Friday, April 29, 2022

Violently racist.

I never had the heart to read the ghostwritten novel I sold to a mainstream publisher. It was either going to be worse, in which case I'd feel bad, or better, in which case I might feel even worse. 

Apparently, my sister, Sue, did buy the book. She said:

"The writing was fine, but the main character had violently racist thoughts. It was the kind of book that would appeal to the Jan. 6 traitors. I thought to myself, 'My dear brother wouldn't write this.' I couldn't get through 20 pages."


But I suspected as much. Between the time I sold the book (for good money) and the time I was asked to rewrite, I'd found out that the "author" was known for his right-wing screeds, essentially what I call "gun porn." 

Too bad. I think is was a pretty good book, expansive and relevant, with a lot of research. I tried to get it back, but when I couldn't, I informed the publisher I wasn't interested in writing a book with a political stance. 

So I never got the second advance. It actually hit the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for a short time, but hopefully the book will quickly fade into obscurity...

Saturday, April 23, 2022

A second career of writing anything but fantasy? I never would have thought it.

One of the strangest things that has happened in this my latter day attempt at writing is how little heroic fantasy I ended up writing. In fact, only in the last book I wrote was there a conventional fantasy narrative, and it was more science/fantasy than straight-out Tolkienish fantasy.

Strange because, forty years ago, Tolkienish fantasy was the everything to me in my first attempt at writing. I couldn't really imagine writing anything else at the time.

Something that most younger folk don't understand (and every day that goes by, the more younger people there are) is that there was a brief moment when modern fantasy was in an incubation phase but not yet birthed. LOTR's and the Hobbit hit the USA in paperback form in the early 60's. I think I read them in about 1965 or so.

I went searching for more of that. I know I'll get arguments about this, but at least in my estimation, there wasn't anything else out there. Some SF had great fantasy elements: Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny helped scratch the itch for awhile.

Around 1968 I found Robert E. Howard and the Moorcock, and that also scratched the itch. But sword and sorcery still wasn't heroic fantasy.

But it wasn't really until around 1970 that I started seeing real Tolkienish fantasy hit the market, in dribs and drabs at first, then it started accelerating and then it exploded. 

But before that had happened, I'd already had my plot completely outlined for Star Axe. This was sometime around 1972 or 1973 (before I'd ever heard of Star Wars--thus the Star Axe title.) I tried to write something like Tolkien, without using any of the creatures or terrain. Same thing with Snowcastles and with Icetowers.

When Sword of Shannara came out, I was dumbfounded. "You mean, I can use dwarves and elves? You mean I can actually shamelessly copy Tolkien?"

Seems incredibly naive to me now. Basically, everyone copied Tolkien, with no effort to be different. 

Nevertheless, I read every fantasy that came out for a few years and then I hit a wall. It all started seeming the same--and when it wasn't the same, it was some outrageous switch that usually seemed gratuitous and unconvincing. (Lord Foul's Bane, anyone?)

I know people love these fantasies, but none of them truly impressed me. 

And so in my long hiatus from writing, I drifted away from reading modern fantasy. SF? has very wide perimeters. Urban Fantasy? a little. Steampunk? Always seemed like an interesting idea. 

Instead, I started reading lots of mysteries and thrillers, mixed with literary fiction and non-fiction. 

Nevertheless, people constantly recommended new fantasy authors as different. They never were. Some were better than others, but none really knocked my socks off. Usually I read the first book and stopped. Again, I'm talking about heroic fantasy, not the many spinoffs, which at least were different.

It wasn't until I was much older that I decided that heroic fantasy was bound by its conventions, and that no one was ever going to match Tolkien within those conventions. Some fantasy could be really well done: The Curse of Chalion by Bujold; Game of Thrones by Martin; Name of the Wind, by Rothfuss, but completely new? Probably not possible.

Nevertheless, I always thought if I ever went back to writing, that fantasy would be my main focus. And indeed, my first two failed attempts were that. But then, I just had the urge to write a vampire story, even when I knew the genre was played out. After that, I wrote a story idea that I'd been thinking about for years: what if the Donner Party had included werewolves? Immediately following that, books about super-intelligent pigs out to destroy humanity? And so it went...

The horror community seemed very welcoming, and I realized that unlike most genres, horror was open to every style and idea. It seems to me to be the genre least restricted by formulas. So I went with the flow.

I still have a hankering to write my grand trilogy in the Tolkien tradition, even though I'm not sure the world needs it. 

It surprises the hell out of me that I wrote so many books without doing a fantasy, though. At least, not one I completed.

But you know what? I wrote the books I wanted, the way I wanted. I don't think any of them consciously followed a formula. I thought of many of them as written in the style of old-fashioned disaster movies: a cast of characters facing an expected and steadily increasing danger. 

All I know is that they were written without regard to convention. They probably are mostly conventional, because I'm pretty conventional by nature. But none of it was cynical, and in all of it I was following my own muse and I was simply trying to be entertaining, if to no one else, to myself.

