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.