, with all the crazy stuff that entails. Every time I try to write "serious," I can't seem to quite pull it off. But I think I have the chops to provide enough thrills and spills to do a thriller.

It's funny. I only wrote a thriller because a publisher asked me to. The deal fell through but "Deadfall Ridge" was still published and has probably been my most successful effort. (Led to the Slaughter and Tuskers did pretty well, too.)

Still trying to finish the rewrite of "Eden's Return." Going back to work for two days a week was more disruptive than I thought, and there have been some real life events that have waylaid me. But I'm only 40 pages from the end, so it will get done soon, hopefully to get published in 3 or 4 months from now.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Funny, I can whip out a blog anytime, as long as nothing consequential is happening. It's the major stuff I have a hard time writing about.

My heart attack 8 months ago has definitely changed how I see the world.

A couple of months ago, Linda's sister, Mary, died. She'd been ill for a long time, so it wasn't a surprise. Lots of family drama there that I'm not part of.

Linda's brother, David, moved up to LaPine about 20 years ago. He was closer in age to Linda. He's had some health issues too. He called over the weekend complaining that he was sick to his stomach, but he also mentioned a tightness in his chest. After he hung up, I looked up symptoms of a heart attack. Sure enough, "dry heaves" were mentioned.

But it was obvious Dave didn't want to go to the hospital.

Linda arranged that she'd text him every day and wait for an answer. Dave agreed because he was worried about his two hounds. So Sunday, she called and got no answer.

I was working that day, but I had a bad feeling about this. Fortunately, one of Linda's good friends, Diane, from church went with her. They couldn't get into Dave's house, so they called the police. So it was fortunate that Linda had both her friend and a helpful empathetic cop with her when they found him.

It's been hard on Linda. I'm just trying to be supportive. The boys showed up that night and were with us for a few days. Making arrangements for the dogs and such. Todd and Toby are the executors and inheritors of the estate. (Linda and I gave Dave a lump sum of money about six months ago because he was on the verge of of doing a reverse mortgage. For once, I had the ability to help, and it was a very smart decision.)

Out house is full of stuff that we took from Dave's. Which makes it all the more unsettling.

Meanwhile, I turned 67 a week ago, and once again the reality of age has been catching up to me.

Like I said, writing about the heavy stuff is hard. Not looking for sympathy here, by the way. Just talking about what's been happening.

Life is short. Enjoy every sandwich. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

My Top Ten Favorite Thriller/Mystery writers...and others.

My favorite thriller writers. All men, which is a bit alarming.

1.) Richard Stark (Donald Westlake.)
2. Thomas Perry
3. James Lee Burke
4. Stephen Hunter
5. Michael Connelly
6. Robert Crais
7. Lee Child
8. John Sandford
9. Lawrence Block
10. Daniel Silva
11. Elmore Leonard.  (Can't leave him of the list.)
There's a good list of ten more authors who either have become distractedly dated or whose later books I didn't like much.
1.) John LeCarre. (Great writer, but his last few books have been far too downbeat for me.)
2.) Dennis Lehane. (Same. But I liked his earlier, less pretentious books.)
3.) James Ellroy.  (Has written a couple of my all-time favorites, The Big Nowhere and L.A. Confidential, but his current style has lost me.
4.) Raymond Chandler. (Read them long ago--liked them, I remember.)
5. John Grisham. (All very competent, but nothing really stands out.)
6. Harlan Coben. (I'll read him in a pinch.)
7. John D, MacDonald. (Unfortunately too dated to get through.)
8. Patricia Cornwell. (Liked her early books, didn't much like her later books.)
9. Nevada Barr. (Just got tired of her main character, I guess.)
10. Tony Hillerman. (If he was still writing, he'd probably be on the above list.)
11. Dashiell Hammett. (Again, someone I can't leave off.)

Ten more authors who I simply can't get into, for whatever reason.

1. James Patterson.
2. Sue Grafton.
3. Stuart Woods
4. Jeffrey Deaver
5. Nelson DeMille
6. Robert Parker
7. David Baldacci
8. Clive Cussler
9. Tom Clancy
10. Robert Ludlum. (I admit, I read quite a few of the last two authors.)
11. Dan Brown (Couldn't ignore him, can't stand him)

Ten more Old-Timey Authors who I dip into occasionally or read heavily in the past.

