Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What a strange turn of events...

In December, we had a record day, in a record month, in a record year.

All this was unexpected, to say the least. I feel almost guilty about it. I came out of the interregnum planning for a 40% drop in sales.

Nationally, bookstores on average dropped about 30% in 2020. Our sales increased by 30% every month after the 54 day break. Even including those 54 days, we were 15% higher in overall sales than 2019. If I figure the daily average instead, we were 27% over last year. 

Much of this increase was in new books. I more or less went all in on books this year. I came back to work 2 days a week in September, 2018. It took a few months to build up a head of steam, but then the books really took off. We have more or less doubled our sales in new books. It isn't without some cost--I'm probably working at least a extra two days a week just dealing with the ordering, stocking, and recycling this increase entails. 

But we've also increased almost every other category, because the extra profit allowed us to beef up our toys, our graphic novels, our card games, and our board games. It became a bit of virtuous cycle. We managed to increase books sales without detracting from the other lines--in fact, we boosted them.

The other reason for our increase is where my guilt comes in.

When we opened after the interregnum (I like that word...) I had to decide how I was going to go about it. There wasn't any real choice but to open, so it was a matter of what kind of restrictions I would put in. On what hours we would pursue.

I decidedly, rightly or wrongly, just to flat out open. Same hours, same basic procedures--except we've been very stringent about the wearing of masks. I'm not shy about challenging people about masks, or the way they wear them. None of this wearing masks loose around the nose, for instance. 

Being open was risky. I've have preexisting conditions, and so does Linda, and I certainly don't want to put Sabrina in danger. But, like I said, it was either open or close for good.

What I think has happened is that Bend became even more of a tourist destination than usual. And there were no festivals and other distractions. Downtown Bend became not only a shopping zone, but a form of entertainment. I've been a little torn by this--on one hand, I think people shouldn't just browse with no intention of buying, on the other hand--how can I ask this when I'm asking for their money? 

Large numbers of people from the valley, and from California and Washington. We are driving distance away, and exotic enough to visit. There wasn't as much competition for the bucks--no movies, no concerts, limited other ways to spend money. I do believe the "shop local" tag became more real this year, and that families found a renewed interest in reading.

I will say, it seemed that tourist traffic really died off around Christmas, which was unexpected, but we did well with the local traffic. (In fact, I was a little concerned that we might get too busy!)

It's a strange turn of events, and once again the old observation (after 40 years in the store) is that we do very well in bad times. I'm not sure why; I have theories, but none of them make any real sense.

I'm still nervous about next year. I have no real confidence that the current administration hasn't botched the roll out of the vaccine. So we're still in danger for, my guess, probably half a year. Still a long way to go. I really feel for the restaurants and other businesses that have been crunched by this year.

God bless us all.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Has SF left me behind?

 For the fourth or fifth time in a row, I'm struggling with a highly regarded award-winning SF book. 

I'm starting to question whether it isn't the books, but me. Maybe I've just changed. 

The current book is full of intrigue. It reminds me of Dune, but it is also highly annoying, all the keen looks and double meanings and secret messages. In real life, I find that the really devious people are the ones you don't know are being devious--they don't tend to telegraph it. In real life, I find constantly clever conversations to be exhausting. 

It just feels a little ludicrous: "Does she mean what she says, or am I taking it wrong, or both, or is what she said innocent, but perhaps it has a secret meaning, and what is that slight downturn in the mouth mean, and is she my enemy or my friend, and oh, that word she just used, it can mean two different things, and how do I answer in a way that is diplomatic but also gets to the point, and before I can say anything, she winks at me."

Pages and pages of that.

This book also had zero action for 85 pages, then an explosion, and then no action for the next 75 pages or so. The author has plenty of opportunities for action but foregoes them. This seems to be the current trend, and I'll be damned if I understand it.

However, unlike a couple of my other attempts at reading an award-winning SF book, this book has good enough writing to keep me going. It has one hell of a lot of interior monologue, which is something I hardly do in my own writing, so I'm fascinated by that, as well as the wealth of signifiers (at least, that's what I call them)--those little actions we take when we're talking to someone or carrying on routine motions. I've always found these to be difficult, and this guy is pretty brilliant at it, though it is exhausting sometimes to have signfiers with every line of dialogue, especially as noted above when it all supposed to be very cunning and crafty. It starts to get kind of silly

As I say, it got me to thinking about Dune and the Foundation trilogy (which in my memory also didn't have a whole lot of action.) I loved both of these stories, but would I love them today? 

I think part of it is that most of the "smart" and "devious" stuff is unearned. That is, we are told rather than shown. One of the things I absolutely loved about the early books of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster's Bujold is that she shows us the main character, Miles, being clever and smart and having a heart. It's hard to show that in a book; the surprise twist where you realize the protagonist has figured it all out and gotten the result he wanted and you are as caught off-guard by it as the villains are. And it is legit, not just told. 

There is some prodigious world-building in this book, which is also something I find difficult--one of the reasons I write horror and thrillers more often than anything because I don't have to create a whole world for my stories to take place in.

I know this review is annoying because I'm not telling you the title of the book, but I really don't want to give a negative review. It's the overall trend of avoiding "action" (unnecessarily in my opinion) that I'm addressing. 

I don't think a story become more "literary" simply because you don't fulfill the expectations of the genre. I've read magical realism stories that do something similar, but I think these authors tend to be much better writers and can pull it off. With SF, it just becomes annoying to me.  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Broadening the selection in a pop culture store.

I'm posting this on my blog for comic shop owners who might be interested in trying new books.

Here's a very incomplete list of perennial bestselling authors and books. You can add these slowly, experimentally. Obviously, whatever titles you give your attention to most will sell best. 

I'm doing this from home, so I'm certain I'm leaving out a bunch of good titles.

Overall advice: Concentrate on the offbeat, mystic, SF, hip, classics, humorous, quirky, pop culture.

We have a very large selection of Young Adult Graphic novels. Pretty much everything I can get that Brian Hibb's lists every year. Now that I'm working on the selection full time, I'm also more aware of new releases. I'm still surprised that some good books escape my notice--until they don't.

Also Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side, and other cartoon collections. Simpsons (the Simpson's GNs are currently being sold off cheap and I've been stocking up). These get the closest space to the doorway to draw in the mainstream customers.

Carry your favorite books, the ones you can shove into someone's hands and say, "Read this!" For me, The Once and Future King, Watership Down, Chronicles of Amber, Armor by John Steakley, Lois McMaster Bujold, and many, many more that I can't think of right now. Some of these don't sell well, but dammit, I try...

Topical big sellers: Hope Never Dies, the Science of Rick and Morty, Queen's Gambit, etc.

I have a shelf of humorous books near the register stand, next to the mythology. Jeffrey Brown, Big Lebowski books, anything that seems quirky to me. Even if they don't always sell, people notice them. Cat books, so many I could probably give them their own shelf. "How to Talk to Your Cat about Gun Safety" is one of my best-selling books, believe it or not.  

Off the top of my head: 

A stack of Kurt Vonnegut

A stack of Chuck Palahniuk

A stack of Charles Bukowski

A stack of Philip K. Dick

A stack of Murakami 

Mystics like Coelo, Gibran, Castaneda,

Poetry, believe it or not. The giants, mostly, but a few hip young poets as well.

Beatnik poets and authors: Snyder, Kerouac, Burroughs, etc. Also hippy authors: Abbot, Hesse, Kesey, etc.

Hardcore philosophy. Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus. The thing to remember about poetry, philosophy, hippie and beatnik authors, transgressive books, is that there will always be young adults expanding their consciousness.

Young adult chapter books: Listen for the requests, but be careful. There is no end to them. 

Unicorns. Just...unicorns.

Lots and lots of mythology books. More mythology books than you think you need.

Wicca, with a large selection of Tarot.

A nice selection of classics: Dickens, Twain, Bronte sisters, Jane Austin, Dostoevsky, everything you can get. Also, though it seems like everyone would already have them, the usual school books classics like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, that kind of thing.

A selection of classic S.F. Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and whatever Golden Age SF that is in print (which isn't as much as should be) and one-up classics like Armor,  

Just about any SF or Fantasy book that won a Hugo or a Nebula. A whole shelf of Tolkien, books and art. The leather bound Tolkien Encyclopedia sells constantly. 

I have two full racks of Star Wars. Books and graphic novels and comics mixed together.

I carry a fair amount of horror, because of the books I myself wrote, but other than Stephen King and a few others, they are a harder sell. All the Lovecraft, a smattering of everyone else.

Manga. Here's where I really listen to the customers. Someone requests a series, I get the first few as an experiment, if they sell, I get more, and eventually the entire sequence. 

The Oprah hardcovers. The big bestsellers. The "literary" books. One little trick is to check how many copies Ingram's ordered. When it's in the thousands, pay attention.When it's in the tens of thousands, really pay attention. Otherwise, I check the bestseller lists. I don't try to get them all, just a representative sampling. So that the hardcore readers think, "Yes, this is a bookstore." I have a bestseller rack near the front. I do find that if one of these hardcovers sells once, they may sell multiple times. One at a time orders.

