Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Stupid me.

I guess I can tell this story now.

It's a bit embarrassing.

About a week and a half ago, I'd just had two restless nights, waking up with heavy congestion, especially in my upper chest. When I awoke the next mornings, my mouth was completely dry from breathing through my mouth.

You know, at 3:00 in the morning everything seems pretty dire.

But I didn't have a headache, or much of a cough, or a fever, or any of the other symptoms.

'One more symptom and I go in,' I tell myself.

I'm laying on the couch late afternoon and I feel a weakness in my arms and chest--very similar to the first symptoms of my heart attack.

"We have to go in," I tell Linda. We drive to Bend (not wanting another helicopter ride). I give Linda instructions of how to carry on, almost certain by then that something is wrong.

We show up at the hospital and they have people there to greet us outside. One of them is a woman shouting about how the chairs are all infected, "Watch out!" she screams. "There was a Covid guy sitting in that chair!"

She goes on, but I'm barely listening, exchanging embarrassed looks with all other people. The triage guy takes Linda and me aside.

"What's with Karen?" I ask.

He shrugs. "I've cleaned that chair twice. She's been going on like that."

Two emergency guys walk by. "What's with the Karen?" one of them whispers.

Anyway, I'm taken in a side door and given a room. They do a battery of tests and it becomes pretty obvious early that there is nothing wrong with me. I'm getting progressively more embarrassed, ready to tell them to skip the rest of the tests and such.

They come in with the long swab which they stick in my nose and halfway into my brain. "If anything is wrong, we'll call you within 5 days. I you don't hear from us, it's clear."

I apologize to the nurse and she says, "Hey, if you ever get pain like you did with your heart attack, don't hesitate to come in."

Ouch. Message received. Five hours later we're heading home and I'm completely deflated. I tell myself that I'm meeting people in the store and it's important I be healthy, but I still feel a little humiliated.

So five days go by, nothing.

So I go back to work the following Monday and I'm talking to my friend and fellow heart-guy, Paul Carrington, and he says, "Those were to two nights when there was heavy smoke."

Ah, ha. See, I have a very bad reaction to burning sage, just a little of it and my nose blows up. least it wasn't all in my imagination.

"Hey," Paul says, "I went in three times in the first year after my heart attack."

It was all an interesting experience of about 10 days ago I was free of virus.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Core Area Urban Renewal Plan.

So the city of Bend is pushing a "Core Area" urban renewal plan. I'm no expert, so take my opinion with a huge blood pressure raising grain of salt, but...

As far as I can tell, the basic plan it to try to revive the area around 3rd Street which is currently consists of a bunch of out-of-date storefronts and rather ugly large chain stores. The idea, I believe, is to make the area more pedestrian and bike friendly--an expanded downtown, so to speak.

I remember when 3rd Street was the "new" retail growth area and downtown Bend was neglected. (Downtown also emptied out because of the two malls--ironically both of which are gone or have changed radically.) Part of what's happened is, the 3rd Street area has just aged, and aged badly.

Downtown instituted a "tax-increment" plans around the same time. Slowly but surely, downtown came back. How much of that was because of the tax-increment and how much would have happened anyway through natural gentrification, I couldn't tell you. Cheap rents attract bohemian but thread-bare businesses, which makes the downtown core attractively funky, which then attracts businesses with real money behind them, which mostly fail but improve the looks each time they fail, and downtown continually fails upward but eventually a few businesses hold on and become standard bearers while ironically most of the original bohemian business are forced out. Creative destruction in real time.

I was there. I watched it happen.

It wasn't foregone and it was messy and there were times when it could have gone either way. No doubt, the invested tax money helped but--I believe the improvements would have happened anyway. But I also think it kick-started the change.

So the tax increment plan seems to me to be worth a try, however...

It's what they do with the money that I'm worried about. (Well, not worried since I don't think I'll be around when it all happens...) The ideas I've seen floated seem pretty pie-in-the-sky grandiose. Trying to force a business district to be cool-looking probably doesn't work. I think it's a more organic process--that is, individual businesses willing to take a chance, to hopefully find a cheaper rent neglected area to start their businesses and grow from there.

All the landscaping in the world won't change anything except maybe to make rent more expensive.

I'm skeptical that "urban renewal" really works without private investment; that it can't be mandated from above.

I'm worried that it's going to be another Juniper Ridge boondoggle.

Investing the property tax money back into the district makes sense, as long as the plans are realistic and achievable.