1. Agatha Christie. (Read so many I'm not sure which ones I didn't read.)
2. Dorothy L. Sayers.
3. Josephine Tey.
4. Arthur Conan Doyle. (Read about 90% of the Sherlock Holmes stories.)
5. Rex Stout
6. James L. Cain
7. Georges Simenon
8. Patricia Highsmith
9. Jim Thompson 
10. Ian Fleming. (Loved them, but they're extremely dated now.)
11. Ellis Peters.

Ten Authors I've liked but left off the above lists.

1.) Walter Moseley
2.) Jonathan Kellerman
3.) George Higgins
4.) Thomas Harris
5.) Frederick Forsyth
6.) Michael Chrichton
7.) Scott Turow
8.) Gregory McDonald
9.) Len Deighton
10. Graham Green
11.) Jack Higgins.

Gratitude for where I am, forgiveness for where I was at.

I decided to drink a little wine and see if it couldn't help me edit "Eden's Return." The wine was opened a year ago and has been sitting in a cupboard since then, so I wasn't sure if it was even drinkable.

What the hell, I can't tell the difference.

Sure enough, it calmed me down enough to make some progress. I'm about 2/3rds done. I'm going to take another stab at it tonight after writing this. And then one more attempt tomorrow night. That's it. After that, I'm done.

I like the story and tone. But the words are just not flowing. It feels pretty clunky. Most readers probably won't notice, but I do.  I'm hoping that Lara, my editor, can smooth it out a bit.

I'm about 64 thousand words so far, or 12 thousand words more than the first draft. I'd love to get to 70 thousand words. That's still only about 200 pages, but it's a simple story. I like that it's only two narrators, and that the theme and plot are relatively simple.

I was shooting more for mood and tone this time than plot. There are some deeper philosophical themes here if I can only summon them.

 Managed about 20 pages, not as as much as I'd hoped. Still about 50 pages to go. I'm resisting sending it as is to Lara. That's a cop out. 

Man, that shit is poison. Lousy dreams, woke up feeling lousy. And got only 20 pages out of it.

I did do my "attitude" check that I sometimes do when I'm drunk. Decided I was all right, that things were on track. Gratitude for where I am, forgiveness for where I was at. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A plethora of good stuff.

The nice thing about having a bookstore is that there is no shortage of good books. Every time I visit other bookstores I see titles I'd like to have in my own store. There are a huge number of sidelines that are interesting.

I remember a time in the late nineties when I was having trouble finding viable product in my chosen categories. Comics had collapsed, graphic novels were still not the big thing, sports and non-sports cards had collapsed a few years earlier, toys were impossible to get because the big toy companies had out-of-reach minimums, games sold in Big Box stores cheaper than I could buy them for, I couldn't find a reliable book distributor who would sell to us, Magic was fading.

I looked around and decided the only product that had any chance of increasing was Magic--if I lowered the price and tried to have a larger selection.

A guy came into the store that Christmas and introduced himself as the COO of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. "Adult Supervision," he styled himself. He told me to order this thing called Pokemon. "Don't question it, just order it. Order all you can get."

Unfortunately, I'd already tried at least a dozen different card games to supplement Magic--Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. etc. All of them had more or less flopped. So I didn't take the guy's advice.

I was able to jump onboard later, and Pokemon did very well. In the interim (can't really remember the sequence) we did short spurts with Beanie Babies and Pogs.

Pokemon, though, was the last true fad we jumped onboard with.

It's interesting that there could ever have been a time when we couldn't find enough good product that we could afford to carry.

All I'm short of nowadays is space to show it all.

Friday, October 11, 2019

In for a pound...

If working two days a week takes up this much psychic space, no wonder I couldn't write for 25 years! Sheesh.

When I was just filling in here and there, I could stay relatively unengaged. But somehow, this time, I'm being drawn in. I'm still letting Sabrina run things, but I'm personally feeling every distraction, every little problem.

A couple of ceiling panels were pushed down by some workers above the store, so we've been trying to get that fixed. It's one of those things that require 4 or 5 attempts to get anything going, and then 1 or 2 tries get it right.

