Thursday, January 30, 2020

Enjoying the store.

Sabrina called in sick yesterday, so I worked a day I don't ordinarily work. It was fun. I got to see some of the Wednesday crowd--comics are put out on Wednesday, so the most involved comic readers tend to come in on that day.

For one thing, I'm surprised that I seem to know as many people as I do. I mean, I was working almost every day for 30 years, so I met a whole lot of people, but I'd forgotten how many of them had become friends, or at least friendly acquaintances.

It helps that we aren't in deep debt, so there is less stress than there used to be. Honestly, the stress didn't bring out the best in me. Now I can be somewhat relaxed. So I enjoyed yesterday, sort of puttered around the store, having done most of my chores on my usual Sunday and Monday shifts.

The store is fully stocked--which almost never happens this time of year. We managed to pay down the debt to a manageable level over Christmas without stripping the store. Usually we spend the first few months of the year either trying to get by on existing inventory or going into debt to get back up to speed. This year we managed to keep the store stocked without going into debt. There isn't any category in the store where I don't feel like we're fully stocked.

It's something to be proud of. This was the store I always envisioned. Like I say, it only took 30 years to get here.

I'm also enjoying the talking to people about books, which is my first love. I can talk about books all day long, plus I'm talking to interesting people. It's also fun to sell one of my books almost every day I work.

So coming back to work has been an unexpected pleasure.

I guess the five year break was just what I needed to appreciate what I had. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Opinions, opinions, opinions...

Do you guys really want to hear my opinions?

I'm just working this stuff out myself, trying to figure out what's happening. So a couple of recent news stories.

1.) The resurgence of Indie bookstores.

First of all, I think this is slightly overstated. It's not like they're doubling overnight. There does seem to be a steady drip of new bookstores--but there is also a steady drip of bookstore closures. There also seems to be quite an overlap. That is, bookstores that opened less than 5 years ago already closing.

Anyway, as I always try to point out, opening a bookstore isn't the same thing as creating a successful business. I've noticed over the years that even businesses that are failing will hang in there longer than you think they will.

A recent article talked about how the closure of Borders opened the door to Indie stores. However, in Central Oregon, it obviously had no effect. We never had a Borders and the Barnes & Noble appears to be still going strong. Yet we've had a number of Indie bookstores open locally--and then close.

The other point this article made is that many of these stores are being opened by people who could probably make more money somewhere else or who have already had successful careers. I think this is true--and it isn't necessarily a good sign. Sometimes what helps a store survive is the necessity of making it work. Anyone who opens a business who doesn't NEED to turn a profit...probably won't, and also probably won't stick with it forever.

2.) Street closures. It appears that the downtowners are finally making enough noise about street closures to effect change. I have my doubts that they'll succeed, or that the changes will be significant, but more power to them.

At least there is the acknowledgement that it isn't good for business. It was something I started talking about, oh, I don't know THIRTY FRICKING YEARS AGO!

Ah, hem. Anyway, they are talking about limiting events to two a month during the summer instead of three, and making sure that the events are no more than two days INCLUDING the setup.

That last point is important. The biggest change that happened over the last twenty years wasn't the number of events but their creeping expansion.

For example-- the bike race (which is now gone), went from being a "Twilight" criterion, happening after closing, to a full day event, plus the setup the night before. Just about every event pushed the boundaries as far as they could push them.

So hopefully the downtowners will be able to get the changes made. But I'm not all that optimistic. It sounds to me like they're being placated by event organizers "communicating" better. Which is pretty damn useless.

"I'm going to negatively impact your business--but at least I'll tell you about it beforehand!"

My own store has mainstreamed enough so these events don't kill us--they are annoyances more than anything. But I'm pretty sure the specialized businesses downtown (imagine being a barber shop for instance) are still being hurt.

If the city councilors will only listen. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

What kind of books sell in my store.

Been thinking about what's working at my bookstore.

First of all, I'm concentrating on quirky books. Because of my location, I'm selling books mostly on impulse. The locals will never come around to seeing me as a bookstore. It doesn't matter what I do. So I have to sell to people who walk in the door and see books and think, "Bookstore!"