They need to "do no harm" to the existing businesses, which is pretty hard to do when you're tearing up streets and sidewalks and making other "improvements."

Like I said, I thought the plans I saw a few years ago seemed really unrealistic. Linda and I owned the Bookmark at the time, and if they had instituted their plans, we wouldn't have survived I'm pretty sure. Which seems a bit counter-productive.

All I'm saying is--let change happen naturally with a bit of a boost, help the EXISTING businesses do better, and don't think that throwing money at the problem is the answer.

Taking a sit back and listen approach to life.

It seems like when I started this blog in 2006, I expressed any opinion I wanted, and held back very little on what was happening in my life.

Either things have gotten more complicated or I've gotten more canny, because I find myself filtering out most of what once would have been the contents of this blog. Some of it is self-protection, to be sure, but as much or more is because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, or reveal information that was given to me in confidence, or...strangely...anything that might sound like I'm bragging.

So when things are rough, it's in my best interest not to reveal that. When things are good, I don't want to sound arrogant. Which leaves a lot in the middle--but the middle is the least interesting part.

So I'm sure my blog was much more interesting when I was letting it all hang out.

What can I say about my current life? Staying at home a lot, browsing the internet way too much, trying all kinds of streaming shows and finding many I don't finish. Letting my garden weeds grow taller than me. Gaining weight, not walking or even going into nature all that much. Hardly reading, doing no writing. Going to the store two or three times a week; enjoying it but also getting exhausted.

Writing career? Can't really talk about it, except to say that I've done both better and worse than I expected. Vague enough?

Store: Doing amazingly well despite everything. Still mulling that over, waiting for the final tally at the end of the summer, but even if we just hold our own, it's been a really good stretch. Strange to say...

Linda: Wonderful as always. I don't know why we get along so well, but she's always a joy.

Jasper: It's been interesting to have a fully adult ten year old cat join the family. Unlike a kitten who pretty much blends with the family, he came with his own personality quirks, and both cat and humans have needed to adjust to each other.

Redmond: Quiet, a really nice neighborhood, nice neighbors, Trump flags surrounding us on all sides. Weird.

Politics: Jesus, what's the point of even talking about it. From my perspective, I stand with all right thinking people. Heh.

Cultural change: I think owning a store, having Sabrina as my manager, has probably made me more willing to change my attitudes than most old white guys. I'm taking a sit back and listen approach to things.

See what I mean? Could I be any more vague? What am I worried about?

I don't know, but like I said above, I'm taking a sit back and listen approach to life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Here's how it works.

So here's how it works.

No matter how good (or bad) the book, reviews are everything. Not long scholarly reviews, but just quick reactions--"I enjoyed this book." "I was disappointed in this book." Whatever.

The reasons reviews are everything is because the online promotion sites like BookBub will only take you on if you have enough reviews.

It's a Catch-22. Sell enough copies to get reviews. Get reviews to sell enough copies.

So, if any of you who have enjoyed my writing want to help out, bop over to Amazon or Goodreads, and post a rating and or a small review. Easy-peasy.

But if you put it off until later, it won't happen. If you stop right here and do it, then it'll be done and I will be grateful to you. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

You have to forgive me...

...for blasting this out on all platforms. My newest book, "Eden's Return," is live today.

I'm finally turning to Science Fiction and Fantasy, which were my first loves, but for some reason I didn't feel ready to write them yet.

This book is a philosophical Science Fiction story, an adventure story, and a love story.

I've got a sequel in mind, and I think I'm finally ready to get back to my writing.

If you've ever been curious about my books, but didn't want to read "horror" (not that most of my books are extreme that way) maybe this is the one to try.

It's always exciting on the day a book is released. Always high hopes.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Diamond Comics the Whipping Boy.

"A whipping boy was a boy educated alongside a prince in early modern Europe, who received corporal punishment for the prince's transgressions in his presence."

 "...a person who is blamed or punished for the faults or incompetence of others."

First off, let me get this out of the way: Diamond has it's faults, but it's faults seem no better and no worse overall than any of my other distributors. 

So why does Diamond have such a toxic reputation from some comic retailers and, worse, many comic consumers? 

My overall impression is that Diamond has been used as the "whipping boy" for all the problems in the comic industry since we emerged from the chaos of the mid-90s collapse. Diamond did what it had to do to survive--and they were, in the end, the only survivor.  

A monopoly, if you will. 

They are the middleman between the herd of cats retailers and the small to mega-corporate comic publishers. And they are blamed for any problems from above and from below.

