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. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Blending my own stubborn tastes with what will sell.

I'm finally bringing in more journals. I get asked for them all the time, but the journals I've had up to now haven't been what people are looking for.

I made a ginormous order a couple days ago, (over 50 journals), then had second thoughts. 20 journals ought to be enough to give me a hint about what will sell.

Journals are a lot like posters and t-shirts. Often, what I think will sell--based on my own tastes--don't. Stuff I think sucks, do.

I remember a godawful t-shirt I once got in. Florescent puke-green color. It sold within a day. Meanwhile, the ultra cool but subtle t-shirts I thought would disappear instantly, stuck around for years.

Posters? I swear, I look at some posters and think, "Why would anyone buy that?" Then the next time I look, they're gone.

So anyway, I'm going with cool designs to start with, and a few fantasy themed. Might not be the right choice, I don't know. But picking a particular "brand" seems kind of iffy to me. I did get an Alice in Wonderland cover (John Tenniel art), but how many people know who the original artist was? When it comes to art, you can be too informed.

People love an artist like Boris Vallejo, for instance, or Alex Ross--but to my mind, they are too slick. Like eating too much candy. I like rougher artists like Frazetta, where you can actually see the paintbrush strokes. There's an artist named Royo who I like, but I like his rough sketches even more.

Oh, well. The market speaks. As usual, I will blend my own stubborn tastes with what I think will sell.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Re-engagement with the real world.

For six years I buried my head in imaginary worlds. For the first couple of years, I barely poked my head back up into reality. Most of my days were spent in a creative fog. Things were left undone, the store was left in other's hands. I rarely spoke to anyone else, except Linda. (Or online.)

I was astonished by how much creative energy I had stored up. I decided to keep writing until it faded.

I wrote almost every day. I published 21 books over that time, some with more fanfare than others. I wrote what I wanted, when I wanted. I had to find publishers, and then find new publishers. I had a unpropitious encounter with a mainstream publisher, reminding me why I wanted to avoid that avenue.

It was all very satisfying. The reviews were mostly good, the sales on a few of the books were all right. I felt like I'd more than accomplished my goal.

In the last year, or so,  I started to slow down. I had several books that needed to be edited. I had a heart attack, and instead of that motivating me, it seemed to do the opposite.

When Dylan went of the college in N.Y., I decided to start working his two days.

Unexpectedly, I'm getting pretty engaged in the workings of Pegasus Books again. Before, when I was just filling in here and there, the store was something I could do and then forget about. Now, suddenly, I'm finding things I want to change. I'm enjoying my interactions with customers.

Yesterday, as I drove into Bend, I realized that I was feeling energized, re-engaged with the business, and with other people. It's as if I went on a long vacation, visited exotic worlds, and now I'm ready to simply engage in everyday transactions.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The luxury of new books.

I can't tell you what a luxury new books are,

First of all, I should say it wouldn't work at all if we didn't have the tourist foot traffic downtown. I'm not sure that locals will ever understand that we've become a real bookstore, along with being a real comic bookstore. But that's all right.

What makes new books different?

They don't become dated--at least, not as quickly as other product. Throughout my history at Pegasus Books we were dependent on product that had a short shelf-life. Comics, sports cards, beanie babies, pokemon, pogs, card games.

It has only been in the last ten or twelve years that we've been able to bring in product that is more evergreen: new books and boardgames.

I probably should add graphic novels, but that status of being perennial sellers grew slowly and was never a sure thing. We now have a twenty year history of graphic novels to draw on, and we can identify which are evergreens, and that's been a huge thing. We could probably survive on comics and graphic novels and card games and toys alone--if we had to.

But we wouldn't thrive. New books and board games have changed the equation for us. When I say that we have a twenty year history of sales on graphic novels to determine evergreen status, that's pretty nice. I'd say we have about a ten year history of sales on board games to draw on, though beyond a few basic games, that's a bit more iffy.

But we have a 400 hundred year history for books! Basically, from Don Quixote on. Millions of books to choose from. I can cherry pick all day long. I have a pretty broad knowledge of books. Once the matrix was in place, everything I learn just slots right in.

Because of that knowledge, for instance, I can scan lists of books--which all look good--and figure out which ones are likely to sell in my store.

Recently I've finally made the jump into ordering the current week's bestsellers. I think it was probably just as well that I waited until now, because I just wouldn't have had enough experience to figure it out. New bestsellers are iffy, without the luxury of a sales history, so I'm dependent on reviews and word of mouth, which like all promotional activities, is unreliable.