Weirdly enough, though thrillers and mysteries are what I love most, I don't tend to sell many of the new hardcover bestsellers.(Though most bookstore owners I talk to do very well with them.) Or the paperback either. I think people pick these (Lee Child, John Grisham, James Patterson) up at the chainstores. I carry classic authors like Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett Raymond Chandler, the Parker books-- but as much for show as because they sell. I carry my favorites, with the knowledge they'll sell slowly. Stephen Hunter, Thomas Perry, James Lee Burke, John Sandford, John LeCarre, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, those guys.

I've had no luck with romance, paranormal romance, cosy mysteries. I try, but feminine oriented books are a bit of a blindspot for me. But when I find ones that work--like the Outlander series, they sell well.

Much of my effort has been to find the transition between books with all words and books with all pictures; to establish a continuum. So, for instance, the young adult graphic novels are at the front of the store, prominently displayed. As you move to either side, chapter books start to blend with the GN's until they become all chapter books, mixed with "art of" type books. If a chapter book series has a GN series, they are put together.

When you move from the book/game half of the store to the comic/graphic novel half of the store, I have two bookshelves facing the transition filled with "Art of" and other pop culture books that people can relate to, (Umbrella Academy, Venture Bros, Archer...etc.) which are a blend of art and words. And then from there, it becomes GN's and comics. 

I've got direct accounts with Scholastic and Penguin Random House, at 50%, no returns. (One thing about owning a comic shop is that I got very accustomed to no returns, so I'm careful.) I was intending to get Simon and Shuster, but they are being bought by PRH, so that is taken care of. I will, over the course of the next year, sign up for Hachette and MacMillen. 

Like I said, this probably only works if you get a fair number of casual browsers, and not just hard core comic people. My rents in downtown Bend have gone up along with the foot traffic so I had no choice but to broaden the appeal. 

I'm very glad I did.

"I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written."

"I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written." This sentiment has been attributed, in various forms, to many different writers. 

I don't totally agree. I remember some truly pleasurable moments writing. When a scene comes together, when dialogue develops deeper than you expected, when a solicitous phrase pops up; a character who comes alive, a plot twist you know improves the story by factors, a groove where you write a ton of words in what seems moments but turns out to have been hours.

But...when all is said and done, it is a great deal of work. consumes your time and space and emotions and thoughts. It requires discipline and dedication to finish. You're never completely satisfied, the story never is as good as you imagined it, you find fault with everything.

Then you get reviews, fair, unfair, positive, negative, worse of all, blah. You realize sales have nothing to do with the actual book, that promotion is probably the most important element. But I'd been on a long creative streak.

After being dormant for 25 years--except for a whole bunch of unfinished stories--I found a manager who I could leave in charge of the store and I went off to write. 

Recently, I thanked Sabrina, telling her: "I know I more or less disappeared for a few years."

Looking back, it seems a little like a fever dream. A creative writing fever dream. All consuming. I neglected everything else. I would forget meals, my real life was a bit of a fog.

Up until the day I started writing, I'd been consumed by the store. I'd been doing some walking, a fair amount of gardening.

I let the store go--or rather, let Sabrina take charge. My garden went to seed and never recovered. I kept walking, but now it was a tool of my writing--most of my attention was inside my own brain even as I was in the great outdoors. I'm sure most of my conversations with Linda were about writing. My blog went from talking about Bend and business, to writing, writing, writing. 

I kept writing, wondering when it was going to end. I knew I couldn't keep it up forever, and yet year after year I produced the words. I don't know if I got better, but it did become easier. But I also began to lose some of the passion I started with. Little by little.

And then I had my little heart attack, and that seemed to put an end to the fever dream. It was seven years of writing, with more than 25 novels worth of stories, some not so great, but others better than I had expected of myself. But I'd gotten to the point where I could write, but didn't need to write.

"Take a step back," I told myself. And so I did. 

Inevitably, I got involved with the store again, mostly working on establishing new books while letting Sabrina continue to handle everything else. 

I found myself at loose ends. I stopped walking. I read more and perused the internet more. I wrote a couple of short stories--that was new and fun. I finished up a couple of books.

But I haven't wanted to dive into a full novel because I know how much it requires of me. I know that to do a really good job, to get better, I'd have to work even harder and dedicate myself even more.

I'm not sure what is going to happen from here. But I will say this: "I enjoy having written."

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Becoming a "real" bookstore.

Figuring out how well we did is going to be a little more complicated this year-end. Obviously, missing 54 days for Covid is going to skew things. The only real way to do it is by figuring out daily averages.

I've already done that with books, with a close guestimate of December sales.

We have roughly doubled last year's sales in books. The real trick was doing this while in no way neglecting--in fact, actually increasing--our selection of comics, graphic novels, games, and toys.

It turns out, I may have a knack for this. I've always been extremely bookish--not just in what I read, but also in wanting to know what else is out there. (I used to read the New York Times Book Review from cover to cover, even if I never read most of the books reviewed.) I have a pretty good sense of what is going to attract people. I'm able to mix books at full retail with books I can get at a discount. I'm not too shabby at displaying what I have.

I should also mention, adding new books was probably only possible because we are located in a busy downtown with lots of foot traffic and tourists.

I'm operating under certain restraints. I have only so much room for display, so I have to curate carefully. It's the quality of the selection that ultimately matters, not the number of books in the store. (Though I am a firm believer that the more good books I can fit in, the better we'll do overall.) 

It's basically a matter of finding what books sell, and then stocking them. So if I find, say, 500 perennial sellers, that's a firm foundation for the rest of the thousands (ten's of?) of books. As time goes on, I keep adding to those foundational books. So, for instance, I find out that "The Queen's Gambit" is by Walter Tevis, who also wrote The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth, well, it immediately becomes part of the menagerie.

For instance, I found that a certain edition of Edith Hamilton's "Mythology," sells over and over. Partly because of the subject matter but also because of a very attractive cover and a pretty good price point. So I started ordering three copies of that book at a time instead of one, making sure I reorder when it drops to two copies.

Same thing with "Princess Bride." One ultra copy at $35, a really nice hardcover for $25. By putting the Simpsons graphic novels and all the Calvin and Hobbes books in front near the door, I guarantee that they'll sell constantly.

Keep all the "Dog Man" series, all of Kurt Vonnegut's books, have a stack of Charles Bukowski books, Pablo Neruda's "Love Poems," a nice selection of Tarot sets, and so on and so forth. 

I keep my ears open for anything that might work. I steal ideas shamelessly from Herringbone Books in Redmond, because Brandon is much more of a traditional type bookstore who orders most highly rated "new" books. (Bookstores tend to sell the books the American Bookstore Association recommends-whereas, I'm a bit more leery.) I check them out, see which ones attract me--because of the cover or the subject matter or whatever--and order them for my store.

I am not a destination bookstore, really, the kind that people think of when they hear a good review on NPR. People tend to buy books from me because they see I have it. Tourists and locals who are making a trip downtown. So I don't necessarily have to be the first store to have a book in order to sell it. 

The most uncertain I am is with new "literary" and/or Oprah type books, especially the titles that women want, but which really don't attract me at all. (I'm sort of over "literary" right now.) I tend to order at least one copy of most ABA promoted books; or at least a legit selection of them. I find out pretty quickly which ones sell and which ones don't. About a third or so are clunkers, but another third sell constantly which more than covers the clunkers. 

Still trying to figure out pre-orders. I ordered two cases of the Obama book, or 16 copies, and sold out two days before Christmas. So unlike a lot of bookstores, I can't sell 50 or a 100 copies of these hot-bestsellers, but that's not too shabby.  I ordered 15 copies of each new Dog Man book, and that usually has to be increased within a couple of weeks.

Because of limited space and because I want to carry as many titles as possible, I usually carry one copy at a time (with exceptions, as noted above.) I'm a mile wide and an inch deep. However, I make up for this lack of depth by being very diligent about reorders. Any good book that sells immediately gets reordered so that I'm rarely out of a book for more than a week. I'm going to double down this coming year by ordering twice a week, since volume is justifying it, which means I will rarely be out of stock for more than a few days.  

I keep trying to make the case that I'm a "real" bookstore with "real" books, but whenever I visit Herringbone or Dudley's I realize that my store, while it does carry mainstream books, is also very pop culture oriented. I suppose I can't help it. I tend to order more graphically oriented books than more bookstores, which also makes sense.

Nevertheless, I'll sell "Where the Crawdad's Sing" just as readily as "Starship Troopers."

I mostly keep my ears open for new possibilities. A book that gets mentioned in the mass media, a book that pops out because the subject matter catches me, and so on. The biggest way I find new good books is by listening to people. 

This is somewhat tricky. I have to be able to distinguish between one time requests for odd books, and requests for books that are likely to attract more than just the asker. I'm not sure how I do this, but I mostly get it right. So, yeah, if someone raves about a book, and I ask a few questions--finding out how old it is, how the person knows about it, whether that person has similar tastes as me, whether there is a history behind the author or title, that kind of thing--I'll take a chance. Even if it doesn't sell immediately, if the book is at all quirkily interesting, it adds to the store's flavor. 

