Thursday, May 28, 2020

40 blankity blank years!

A pretty cool article on Pegasus Books in today's Bulletin.

How I Lost My Wife

Linda had never shown any interest in sewing or knitting, but one day--long after our two boys left home--she started making a doll. I watched her carefully sew on each strand of hair, draw a face with sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks, and red smile. But she didn't stop there...she was soon knitting an entire wardrobe for the doll.

Finally, she presented it to me triumphantly.

"That's nice, dear. Very cute."

She gave me a satisfied nod.

The next morning, I woke and she had started on the second doll. I stood over her shoulder as she bent over the sewing machine.

"Another one?" I muttered. She didn't answer, simply gave me a distracted smile.

Soon she was at work on her third, her fourth, her fifth dolls, and on and on. They lined the side of the living room walls. Perhaps I should have known there was something wrong...Our ginger cat, Jasper, took a disliking to the dolls and knocked them over whenever he was inside. But he stayed indoors less and less.

I knew where to find Linda, day after day. "Have you eaten?" I asked, as she made a red sparkling pantsuit for her newest creation.

She stared up me dully. There was little life in her eyes. But in the doll's eyes--that was different. In the doll's eyes there was a gleam of malice and an intelligence that startled me.

And then, one day, as I wove my way through the rows of dolls, I found my wife's housecloths laying in a rumbled pile in the middle of the floor.

"Linda?" I called, more and more desperately. But there was no answer.

I picked up her latest doll, and I swear it spoke to me. "I love you," it whispered.

I frantically swept the dolls into a pile, and then with wide open arms, I scooped them up. I took them to my bed and arranged the dolls around me, and then I told my wife about my day, as I always did.

The dolls gazed up on on my face as my wife once had, with different expressions, from love to puzzlement, from boredom to interest.

I hugged them close. "Linda isn't gone," I whispered. "She's never going to be gone."

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Had my appointment with my regular doctor last week, and my cardiologist this morning over the phone.

Both of them are retiring this year. Yeah, sure, get out of Dodge while you can...

No, really, I don't blame them. The medical system isn't what it used to be.

Anyway, all the labs are tip-top. I'm in overall good shape. I asked the cardiologist about how much danger my stent put me in, and he said, in typical doctor fashion, that he couldn't be sure what factors were at play--heart disease or age or ?

"But do I have actual heart disease?"

" have heart disease. Sorry, but that's what it is."

I said, "I just need to hear the truth, I can handle it if it's the truth."

But the fact of the matter is I've been sort of thinking that my heart attack was an "atypical" event, that really now that the stent is in, I'm fine. But he explained that these things are progressive, and that yes (Subtext), don't fool yourself.

I probably should try to get back in my habit of walking. One of the problems I've having is that each of my walking spots seem to be shutting down, or getting worse with trash and litter, making them less fun to walk.

I mean, I could walk on public trails, but that isn't the kind of privacy I crave. I guess it's going to be a least, unless I can find a spot of my own.

Meanwhile, there should be an article tomorrow on Pegasus Books in the "Go" supplement magazine in the Bulletin tomorrow. It was originally supposed to be about the intersection of "superheroes" and the "pandemic," but based on the two long interviews with me and Sabrina, I'm hoping it will be more about the store and our history. A couple of hours worth of interviews, and probably a minute's worth of quotations...the way it usually happens.

Hoping it makes us look good. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

No objective critic can subjectively judge my writing. (Or vice versa.)

I think taking so much time off writing has given me a fresh perspective. I'm not saying I was in a rut, but I was definitely tunnel-visioned on each project as I went along.

Mostly, I see even more clearly that I can write whatever I want. The world is my oyster.

Not to say I can succeed at everything I write. In hindsight it's clear that not every premise pans out. In some cases, I just don't have the skill or experience to pull it off. In other cases, there just isn't enough new in the premise to interest people. And finally, there are premises that I think are great, but even before I start to write them, I realize other people probably won't be as interested.

On the other hand, some premises come out even better than I expected.

When I started back up, I gave myself permission to write everything that occurred to me. I don't think this was the wrong approach, and I certainly finished a bunch of books. I learned with each book. But there is limited time, and I need to probably start to narrow it down.

I still want to write my big EPIC TRILOGY--each book a few hundred thousand words long. Put my stake down. That doesn't mean anyone will notice, but they really won't notice if I don't try.

Meanwhile, I'm also giving myself permission to write shorter books. The Eden trilogy will probably all be smaller books.