Fortunately, even if the new book doesn't have a history, the author usually does, or the new book is part of a series. (Yes, just like movies and TV, sequels are the bread and butter.)

So far, I haven't been returning books. It seems like a huge hassle, but I can foresee a time down the road where I'm might need to do it, if sales keep increasing.

As usual, the biggest problem is lack of space, but I'll just keep trying to be ergonomically clever, because my location is what makes everything else work.

So new books have proven to be beneficial, and I'm having great fun with them.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Forever Chemicals?

Interesting article in the Bulletin about "forever chemicals" found in military sites in Oregon.

I'm probably not understanding the science, but I've always wondered about a couple civilian sites in Bend. Maybe because I've lived here my entire life and I'm relatively old, I remember some places that were pretty darn dirty, and which have become major focal points in modern Bend.

It's amused me a little that the "Old Mill" description has become a selling point for a commercial district. Using the old smoke stacks as flagpoles. Because what I remember about the old mill was that it was dirty, noisy, smelly, and dangerous. I remember walking on the grounds, which were saturated with oils and gas and God knows what else.

I remember the smell.

If you've ever smelled a creasote drenched railroad tie, you know the smell. 

So my question has always been--did they remove this stuff or cover it?

The second location I've always wondered about is where the new four-year college is located (as well as other schools). Close to that area there was the old Bend dump. Now this was the old fashioned kind of dump where people dumped everything--oil cans, paint cans, chemicals, electronics, anything and everything

But whenever it is described in the news they call it a solid waste site. In fact, I think they more or less imply that is was a place where garden debris and branches and such was dumped.

Nope. It was about as dumpy as a dump can be.

So did they dig up all the stuff? Or cover it sufficiently? Is there a time when this stuff becomes safe?

What makes me wonder is the very description of it as being something that it wasn't. That's a bit suspicious.

But who's around the question it?

Like I said, maybe they did the proper thing. Maybe I don't understand the science.

But to pretend those places weren't dirty is just kind of gentrified burying of what once was.
Some heavy dreams last night. Why do I wake up and still fight the dream? Punching an illusion, to no effect. The illusion is stubborn. It swarms and overwhelms me. The mood remains, breathing deep. The fight begins anew.

Why do I awake
still fighting the dream?
Punching an illusion
that always wins?

Stubborn thoughts
swarm and overwhelm me
the mood remains
the fight begins anew

A lesson there
unlearned and repeated
breathing deep,
dragged back to darkness

Suspicion of my worse self
that I am without knowing
a warning, I suppose
if it's true

Still fighting the dream
a fearful fragment
glimmering bright
submerged and waiting

Reality is warm,
a cup of coffee
a rememberance
and a lesson

Monday, September 16, 2019

Mainstreaming the store but keeping it weird.

Yes, I am very much enjoying work again. Way more than I thought I would.

For one thing, I finally have something that young families want. I've tried really hard to carry a good selection of young adult graphic novels, and have also tried really hard to mainstream my store. It's very gratifying to see these young people buying something.

I think it just helps that the store is functional, and that just about anyone who comes in can find something they like --if they're willing. A bunch aren't willing. Saturdays are still hard for me because of the proportion of browsers, but the long break has made me much more patient and cheerful.

New books continue to shine. I've finally gotten to the point where I can put in an order at the beginning of each week, keeping up with the new releases. Very satisfying. Bought two hardcovers each of the new Stephen King book, and the new Margaret Atwood book, and held my breath. Sold one of each, which as far as I'm concerned was worth the gamble. I'm tiptoeing into these big selling hardcovers.

And I'm enjoying talking to the variety of people coming in the door. Dare I say, downtown Bend is getting more cosmopolitan with every year that passes? With all the entails, good and bad.

Sabrina has done a great job with graphic novels. I was always a little at a loss for what Marvel gn's to order, and I'd almost given up on manga. She has revived both.

Probably my biggest weakness right now is games. I loved playing Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. But that's like saying you like vanilla and chocolate in an ice cream store. Not very edifying.

I'm identifying places where the store can be improved. Mostly in small ways. I'm starting to bring in expensive Japanese figures little by little, and I'm going to create a section for journals, which I get asked for a lot, but which the ones I have never sell. I asked Linda to pick out a few dozen covers, because she's always buying journals.

I love walking into the store in the morning and letting it wash over me. This is the store I always wanted.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Luck, timing, and who you know?

Very early in my writing, someone told me that "success" depends on luck, timing, and who you know.