I think I've been able to navigate the nerd interest really well. Like I said, the weakest part of my ability is in the Oprah type books, but I'm getting better at it. 

If compliments were money, I'd already be rich.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Bad retailer humor.

 No time to relax. Last year we earned nearly half our sales in the last ten business days of the month. That starts today. The next four days are the most critical.

Yesterday we were so busy, I almost asked people to wait outside for the first time. Instead, I opened the door, which I never do. Got some circulation going. 

At one point I looked up and said aloud, "Why can't it be this way all year?"

No one laughed, no one even cracked a smile. Bad retailer humor. 

It was busy. About as busy as one person can handle. For the next five business days, we're going to have two people for the middle part of the day.

I just made my biggest ever book order--mostly just stuff we've sold. I'm determined to keep the inventory up no matter what.

I have my son, Todd's, postcard art near the register. Every once in a while, someone will go, "Oh, those are really cool." To which I say, "There are two kinds of people: those without taste and those with taste." Bad retailer humor. 

Had a woman stand at my enamel pins exclaiming how expensive they were and how they weren't even the "real" art. Then Karen left. I managed to keep my mouth shut. 

We're at the stage in the month where people's requests can be oddly specific. Also--probably a little too late to ask for chess sets, Mandalorian anything, and whatever obscure item that I only had one of...

But I have to say, this is fun.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Has Bend been ruined?

A lot of talk on the Facebook site, Bend Oldies, about how Bend has been "ruined."

It's funny how each progressive wave of newcomers comes to that conclusion. 

From my perspective, the change in Bend has been going on for a long time. It's not new, it's just a continuation. Once Bend set out to become a tourism and retirement mecca, what happened became inevitable. 

As I'm annoying fond of saying in my store, "I couldn't have had this store in the town I grew up in."

"Oh, what town is that?

"Bend, Oregon with a population of 13,500."

We didn't have bookstores back then, at least any that lasted more than a few minutes. No T.V. stations, no gourmet foods, very few specialty shops, few fine dining establishments, not a lot of sophistication of any kind. The 80's were a disaster zone--few new businesses for about a decade (after the brief surge in the late 70's with the coming of the two indoor malls--since torn down.) Downtown Bend emptied out.

The chainstores started arriving in the early 80's and Bend slowly but surely took off. Downtown Bend tried desperately to market itself and, loh and behold, it started working. Most of those who started the promotional efforts didn't last long enough to see it come to fruition. 

My own theory, based on nothing more than feeling, is that the first couple of waves--certainly the one in the 70's and probably the first wave in the 80's, tried to fit in. They didn't demand that Bend transform to what they wanted, but wanted Bend for what it was. Of course, behind the scenes the landowners were still going full steam ahead--Old Mill, Northwest Crossing, and so on.

Sometime in the 90's, the newcomers overwhelmed to small town ethos. You could tell they didn't give a damn about what Bend used to be--at least, how it really used to be. (Which, by the way, had all the drawbacks of being a small town, too.) 

I think the signal of that to me was when the newcomers absolutely welcomed the arrival of "Trader Joes."

"At last, we're a real town."

Huh? That made me realize that they'd welcome every other big town manifestation, as well as the gentrification of downtown, replacing the scrappy colonizers of downtown with people who had the money to fix it up--so again, good and bad--and making the rents shoot up. 

In other words, they seemed intent on turning Bend into what they'd escaped. 

There's another moment when I knew that things had changed permanently. The promotions that downtown Bend had done had worked. But instead of scaling back, or staying at where they were, they accelerated the process until it became a hindrance rather than a benefit. I've rather enjoyed the lack of downtown events since Covid. Turns out we're a business district after all. What do you know?

I moved to Redmond a couple of years ago, (my home, not my store) and the pace is definitely slower. The downtown has the same mix of funky charm and empty storefronts that I remember from the first few years I was in business.

Things have changed in Bend and they have changed because most of folk came from somewhere else. So it's weird to see most of the folk complaining about what its become. 

Frankly, most of the folk don't really know what Bend used to be. 

And a 90 year old out there is reading this and laughing at me. 

"You think Bend has changed, you whippersapper?"


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Hopes for a Merry and Prosperous Season.

The last two weeks before Christmas are nerve-wracking. It's a very vulnerable time. Any emergency, and deep snowfall, any illness and the season could disappear or be crippled. So every year I hold my breath. It's very difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when you own a retail store--at least, it is for me.

The next few days are usually a little slow. It then comes down to the last ten days, which are like a Tsunami. You just hang on for dear life and hope for the best. 

On the other hand, the huge sense of relief I feel every year on Christmas Eve is amazing. It's like every bone in my body softens and I can finally relax. I browse my store and pick up stuff for home and family and myself that I've had my eye on and somehow managed not to be bought. 

Back to being a little nervous the week after Christmas, but by then, I pretty much know how the month has gone. 

Though the first six months of every year are relatively slow, that has it's benefits. It's not as nerve-wracking because it's already baked into the cake. Percentages up or down don't matter quite so much as long as ordering product matches it. 

But Christmas. That's when all debts are paid and when money is set aside for the slow months. 

So I hope for snow in the mountains, but not down here. I hope that everyone stays healthy. I hope that no catastrophe happens in the world. 

I hope for a merry, prosperous season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Too much bubble wrap.

So I'm the guy who always warns about small business burnout.

But it's hard to resist the chance at growth. 

It was a hard day yesterday, not just because of dealing with customers, which is hard enough for an introvert like me. (By the way, you'd never know I was introvert by how I act in my own store--I'm generally very outgoing.) I also had a batch of product show up which I had to unpack and stock. This has been happening almost every day.

Weird to say, but just dealing with the packing material alone is a problem. They don't do recycling at downtown shops except to pick up cardboard. So the packing material goes into the trash. These days, the trash fill up halfway through the week, so I have to find temporary receptacles until the next week. My neighbors will let me use whatever excess capacity they have in their pins, so that helps a little. 

I spend a fair amount of time just breaking down boxes.

I discovered a trick to bubblewrap this week. If you puncture the middle bubble in a sheet, the entire row of bubbles deflate. So I'm standing there for an hour between other chores popping bubbles. The crumbled paper filler that some shippers use can be unwound and folded, but it takes a lot of time, too much time for me to do it usually.

Anyway, along with the extra hours of ordering and stocking this increase in business has involved, there is the stupid neverending problem of dealing with shipments and the cardboard and filler they produce. 

Nice problem to have, this having too much business, but then I remember my own warnings about burnout. I'm trying to figure out how to balance the extra time and effort it's taking to deal with the increase.

Of course, the first half of next year will be its own solution in that business falls off. I'm just grinning and bearing the Christmas rush and hoping it all pans out.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A virtuous cycle.

I mentioned yesterday in my "crank" post that I would try to be more positive today.

What I'm noticing in the store is one of those virtuous cycles that occasionally come along, where something that is positive can be used to make something else positive which can be used to make something else positive and onward.

When I came back to work in September of last year, I decided to focus on new books. Books had already been doing surprising well; so much so that I removed "used" books altogether. But I'd been picking the low hanging fruit for years--the easy stuff, the classics, the cult books, the quirky bestsellers. I decided it was time to actually order bestsellers, hardcover bestsellers at that. And while I was at it, I wanted to try to find more room for books without detracting from the rest of the store. 

Surprisingly, I was able to accomplish a bit more room, and when we closed for the pandemic and laid down new flooring, I was able to create even more.

I also decided to get direct accounts, with better discounts, with a couple of major publishers--who probably account for about a third of the books we carry.  

This worked a lot better than I expected. Or maybe it was the plague. (strange to say.) I'm not sure, but new books have literally doubled in sales. 

Well, the influx of money allowed me to start stocking up on toys when they went on sale after the closing. And to fill in holes in Magic. I was able to bring in a full line of Pokemon cards.

Then sales continued to be good, so I decided to go direct with the publisher of the bestselling games, which necessitated that we carry more of them. We had room for that because we have upper shelving that wasn't being used efficiently. 

Anyway, that seemed to help game sales so with Christmas coming, I decided to bring in a full stock of jigsaw puzzles, enamel pins, and standups, which are things I can usually only afford once a year or so.

Last week remained pretty good, so I decided--why not?--to order mainstream games like chess, backgammon, cribbage boards, Monopoly, Scrabble, and so on. Up until now we've mostly carried only "Euro" style games, such as Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. (Most of these mainstream games haven't arrived yet, so we'll see how that goes.)

Anyway, the virtuous cycle is that the increase in sales of books, provided the opportunity to increase Magic and Pokemon, which allowed for more board games, which allowed for more ancillary product, and so on. 

It's always fun, and it always comes to an end, but I'm enjoying it while I can.

All it took is for me to come back to work more often. I've gone from one day to two days to three days plus several hours twice a week for orders. Last week I worked for five days straight (not all day, but partially.) 

So there's that. But so far, I'm having fun.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

I know...I sound like a crank.

It's both fascinating and horrifying to me to see speculation re-enter the sports card and comic markets. 

It seems sudden and full-blown, but I think it has been developing for awhile now. The recent explosion has to do with shortages created by the plague. It doesn't take much of shortage to create demand, which of course creates shortage, which creates demand, which...well, you get the picture.

