Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What a strange turn of events...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless us all.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Has SF left me behind?

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

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

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

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

Pages and pages of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Broadening the selection in a pop culture store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off the top of my head: 

A stack of Kurt Vonnegut

A stack of Chuck Palahniuk

A stack of Charles Bukowski

A stack of Philip K. Dick

A stack of Murakami 

Mystics like Coelo, Gibran, Castaneda,

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

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

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

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

Unicorns. Just...unicorns.

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

Wicca, with a large selection of Tarot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm very glad I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Becoming a "real" bookstore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2020

Bad retailer humor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I have to say, this is fun.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Has Bend been ruined?

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

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

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

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

"Oh, what town is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You think Bend has changed, you whippersapper?"


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Hopes for a Merry and Prosperous Season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope for a merry, prosperous season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Too much bubble wrap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A virtuous cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2020

I know...I sound like a crank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Executioner's Axe

The Executioner’s Axe


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“It needs to be sharper,” he said.

 Still not ready to tackle a novel. 

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

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

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

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

Please Don't Bullyrag the Giant.

 Please Don't Bullyrag the Giant.

Please don't play with his hair,

don't stand on his chest and stare.

Please don't climb up his nose,

Please don't tickle his toes.

Please don't steal his lash,

'cause he'll turn you into hash.

Please don't crawl in his ear,

Or try to steal a tear. 

Please don't pull on his eyelid,

that's what happened to the last kid.

Please don't prick his finger,

and whatever you do,

don't go near his stinker.

Please don't jump on his tummy,

He thinks humans are yummy.