The biggest thing that has happened is that I've relaxed into the process. That is, I'm not second guessing myself as much. If it feels right, then that's the way I do it. There is no right or wrong way. There is no objective critic who can subjectively judge what I'm doing on a quality scale or vice versa.

Masks are losing.

I haven't been talking about the store because I haven't wanted to jinx it. But things have been going extraordinarily well. Basically, our expenses are down and our sales are up, even though we're only open four hours a day. Pretty much the perfect set-up.

(Of course we're missing revenue from 8 weeks, plus the rather large lump of money spent on flooring. But we could be out all that plus having slow return business, so...I'm grateful.)

I keep reminding myself that in return we are taking chances. The thing that decided me was that I don't think the odds are going to be any better in a month, or two months, or three months...and there is only so long we can go without income. We're trying to take precautions, but...

It's obvious that masks are losing.

Sabrina and I are wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer, and trying to keep our distance, but a good half or more of the people coming in seem to be taking no precautions whatsoever.

Again, I have to measure the risk reward ratio. Deschutes County has had relatively few cases, and no deaths so far. I think everyone has decided that we're going to be living with this danger for a long time.

We'll keep track of what's going on, continue to overtly thank everyone who wears a mask, and try very hard to keep our distance. But I believe--no matter what you think of this situation--that people aren't going to stay cloistered much longer. 
I'm listening to the audio of "Eden's Return."

It's very professional sounding. I've been lucky in my audio books. I experimented with my own version for a short time and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I catch the narrators stumbling a little about once a chapter, but I couldn't make it through half a page. (Not that most people would notice the stumbling...)

Anyway, the story sound pretty good. It's a different kind of book. I think that up to now I've been very focused on action packed storylines. This book has a bit of contemplation as well. I think the contrast between the contemplation and the action is very effective. I don't know. I was feeling my way to a new way of writing, and it works surprisingly well.

Of course, as always, I tend to see how I could have phrased things differently, how I could have expanded some elements, shrunk others. I see all the faults, but mostly it flows really well. Compared to my first two books from 40 years ago (FORTY YEARS?!) which was full of what I considered awkward phrasing and story problems. (Not that most readers seem to notice.)

I guess I'm in the experimental phase of my writing. I'm trying to broaden my approach. It doesn't always work, but it's the only way to get better at this. With 30 books under my belt, I still feel like a beginner.

On the other hand, I can definitely see the maturity that has developed in the 40 years between Star Axe and Eden's Return. (Though, ironically, in hindsight, I still consider "Led to the Slaughter" as probably my most accomplished book, maybe because it was the first book to really come together and I put a great deal of time and effort into it.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sales over the first five days were good enough that I felt I could order all the books we needed. I told Sabrina to do regular graphic novel orders and to go ahead and do a game order. I just hope this level of sales continues. The limited hours don't seem to be hurting much.

We don't seem to be having any problems. Probably half the customers are wearing masks, the others are pretty good about keeping social distance, so neither Sabrina or I have felt overly threatened. No one has made any comments.

I went to the doctor yesterday and all my labs were perfect, right down the line. Probably the first time that's happened--that I wasn't a little "off" somewhere. If it wasn't for that little incident 15 months ago, I'd think I was in perfect health.

Tried doing a jigsaw puzzle reorder through my book distributor and they are completely sold out. I may have to go direct with some puzzle distributor another.

I've decided to create a "Duncan's Shelf." These would be the books I've read lately, at used prices. Just one shelf worth of "used" books for the entire store. I suppose I could trade them in, but the used bookstores have become so selective, it's hardly worth the trouble.

The new flooring is great. For some reason the store feels more open even though it's pretty much the same design. Moving a few inches here and there can make a difference. It's also much clearer how much dirt gets tracked into the store. We can immediately sweep it up, but it goes to show how much dirt was ground into the carpet on a regular basis.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Intuition versus logic.

The ever present battle. I'm a great believer in both, even when they contradict each other. My intuition is that people are going to come back. My logic says otherwise. So now I wait for evidence. I plan for the worse, and hope for the best.

About the best I can do and still have a decent store is plan for a 50% drop.

First three days of business were good. I think today will tell the tale.

About 65% of customers wore masks in the first half of the day, about 35% in the second half of the day. I think 50% is probably better than I expected.

I thanked each person who was wearing a mask.

I also realized that I could hand sanitize after every transaction, so that made me feel better about serving my people. So the real danger is to Sabrina and me from people not wearing masks. (I offered to work the first couple of weeks myself--but then, I'm not sure it will be any different in two weeks.)

I try to keep my distance.