This can go on for years. It's a vicious cycle rather than a virtuous cycle. (More on virtuous cycles in my next post.) The problem with shortages creating demand is this: supply always catches up with demand eventually.

I'm watching this whole phenomenon with amazement because it has the exact same dynamics I remember from 25 years ago. It's an entire ecosystem. I was part of that ecosystem years ago because I was as taken in as anyone else.

But once you know it's fraudulent and ethically dubious, there is no way to join that ecosystem without giving up your own ethical standards.

 I also realized last time this happened that there are two types of purveyors: those who are "shopkeepers" and those who are "wheeler-dealers." In the long run, shopkeepers survive. Being a wheeler-dealer is in some ways antithetical to serving your customers. 

Of course, to anyone within that bubble, I sound like a crank. I accept that and don't try to change anyone's minds because it won't do any good. They're completely convinced, and for a long time they will make money off the whole process. But unless they quit at some point while they're ahead, they'll keep going until they aren't making money and in fact losing money. Either that, or they'll quit by being vaguely dissatisfied, either not knowing why or attributing it to the wrong reasons.

John Maynard Keynes said, “the markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

Fortunately, Pegasus Books has evolved to the point where we aren't hostage to these dynamics. Thank goodness.


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Executioner's Axe

The Executioner’s Axe


Cord thought only of death. The death of Aphila, who had betrayed him; the death of Jorna, who had stolen Aphila from him; the death of everyone in the village who had looked the other way when it happened; but most of all, his own death because he was too cowardly to do anything about it but to throw himself over the cliff and thus, end all thoughts of life or death.

It was because he was contemplating this last, final act that he was high enough up the mountainside to witness the fireball light up the sky in a searing flash, to discover where it landed, and to find the glowing sky stone nestled in the broken shale.

A message to him, to only him and his thoughts of death.

That it was a message, he had no doubt. He’d been praying for justice and retribution every waking hour, his dreams had been of bloody revenge, and as he stood at the edge of the cliff, ready to jump and end it all, the Gods had saved him, for why else would such a thing have happened at that moment, where only he could discover the precious metal?

Only the headsman had a blade of sky stone, displayed pretentiously on his belt, shining in the firelight—the symbol of his office, a token of his power. But that knife was but six inches long—not enough to impress any bride except by its strength and sharpness.

Cord worked quickly, grabbing two branches off the ground and pinching the still glowing rock between and lifting it. The branches flared and snapped under the weight, but not before Cord had maneuvered it to the middle of a flat stone. While the metal was still soft, he pounded upon it with whatever rocks he could find until the metal prevailed and the rocks splintered.

Exhausted, Cord curled up by the anvil stone and closed his eyes, still feeling the heat of the sky stone.  

He slept for the first time in days, and for once, his dreams were peaceful, his reprisal already fulfilled, Aphila once again at his side, he in the headman’s place, holding the sky stone set on a polished shaft, still glowing from the light of the Gods.

When he woke in the morning, he was refreshed. He quickly killed a hare with a single throw of a rock, something he’d never accomplished before. The sky stone was still hot enough to ignite the twigs he laid upon it, and soon he had finished his meal in the warmth of a fire.

The sky stone gleamed in the spots where he had struck it the night before. It was not much more than a slightly flattened shape, but Cord could see within it the shape he wanted. An axe head, long and curved, its edge so sharp it glittered.

With renewed energy, he gathered firewood and set about building a huge bonfire over the sky stone. For all of daylight, each time the wood diminished into embers, he added to the fire, and as night fell, he threw all the branches he had left and stood shielding his face from the heat with his hands.

 Below in the valley, the villagers exclaimed, for they had all witnessed the fireball, and it seemed to them that a God must have descended to earth, and was playing with flames for purposes that only a God could know.

Cord again slept for a time, but when he woke, he was ready to finish his task. He had set aside rocks he’d selected for their denseness and shape. The coals of the bonfire still glowed in the morning, and as he swept them aside, the sky stone was revealed, shimmering red in the morning light.

He hammered the metal, each rock lasting only long enough to slightly outline the metal. As the day progressed, he began to despair, for the sky stone was too hard, and neither the rocks nor the strength of his arm were enough to shape it.

Before dark, he gave up and once again gathered firewood, and built another bonfire, though this one lacked the exuberance and brilliance of the night before. He slept, and in his dreams Aphila and Jorna were laughing at him, pointing at the misshapen metal in his hand.

Yet, in the morning, Cord saw with fresh eyes that he’d succeeded in shaping the sky stone more than he’d thought. It was clearly in the shape of an axe head. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional enough to serve its purpose. He thought of the village blacksmith, who had a forge and billows, even if his bronze tools would soon break under the strain.

But Cord sensed that he would be given but one chance, that word would quickly reach Jorna of his new weapon. Jorna was a giant of a man—he would not be killed unless Cord had the element of surprise, no matter how formidable the sky axe.

He set about once again pounding on the axe, this time working on the edge, and as night fell, he could do no more. He had not the strength to build another fire, and so he slept, shivering, the cold sky stone near his head.

The next day’s task was easier, for he had spent most of his life sharping the blades of other, stronger men. He’d failed on his quest to kill a single animal, and so he had been relegated to village chores while other men went hunting. Only Jorda had been friendly to him and because of this, Cord had made the mistake of bragging about his young wife, and then of taking his new friend home to share a meal.

That very night, he’d heard Aphila cry out, and he knew that sound though he had heard it only a few times before—it was of her pleasure and satisfaction. He’d burst into the common room, to find them already finished, staring back at him with satiated smiles.

He'd gone to the headsman for justice, but the headsman had merely shrugged, for what business was it of his which man pleasured a woman. Others had looked away, and some he had caught laughing behind their hands. The shame had become too much, and he set off on his journey into the mountains, not even aware of his intention until he stood on the cliffside and realized that he’d thought of nothing but death for days.

The blade was ready by nightfall, and that night he slept soundly again, though he could remember no dreams. He hunted that morning, for he hadn’t eaten in several days, and once again, to his surprise, he brought down a hare with a single throw.

He decided that though the blade was sharp, it was ugly, so he set about polishing the blade, and finding a strong branch for a shaft and shaping the skin of the hare into cords.  When he was done, he could see how the axe could be finished, the final rough spots polished and gleaming. For the first time, he wondered if that wasn’t enough, that possession of such a blade would be revenge enough.

But no, his woman had been taken from him, and it would mean nothing to the headsman or for the other villagers for Jorna to take the sky stone too.

The next morning he rose before dawn and made his way down the mountain. He had never felt so confident, so manly. This must be how hunters felt returning to the village with stags slung over their shoulders. The sky axe was heavy, and Cord laid the haft over his shoulder, shifting it to his other shoulder when it began to hurt. Once or twice, he swung the blade and realized that the deed would need to be done swiftly, before his arms tired.

He marched down the middle of the street. At first, no one paid any attention to him. But as the sun rose higher in the sky, the light caught the axe and the metal shone so brightly that no one could look at it for long.

Cord had no doubt where he would find Jorna—in his bed. If Jorna was not hunting, he’d be sleeping late, for there was no one to give him orders, even the headsman.

Cord opened the door to his bedroom, to be confronted by Aphila, still naked and sleepy, crouched over the chamber pot in the corner. She rose, mouth open, and for a moment, Cord quailed, for she was even more beautiful than he remembered.

He swung the axe and her head came off cleanly, striking the wall and falling into the pot.

Cord heard a grunt and without thinking, turned, swinging the axe with all his might. His blow was nearly premature, but the edge of the sky axe sliced across Jorna’s massive chest. Something red and glistening fell to the floor. Both men stared at the object, which beat three more times before ceasing. Jorna toppled forward, with his last act, knocking the axe from Cord’s hands, then landing atop him.

Cord’s breath was knocked from his chest. By the time he could inhale, men had entered the room, standing over Cord and the bodies of the betrayers. Cord smiled, reaching out for the blade, but one of Jorna’s hunter friends, stepped on his hand, and snatched the blade away.


Once again, morning had broken. Cord had dreamed of Gods and of lighting from the sky. His mind was still dazzled by the light as he was dragged from his prison.

The entire village was there—the first time they’d ever paid him such attention.

The headsman stood over the blacksmith’s anvil, the blade of office tucked into his belt. In his hands he held the new talisman. It gleamed in the morning light as if it had just landed among the mortals.

Cord was made to kneel. His thoughts were of death, of Aphila and Jorna, and of his standing on the edge of the cliff, the Gods laughing.

The headsman swung the axe over his head and down on Cord’s neck. The blade above him seemed to roll away, and then there was darkness.

The headsman wiped the blood off the axe and handed it to the blacksmith.

“It needs to be sharper,” he said.

 Still not ready to tackle a novel. 

I've been dabbling with short stories and I've found out something interesting. With a short story, I can leave it alone for a long time and still pick it up later. With novels, I had to be fully immersed. The shifts in tones and character arcs and plots and just the overall flow required that I keep it all in my head. If I left a novel for too long, I couldn't pick it back up again without a great deal of effort. 