But what are those types of people looking for?

Not the ABA (American Booksellers Association) style books, the New York Times bestsellers, the books reviewed by NPR. At least, not as often.

Instead, I'll sell a worthy book that been around for a long time but not everyone has read. My clientele for books is mostly tourists or locals who are wandering around downtown, and it seems they want something different--something they didn't know they wanted when they walked in the door.

I can see the difference when I hang out at Herringbone Books in Redmond. Brandon has a steady flow of people coming in the door with specific requests. That is, it appears the majority of customers there aren't there to browse, but to find a particular book. Often it's bestsellers, books they've heard in the media, or books that friends have recommended.

Whereas at Pegasus Books, if they are looking for anything specific, it's usually something offbeat. I don't know if this is because my bookstore already appears to them to be a strange place, but generally I don't get asked for the bestseller of the moment.

Which I don't mind.

I concentrate on the backlog of great authors that people have either heard of or once read. Vonnegut, P.K.Dick, Murikami, Bukowski. Or classics that they've always wanted to read. Or cult books that they have heard about but never seen before.

For me, the quirkier, the better.

Oh, I've decided to carry the mainstream bestsellers, at least some, but they sell rather pathetically compared to their reputation.

What's great about buying books that are just a little to the side of the books that most bookstores sell is that it makes my store unique. One of my criticisms of ABA model stores is that they are all pretty much alike in what they carry.

Anyway, once I identify a quirky book as a good seller, I keep it in stock. So my job is to keep adding to that list.

For instance, I stumbled upon a deluxe hardcover version of Edith Hamilton's "Mythology." (A book that's been around since 1942.) I'd carried the paperback almost from the beginning and sold it a couple of times. But damned if the much more expensive version hasn't sold a bunch of times.

Or the deluxe version of "The Princess Bride."

What I've concentrated on is buying the most interesting version of a book. For instance, some of the old classics are being reproduced in their original format. These versions are dripping with nostalgia.
Another trick is to look for classic books with cover art done by current indie artists. (Often the same artists whose graphic novels I've been carrying for years.) So, for instance, a funky cover of Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums" by 'Jason.'

Finally, I try to carry books that are offbeat. I was visiting Artifacts bookstore in Hood River and I asked my usual question. "What book is selling that I wouldn't know about?"

I was directed to, "How to Talk to Your Cat about Gun Safety."

OK. I was doubtful, but why ask the question if I'm not going to follow through? Amazingly, I've sold that book over and over again based on the title alone. Those are the kinds of books that I'm looking for. Ones that stand out on the shelf, either because of the title, the art, or the general weirdness of the idea.

So I started off with a general idea of what people might be looking for based on years of never having a used book version of that request. Over time the list of books that are quirky but sell has been steadily growing. I'm certain that there are still tons of titles that will fit this category, and I'll discover them little by little. All of which makes the store that much stronger.

Plus it's fun.

And finally, I make a real effort to carry more the usual amount of genre books--especially SF and Fantasy, Horror, Mystery and Suspense. I'm very knowledgeable about these genres, and have read a bunch of them that I can recommend.

I just like books. I've always had a wide range of interests--and I've always been interested about where certain authors and titles fit in the scheme of things. It a big puzzle that I'm trying to decipher and it's a fun challenge.

And so far, it's paying off.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Even though the BookBub promotion was in September of last year, I've encouraged my publisher to keep the reduced (.99 cent) price on "Deadfall Ridge." Meanwhile, its sequel, "Takeover," is at the regular $4.99 price.

It's a strange thing to see that a book at full price that sells 1/10th the numbers of a book at a reduced price, but earns a profit of 33% more overall.

In this case, the full-priced book probably wouldn't be selling as well as it is without the discounted book bringing attention to it. So I'm good with that. I've gone ahead and agreed to another promotion from a different site--not sure if will be as effective as BookBub, but since "Deadfall Ridge" is on a roll, as least as far as number of copies sold, I'd like to try to keep the momentum going.

I mean, the idea is to get more readers, who hopefully will buy some of my other books. But damn, getting 30% of a reduced price instead of 70% of a full price makes it hard to make money.