In that sense, I feel they are "original," whether the end result appealed to people that way or not. 

At the end of the day, I still have a strong urge. I just don't know if I have the time or the grand idea that will hold it all together. If I live long enough, though...

Saturday, April 16, 2022

B & N is not our friend or ally. 

I'm sorry, I don't buy into this at all. Barnes and Noble is not the independent bookstore's friend or ally. It tried to be what Amazon is and failed. I don't give them the slightest bit of credit. 

I was here when Barnes and Noble came to Bend and put 3 indie bookstores out of business within a very short period of time. The next two indies didn't quite make it. We have a healthy number of indies in Bend now, but no thanks to Barnes and Noble. In fact, the very weakness of B & N may have helped. 

Does anyone not realized that the increase in indie bookstores is probably partly due to the collapse of Borders and the weakening of B & N? Does anyone not think that indie bookstores wouldn't pop up like mushrooms if B & N disappeared? 

I came into bookselling full time after the arrival of Amazon, but I did face the megastores in most of my other products: toys, games, and especially cards. They are no friend.

Sabrina said an interesting thing yesterday. "People think that Amazon and B & N are of a kind, but they are two different things. On the other hand, indie bookstores and Barnes and Noble ARE of a kind."

Amazon has always been a little out of sight and mind for me. I know it's there, I know it's taking the lion's share of the business, but...there's not a damn thing I can do about it. However, if someone is looking to go shopping, Amazon is not my competition. B & N is my competition. 

I've always been very dubious of the American Booksellers Association's opinion about things. It seems to me that they hype strategies that don't work and spend most of their time trying to promote, promote, promote, without much in the way of useful advice. 

No, you don't have to have endless signings and book clubs and coffee and millions of knick-knacks.

What you do need are books. Everything else is a distraction, and if you add up the time, space, and money most bookstores spend on these distractions, I'd be willing to bet that they don't pay off the way most bookstores think they do. 

But hey, what's time and space? Well, to answer my own stupid question, it's MONEY. 

Weirdly, this article says that part of the reason that B & N is doing better is that they are focusing on books instead of knick-knacks. Well, duh. DUH! I say.

So why does the ABA go from suing the publishers over their relationship with B & N, to calling them our friend? I believe the ABA is in thrall of the publishers as much or more than they are of their so-called constituents.

Because the publishers made some stupid decisions, pulled the rug out from under indie bookstores in a greedy and short-sighted alliance with the Big Business and now sees their doom on the horizon.

I believe indie bookstores can weather that storm. When the publishers struggle to survive without B & N, they'll either realize that they need to bolster indie bookstores or become wholly owned subsidiaries of Amazon. 

Indie bookstores can buy from smaller, more adept publishers--even, GASP!, from the authors themselves. Instead of being disdained by the bookstores, self-published authors might even find themselves in demand.

I do know this: B & N is not our friend. If they could take Amazon's place, they'd do it in an instant. 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

I wonder how many stores in the world are half comic book store and half regular bookstore, with games and toys as sidelines?

It may not seem all the odd to the casual observer, but having been the owner of both types of stores, I suspect it is very rare to have it split so neatly down the middle. (We are tipping into the bookstore category more and more, but that doesn't mean I'm neglecting comics.) 

I used to think the same thing about cards/comics, and I think that was equally rare.

I used to ask the card people what kind of store I was, and they'd invariably say, "A card shop." If I asked the comic people, they'd say I was "A comic shop." I considered this a great success.  

It's not quite the same with books/comics. It's more "old" customers versus "new" customers. Old customers, or even just residents who have never shopped with me, consider us a comic shop. But tourists and newcomers to town come into the store, see all the books, and think we're a bookstore. I don't believe there is anything I can do to change the impression of "old" customers and I don't try anymore. No amount of correction or advertising or whatever will change their basic opinion once formed. 

But back to my original point. Why aren't there more such hybrids? (Again, I'm not talking about carrying a few items from a different store, but trying to do the full job on both types of stores.) That I think is very unusual.

Why? Because I doubt any full-on bookstore would turn half their space over to comics. Graphic novels? Sure, they'd bring them in. They're hot right now, especially YA graphic novels. But hell, half the bookstores I visit into pay very little attention to even the genre books, especially fantasy and SF, but also romance and to a lessor extent, mysteries. (Mysteries have managed to get a foothold in the "literary" world, so it seems respectable.)

What I'm saying is, I'm pretty sure most bookstores would feel it beneath them to do comics fulltime. Or, to be fair, they may not feel they have the time, space, and expertise.

Meanwhile, comic shops wouldn't feel that way. Not because they are broader minded--though they probably are--but because it would never occur to them that books would be a direction to go. They might carry a few books that are crossovers with movies and comics, maybe some pop culture books, probably a few SF books, but I doubt they'd go into full literary mode. 

In fact, in most cases both bookstore owners and comic owners are probably right to stick with what they are doing. 

Our advantage is that we're in a busy downtown corridor, with lots of foot traffic, and plenty of tourists. We can have our cake and eat it too.