Short stories on the other hand have a single emotional thrust, and therefore can be reignited. 

I'm also playing around with poems or short essays to keep my creativity up. Not commercial at all, but still satisfying. 

I'm still a writer, but just not banging on the door anymore.

Please Don't Bullyrag the Giant.

 Please Don't Bullyrag the Giant.

Please don't play with his hair,

don't stand on his chest and stare.

Please don't climb up his nose,

Please don't tickle his toes.

Please don't steal his lash,

'cause he'll turn you into hash.

Please don't crawl in his ear,

Or try to steal a tear. 

Please don't pull on his eyelid,

that's what happened to the last kid.

Please don't prick his finger,

and whatever you do,

don't go near his stinker.

Please don't jump on his tummy,

He thinks humans are yummy.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

I'm not sure Small Business Saturday is really catching on. Black Friday almost always does better for us. Besides, the next week is usually pretty horrible so I'm not sure how much help it really is.

That said, we did do 40% better than last year. Two days do not a pattern make, but better than being 40% down, no?

Bought 75 different enamel pins of famous books. The art is a little funky and I like that. They're a bit pricey at $10 each, but people seem to like them.

The thing is--they are extra and the fact that I can buy them at all is an indication that we are doing well. I also made my yearly purchase of standups, which are also extra.

A real sign that I'm feeling comfortable with the way things are going is that I bought a Harry Potter Golden Snitch for $75. This is the kind of thing I would have passed on in the past.  

The point is--all these things will accrue to the benefit of the store in the long run. Or more bluntly--money makes money. I can fill in all the little holes. Right now, I'm trying to get a selection of mainstream games that make sense for us. Chess sets, backgammon,'s harder than you think. I want something nice but not too expensive, and there doesn't seem to be many games that fit that description. Nothing fancy, just presentable.

I've decided to dedicate this month to the store. I can be there in case Sabrina needs help; and otherwise, I can prepare the basement for the moving of all the books and such out of the parts of the basement they need to be moved from. 

Besides, it's fun to be around a fully functioning store. 

I'm still not sure about jigsaw puzzles. I have about 50 in stock, but about 3/4ths of the people who ask, walk away without comment. It's puzzling, I tell you.

It's the same problem I have with posters and T-shirts and greeting cards. I can't figure out what art work people are going to like. My tastes don't rule here. In fact, the stuff I like never sells. I almost need to say to myself, "What is the most kitschy, least inspired art there is?" and then order that. I mean, people like what they like, so that's fine. But I can't figure it out.

Toys are also hard to figure. I get around the problem by ordering them when they are discounted. I use some judgement here, but mostly I look for the chance to carry something that "might" sell, but which if it doesn't sell, won't hurt us. 

Anyway, the store is pretty cool right now. If people walk away without finding something they like--well, they just aren't my people. Again, nothing against them. It's just that there is probably no way I can win them over.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Talking to my heart. Be grateful.

Today is Thanksgiving, and I'm very grateful for everything. Life is good right now. I'm relaxed and enjoying it. The heart attack is ever-present in my mind. I want to continue to enjoy life while I can, so I have these little talks with my heart.

"Look, heart. I'd like to keep on enjoying life. It took a long time to get here...

Apparently, heart, your insides are lined with some kind of plaque which can like BLOW UP! at any moment. So let's be calm and talk about this.  

I know it isn't your fault, exactly. I mean, I really subjected you to tons of stress, I haven't fed you right, I really haven't taken you out for exercise much, you had to carry 20/30 pounds of extra weight around.

I mean, I was walking for an freakin' hour every day for years and had dropped a bunch of weight, so why did you attack me? But I'm not holding a grudge. bad.

Then again, it appears we were born this way. The cholesterol just gloms onto us. When I was first informed of this fact, I asked the doctor how much I needed to change my diet.

"It won't matter. You need medication..."

So I took the medication, but apparently it wasn't enough. 

This time the doctors said, "You must live on green beans and turnips."

And I said, "Ain't going to happen. I'll stop eating fast food as much as possible, but really...I can't do it." bad. Listen here, I've dropped 20 pounds again so you're carrying around less weight, and my heart rate is down 20 beats and my blood pressure is lower and I'm turning my blood into thinner, and so on. So how about you keep going for a while longer?

Oh, and there's this little bug out there that apparently can hurt you. I'm trying my best to protect you, but I'm working--which is part of that enjoying life I was talking about--so there's some risk.  

I'm grateful for this last decade. Everything has been going my way, but without your little attack, maybe I wouldn't appreciate it enough. 

So, peace, brother. Let's try to get along a while longer.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

 I've always been pretty open about business, but this time I think I should keep my thinking to myself. We're doing very well, I'll say that much. I've have completely stocked it, top to bottom, without going deeply into debt. 

Basically, 7 weeks until I see whether my bet pays off.

Meanwhile, I've been dieting for the last 40 days or so, and I've lost 10 pounds. I'm shooting for 5 pounds more.

I have an entire closet full of nice clothing that I could wear at 175 pounds. Some of it is my Dad's flannel shirts, nice ones from Pendelton and Land's End and so on. It's strange to think I'm bigger than my Dad was, but then again, I do believe that each generation is healthier than the last. Anyway, about 2/3rds of my closet need me to be 175--and that 2/3rds is also nicer and in much better shape. So that's my motivation. 

I calorie count--it doesn't matter what I eat as long as it's between 1000 and 1500 calories a day. The easiest way for me to get there is not to eat until I'm hungry, which is not until early afternoon, and then try to eat whatever I'm going to eat before 7:00 at night. That's it, basically. 

Got an idea for a short story the other night, and then dreamed about it. But I haven't actually sat down to write it. The title is, "Under the Graveyard."

Friday, November 13, 2020

Another shutdown?

 Trying to figure out if there is going to be another shutdown in Deschutes County. It's more than possible, since the Gov shut down Multnomah County among others. So then the question is one of timing. I mean, the worst possible result would be during the Christmas shopping season. In a way, if it's going to happen, doing it now would be the best time. The second best time would be the first half of December, though I fear the huge rush in the second half of the month would wipe out the advantage.

Close down the second half of the month of December? Might as well come and lock the doors to a whole lot of businesses.

So my best guess is that we'll see a strict shutdown in January or February, and I'm not sure I'm all that opposed to it. Though by then, things may be so out of control that only the vaccine will help.

Meanwhile, apparently they're saying that masks do provide some protection to the wearer after all. 

So as long as both the customers and the workers are wearing masks 100% of the time, the risk is there but not extreme. Meanwhile, I'm staying home most of the time. 

I haven't noticed quite so many "nosers" as I've seen in the past, but can't be sure. I will be very diligent about pointing out the mask below the nose thing to all customers I see doing it. 

It's always been a risk/reward situation and so far so good. But then, it'll only stay good until it turns bad.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

My first short story submission.

 I've always thought short stories were a different kind of animal than novels, which maybe they are--but they are also stories, and I'm up for stories.

Anyway, rather than bend myself into pretzels, I'm going to take whatever ideas I have and just write them out in as short a format as I can get the story across. 

The story I just submitted is maybe a little long for a beginner--about 5600 words, but I'm still trying to get some background and character development in there that perhaps isn't strictly needed. 

It was fun to write it and I like the way it came out.

I'm submitting it to an anthology published by the publisher of my novel Snaked. It helped to actually have a prompt; basically Religion, monsters, monsters, monsters, and military. A premise came to me that I thought was pretty damn good.

So just before submitting it, I read Geoff's description of what he wanted and realized, well---ACTION! ACTION! ACTION! MONSTERS! MONSTERS! MONSTERS!.

Whereas my story has....Action! Action!, Monsters! Monsters! 

But this is the story I wrote and I like it quite a lot. So it goes. I'm not expecting a thing. In fact, I expect to be rejected. But I enjoyed the process so much, that I think I'm going to do more of it.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Intentionality. To be a writer?

 Listened to an interview on NPR with a musician, Linda Diaz, who was a world class chess player, about the show,"The Queen's Gambit." (Which, by the way, was one of the best things I've watched this year.)

Anyway, she mentioned that she reached the age where she realized that for her to progress further in the chess world she would have to commit to it, to declare her "intentionality." (Neat word, which I've only lately been hearing a lot.)

In other words, her natural talent had taken her that far, but to go further she would have to work, study, and practice even more than she already had. And that, in the end, she preferred to pursue a music career instead.  

I've been thinking a lot about intentionality in my writing career.

Well, actually, the point of my musing is that writing isn't my "career." I've already had my career and it was owning a bookstore. Writing full-time came after my real career. 

I very much enjoy writing stories. I guess in some ways I'm telling these stories to myself and hoping others like them. I like the challenge of trying to get it right. 

But I will freely admit that I'm using whatever natural talent I have to do it. I have spent some time figuring out the process, especially the actual writing itself. That is, I figured out what works best for me.

But I have reached a point where I've realized that to progress further, I would have to declare my intentionality to do so. That is, I would need to commit to working, studying, and practicing even more than I already have. I have even identified some things I need to do, especially at the beginning of each process and at the end. I need to plan more, to do outlines, to research more. Then, when I'm finished with the first draft, I need to rewrite more rigorously and more often. 