The four hours doesn't seem to be a problem. In fact, I have a feeling that we could do that longterm without much damage. But then, in the end, it would look like we aren't serious. Nor would four hours be enough for Sabrina to survive on. So we'll get back to regular hours in June.

This is going to be an interesting ride. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

"Don't do that!:

Setting aside for the moment the risk/reward ratio of opening up, it feels really good. Even after 40 years of this, I’m excited. We are at peak Pegasus!!

I think Gov. Brown has it exactly right--we are trying to measure the boundary between safety and the need to be open for business. This was never going to be an easy equation. But part of my thinking is that it won't get any easier in two weeks or a month. In fact, it might be better to be open now than in two weeks or a month!

I'd say about 70% of the people I saw downtown today were without masks. But then, they are a pretty self-selecting group; the people who are willing to go out shopping in the first place.

The question is--if that equation holds up, then waiting a week or a month to open isn't going to help. But waiting more than another month or two becomes nonviable as a business. I could wish people would be more careful. Hell, it isn't just the masks, but also the social distance.

I was inside a store this morning. The clerk wasn't wearing a mask; I stood 8 feet away in my mask while talking to her. A couple of friends come in and they start hugging each other.

"Don't do that!" I shout, and leave. I mean, I said it in a joking way--but...

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tomorrow we open.

Tomorrow we open. We are going to start with limited hours during May--12:00 to 4:00.

As we neared the finish line of reassembling the store, I ran out of juice. Just couldn't motivate myself to do another thing. I mean, it's all but done. Just a few things here and there that can be finished during store hours.

One thing I'm really hoping is that we can keep the dust down. That filthy old rug was half dust and I think every footstep probably raised a small cloud.

It's hard for me to see the changes. I have to assume they are there. Sabrina's wife, Ashley, said it was a huge transformation. "I didn't think a flooring could make that much difference, but before when I came into the store, it seemed like a typical nerdy place. Now it's..."

"Professional?" I offer.

She nods. "Professional."

( we were a typical nerdy place. I always preferred the term, "funky.")

We keep missing the UPS guy. Or he keeps missing us. I'm going in early tomorrow to make sure we take delivery.

So we're off and running. I hope we can do even half as much as normal--which would at least pay for most of the overhead if not for new material.

I'm half wondering if, instead of spending money, I should have asked for it--a Go Fund Me kind of thing, like what Paulina Springs Bookstore is doing. But I really can't ask for money if I don't desperately need it.

But anything you can buy would be appreciated.

It will be fun to be open again. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Tried to make a shorter day of it yesterday, ended up spending four hours at the store. Had planned on finishing off the west half of the store, minus the counter, but instead spent most of the time cleaning the counter and getting the electronics ready for opening.

Came home and Toby fixed us a Mother's Day dinner. 

I've decided that even if the store is somewhat in disarray, we can still open as long as the visa machine, the cash register, phone, and internet are up and running.

I'm not really aware of how tired I am until I wake up each morning, which seems to be happening later and later. Bone tired, but mentally fresh. Usually I'm mentally tired--writing really takes it out of you.

I'm in an extraordinarily good mood. I really enjoy driving into town. The store is being restored, as good as new--heh--but that's how it feels, clean and orderly. We really do have a lot of inventory, which is making me wonder why I'm so aggressive in my buying. Maybe I should take a step back. At least until I see what happens.

But no--if I see a need or a gap, I almost can't help but go for it. And who's to say that the wrong approach; after all, we're still in business after 36 years.

I'm definitely slowing down, though. I'll chip away at it for the next four days, and if we open on the 15th with a few books on the floor and other books not alphabetized, then so be it. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

All it took was a world-wide plague!

I admit, I'm getting pretty worn down and exhausted. I'm going to go in today but try to limit to a few hours.

Five days left to get it done. I'll have the west side of the store mostly completed by the end of today, which will give me four days to try to help Sabrina on the east half of the store. The layout looks pretty much the same to me, though a little off somehow. It's hard for me to see the changes--though I hope the customers will.

This is going to take a full month to finish. The actually putting in the flooring was probably only eight days, everything else have been moving fixtures, cleaning, and sorting. The cleaning is an extra step, but I'll never have this chance again.

It's hard now to imagine this ever happening under normal circumstances. Weirdly enough, this situation has worked in our favor in almost every way. All it took was a world-wide plague!

I've been able to avoid employee wages (though if Sabrina's unemployment insurance doesn't kick in soon, I may have to help there), two free months rent, and probably most importantly, the availability of both my sons (which under normal circumstances would have been impossible.) I almost don't count the money I've paid them, because I would've wanted to send them money anyway.