At first, I firmly believed that "luck" was the biggest factor. That writing a good book wasn't enough--you also needed something unusual to happen for people to notice. (Such things as quality being equal.)

As I became more experienced, I started to believe that "who you know" was maybe the most important part.

Now, after many books under my belt, I come to the conclusion that "timing" is the most important factor.

Of course, all three of these things are intrinsically linked.  The luck of timing, the timing of luck, the luck of knowing someone....

I think this is probably true of all the arts.

I know that timing-wise, my forward momentum has stalled several times because of gaps in publishing that were beyond control. On the other hand, just when it seemed that I was near the end of my thread, something would pop up to revive my little career.

I can dream about what might have happened if the momentum could have been maintained and the luck had happened too. It wasn't anyone's fault. I know that a couple of my publishers who reached for the mass market brass ring probably felt it was worth the gamble. Even my first publisher, who went MIA between my second and third books, I can't be too mad about because he was the one who gave me entry, and who gave "Led to the Slaughter" a good start.

So I've had a bit of luck, and a bit of good timing, and I've known a couple authors--but I probably need much more of all three. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019


International BookBub starts tomorrow. In truth, it's already Friday the 13th in Australia. It's probably going to be a lot harder to earn back the investment since the book is only 99 cents. (Amazon reduces the royalty from 70% to 30%, plus the much lower price.) I figure I have to sell at least 800 copies. I don't know what will happen. But "Deadfall Ridge" was already having a good month, so I might be halfway there under the usual price.

I'll be haunting the Australia, UK, and Canada Amazon lists for a couple of days.

I'll be working at Pegasus on Friday through Monday so Sabrina can go to the Portland comic convention. That will be my first four-day stretch in a long time. I'm having to relearn to pace myself. I have a tendency to blow all my social energy in the first couple of hours and ride on empty for the rest of the day, so I need to watch that.

That said, I'm really enjoying it. I'm fully engaged in the new book ordering, and that is keeping me interested. I did about 60% of the debt reduction I wanted to do this summer--on the other hand, I did that without scrimping in the slightest. That is, I could have gotten the other 40% if I'd just stopped buying anything the last couple months, but then the store would be depleted going into the slow months, so that's Pyrrhic victory, at best. If I can get 2/3rds of the debt reduced by the end of the year while keeping the store fully stocked, that would be fantastic.

The debt has proven to be worth it: sales on new books and graphic novels fully justify it. That's a level of sales that will pay off for years, long after the debt is repaid.


Haunted the webs yesterday. It took awhile for the promotion to take effect in England and Australia. Reached the top hundred in Canada and Australia, the top ten in suspense novels in Canada. But didn't quite displace Stephen King's new book. Heh.

I used the enthusiasm of the moment to sell my books in the store. "Look!" I point at my computer screen. "I'm the #7 bestselling thriller in Canada!'

Anyway, sold about 12 paperbacks. I probably won't try so hard today, because it's exhausting and I am never totally sure if I'm taking advantage of people. I always try to give them an out.

Apparently, my publisher thought I was going to get a different promotion for the US, and I assumed that he was going to do it. Miscommunication. Probably because he did BookBub on his own, so when he mentioned other promotions, I figured it was his thing to do. So having the book for only .99 in USA might have actually hurt a little. (The book had been selling as well or better at the full price.) Was told by publisher we need to sell 570 copies.

Anyway, that was fun. Nice to see my name in lights.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Enjoying being back at Pegasus.

I'm really enjoying being back working at Pegasus Books. Bookstore customers are generally interesting people.

I had a customer yesterday who helped me fix my computer, which has been going on the fritzz for  a while now. It started making grinding noises last year, so I bought a new laptop. But I still favor my old laptop like an old shoe--besides which it has a version of Word that I like much better.

Anyway, in the middle of the day the slight grinding noise became alarmingly loud.

"Shut it down, quick!" someone said.

So this customer came forward and says, "There is a trick you might try." Showed me how to do it, and blammo, the damn thing settled down. I don't know if it's permanent.

The customer turned out to be a physics graduate major at the U of O. Obviously super-smart, and they were also gender fluid.  "They" is the term they wanted. I think a couple of years ago I might have been intimidated but because of my experience with Sabrina, I was perfectly comfortable.

I happen to be reading a book called, "The Scientists," which is a big tome about the history of scientists. I made the joke: "I love reading books about science though in most cases I don't have a clue about what they're saying."