If you've ever wondered about discounting, this should tell you everything you want to know. I spent years, decades really, having to reduce prices at the store in order to pay the bills. I rarely if ever had an official "Sale;" it was more a one-on-one situation where I'd try to sell an item to a customer on a customized basis: a good customer who I wanted to keep happy, or a one-time customer eyeing a one-of-a-kind item that I might never sell to anyone else, or any oversupply that needed to be weeded down.

 That kind of thing. There were a couple of lean years where I was hand-selling just about everything at a reduced price. Makes it very hard to earn enough to restock the store

Someone gave me the advice early on that you can tell the health of a store by how well they can stick to regular prices.

About 2002 or so, not long after I finally got out from under a huge debt, I decided that I would sell everything in my store at regular price. This mean not discounting anything, but it also meant not raising any prices because of the "collector" thing--with a few exceptions.  It also meant not buying anything off the street.

Everything is strictly wholesale/retail.

That doesn't mean that I don't occasionally sell stuff at reduced prices--again, at the "customized" level, but it's much rarer now.

I think it's a fair policy, and I'm very glad I made that choice. I never felt comfortable raising prices because of "collectability," but as as long as I was in that game, it was necessary. Now I let the customers decide whether something is collectable or not. I may be leaving money on the table, but it feels like the moral high ground, and it makes life so much easier.

As I say, "Collectability is what happens once it leaves the store."

That's not to say that I don't bump prices on toys or comics a little bit if the supply chain somehow demands it--like qualifying for certain incentives and/or exclusives, but I try to keep the price increases to a minimum--just enough to cover the risk.

We're sometimes confronted with a comic going way up in price--when that happens, we sell that comic for far below whatever ebay is selling it for.  There are many times when I know for a fact that I'm selling below market price, but a policy is a policy. (A policy that isn't followed isn't a policy at all.)

Fortunately, this situation is becoming much rarer. 99% of the time, I'm buying an item at wholesale and selling at Suggested Retail Price. It's nice predictable formula, but only possible because the store has reached a sustainable level.

In other words, the store is healthy, and the level of stock fully justifies the asking prices. (Not to mention the downtown location, trying to pay an engaged manager a fair wage, the taking chances on more obscure items, and so on.)

Surprisingly, few customers question it. Oh, I occasionally get someone who won't buy unless it's discounted, but I let them go their way. Sometimes I understand and sometimes I just shake my head. One of the reasons the store is interesting at all is because I'm earning enough of a profit to stock harder to sell items, to take chances, to buy stuff that a Walmart wouldn't bother to carry.

It took a long to get here. I'm hoping I can keep it going. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

They're waiting for my next book! ....aren't they...?

You may have noticed I'm not talking about writing as much.

That's because I'm not writing, except snippets here and there.

Apparently, after 7 years and 30 books, I've indulged my little whim to be a writer. Rather astounding to look back at. Somehow I kept that momentum going far longer than I ever would have ever thought possible.

In fact, I just wanted to finish one book. You know, just to prove to myself that I could do it. Finish, but not necessarily publish.

For 7 years I convinced myself that it was imperative that I finish the next book. I basically imposed a fake urgency to it all. I had all kinds of reasons--keeping momentum by releasing a book every 4 to 5 months, following up on success, convincing myself that publishers were eagerly awaiting my next effort (they weren't...), fitting into the schedule of my cover artists and editors, and so on.

Even as I was letting the pressure of these faux imperatives motivate me, I knew inside that most of it wasn't true. I kept wondering when it would fade, when I'd want to take a break, when I'd be called back to save the store or some other emergency.

I had a heart attack. That was the break point. Not sure why. I'm pretty healthy now, there really isn't an excuse. But once I took a break, the fever started fading.

I'm not going to stop writing, but the urgency isn't there anymore. I have a number of books that just need to be polished. Probably several years worth if I want to keep up the old schedule of publishing every 5 months. Polishing probably takes a month or less. So the other 4 months are free.