I spent a lot of time on Wednesday vacuuming the store from end to end, paying particular attention to the corners and sides, where the detritus congregates. (When I say I'm working 2 days a week, that engagement is pulling me in for a couple of other afternoons a week to get things done.) Just one vacuuming and the vacuum was completely clogged. Which means that I have to pull out the filters and clean them every time we vacuum. I'm a vacuum cleaner killer. I mean, nowadays I buy a cheap $40 vacuum and hope it last six months before I add to the vacuum graveyard downstairs.

We're having problems with our UPS driver. Seems like a minor thing, but it's hugely important. We can't sell product we can't get. Haven't figured out what to do yet. I'm hoping the problem driver is a temporary. We've opened at 11:00 for many, many years. (When I was working 7 days a week, that extra hour in the morning was a life-saver...) I'm pretty sure the rule is that the driver needs to deliver during our store hours, but the other part of this is that these drivers own their routes and are pretty much kings of their domain.

Our personal taxes go out on the 15th--we always do an extension, because we can pay with the summer profits rather than after the usual very slow late-winter/early-spring. Trying to connect with our accountant. Got killed last year on taxes because of selling Linda's store. Hopefully this year the owed will be more manageable.

We have a new accountant for our payroll, and she's dragging me into the modern world of online payments. Probably time to pay taxes by the month instead of being nailed every quarter. Arrgghhh.

I've been buying new bestsellers now for about a month. The outcome is still unclear. I'm going to give it at least six months before I draw any conclusions.

Other than that?

Just waiting for the next thing...

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

It's all on me.

I'd forgotten about the small aggravations of working. The vacuum cleaner not working, the UPS shipment not showing up, the traffic jam at the edge of town, and so on. It's much more stress inducing than it should be.

I know what to do, I just don't always do it. Right? So the UPS driver starts spouting officialisms at me and I blow up at him. "I've been here for 40 years and I've always gotten my shipments during store hours!"

And he glares at me, and my heart sinks because the one thing you don't want to do is make your UPS driver your enemy. He'll win every time.

I mean---that I worked most days for most of my career is amazing. I was younger then, physically. I also learned to pace myself a bit more, had a practiced rhythm with the customers, it was just the way it was, I had no choice.

I came back underestimating such things. But really, I just need to relax. None of it is critical. The annoyance is on me--I have the power to react calmly.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Bookman holiday.

Spent 5 days on the other side of the mountains, visiting Toby in Hood River, and Todd in Portland, then heading for the coast. Got lucky, the weather was nice the first day on the beach. Stayed in a nicer hotel than usual, the one situated over Haystack Rock. (Clerk started off quoting 350.00, then when I started to walk away, 225.00, and then, finally, 169.00. Heh.)

Toby works in White Salmon, across the river from Hood River, and I think he's happy with being close to the wilderness. He seems in a good place.

I spent a bunch of time at Artifacts, a bookstore that is far funkier than mine, and the other bookstore in Hood River, which was more mainstream. Both managers were willing to talk, which is somewhat unusual. I took pictures of cool books I don't have.

Checked out two bookstore in Astoria, one which was pretty small and limited, the other somewhat more funky. Much less conversing, especially by the former. Not sure why, but most owners seem too threatened to talk about business. Sigh.

My definition of funky has expanded--I've come to realize that, as strange as my store is, there are stores that are even stranger. The stranger, the better.

Visited a nice bookstore in Cannon Beach. Started to brag about being in business for 40 years, and the clerk immediately perked up; "We too! 40 years!"

"That's amazing!" I answer.

Headed back home, saw a huge beat-up building with "Books" written along the side. It was packed with stuff, most of it falling apart. The lady behind the counter was selling the place. Someone already connected to selling online could probably make use of the clutter. But I also found at least 5 books I probably wouldn't have found anywhere else.

We buy books in every place we go. Which is kind of nutty, but then...I know how it feels.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Reeking of burnout.

Watched a documentary about Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young last night. By the end, they smelled of burnout and over-the-hill.

I've run into this a lot with creatives; people who had entire careers, usually starting off with a bang (or they wouldn't have a career, I guess.) Then they struggle, then they come back--in a lessor more subdued sort of way, often resting on their prior success. I know that's just the way the story is shaped, but there is no disguising that in most cases, these creatives have more or less given up by the time they reach my age.