But on the other hand, they mentioned something about Isaac Newton being a bastard and how he destroyed the career of someone who estimated correctly the speed of light, and I was able to contribute that he also kept those who thought light had a wave function from being taken seriously, so that was fun. (My knowledge is superficial but wide.)

The point being, I'm actually talking to human beings about interesting stuff, instead of snippets on the internet, which was how I was getting most of conversational stimulation over the past few years. Besides Linda, of course.

I'm working Sundays and Mondays if anyone wants to come in and chat.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The sequel to Deadfall Ridge

The sequel to "Deadfall Ridge" is live on September 10th.

The paperback is already available for order.

"When a peaceful protest at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument becomes an armed takeover, Hart Davis knows he has to play along with the occupiers to protect his former girlfriend, park ranger Nicole Nelson, and her co-workers. Amid escalating tension and factionalism within the armed camp, and surrounded by the FBI and the media, Hart and Nicole try to negotiate a peaceful end to the volatile situation. But what they don’t know is that, with help from inside, actual terrorists are about to take over the camp. Suddenly, the sides aren’t so clear-cut, and former antagonists must become allies as they try to survive the crossfire, protect the hostages, and escape with their lives."

Pretty exciting for me. 

Taking time fo gravitas.

When I first finished "Eden's Return" I thought it was more or less ready for publication. After a quick rewrite.

Then I wondered if I shouldn't try harder to flesh out the philosophical underpinnings of the story. When I wrote it, I was doing it by feel, a sort intuitive mysticism. It felt right, though I'm not sure I could have explained it.

When I finally came back to the rewrite, I decided that keeping it vague actually worked in its favor. It was a slight book, only 52,000 words.

I set out to do a light rewrite, and then decided it needed to be at least 60K words, so I started looking for places to expand and flesh out.

I'm more than halfway through that process--which has been much, much slower than usual. I don't need to really have anything ready to publish for 4 or 5 more months, to give "Takeover" and "Deadfall Ridge" time to play out.

I ordered a book about Eden online, and Linda supplied another from her rather voluminous religious library. So I'm going to dip into those and see what I can use. Meanwhile, I also decided that the heroine of the story--who has been brought up alone by her mother--is a big Dickens fan, so much so that she has memorized his books. That will give me the excuse to drop some pertinent Dickens quotes into the story.

All of which meant I didn't turn over "Eden's Return" to my editor on September 1 as planned. Instead, I'm going to shoot for Oct. 1.

The story was good the way it was, but I'm trying to bring more gravitas to my writing, by researching and thinking and taking more time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Lots of good news.

"Deadfall Ridge" is going to be a BookBub international promotion on Sept. 13th, which means it will be a selection everywhere but the USA. The publisher is going to lower to price of the book to 99 cents in the USA too.

Just in time for the sequel, "Takeover (A Hart Davis Adventure)" to be released on the 10th of September.

So that's an exciting double whammy.

It's pretty hard to get a BookBub promotion--about a 3% chance according to them, though it's probably easier for an international selection. Still, a big deal.

It's encouraging enough to keep me going. I have a couple of ideas for Hart Davis Adventures, and this is obviously the direction to go.

Please buy these books-yes, I'm saying it outright. ✊

Especially since you can get "Deadfall Ridge" my best-selling book for only 99 cents in about a week or so.

But if you don't feel like buying my books, I still thank you for reading this blog. It helps to know that there are people out there paying attention.

So meanwhile, I've started working at the store again, on Sundays and Mondays and whenever Sabrina needs extra time. It's very rejuvenating. The only reason I wasn't working was that my guys needed their hours.

The store has now "beat last year" in 8 out of the last 9 months. It's especially gratifying to see books and graphic novels doing so well.

So I'm feeling pretty encouraged. I'll just keep hoping for magic.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Dare I not say it?

More and more, I'm leaning toward not having opinions about everything. Or more accurately, not having a response. Which in the modern world of social media is like not existing.

Not everything needs a response. Most things don't need a conclusion. Information is fluid, and incomplete, and yes, I have a reaction, but not all of it needs to be specified and expressed.

Sabrina makes fun of me because of my usual critical response. "Pretty much what I expected." or "It's pretty good for what it is."

Which are really not answers at all. But sometimes I haven't quite decided--or my response is confused and conflicted. And expressing a critical opinion sort of ties me down to one response.

Social media also means that whoever I'm criticizing, there is a chance they'll see it. Now that I've been on the receiving end of reviews, I'm much more careful.

So I'm just sort of taking information in, and unless there is a necessity, I try not to come to a final conclusion.

Except when it comes to Trump. Fuck that guy.