If I was thinking about money, I'd be writing sequels to Deadfall Ridge. I have a couple of plots already in my head. But the truth is, it's never been about the money. Working at the store would earn me far more.

(I'm also wondering when my ghostwritten book will be published. When it is, I'll be a Top Ten New York Times author--and I won't be able to tell a soul about it...)

Still, if something takes off, maybe that will spur me to try to follow up.
Meanwhile, I'm planning my big epic fantasy. Doing the research, thinking about it, starting some planning.

I suspect that what will happen is that I'll have to concoct some urgent reason that the trilogy needs to be finished. (Mortality?)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Poor, poor mainstream publishers.

Reading the website, Passive Voice, about the problems mainstream publishers are having.

It appears that 30 years ago they could pretty much count on selling a couple thousand copies of just about any hardcover they put out there. Between B Daltons,  Waldenbooks, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and the 12,000 or so independent bookstores, they could count on selling enough to make a small profit on most "mid-list" books.

It helped that they had (pre-internet) readier access to more venues than small publishers, and that most bookstores relied on the bigger publishers. The yearly BOOKS IN PRINT had about 500,000 titles available.

When indie bookstores started dropping like flies, and Daltons and Waldens went the way of the Dodo, and Amazon entered the scene, the publishers started buying each other up to maintain their thresholds.

There are now basically 5 big corporate publishers who between them own almost every publisher you've ever heard of.

There are also now 15 million titles available--not counting innumerable Print-on-Demand books.

But most of their mid-list books started losing money.

So they naturally gravitated toward "best-sellers." If a book doesn't have the potential to become big, they won't publish it. They handed that choice over to agents, basically. (It's more or less impossible to get a Big Five publisher to look at a non-represented manuscript.)

The market started going around these roadblocks, as tends to happen. Smaller publishers rushed into the bridge the void, and other authors just went ahead and published themselves. Admittedly, along with the good, there's plenty of bad.

But the Big Five publishers narrowed their focus just as the markets were expanding. They forced the ebook prices up--and then announced the ebooks sales were dropping. Meanwhile, most indie writers have found a sweet spot price of $2.99 to 5.99, of which the writer can get 70%.

Anyway, this is long lead-in to my point.

The publishers killed the indie bookstores by giving preferential treatment to Barnes & Noble and Borders. Most of the damage was done before Amazon even entered the picture. It wasn't so much that the smaller bookstores couldn't compete but that they weren't really allowed to compete. Exclusives, earlier shipping, greater return privileges, and higher discounts made it impossible for most small bookstores to compete.

Of the four indie bookstore that were here in Bend when Barnes and Noble came to town, none survive. We have had several new bookstores pop up since then that have also failed. Right now we have Roundabout Books, and downtown, Dudleys and Pegasus Books are carrying larger and larger selections of new books.

There are roughly 2500 indie bookstores nowadays. Not enough for mainstream publishers to depend upon. God help the Big Five if Barnes & Noble ever goes belly-up. Small bookstores are making a bit of a comeback, but I doubt they'll ever reach their previous numbers.

Thing is--none of this was necessary. The publishers could have supplied the big chainstores in such a way that they didn't kill the indie bookstores. But they chose the easy path, the short-term path--the greedy path.

After 40 years in business, it's agonizing to watch the game industry currently making the same bad choices. The chainstores are being given "exclusives, earlier shipping, greater return privileges, and higher discounts." (The sports card market killed off the small card shops the same way years ago--and killed their own industry while they were at it.) I think the only reason comics didn't do the same thing is that comics have never been big enough for the chainstores to risk selling them for long.

This won't end well for the board game companies. They'll have a few glory years, which will seem to validate their choice to go to Target and Walmart, and then--without the smaller stores supporting the actual playing of games--their sales will drop to nothing.

Oh, I'm sure that Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride,  Carcassone and a few others will join the iconic ranks of Monopoly and Risk--but woe to any mid-list or smaller game.

I used to get the comment--"Oh, you carry the stuff the big guys don't." To which I answered, "Why do you think they don't carry them?" So telling me to carry the 80% of low selling games, but making it impossible to make money on the 20% that used to make most of the money, isn't the answer.