I'm pretty sure that in order to sign up the big comic companies, Diamond had to give the some sweetheart deals. One consequence of this is that Diamond has forced retailers pay for postage from the start. This isn't any different than what was happening before they were the lone survivor, but it's pretty unusual in the current market for a distributor not to have a minimum order for free postage.

Like I said, Diamond has it's negative aspects. But all things weighed, it does pretty well.

No one was more worried about their monopoly status in the beginning than I was, even though in my own experience, a local monopoly of a certain product by Pegasus Books has always rebounded to the benefit of my customers. (Not monopoly, but being the sole provider until other retailers take notice...)

As it turned out, the owner of Diamond Comics, Steve Geppi, has been fair to us from the beginning. Not only fair, but in some ways Diamond has saved the entire comic market more than once, and probably were able to do this because they didn't have competition. 

A little history here: there was a comic bubble in the mid-90s. When it burst, it brought down something like 3/4ths of the comic shops, a large number of publishers, and every distributor except Diamond. My own store was deep in debt despite all my efforts to be careful. Diamond arranged a payment schedule for me and we managed to pay it off. 

I'm pretty sure Diamond has often done this with other stores. Indeed, they are probably doing it right this minute.

I don't think the "hate" it evokes is justified.  I have some theories how this animus developed. 

First of all, there seems to be a real lack of perspective. Part of this is due to the fact that many, if not most, comic stores deal almost solely with comics, so they have fewer interactions with other distributors to compare. 

As I said above, in my experience Diamond is no better and no worse than most distributors. All of them have their negative quirks. It evens out, pretty much. 

So while I may get free postage from Ingrams, I pay 10% more for my product. While I can get a better discount from Scholastic, they are difficult to order from and the product comes poorly packed. Alliance has minimum free shipping, but rarely responds to problems with damages. Other distributors take much longer to ship, or don't tell you what they actually have in stock, and so on and so on,

In my opinion, Diamond has a much tougher job than just about any of these other distributors. Dealing with comic shops can't be easy--I'm pretty sure most of my other distributors wouldn't put up with late payments and constant complaints.

Diamond has a huge coordination situation with time-based product, hundreds of SKU's per week, product that is easily damaged, and most amazingly to my eyes, allows us to order small quantities of relatively low-priced items. I can imagine their warehouse workers having to go find a single issue of an obscure comic and packing and invoicing it just for me. It's really quite remarkable. 

But obviously, many comic retailers don't see it this way. 

I'm probably going to be tarred and feathered for saying this, but I think the other reason Diamond has such a bad reputation is because it is blamed for problems the retailers themselves have sometime caused, and worse, that retailers have used Diamond as an excuse and a whipping boy for decades now, so that is what the customer hears. 

A retailer doesn't order enough comics and says to the customer: "Diamond shorted me."  A retailer falls behind in their payments, so has to make an excuse. "Diamond shorted me." UPS drops a box and the retailer doesn't report damages fast enough and can't get replacements. "It's Diamond's fault."

So the retailers blame Diamond and the customers hear it, and it all bounces back and forth until it becomes the common wisdom, fair or not. 

I think retailers make a big mistake complaining to their customers, who frankly wouldn't notice most problems or would understand the real reasons for shortages and/or damages. 

This impression is reinforced every time there is a problem. 

As I said, Diamond isn't perfect, but many of the problems are just things that happen in the real world. You just go with the flow, make the best of it. 

Then, if there is a real problem, there is a chance that it can be resolved. 

That said, I'm not one of those who thinks that everyone needs to be positive all the time. I don't see the harm of complaints when expressed between retailers, or between retailers and distributors. After all, problems can't be solved until they are acknowledged.

But I think creating a Whipping Boy is a problem in itself and Diamond doesn't deserve all the hate it gets. This appears to be a minority opinion and I'm somewhat surprised that I have it myself. 


Bunch of little bits.

I think I should just go with the randomness of my current attention span and do a bunch of little bits.

Another mask update; The last two days I worked I saw more and more people wearing their masks under their noses or so loose as to be useless. I'm not shy about asking them to pull it up, but there is a definite stubbornness in their response. Not cool.

Chaos Cat, Buddy Jasper, occasionally lets out a long, loud moan. I'm pretty sure he's not in pain or anything. It sounds very existential. I usually answer, "You said it, Buddy."

So the city council asks for tourists to stay away. Meanwhile, to be honest, my store is killing it right now because tourists are spending. Maybe because they can't spend their money on other things, I don't know. It's very hard to be a small business and turn that down.