Of course, the actual flooring was an big expense, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

The stimulus money will help pay for most of one month's fixed expenses and if we have the second half of May to earn some money, that should take care of the second month's fixed expenses.

All the pieces just sort of fit.

It feels good, like a good cleaning and organizing does.

The store is really something to be proud of.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Get it done.

Sabrina was expressing some doubt about whether we can get the store ready in time.

I never doubt it. My attitude is, we'll get it done. Whatever it takes. It may end up with some 10 hour last few days, but so be it. You take one piece at a time, and put blinders on, and eventually you look around and you've accomplished more than you thought you could.

I'd originally planned to have everything roughly back in place by the 15th of May, and then if the quarantine lasted another week or two, perhaps paint a couple of fixtures to boot. It looks like the paint will have to wait. I might try staining the cash register counter later on; first thing on closing on a Sunday night.

I'm giving the store a top to bottom cleaning. It's a very good feeling--that feeling you get when you've done a thorough cleaning.

Cleaning the bookcases and there are an amazing number of coffee droplets everywhere. I mean, how does that happen?

I should have the western half of the store done by the end of tomorrow, which will give me 5 days to help Sabrina out on the eastern half of the store. If everything is on shelves even if not strictly alphabetized, that will be acceptable to start with.

The lifting of the quarantine really lifted my spirits. I mean, with a touch of trepidation. But I didn't realize how much the quarantine was weighing on me--or how much the store still meant to me. Frankly, I really enjoy this part of the business.

If we actually do open the second half of May, and we can do at least half business, that will take care of a month's worth of overhead. We're going to be in the hole no matter what, but that will ameliorate the damage. 

The store will probably mostly look the same to regulars, not counting the floor--and who really notices the floor? I keep reminding myself that it had to be done.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

So my original concern was being closed. It was more costly than I expected, even without rent and wages. Still, I saw that we could probably handle a couple of months of being closed. The money spent on fixed expenses was gone forever, which isn't pleasant, but we could make it through. Three months starts to get harder: four months or more would inflict severe damage.

Despite this, I spent a good chunk of money on new flooring. I did this because I felt the store was an ongoing effort and we would eventually pay for it through expanded display space. Plus, it just needed to be done.

Now my concern is how business is going to be after we come back. I think it's best to plan for the worse. The economy is going to be in dire straights, I think.

It's very hard to spend one's spending habits. A retailer by nature is an optimist, I believe. You have to think you're going to sell stuff that you order. It's hard to step out of current spending habits. You have to take a step back, act as a different person--the cautious pessimist.

In the past downturns I'd always react too slowly and in too limited a way. What you don't want to do is follow the curve downward.

For instance, expecting and ordering for the 10% drop but having a 20% drop; thereby you adjust to a 20% drop but by the time the product shows up, it's a 30% drop; so you order for a 35% drop, thinking you're getting smarter, and you get a 40% drop.

And so on. Losing money all the way.

On the other hand--there is always the danger of creating a self-fulling prophecy; that you'll create lower sales by being too stingy. In fact, in many cases I think stores have over-reacted. Once burned, they become too cautious. If you follow the curve exactly, you are probably creating the very thing you want to avoid. Customers have a sixth sense of when you aren't ordering enough.

I think we'll have a month or so after opening where being cautious won't be punished by the customers. Hopefully, we can get a good gauge of what we need to do.

Monday, May 4, 2020

I've decided to take a break from renovations for the day. Sabrina's going to go in and do some stuff instead.

I'm just going to sit around and read. Gardening is tempting, but I really need to kick back. I'm certain we can get the store ready in time, especially once we have a deadline. Meanwhile, it'll be nice to get as much done as possible without a deadline. I have vivid memories of the stress of opening and closing stores, spending 12 hours a day to avoid being closed down.

I'm trying to maximize the space without cluttering it too much. One of the things that drives me crazy is that there ought to be space for 6 shelves in each bookcase instead of 5. If the middle brace was just one inch higher up, it would work. Bad designing.

I'm going ahead and putting in six shelves, (actually 5 not counting the base, 7 counting the base and the top.) The average hardcover book is 11 and 1/2 inches tall, so I can utilize 6 out of seven vertically. The shelf just below the brace-shelf is an inch too short, so I'll have to figure out workarounds. I can't waste that extra space, you know?

Whenever possible, I'm swapping out the bookcases we took from Linda's place that were stored in the basement for the ones I've been using. There are two sizes-- 24" and 28". I prefer the 28" ones. The ones from downstairs are sturdier and cleaner as well. We bought a raft of these cases from Stables when we opened the Bookmark. They were very cheap--cheaper than building our own and 25 times cheaper (literally) than buying solid wood bookcases. We waited for half-price sales.