It's interesting to see the same mistakes made by the larger players over and over again. I tell you--it's tough to be a long-term business in a short-term world.

A solution in search of a problem.

It sounds like the power-that-be are planning to shut off the entrances into downtown from the Parkway.

Well, that could be a disaster.

But more so--why?

I have a straightshot into Bend from Redmond. Takes about 30 minutes. I have never see the slightest problem with the exits. No congestion, no close calls, no backed-up traffic. Nothing. From all appearances it appears the flow is perfectly smooth.

So why?

It seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

I get a lot of random thoughts that the world probably doesn't need to hear, but which I want to say aloud. Saying it on Facebook or Twitter highlights the thoughts a little too much. A blog probably isn't the way to go either, unless I gather them little by little and simply dump them on the world.

I suppose if a thought isn't worth highlighting it isn't worth expressing, but damn, isn't that most of life?

Anyway, here's a collection of such random thoughts, for what they're worth.

***Bob Dylan often comes close to self-parody, and then he'll sing something so brilliant that I can forgive anything. Maybe genius is coming that close to making a fool of yourself. He truly is a poet in that every line can be understood differently each time you hear it.

I made the mistake of listening to an explanation of one of my favorite songs: "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts."  The explanation made sense and took all the mystery out of the story, dammit.

Anyway, I've been listening to Dylan daily for months now, and I still haven't lost interest.

***7486 games of Klondike played and I'm exactly even at the bank, with a 9% win rate. Yes--that's what a writer does all day. This writer.

***Someone on Facebook posted a quote from Hunter S. Thompson about (to paraphrase) how you should seek out adventure instead sitting by the sidelines. Oh, and how did that work out? A burned-out husk of a writer who put a bullet in his brain?

There is nothing wrong with the quiet contemplative life--there is a lot to say for such a life. Besides, I think that adventure (danger) finds everyone whether they seek it out or not.

But most importantly, the young can be led astray by YOLO danger-seeking--and I need only look at my own risk-taking in my teens. Just saying. Introverts unite! Quit letting extroverts make you feel guilty about wanting peace and quiet!

***Jasper is the first male cat we've had and it's a different experience. He's a real extrovert, a talker. He stomps around the house (so that his nickname is Thumper.) He's a sweet cat, likes to cuddle and sit on laps--when he wants to. He's also the most intelligent cat we've had--(Don't tell Linda that: she thinks all our cats were smart, and pretty, and sweet, and...) He understands pointing and verbal commands, though he doesn't always obey, of course. He's fully adult, so he came with his own set of behaviors and we're still adjusting to each other.

Monday, January 13, 2020

A writer whether I want to be or not.

Woke up at 6:00 this morning with the words, "John is planning to kill you," running through my head.

I tried to get back to sleep, but the scene kept going.

"She spoke softly, but I never doubted what she said. I didn't ask why or how or when. I went to my room, opened the top drawer of the dresser, and pulled out the Beretta 92. I put on my lab coat, which was as white as the snow outside and still wrinkled from shipping. I slipped the gun into the right front pocket. The bulge was barely noticeable."

Come back later, I told myself. But the words kept coming.

"When I returned the kitchen, Karen was standing in front of the Keurig machine, still pumping out dark coffee in soft spurts. She didn't look at me. The windows were iced over, reflecting the harsh florescent lights, which had the opposite effect of softening her sharp features, making her dark eyes softer.

It was early Thursday morning, February 15th. Last flight out had been Tuesday."

What the fuck is this? If you're going to write something, make it a Hart Davis story!

"John came into the kitchen a half hour later. In a trance, he went to the coffee machine, not even replacing the pod. He gulped down a quick six ounces, groaning softly. "Damn, I love this machine."
He slipped his cup back in, put in a fresh pod, added some creamer. He sat down across from me at the long table, which was big enough to service a fully staffed station. There was just the three of us for the next nine months.

"Weird how it never snows," he said, glancing at the windows. "Two kilometers of ice and it never fucking snows."  

I give up. I throw on my bathrobe, grab my laptop and start writing.