I'd be a lot less worried if everyone would follow the spirit of the law. Wear your damn masks, for my sake!

My new book, "Eden's Return," is coming out Monday. My publisher has been behind it all the way. As usual, I'm more concerned that the publisher be happy about sales than how it affects me. What the publisher needs is reviews, really, so that the book can qualify for BookBub, which seems to be the only really effective promotion there is.  Reviews should be something simple. "Really liked the story, or plot, or writing, or whatever." Not much more than that. Don't be too effusive, don't say you've read "all" my books. Something short and positive is all that is necessary.

Can't complain too much because the Bulletin did a feature article on Pegasus Books just a little while ago, but we weren't mentioned in the "how bookstores are doing feature" a few days ago. Not many locals think we are a bookstore, but...and this may be a surprise to many of you--but I'd be willing to bet that I'm currently selling more books than about half of the "real" bookstores in Central Oregon. Oh, well. The tourists just see books and so I'm a bookstore...

Friday, July 17, 2020

A little secret.

Until recently, I've been pretty much OK with the rankings of my books on Goodreads. I mean, the rankings pretty much follow the order that I'd rank the books myself.

But there has always been exceptions:

When the books are offbeat, or a little experimental, they do tend to get worse reviews. In my eyes, the fact that I tried something different is a plus, not a minus. I've been trying new things over the last few books--some have done well: "Deadfall Ridge" was my first non-fantastical book, and it's probably done better in sales than any of my other books. I followed it up with an attempt to be even more realistic with "Takeover," and that wasn't as successful. While the reviews might be appropriate, I know that I tried hard to do something different, and I give myself extra credit for that.

I'm not sure how "Eden's Return" is going to go over. I purposely didn't try to explain the events of the book. I let a little philosophizing guide my way.

Here's the thing: the bigger the premise, the more explanations are unsatisfying. Watch all those seasons of "Lost" and the purgatory explanation just seems disappointing, lame. (Especially since that my first guess in about the first three episodes of the show.)

Explanations bring everything down to earth--they flatten the metaphors, erase the ambiguities, and are almost always a letdown. Whereas without explanations, the reader can supply their own answers, find analogs and symbols, relate to it in their own way.

There is probably a way to be both non-concrete and also satisfying, but that is decided in the end by the reader.

I was more than happy with "Eden's Return" and thought whatever loose ends there were needed to be loose ends.

P.S. The book comes out on Monday; audio, paperback, and ebook. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Linda's been watching a ton of Diagnosis Murder and Murder She Wrote while I roll my eyes. I do like seeing all the character actors I've forgotten. As I've mentioned, their names pop into my head because of the challenge game that Dad and I used to play.

We decided to watch the Rockford Files, which I remember fondly. We watch the first half of the pilot last night.

Wow. The pacing...we lived at a different pace back them. Five minutes of an old wino riding a bus, getting off and walking to a beach, being murdered, and the waves rolling in. Something that in a modern show would take a minute or two.

Everything looks so bare and plain. Rudimentary...almost poor. Not a computer or cell phone in sight, just file cabinets full of paper. Not a hint of what was to come.

James Garner is still charming, and the plot isn't too bad. I noticed right away that in the pilot, Rockford's dad was played by a different actor.

"I thought Wallace Beery, Jr. played his dad," I said to Linda. I looked it up. Actually, it was Noah Beery, Jr., who was Wallace Beery's nephew...

Lindsey Wagner is the client, who owns a bikini shop. (Would a modern show resist having her wear a bikini?)

Simpler times.

Oh, I'm a cruel, cruel man. I looked up the original "Champ" movie with Wallace Beery and showed Linda the last four minutes. She was in tears in the first minute...the ultimate tearjerker.

If I was really sadistic, I'd show her the last four minutes of City Lights. (Never mind the first few minutes of "Up" or the ending of "Grave of Fireflies." But I'd have to subject myself, and I ain't prepared for that...)

Scattered, obvious, or unwise.

It's been hard to keep this blog up. What I want to say is either too scattered or too obvious or too unwise to talk about.

Too scattered. 

Have hardly finished reading a book, much less writing one. I've been stuck on a James Lee Burke book for a month. I've always loved his writing, but I think I've become too aware of his little tricks. I actually laughed outloud at a rather ludicrous sex scene. His writing is starting to seem rote.

Linda and I have started a ton of TV shows, and then sort of let them peter out. I figure if that happens, it's because we've lost interest or we've overdosed. I sort of test Linda a little bit--wait for her to ask to keep watching a show. If she doesn't, then it disappears from our queue. So I can make a lot of comments about random shows, which is sort of useless.