Interestingly enough, I was willing and actually did have the intention of doing these things in my earlier effort to be a writer. From about the ages of 27 to 31, I was willing to work very hard at it. I read every book in the library about writing. I took classes and joined writer's groups. I researched and outlined and re-wrote over and over again.

But I developed some bad habits along the way--especially the incessant re-writing. 

In a way, I reached a similar crossroad of Intentionality. That is, I realized that to progress further as a writer, I would have to commit fully and irrevocably. 

Thing is, looking back on it, even though I was nowhere near as good a writer as I am now, I was actually closer to creating a career in writing. I had made real progress, especially with the big time editors in New York. In other words, if I had committed, it might have been possible--more possible than today when the competition and the amount of commitment necessary is a much higher barrier. 

But even if I had succeeded, it wouldn't have been easy. 

So I had that inevitable moment where I needed to commit fully, and these were the factors I had to take into consideration:

1.) I had the examples of full-time writers, who by most measures had had successful careers, and I saw how modestly they lived. That is, most writers aren't swimming in dough, despite the myths. 

2.) I was already on the razor's edge of solvency. More years of striving looked pretty daunting.

3.) I got married and had two stepsons.

4.) As I mentioned, my bad writing habits were really hindering me.

5.) I got the opportunity to buy a store, and once I bought the store realized that my creativity was being immediately rewarded (rather than waiting an average 6 months to a year for answers from New York.) I suppose I thought I could both own a business and write, but that proved impossible. 

Anyway, I was aware that I was making a choice. That my intentionality was to try to make a living and pursue my art later, if possible. 

I'm glad I did it that way. The wherewithal to be able to take 7 years off and write to my heart's content without worrying about money or success and failure was a real blessing.

I admire everyone who reaches that crossroad--which I believe almost all creative people other than geniuses do--of declaring their intention to be an artist above all. It takes real courage. I suppose if the signs had been stronger, I could have gone one writing, but it was a Hobson's choice and I decided on a bit more security.

I don't regret it. In fact, I shudder at the thought of what it would have taken to be a writer and especially at the consequences of it not working out. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Leaving the house armored.

So when I leave the house in the morning, I have to go armored. I have to be leery of half the population, who are OK with meanness, with spite, with dishonesty and with lies. 

Part of me knew this. 

When I was depressed throughout my 20's, I saw a lot of meanness, of kicking me when I was down, of disrespect.

When my business started failing in the 90's, (I managed to save it), I saw that people were quite all right with the dishonesty of competitors, who thought it was fun to stir the stick, who attacked me for doing the right thing. People who thought cheating was "smart."

When you're a winner, (at least, when you're not down), you don't see as much as that. In my store, I am the master of my domain. I'm doing things like writing books and running a bookstore which lots of people think is cool.

But I mustn't forget that when I leave that front door, that almost half the population can't be trusted to do the right thing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A reason for living: I want to know what's going to happen next.


So I was talking to a friend the other day who also had a heart attack, and we were talking about what we were afraid of or not afraid of and I said,

"The biggest fear I have is missing out on what is going to happen next. I want to know how the world changes."

My friend didn't have that reaction at all. He wanted to enjoy life--which I get. Both of us agreed that we hadn't been as afraid while the heart attacks were actually happening as we thought we'd be. 

But afterwards, I thought about my answer and realized it was true. Finding out stuff really is the reason I'd like to stick around, and one of the reasons I know it's true is because it was the same thing that kept me going when I was deeply depressed in my twenties. (I enjoy my life right now, I love my wife and kids and house and business and writing and everything--but what motivates me is finding out things.)

For most of a decade, I had few friends--in fact, little interactions with others at all--which just made me weirder and weirder the longer it went along. The pills in some ways flattened things ever more. I operated and reacted to things not emotionally, but intellectually, in my head. 

But I had my TV and movies and books--and I paid attention to current affairs. And that was weirdly fulfilling. Pathetic maybe, but I found satisfaction even in the darkest times.

Yes, depression does seem to flatten everything--and yet, my curiosity was still strong. When you have as deep of depression and anxiety as I had, ending your life might seem like an answer. But I don't think I ever really considered it. Not even at the worse.

Because I wanted to know what would happen next. 

I don't know about the validity of the Myers and Briggs test or the Enneogram, but whether scientifically sound or not, they certainly seemed to nail my personality. INTJ and a Five, respectively. I'm a loner who loves to gather facts. Loves to learn new things. Strives to find context in everything, looks ahead for dangers and tries to plan accordingly. Not impressed by popularity or brands. Goes my own way, no matter what anyone else says. 

As I get older in the time of Covid, and as I consider my mortality, it's the idea that I'm going to miss all the advancements and drama of the future that bugs me. (I'm optimistic, perhaps.) I have Linda and my writing and all the good things in my life right now, and I love them, but I assume that will continue.

It's finding out what happens next that motivates me to try to stay healthy and live a little longer--knowing, of course, that all the information and context will one day blink out. 

And that's OK. I won't be around to regret it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

I've been rigorous in my diet. I'm shooting for about 1200 calories, with the understanding that if I underestimate or slip it will still be below 1500 calories.

I've been stuck at 185.2 pounds for three days. That seems to be the way of it. Plateau for several days, then a drop. I did wake up this morning with my belly feeling slightly slimmer. Anyway, my determination to get to 175 hasn't diminished, so I'm pretty sure I'll see this through. Should be done about Thanksgiving Day.

For motivation, I have a closet full of nice winter clothes I can fit into at 175.

Store is still doing fabulous. Amazing. What I think is different is that I'm paying each week as I go along. I'm still prone to over ordering, but so far each week has bailed me out by being better than I expected. I suppose I shouldn't count on that continuing, but still, it's a huge improvement in procedure and one I should strive to maintain. (Budget!!!!)

I'm outside on the patio, trying to enjoy the day and keeping Jasper company. (His back is turned to me and he barely acknowledges my presence. He's still pissed about the Monster.) Anyway, I barely sit down and tractor guy comes out and tries to start his tractor. And it doesn't start. I'm restraining a Simpson's like, "Ha, Ha!!!"

Damn. He got it started...


The Monster runs from me, refuses to let me hold her. I've never had a pet who does that. 

So I guess I'll ignore her. Nothing says I have to like the critter. At least Jasper likes me.


The publishing industry seems intent on creating a graphic novel of every license--especially YA. I mean, how the worm turns. We've gone from-- "I won't let my kid read comics" to "Oh, look! A graphic novel of "Slaughterhouse-five!" 

Diamond seems to be offering Independent bookstores a special deal that as far as I know they haven't offered comic shops. So I posted it on a comic discussion page--and no one responds. This seems to happen. I'm not a Name in the comic industry so not much interaction. 

Oh, well. I still subscribe to Groucho Marx's comment: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”


I'm slowly working my way through my short story. It is going to be twice as long as it should be--technically within the guidelines, but pushing it. But I'm just not eager to get acceptance or rejection from the publishing industry anymore. Just writing for my own enjoyment. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

President Obama's memoir is coming.

 I continue to be amazed how well books are doing.

Part of me is kicking myself for not doing this sooner. The offbeat books continue to sell. The "bestsellers" are probably breaking even. I'll sell one, replace it, and then the second book may or may not sell. On average. Meanwhile, I'll sell a bunch of silly or weird or unique books.

 I was complimented by a customer yesterday, who told me he liked how, if I have a good author, that I'll carry all that author's books. Well, that's my strategy. I figure that a good author is a good author, and even fans probably haven't read all of an author's oeuvre. 

As far as bestsellers are concerned, President Obama's memoir on November 17, (assuming my preorder arrives in time) will be a test. I ordered 16 copies of the $40 book: this is probably nowhere near what most bookstores will sell. I know one local bookstore that sold 4 times that many Michelle Obama books. But it's a lot of copies for us.

Anyway, when I see how well books sell, and how it fits my own knowledge base, I wonder why I didn't do this years ago.

But the truth is, I know the answer: Because the system wasn't in place for me to do it. 

Oh, I held off for a few years because I didn't want to hurt the Book Barn, who was my neighbor. Again, in hindsight, they weren't exactly friendly with me and I didn't owe them anything, but I'd experienced some cutthroat competitors by then so didn't want to be like that.

But the real reason was that the barrier to entry was pretty high. When I first approached Ingram Distributors, they made it clear that as a "comic shop," they weren't interested in my business. They set a minimum that I simply couldn't do from the start. (That was an idiotic policy on their part--the biggest thing in publishing right now is YA graphic novels.)

Fortunately, Baker and Taylor was willing to take me on. So from there, I was able to build the sales. 

But even then, I was only paying half attention to it. I took the easy pickings, the low hanging fruit. I stayed away from the usual bestseller grind because I realized that I just didn't know enough and didn't have time to learn.

Since I came back to the store in September of last year, I've been paying close attention. And it has paid off. I'm now hooked into the information sources and the supply chain that makes it possible. With plenty of room for expansion. For instance, I'm direct with Scholastic and Penguin Random House, which allows me to order roughly half the books I need at a higher discount. But there are four other big publishers I could also sign up with. 