Karen was leaning against the counter, still not looking at either of us. Neither of us answered. My hand was in my pocket. I hesitated for a moment, then left the safety on.

"What the hell?" John asked. "This is going to be a long winter if you two aren't going to talk."

Karen snorted and poured her coffee into the sink. She rinsed her mug and hung it from one of the hooks. There were twenty-five other mugs lined up, waiting for their owners to return. She turned and left without saying another word.

John glanced over at me, his eyebrows raised. "You guys have a fight?"

I almost answered. Karen and I never fight. We just get even.

She's just grumpy in the morning. As you well know."

Linda wakes up, I read to her what I've written.

John looked toward the door, then suddenly hunched forward, hugging his coffee mug. "She's going to kill you, Iain."

Karen's words hadn't surprised me, but this did. John wasn't the confiding type. You two need to get your plans straight. "Literally or figuratively?" I asked.  

"I mean it, man. Watch your back. I'll be watching mine."

"Cool," Linda says. "Where are they?"

"Hell if I know. Antarctica?"

John stared at me as if he knew my right hand was on the butt of the Beretta. I took a deep breath, then put both hands on the table. It wasn't going to happen this moment. These were just the preliminaries. We'd all been thinking about it ever since Jennifer Maslow had left with the others, diagnosed with the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis. We'd all been expecting her to keep the peace.

What the hell is this?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

A cut and paste poem,
taken from the book,
"America," by Robert Goodwin.


Tierra, Tierra, Land Ahoy,
God and Glory,
His Catholic Monarchs,
Hand in iron glove.

An infinite army,
gathered on the dunes,
beautiful arc of
emerald archipelago.

Vassals of poor,
dogs of war,
brimming swagger,
no quarter given.

Christian civilization,
cannibal princess,
feathered headdress
and sacred rattle.

New flock of lambs,
natural slaves,
deprived of liberty,
by Faith in Jesus Christ.

Rusty-ochre hues,
blackened skin,
anarchic shackles,
and rattling chains.

Merciless caiman,
hogs and goats,
ballasts of gold,
cities on a far off plain.

The swamp's revenge,
cowards in the rain,
a company of cripples,
jetsam on winter waves.

The broken army,
transported back to Spain,
Bourbon impositions,
pearly sails glistening.

Friday, January 10, 2020

By the way, WE are the immigrants.

And I'm not just referring to the obvious fact that Native Americans were here first. The Hispanics were also living in the western US for hundreds of years before white Europeans showed up.

I've begun researching my epic fantasy. Working title is "The Feathered Serpents:" plural to distinguish it from all the other books with that title. As I say, it's a working title.

I'm going to give myself a full year to research. The book is going to be incredibly complicated, so I want to have a full plan in place before I start writing. 

Anyway, the story starts with the first meetings of Spanish conquistadors and Native Americans. The first book I'm reading is called, simply enough, "America" by Robert Goodwin. Subtitle: "The Epic Story of Spanish North America."

Right away I'm realizing this is going to be harder than I thought. For one thing, all the Spanish and Indian proper names are hard to distinguish from each other and simply don't stick in my mind. I forget from one page to the next where, when, how, and who the action if referring to.

I'm pressing on because I am getting the gist of it.

I'm about a hundred years into the Spanish explorations of North America and they've made hardly any progress. Most of the expeditions to the north are disasters. The leadership is incompetent, compounded by greed and arrogance. (This is N. America, so Cortez and Pizzaro haven't entered my research yet.)

Many of the problems come from the long distance direction of the Spanish rulers back in the old world. The cruelty to the Native Americans only compounds their problems--almost always coming back to bite them. There's a constant motif of priests volunteering to stay behind with the Indians and then being immediately slaughtered as soon as the soldiers are out of sight.

Between starvation, disease, and warfare, the mortality rate is incredibly high. Meanwhile, this is still a couple hundred years before the USA was established. The Spanish were trying to tame North America for longer than our country has existed. When I say "Spanish" I'm referring to the already 'Creole' culture that was happening.

(The whole immigration argument is insane--take a look at the place names in the Southwest and tell me who was there first!!!)