Too obvious. 

The shit show that is our politics. It's horrible and scary. Jesus, who would have ever thought...

Coronavirus. If the governor hadn't mandated masks, I probably would have closed up. As long as we enforce mask wearing--yes, over your nose too--then I feel barely safe enough to remain open.

Too unwise. 

The store is doing extraordinarily well, but I don't believe I should crow about it. I'm surprised and grateful, but I fully expect the roof to fall in at any time.

Like I said, I'm too scattered in my thoughts to be of any use to anyone. Off I go to peruse Twitter and Facebook. That ought to focus me. (Sarcasm...)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

God, I love books.

Books are selling like crazy at Pegasus Books. Basically at double the pace of last year. Which is a good thing since Marvel and DC are rolling out comics out a slowly, especially for this time of the season.

Anyway, I'm very busy trying to reorder books each week from four different sources. It's a lot more work than ordering from just Ingrams, especially since I have to cross-reference availability, make sure I'm getting the best discount, and weigh that against the postage and how long it will take to show up.

Not sure if this is going to be feasible if it's going to take hours and hours to do every week. But I'm hoping that I'll be able to make the process routine eventually. Right now, it's trial and error.

On the other hand, book nerd that I am, I hugely enjoy ordering books. Sabrina has been ordering games and comics for years now, so I haven't had that challenge. Until recently, book ordering for me has been more of an off-hand affair, when I finally decided to take it seriously. I don't think the doubling of sales is any accident, but simply a matter of paying real attention. Even more encouraging, there is no micro factors that are probably going to affect this trajectory. (Macro factors--well, that's a minefield of danger...)

A lifetime of heavy reading, and beyond that, a curiosity about books whether I've read them or not, is paying off. (Much as the miscellaneous but voluminous superficial knowledge I've gained has helped in my writing.)

No shortage of tourists. This was my instinct, despite what all the "experts" on TV were saying. I think yesterday was maybe a little slower than it could have been because every other store but one on my block was closed. This is inexplicable to me, because a few of them have mentioned that times are tough, nevertheless they remain closed on Sundays and Mondays--in the summer. All I can do is shake my head.

And then there is this morning's headline in the Bulletin that Gov. Brown is threatening to close us down again.

Anyway, I'm enjoying being at work, and selling books, and talking to people and being engaged. I don't regret the seven years I spent with my head in my writing, but this is a refreshing change.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What looks like a surge is really just the pinnacle.

Over the years there have been many times when I've let myself think that Pegasus Books might be on the verge of turning a real profit. Not just paying the bills (including a modest wage for me, which the IRS counts as profit), but actually some cash left over.

***Warning--this is totally in the business weeds.

Every...damn... time, that possibility has receded before my disbelieving eyes.

No more. I've come to recognize that there is a inevitable pattern to it. Whenever I reach that point where it appears a profit is possible, it is actually a sign that things have probably reached a peak and the downhill slope is imminent.

The danger is that you spend too much at the peak, which means you get a high flow of material coming in after sales have already begun to drop. I've never figured out why this happens--perhaps the surge creates competition, or people are most eager just before they stop, or expenses like rent and utilities rise. All I know is that it is a consistent pattern.

The only real way to make extra money is to siphon it off on the way up--but the drawback to that is that you inevitably slow the growth. Whatever is fueling the growth will usually soak up all the cash, unless you are willing to forego the growth, which I have never been willing to do.

In hindsight, this has kept me in business, but has kept me from being terribly profitable. So if longevity is my goal, then supporting the growth curve is a good idea. I've learned that you can only survive a steep drop in business if you are operating at a significant level above survival.

That is, say you need to earn $XXX to stay in business, (breakeven point) and you spend all your cash on pushing it to $XXX times 1.5. What this does is gives you a cushion for a drop of a third. However, you haven't set any money aside for reserves. This sounds bad, but if you budget correctly, you can weather it.

On the other hand, let's say I need to do $XXX to stay in business, and I gently push it to $XXX times 1.25. Meanwhile, I take profits by not growing as fast and high as I could. But the problem is, if there is a drop in sales of a third or more, I'm in the hole with no real way to get out of it. The breakeven point isn't achievable, except by drastic cutting.

What about the cash? By my calculations, the cash profit--if you managed to hold onto it and not spend it on something else--will never be enough to cover the shortfall.

So the trick is to recognize when you are peaking and start looking for the inevitable falter.