Thing is--I think I'd make the same choice today even if I had the money to buy the solid wood shelves you see in most bookstores. These white laminate bookcases have held up very well, they are easy to clean, they are adjustable, they are modular and can be moved by a simple person. They also tend to brighten up the space considerably. I just like the look and feel of them.

How often do you find something cheap and also functional? And I may lack proper taste, but I think they look good. Besides, who really overtly notices bookshelves once the books are in them?

I think I've got about one more day of rearranging things, then we can start to put product back on the shelves.

I'm kind of enjoying this.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

"Every twenty years, whether it needs it or not!"

I should have the fixtures all roughly back in place by the end of today. Then we have to put all the product back. Not sure how long that is going to take. If we don't get everything absolutely alphabetized, it won't be a tragedy. People will still find stuff.

There is a small possibility we can open on May 15th or so--though I think Deschutes County probably won't be in Gov. Brown's definition of "rural." 

The store is a bit of an uncanny valley to me right now. I mean, the store is roughly the same, but it feels a little off. I'm sure all the fixtures are displaced at least a few inches from where they were--sometimes to the benefit of making more room. (I made a terrible mistake not doing measurements and taking pictures before we started.) I've taken out a few smaller fixtures that didn't add all that much and probably cluttered up the store.

It just feels off.

I think I overwhelmed Sabrina with the changes. Hopefully, when I finish tonight it will look a little more familiar to her.

I've managed not to overdo the exertion, though I go home exhuasted. I used Todd and Toby's physical strength as much as possible, so when it came time to actually move the fixtures back, I was fresh. I've also tried not to work more than about 5 hours at a time.

At this point, I really like doing stuff by myself. I find that when I attempt something and it turns out wrong, I just acknowledge it and change it back. I will spend hours just to move things a couple of inches--because I'm probably going to have to live with these changes for a long time.

Sometimes just trying something wrong actually points out the right answer. But all that changeability is hard to justify when others are standing around waiting.

I'm cleaning everything as I go along, which is taking a lot of time, but also giving me time to mull and plan.

As usual when I make what I consider monumental changes by the time I finish, it doesn't feel like all that much. I question whether it's worth it--and whether anyone will notice.

But it's very true that the carpet couldn't last more than another year or two--and that meant either retiring or leaving the expense to Sabrina, which would have been unfair--especially since this quarantine gave me the least expensive option possible. (It's expensive, but it was going to be expensive whether I did it or not.)

Oh, well. Just need to finish and see how I feel. If nothing else, the store has had a top to bottom cleaning, which it probably needed. The joke I've made to my neighbors is, "Every twenty years, whether it needs it or not!"

Friday, May 1, 2020

Renovation eye-glazing details, which I love.

I originally intended to put the store back together exactly the way it was. For one thing, the store was working well. For another, everything slotted in exactly. I think I may have had a spare five inches on the eastern side of the store (which I used in the renovation to give a bit more space to two corner bookcases.)

Fact is, this is one of my favorite aspects of owning a store. I really enjoy working on the layout, trying to maximize the space to carry product. 

However, once all the fixtures were free floating and I was mulling how to put them back in, I realized that I could make some changes. The basic layout is the same, except for two things.

1.) I had a makeshift shelf I found in the basement that I was using for one of the graphic novel brands. It was about 5 foot wide and probably 5 foot deep, with the base extending outward to no real purpose. I realized that I could take this out, replace it was two bookcases which are only 12" deep, thereby gaining 4' of space. I'd also gain at least a couple of shelves per case. Bonus.

Meanwhile, I have two cases in the middle of the store, one of which is about a foot deeper than the other. If I switched the location of these two cases, I'd gain at least a foot of floor space for one, and probably a couple of feet of floor space for the other.

2.) The other change was that by squeezing the southwest corner by about 3 inches and taking out the poster rack I could replace all the 24" bookcases with 28" bookcases, and add one to the wall. The poster rack hasn't been very active and is only viable if I can buy posters at a discount. Marvel used to have big sales where I could stock up, but they seemed to have stopped doing that. So the rack is starting to get sparse.

I also decided to take a freestanding slatwall rack that really wasn't adding much, and take down two makeshift extensions that were obscuring the view.

So these two changes do a couple of things. One---They make the store slightly less crowded feeling, and--Two--they emphasize the book aspect of the store. Books are by far the fasted growing element of the store and this will reinforce it.

I think overall people are probably going to tell me the store feel more spacious. At least I hope so.