The only real surprise so far, besides the length of time it took for all this to take place, is that there were a few Spanish explorers who were somewhat enlightened and tried to stop their fellow soldiers from slaughtering everyone in sight. There were rules in place--the Spanish at the time were very legalistic--but of course, once out of sight of civilization, the conquistadors did what they wanted.

On one hand, they seem to our eyes to be incredibly naive about "Cities of Gold." On the other hand, they did find riches beyond their wildest imaginings.

The premise of my story--that the Indians not only fight off the Spanish but gain supremacy, isn't that far fetched, frankly. I posit that the Europe is ravished by plague and thus the explorations are held off by a hundred years or more. And that the Indians take the technology of the first Spanish explorers and improve on it.

It'll be fun, but also very challenging to write. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Tarantino's ode to the creative life.

What I enjoyed most about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the job that DiCaprio's character takes in a TV western. It's a comedown from his starring role in his own show, and his interaction with the star of the new show only rubs that in. He's warned by his new agent that by taking on the "villain" role, he is taking a step down and it's going to be a long slide.

Yet DiCaprio gives it his all. We see him doubting the makeup and then embracing it. We see him struggle with his lines, we see his doubts.

But in the end, his pride of craftsmanship comes to fore and he nails it. Maybe most people won't notice it, but he knows he's done it.

In the end, he gets praise from the little girl in his scene. "That's the best acting I've ever seen." And he swell up in pride, tears coming to his eyes.

The irony is that his acting about acting is the best acting in the movie.

That's it, man. That's what it can feel like. Small praise can seem big indeed. And you know it when you've done it right, even if it's a small role and maybe few others will take notice. Except for the rare genius and the extremely lucky, most creative endeavors are that way. The "role" is never as big as we'd like, it's filled with struggle and doubt, and yet when you finish, you know when you've nailed it, and you swell with pride if even a few others notice.

One really great thing about working in Pegasus again is that every once in a while I meet someone who's read my book and seems happy to meet me. A single encounter like that, or even a single good review, can keep me writing for another month.

It's pride in the craft and doing it right.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

I've taken a long break from writing.

It's only as I come around to the idea of writing again that I realize how hard it is to do. I mean, for most of the six years I was writing, I considered myself somewhat lazy. Sitting around all day, putting a couple thousand words down, didn't seem all that hard.

But now? You know what? I don't know if I'd call it hard work, but it is certainly intensive and all-consuming. It's intimidating to know that my life will be completely taken over by a story, by doubts, by fiddling with words, by ignoring everything else around me so I can concentrate long enough to feel the story.

It takes true dedication. It isn't something I can do on a whim.

And that's daunting. Much easier to just drift through life.

I spent the same kind of effort at the store for decades. It isn't something that can be seen by others. It's all internal, the constant worry and trying to make it work.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Year in review.

It was a good year. We were up overall by 7% from last year, with much of that happening in the second half of the year, so the trends are good. We were even up on comics in the second half, which have had a three year slide. They've dropped 30% since 2016. Comics have always done these kinds of thing, wild fluctuations. It's why I've always tried to be diversified. That and the fact that comics (along with graphic novels) only get us halfway to prosperity. 

Meanwhile, graphic novels were up significantly. We gave them more room this year and it really paid off. The two categories combined have actually increased from 2016. So it's just a matter of ordering monthly comics correctly.

"New" books have done very well. The more I bring in, the better they sell. Every time I find a good seller, I can add that to the permanent inventory. So I'll be doing more of that in 2020. Graphic novels and new books have converged, to the point where Sabrina and I have had to figure out whether a sale is one or the other.

This trend confirms the idea I've always had that books are a continuum, that they are not separate categories. Books with all words, books with all pictures, and everything in-between. 

All along I've had the sense that "quirky" is better. We have out-of-towners in the store who are looking for something different, not just the latest bestseller. We'll sell a few copies of the big sellers like Where the Crawdads Sing, but we'll sell just as many if not more of old-standards like The Princess Bride or The Man in the High Castle.

I'll be reorganizing the shelves again later this month. I'm finally taking out used books completely. I should be able to add the equivalent of four new five-shelf book racks next year without having to cut back on anything else.