When I came back to writing, I was charged up and optimistic. It was as if I simply picked up the thread that my 32 year old self had dropped. I still feel that way. I don't feel like this is the end of the line, but more toward the beginning.

I'm more mature in how I handle it. (My work habits were completely dysfunctional in my earlier efforts.) But the creativity--if anything--is greater, not lesser. I have more freedom. I have nothing to lose.

I'm glad now that I chose the path of being a bookstore owner, instead of trying to make a writing career work. When I finally had time to write, I came back with renewed energy, and I wasn't dependent on it, or expecting too much of it. Just the premise that I could improve each time, that one of these days I could put it all together and write the "great" book.

I'm actually sort of impressed that the books came out as well as they did. "Led to the Slaughter" is a pretty good book, even if it was my first book out this time. I put the time and effort in, and I can look back and be pleased.

I'm taking a break from writing. I plan to come back with a stronger focus. But none of my enthusiasm has dissipated. No chance of burnout that I can see. My actual age isn't a factor, as far as I can tell.

This still happening.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

"I hate writing; I love having written."

The most impressive thing about BookBub is that it seems to have legs. After a slow start, the sales of "Deadfall Ridge" have been picking up in the USA, though it wasn't promoted here. The price is probably the main attraction. I actually made more money in the 8 days before the promotion with 85% less sales, than in the last 20 days at the discount.

So the whole point of the promotion, I guess, is exposure. Hoping that people will try my other books. There does seem to be a bit of that, but not nearly enough to pay for the promotion. So I have to hope that the promotion worked on the "international" market. Sadly, there don't seem to be legs there. Got only about a week worth of boost. Weird.

A professional writer is never supposed to say this, but at this point I'm more interested in readers than in sales. (Then again, to me a professional writer makes their living from their writing--and I'm far from that. I did pass a milestone lately that seems significant to me; a mark that says I haven't just wasted my time.)

A friend of mine pitched my Virginia Reed stories to a comic company. (An up and coming company who is doing interesting work.) He said they seemed interested. Not going to get excited by it; just bringing it up to say, You Never Can Tell.

Still not writing. Having a hard time getting going on the rewrite of "Eden's Return." I've only gotten through 50% after three months. I'm just resting on my laurels.

Dorothy Parker quote: “I hate writing; I love having written.”  

That sounds about right.

Friday, September 27, 2019

If something works....

This is the nonsense I'm up against all the time in ordering.The second cover is actually of a book that came out before the first cover, but the Tattooist of Auschwitz was a major bestseller, so the publisher goes back to press with a copycat cover. (the original cover is completely different.) This happens all the time. It even confuses readers, who often ask for the wrong thing.

Is there no pride?

I think, maybe, in publishing there isn't.
The Librarian of Auschwitz (Special Edition)

Re-engaged--and overspending.

I've always bought what the store needed, whether I could afford it or not. I've always pushed it to the brink of a budget and beyond. I've always pushed as much leverage into the store as I could get.

So it's always worked out in the end--after much stress. I do mean, the end--maybe years after I put us into debt.

I used to think what I needed was a CFO, who could control the checkbook and impose spending limits. I mentioned it to Linda, but she quite rightly realized that I would just wheedle and bully until I got what I wanted anyway.

While I was off writing, the store was out of sight, out of mind. As long as it was functioning, I was leaving it alone. Even better, I gave Sabrina the power to order comics, graphic novels, and games, and gave her a target budget. Which she stuck to.

But now I'm back and engaged, and I'm tending toward my old bad habits. 

For example. I decided we needed journals, so I figured out a way to display them, and then ordered a bunch.

But the truth is--we don't NEED journals, I just wanted them. I ordered over 50 of them, but there was a hiccup in the credit process--thank goodness--and I had a chance to back away. I then ordered 20 journals. From there, I can gauge what kind of journals sell and what kind don't. I'll order a couple of new journals per week until I get to the proper level.

On the good side, it forced me to remove two shelves that simply weren't working (Robots and Futurism) and replace them with something that people are always requesting.

Last month I thought I'd spent X amount on new books. Turned out, I'd spent X + 40%. So overspending by 10%, that's manageable. Overspending by 40%--that will get us in trouble quickly.

Basically, it's time to set a budget for new books, and stick with it. Period. I'll be 67 years old in 16 days, so I'm an adult now. I should act like one.