It's the amount of work that entails that keeps from jumping in. Already, this higher level of books sales means I'm spending at least a couple of extra days a week just ordering and stocking. Adding the other publishers would probably add another couple of days. 

Meanwhile, though I've been very clever in creating space for books, I'm rapidly approaching peak capacity--oh, who am I kidding; I passed peak capacity a long time ago. But I keep squeezing them in. But at some point, I will need to hold to a certain level and just try to improve the quality of the offering instead. 

It's been fun. I'm fully engaged. With Sabrina paying full attention to comics and graphic novels, I don't feel like I'm neglecting my core business.

My next goal is to establish a stronger presence for games--just in time for Christmas. The competition for games had increased dramatically over the last three years or so. All the big chain stores have a strong presence. But we have the room and the income to try to increase our stock, and so I ordered a bunch of games directly from the largest supplier. 

We'll see how that goes.

Toys are finally available at discount prices from Diamond again, so I'm being a little aggressive about that, too. Both of these surges are being paid for by books. It seems like, over time, a resurgent product line will take its turn being the one that supports the other lines.  As it should be.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Duncan Principle.

The Peter Principle is that employees will eventually be promoted to their level of incompetence. 

The Duncan Principle is that business owners will expand to their level of incompetence. 

I have spent most of the second half of my career warning other small businesses not to take on too much work. To beware of burnout. To the point where I honestly believe burnout can be as dangerous as incompetence to a business. That overextending is at least as dangerous as not doing enough.

We're indoctrinated to the idea that we must do everything we can--open earlier, stay open later, open every day, open Thanksgiving and Christmas!, deliver, gift wrap, special order, open for midnight events, open for events of all kinds, offer services above and beyond the strictly necessary, offer services that the customers demand because the customer is always right.

We read stories of business owners working 50, 60, 70, > hours a week. But joyously, of course!

We're told that only the exceptional survive, that you can't be ordinary, that you must over-achieve and keep on over-achieving. 

It's completely expected and completely insidious. 

For the first half of my career, I did all those things. I called it "heavy lifting." It was almost of matter of keeping the store alive through sheer willpower. Then it all crashed down anyway, and I suddenly realized that not only was I not making money--I wasn't happy doing it. I mean, it has to be one or the other.

I decided on happiness. I decided not to chase every dollar.

I also decided that true success was having a store that was self-sustaining without the heavy lifting. That is, where procedures and inventory and atmosphere brought in enough revenue to keep the business going. 

When Linda and I opened the Bookmark, our guiding principle was: "Keep it simple, stupid."

Too much work creeps up on me anyway. I can't seem to help it. 

The reason I'm writing this is that I can tell that I'm tipping back into bad habits. It's really, really hard for me to forego opportunity. I want to shore up the store every chance I get.

And yet, the store is self-sustaining as it is. Incremental improvements should keep that going. Instead, I'm making decisions that are more substantial than that. I'm trying to remind myself of my own warnings--to cool it. 

I just have to keep reminding myself of that.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Bookstore sales.

 According to the Census Bureau, bookstore sales were down:

May: -59.9%

June: -35.4%

July: -24.7%

August: -30.7%

This sort of surprises me because our sales have been robust. I mean, we're basically doubling sales every month on books.  The store overall is doing very well. I make the joke at the store that I probably shouldn't say that because I want everyone to feel sorry for us.

So part of this increase in book sales is me finally getting back the store and really giving books a lot of attention. But most of it is due to downtown Bend being extraordinarily busy. At least, it is for us. It completely puzzles me why most of the stores on my block are closed on Sundays and Mondays. There are a ton of tourists wandering around on Sundays and Mondays. What the heck?

I have a feeling that we handled the covis shutdown correctly. We closed completely for the 54 days or so that it was mandated. We didn't try to do any half-measures. We just closed. We renovated the store and it looks much better and I believe we are much more comfortable for the book customers than we were before. 

When we opened, we opened all the way. We required masks pretty much from the start, but other than that, we just flat opened. My reasoning on this was that it was inevitable--that whether I chose to do it in May or in June or in July--it was going to happen. So we might as well make the decision early and at least earn some business. 

What I'm trying to say is that there were no mixed messages. We were closed--and then we were open. No curbside, no online, not appointments...that just muddied the waters, I believe, for a lot of businesses. Just a feeling. 

There a certain tentativeness to other stores that I think is unsettling or off-putting. My feeling is--just be open. Talk to people. Do your business the way you've always done your business. No excuses, no complications.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

 Well, I had to work on Friday; so much for getting my short story done by Sunday. I still have a couple of weeks, which is a long time, to get it done in a timely manner. A couple more weeks to get it vetted.

Sabrina read what I had at the store and she seemed to like it. (Though, what else is she going to say?)


Meanwhile, I found I couldn't fit into my winter jeans, so decided to go on one of my "sandwich" diets. Here's the thing--sandwiches satisfy me for hours, so I space them out--2 or 3 or 4 or even 5 sandwiches, each about 300 calories or so. Hey, I usually have carbohydrates, protein, dairy, and even a little "vegetable" if you include pickles and olives. Heh. 

I'm not moving around much these days, so I figure it is going to take at least a month or two before I can fit into the jeans--and another couple of weeks to start wearing all my winter shirts. (Which I haven't been able to do for years...)

Linda asked why I diet if I'm just going to gain it back, but really, it takes six months to gain it back, when I do, and I often don't quite go back to the same high weight. So I figure it's useful.

And I can wear my winter jeans. 

Feeling hopeful about the election--hope which risks being crushed. If it goes the wrong way, I'm going to dig a hole for myself to hide in--or start making Molotov cocktails. 

The idea that Biden is a "decent" man, versus the despicable alternative. 

Look, I know we're being spoonfed that line, but I think there is some truth to it. I know early on everyone was sort of mocking him for being that way, but I'll give him credit for sticking to his blandness. It turned out to be sort of a perfect antidote to the craziness. Maybe that is just an accident, but then again, maybe he had it right from the start.

I know in my business, I've always tried to plan out using my own instincts, even if it goes against the prevailing wisdom. So I admire anyone who chooses a strategy and sticks to it and is rewarded in the end. 

I've been hard on Biden in the past. His regular Joe act seemed a little phony to me--the kind of phony where the person doesn't even know he's being phony. But underneath that is his genuine intention to be that guy, so credit.

I know I won't mind a little blandness.  

We have a new kitten. Linda's idea, which is pretty surprising. She's a gray, streaked with scuffed white and for some reason she reminds us of a gray wolf--that and she is great at disappearing. A real Houdini. So I work up this morning to find that she has been dubbed, "Wolfini." 

Well, right away, for me that has morphed to "Wolfie," which I really like. A bit trans-species, maybe. Heh.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Needle.

I stalled in my short story, The Needle, because it was getting unwieldy. It was clearly going to be at least 10K words, and there was no way an anthology is going to give a newbie like me that many words.

This morning I woke up and cut 2000 words. I think, if I try really hard, I can keep the story to 5K words, or 6K on the outside. Still probably too many words, but good enough to submit.

From this point on in the story, there are three action scenes and the finale. So very straightforward. I figure about 800 words per scene, which would take me to 6500 words. Then I go back and cut stray words wherever I can--say 500 words? I can probably accomplish this in the next two days, then send it off to a couple of beta readers and Lara, my editor.

I'm glad I didn't force through the original storyline, but let my subconscious work on it. 5:30 this morning, I wake up and the words are coming to me. 

I still have a small scene which I really like that maybe isn't strictly necessary, but I'm leaving it in for now. I also do a fair amount of set-up, probably the first 1500 words, which is probably not kosher. But I would probably draw the line at cutting that, because to me the story doesn't make any sense without those details and motivations in place. 

If--as I fully expect--I get rejected, I can go back to the idea of extending the story. Or just put it online for free.

Monday, October 12, 2020

65% of our sales are new books.

When ringing up sales at Pegasus Books, I've taken to asking people where they're from (?)--at least, those people I don't already know.

An interesting new pattern is emerging. 

First of all, there are a huge number of Californians and Washingtonians and other out-of-staters. As I've mentioned, I believe that this is not despite the virus, but because of the virus. I believe we are just enough off the beaten track to attract them, but not so far away that they can't reach us. So that's good. Over the last couple of decades, September has turned into a good month: I think that's because older tourists are still taking advantage of nice weather. 

Anyway, besides tourists, an astonishing number of customers are new residents. And they seem to love us. Like tourists, they come in and see us as a bookstore, and because of that, they are likely to turn into return customers. 

Here's a startling fact. 65% of our sales are books, and just 15% are monthly comics. This doesn't mean I'm neglecting comics--the footprint for comics hasn't shrunk even a little bit. But I've finagled more space for books and games and toys. Even in hinddsight, I'm  not sure how we've accomplished that...

So if I was to go out and ask the average Bendite who's been here for a decade or more, they would tag us as a "comic shop." I'm not ashamed of that, but I am a little frustrated by it. Nothing I do seems to change that impression.

We have a lively and idiosyncratic curated selection of books, but we are also becoming more and more mainstream. We now carry a nice selection of new best-sellers. We've even managed to create a credible selection of non-fiction books, which I thought was out of reach.