It's amazing, considering how packed the store is that we can still find ways to make the store even more ergonomic. 

This store has really become a forum for Sabrina and my tastes. If we like something, we bring it in, whether or not or it meets anyone else's idea of what Pegasus Books might carry.

All of this is possible because downtown Bend has become a real draw. There was a time when my store survived on the local regulars. We still want and appreciate those customers, but we have such a steady flow of tourists that the ups and downs of business have leveled off a bit. I mean, there are still the February and November slowdowns, but Bend has definitely been discovered. (Whether this is all good is another question.)

We brought in jigsaw puzzles this Christmas and they paid off enough to keep carrying them. I've been trying to bring in more toys whenever possible. Games continue to be a good category though we are facing increased competition and a deluge of new product to choose from. D & D has had a real Renaissance over the last few years. Magic continues to be a solid category. My trick is to carry as many brands at regular price as possible, as long as we can make a small profit.

2020 is the 40th Anniversary of Pegasus Books. (I've owned it since 1984. To my great surprise, it turned into a career...)

The store is solid. This December was a record month.

It took a long time to get here, but it feels very good.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Nostalgia for a story not yet told.

Reading Lord of the Rings was probably the most important influence on my life, not counting family and (possibly) my ten year bout with depression. That may sound like I'm overstating the case, but really--I own a bookstore and I am a writer because of Tolkien's creations. I met Linda in a writer's group. I've been chasing the feelings that book aroused in me my entire life.

It was the summer of either 1966 or 1967, so I was either 14 or 15 years old. My brother, Mike, was in a local production of The Fantasticks, so the soundtrack of that summer was the (off)Broadway album. To this day, the song Try to Remember gives rise to waves of nostalgia.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain so yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a young and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember… 
At the time, I didn't know how to articulate the feelings that LOTR's evoked. But looking back, it was an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a time and place that never existed. When I turned to writing in my early twenties, there was little modern fantasy to be found on the bookshelves.  As hard as that is to believe. (I won't get into the thickets as to what is modern fantasy and what isn't--just to say, nothing scratched my Hobbit itch). There was about a five year gap between the uncountable times I read LOTR's and when other fantasies started coming out. 

So I set out to recapture that feeling in my own books. By the time Star Axe, Snowcastles, and Icetowers were published, there were plenty of fantasies, but I'd done my best. If the books were a bit derivative of LOTR's, that was purely intentional. (Though I tried to avoid using elves and dwarves and such.)

I married Linda and bought the store and that was the end of my writing for 25 years. 

To my great surprise, when I came back to writing, it wasn't to write fantasy. I wanted to avoid the traps I'd fallen into in my previous attempts. I tried to write stuff that wasn't quite so familiar to me. It was a challenge to tell a story well without resorting to nostalgia. 

But always, in the back of my mind, I planned on someday trying to write an Epic Fantasy Trilogy. 

I've taken a few months off from writing. I'm ready to get going again. When I was going to sleep last night, I realized that I want to capture the nostalgia of LOTR's again. I want to capture the nostalgia of a book not yet written. Which is weird, but I intuitively sense that's what I'm after. 

But how do I do that without copying the elements of the books that evoked those feelings? One of the reasons I've avoided fantasy (mostly) is because the elements of Epic Fantasy are pretty much set in stone. If you try too hard to avoid the tropes, you end up writing something contrary for its own sake or a different genre altogether. I have personally stopped reading most epic fantasies. Only a few authors have managed to pull it off to my satisfaction. (Martin, Rothfuss, Bujold.)
Nevertheless, inside me is that deep well of nostalgia that I can summon at any time. My goal is to use that feeling to create something new. If that is possible. I'm hoping to avoid the traps that seem to develop each time I try to do that. Combine the craftsmanship I've learned over the last few years and the feelings of longing that is constantly there. 
I'll probably fall short, but hopefully some of that nostalgia will come through. We'll see. I always think I'm going to write one thing, and then another thing comes along. 

But that nostalgia for a story not yet told is as strong as ever.