So the promising sign is that all these new customers will remember us. And maybe, in another coupld of decades, a few of the old-timers in Bend will come in see what we're dong.

Meanwhile, I'm having a grand time finding those books that people immediately glom onto. That can only increase over time. What fun. I've always maintained that to avoid burnout, I need to reinvent the store on a regular basis. 

Meanwhile, we've just decided to boost our games stock by a substantial amount for Christmas. And somehow, miraculously, I've figured out where to put them.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Saying it out loud.

 For one of the few times in my business life, I've decided to step away from opportunity. 

We are doing amazingly well. I almost hate to say it out loud because I want you all to feel sorry for my little bookstore. But not only isn't the coronavirus not hurting us, I do believe it is actually adding to our business.

So opportunities have opened up for a bit of growth. New accounts with major suppliers.

But I'm already feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the increase in book sales. I'm spending a couple evenings a week doing nothing but orders, then spending an equal amount of time at the store doing orders, and then spending between one and two afternoons a week stocking.

Turns out, when you double your sales on books, you have to work twice as hard. Actually, it seems like much more than that. I don't know why.

This on top of the two days a week I'm working (I know, I know...boohoo...working two whole days!) But I'm very busy in the store while I'm there and I come home pretty exhausted. I sure know it in my bones the next morning.

I've come to the conclusion that people are coming into our store because 1.) we're interesting enough to be entertainment, and 2.) there aren't a lot of other places they can go for entertainment. In other words, business is good not in spite of the virus, but because of the virus. 

That was unforeseen.

It's also possible people are reading more. I'm not seeing the same increase in board games, which is a bit of a surprise, but then people have to gather to play games, so maybe that's it.

Anyway, back to my original point. I've been looking at opening several new accounts that would give us economic advantages in discounts and shipping.

But they would definitely add to the workload. I should also mention they would require initial financial investment--and I'm thinking that, for once in my business life, it might be nice to get a little ahead instead of playing catch-up.

So I've decided--for now--to forego the opportunities. They would add more work to an already stressful time. I will look at it again in the near future, but for now, I've decided to maintain the current system. Believe it or not, that take a great deal of willpower, but when I look at previous times of growth, I've realized that I probably would have been better off not being quite so aggressive, but instead consolidating the growth as I went along. 

Again, a nice problem to have.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Such a problem.

I dreamed last night that I got a huge load of games from some distributor and I wandered around a fictitious store (I often have dreams of stores whose layout is completely different than mine) trying to find room for them. I was worried about theft of the miniatures.

Woke up, worried about the store.

Believe it or not, the worry is that we are getting TOO busy. I'm getting ready to pull the trigger on a game order that will probably add to both our sales and our workload.

I mean, of all the things to complain about!

See, despite all my warnings to everyone else about burnout, I underestimated the time and energy it would take to keep book sales up. Book sales doubled and then kept growing. I spend a lot of my hours at the store assembling book orders, a couple of evenings a week doing orders, and an afternoon a week stocking them. I mean, that doesn't sound like much, but it's more than I was doing before.

Our manga sales are way up, and last week I found about a dozen books that weren't written down; which was either an oversight or they were stolen. Trouble with manga and anime is that there is a little bit of history of that. Despite our openness, we really don't have that much trouble with theft, but when we do, it's because we're super busy.

Along the same lines, we are suddenly selling more Pokemon and Yugi Oh than were were selling before, probably because Wabi Sabi isn't around to take the bulk of sales. 

Without me even noticing, our Funko Pop toys stock is down from previous levels, maybe by half. Meanwhile, because of the slow restart from my comic distributor, and because I'm working at the store and can offer people deals (I know what I paid), I haven't been able to get enough toys to fill the shelves completely. This should take care of itself as the supply begins to increase.

A lot of this is happening because I've become more involved in the store and I'm in control of the budget. Or rather, the budget is in control of me...

It's fairly easy to see areas where we can still grow. So now I'm wondering if maybe we shouldn't. I mean, maybe we should just keep up with what we're doing for now. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, but no major moves. But then, I think about all the normally slow months, and it's hard not to pursue as much business as we can get. It also may be this plague, ironically, that is making us so busy and when the plague is gone, business will decrease.

The devil's bargain is that I may need to come into the store more to help, especially at Christmas. Maybe open early and stay late, work the first couple of hours, overlap for another three or four hours, and then let Sabrina finish it off. 

See what I mean about it being easy to add to the workload?

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The more action and monsters, the better.

I've got the beginning of my new story, and I've got the end statement. Now all I need to do is write all the action scenes and monsters inbetween. Those are the marching orders, and knowing this editor, I have a pretty good sense that he means it. The more action and monsters, the better.

Again, I'm not expecting to succeed. For one thing, my set up of a thousand words, only the last hundred words is action, which I suspect won't cut it. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to be willing to make changes I don't believe in. 

When I was writing Snaked, I thought the first critiques were right on. But the further asks for modifications kind of warped the novel a little more than I wanted. That was as much my own fault for not figuring out a way to make those changes efficiently, but still...

It's funny. In all my writing, I've really only had this one editor request changes. I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that either editors like a story or they don't. 

Like I said, I thought the changes improved the book overall, except a couple at the end. 

Anyway, I'll let this story become what it becomes. I really want it to be science fiction, but just reading about gravity and space elevators was enough to make me wonder if can do it in a way that would meet the standards of S.F.

Best Sellers Sell the Best Because They’re Best Sellers

 The title to a New York Times article about the head of Penguin Randomhouse. It struck me as an accurate and concise assessment of how the publishing industry works. 

Sometimes when I talk to aspiring writers in my store I realize that I sound utterly cynical. Whereas, I think I'm just being truthful. I mean, that really does seem to be the way it works. 

 Best Sellers sell the Best Because They're Best Sellers.

I tell young writers to get a second opinion and admit that I'm reducing the chances down to basics.

I read an interview once with Russell Wilson, Seattle quarterback, about his unlikely ascent. He said, to paraphrase, "Well, someone had to reach this point. Why not me?"

I liked that comment, but I can't get onboard with the optimism. 

You might be able to increase the odds of success through promotional efforts, but--to me--it's a demeaning process for a small chance. Early on in my store, I decided against what I call "wearing the gorilla suit" to promote my store. I would let the store stand or fail based on the inner dynamics of hard work and persistence. So be it. 

But I recognize that I also lucked out in the end by being in Downtown Bend. When we first moved in, it was a pretty sad place. It took half of my career before it started turning up, and I was at least smart enough to hang in there until it did.

So the success of the bookstore didn't depend on promotional efforts--it needed to be in a High Street location.

Unfortunately for writing, there is no easy way to find the equivalent of "High Street," where the customers find you on their own. There are venues that do the same thing as being in a high traffic location, but you can't just buy your way into them (pay the rent); Bookbub, for instance, is well worth the cost, but it's nearly as hard to be selected there as it is to be published in the first place.

I can see the route that an aspiring writer should probably take--and even in hindsight, it's a despairing process.

I've taken to telling aspiring writers to just publish themselves and be damned. At least you get the joy of writing and the results. It may not be lucrative or make you famous, but you'll know what you did.

My books turned out way better than I expected. That's was more than enough incentive for most of the time I was writing. I think, in some ways, I got it out of my system. I did what I set out to do.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Focusing on books.

 I think avoiding Facebook isn't going to be as hard as I thought. It turns out I spend most of my time online reading articles, and then just checking Facebook in-between for a little dopamine boost. Fuck that.

Twitter and Reddit have been removed from my Bookmarks and I'll miss them not at all. Besides it gives me more time to write here. 



The store continues to do extraordinarily well. It's late September and daily averages are still really high. I'm not sure how long this will continue. If it's due to books, it may not decline as much as it usually does in the fall.

So it turns out that carrying a product that has a wide appeal results in higher sales. Fuck me--I should have known that. I've known that for years but didn't go to the obvious solution. I think part of me was fooled by all the press about how bad bookstores were doing.

 I also didn't want to detract from what we were doing, so it was a slow morphing process--finding room for a bookrack here, a bookrack there. Closing the store for two months and laying down new flooring allowed me rearranged a little more, and suddenly more than half of the store--more if you include graphic novels--is books. 

But the biggest failure was not understanding the unique situation of being in Downtown Bend. We have succeeded in what every shopping district craves--we are a special destination, especially for tourists, but also for locals. People coming in my store aren't shopping for a specific book: if they were, they'd be more likely to find it at Barnes and Noble, and even more so, at Amazon.

No, they are Downtown for the unique experience. Something to do, places to see. And when they come in the store, they see books and they don't question it. I'm a bookstore. And because I'm very carefully curating what I've found sells or--based on that experience--what I think will sell, we're getting people to open their wallets.

A real irony is that the same people who were the scourge of my store, "young families," are now my best customers. Again, this is a special circumstance in that young adult graphic novels are very much in vogue, but even if the popularity wanes, I've had a chance to stock my store with other young adult material that will have perennial appeal. 

I just keep ordering more books, improving all the time. Don't think we've hit the peak yet.