Thursday, December 28, 2023

Reviewing my writing before going forward. 

What mistakes might I have made.

1.) Too many books, too fast.

2.) Too many genres and subjects.

3.) Not enough planning or outlining in advance,

4. Not writing a "serious" book. No trauma drama for me.

5.) Not writing enough short stories.

But even if these are mistakes, they are what I would call career mistakes. That is, they could be considered mistakes if I was trying to make a paying career out of my writing.

The irony is, these are also exactly the terms of writing that I set out before starting.

Rule #1: Write the book without going backward, or without too much pre-planning. Let the book go where it goes. 

The reason for Rule #1, was that in my previous career, I'd fallen into a pernicious writing cycle. I'd research and plan and then never write the book. I'd start a book, and then restart a book, then restart a books, then restart a book....

Rule #2: Write what I want, when I want. 

For me, there were only two reasons to write:

A). For fun and personal fulfillment.

B.) For money and fame.

I realized ahead of time that the latter was very unlikely. Besides, I figured if I wrote for the reasons in the former, I'd have a better chance of reaching the latter.

Rule #3: Write for fun.

I have no interest in what I see in the literary field. I read to be entertained, and so I decided to write to be entertained. I'll let others write about trauma drama, I want my books to be an adventure.

In other words, what could be considered mistakes from a career aspect are the very reasons I was writing in the first place. I really can't see how I could have done it differently.

The last possible mistake was not writing short stories. But I can only now see this because I didn't even try until my last two efforts. Both were short stories, and both were immediately accepted by anthologies. 

Live and learn.  

So, if I'm just going to do what I was doing, then I have to figure I'm writing for fun and personal fulfillment. In that, I've already succeeded beyond anything I could have imagined.


Thursday, December 21, 2023

The English Wolf of Wall Street.

I wonder if anyone else has put these story parts together. I've picked it up by bits and pieces, and it's a fascinating case of six degrees of separation to me.

Bend used to be a company town: Brooks/Scanlon, the largest pine sawmill in the world. The town I grew up revolved around the mill. The population of the town was 13,000 compared to over 100,000 today. 

I'd just returned to Bend after college in 1980. My understanding was that Brooks/Scanlon was sold to Diamond International, which was controlled by a British mogul named Sir James Goldsmith, who then proceeded to sell off parts of the company for the breakup profits; including the mill. 

Thus, the end of the mill. 

After a little research, I learned the Goldsmith had been buying up shares of Diamond, but had disagreed with Diamond buying the mill. However, Goldsmith was keen on the lumber land, so ended up buying out Diamond. 

And thus, the end of the mill.

However it happened, it made me look up James Goldsmith, and it turns out he was the model for the British takeover mogul in the movie Wall Street, played by Terence Stamp, who was even worse than the character played by Michael Douglas ("Greed is good.")

What reminded me of this is the podcast "Behind the Bastards," (which interestingly, is done out of Portland, Oregon, I believe), which did an episode about the gambling tycoon in England, Lord Aspinall, who fleeced post-war aristocracy of much of their cash.

One of these guys was a Lord Lucan, who was part of the in-crowd at the Clermont Club, which was rife with men who were a little to the right of Attila the Hun.  Brixet before Brixet.

Lord Lucan was over his head in debts and about to lose custody of his children in a divorce. He tried murdering his wife, but killed the maid instead, and then disappeared.

There is a strong suspicion that his buds at the Clermont Club, including Sir James Goldsmith, knew what he was going to do and may have even helped him. 

Fine fellows all. Little old Bend didn't stand a chance, though I'm pretty sure Brooks Scanlon was doomed anyway.


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

"Cancel Christmas!"

Always have to remind myself that no one's cancelled Christmas. The Sheriff of Nottingham has been denied yet again. 

Though every year, the customers show up later than the year before, they do eventually show up, thankfully. 

Nevertheless, I always imagine Armageddon. Five days before Christmas and we're at war with China, three feet of snow on the ground, and a new plague keeping people holed up at home. Any or all or a million other scenarios. 

But every year, Christmas comes, people get the urge, and we come out OK. 

I used to scoff at the idea that Christmas represents half of the year's profits. Well, since we started carrying books, it hasn't been "half" but it's been a good solid third of our profits. 

It's nerve-wracking, I tell you. 

Friday, December 15, 2023

The comics controversy.

So there's been a lot of talk in the comic industry about the dangers of the future. 

It doesn't surprise me.

In 2017, our comic sales had declined two years in a row, after a decade long steady increase. What I noticed was the market seemed focused on speculation: variant covers, #1s, special editions. But Pegasus Books had decided after the crash in 1995 against encouraging any kind of speculation. We catered to readers. My saying was, "Readers stay, speculators eventually leave."

But that's where the market was going for the foreseeable future, and it put us in a bit of bind. Either we had to pivot to understanding the collectable market, are our sales would continue to decline.

It wasn't an impossible ask. I'd probably spent half my first 30 years on the job dealing with speculators. It's a very time-consuming, somewhat risky market to engage, but I really had no choice. It could be done, though it was always a gamble.

"The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent."  John Maynard Keynes. 

In other words, no one is bigger than the market, and no matter how right you think you are about a certain stock or trend, the market doesn't care ... (Charles Schwab.)

So I conferred with Sabrina. If we were going to go after the speculators , she would be the point person. She really didn't want to do it. I'd just spent 15 years telling her how dangerous and harmful the speculators could be.

"If we don't do this, we'll have to build the other parts of the store," I said. "Are you OK with that?"

She said she was, so we pivoted even more toward books (a process we'd started years ago, but now we were getting serious about it. 

As I've described many times before, when we closed for two months during Covid, we took the opportunity to lay down new flooring and redesigned the layout of the store to focus on books. To my great surprise, this worked even better than I expected. People started tell me that I was a bookstore, and sales confirmed it. We went for 65% comics/graphic novels to 65% books/graphic novels.

Ironically, comic sales also increased, but I think this was a Covid bump. 

Over the last year, we've been slowly "reverting to normal." Our books sales are still very good, only down 2%, which is a real accomplishment because Manga has definitely declined. 

Comics really aren't down for us in the numbers that other comic retailers are talking about, but I think this is because we'd already absorbed the hit. Sometimes you just have to take your lumps.

The secret to survival is to try to pivot with the market. You Zig when the market Zigs, and Zag when the market Zags. If you do the opposite, you'll pay the price. 

Obviously, you don't always get it right. But the more often you get it right, the healthier you are. 

The thing is, it's much less effective if you start to pivot after the market has already moved. You need to start the process before, and that's always a bit of a gamble itself. 

This is our third amazing fabulous year in sales. I'm expecting more "reverting to normal," but that's OK as long as our budget it aligned. We're so far above pre-Covid sales that we could get a lot of it back and still be a very prosperous business. 

Nice to see at the end of a long career hawking comics.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Minus 1%,

Our book sales this year are down 1%. 

I consider this a raging success. Covid brought in a wave of new customers, and it appears we've managed to keep them. Books now account for 70% of our overall sales, versus 60% last year. So books have kept our overall sales close. 

This despite a rather noticeable drop in manga sales. During Covid I went out of my way to stock as much manga as I could, whereas I suspect that B & N and other stores just took in whatever manga came through the pipeline. I was extremely proactive during those two years tracking down and stocking the hot titles. 

Now that the supply problems have cleared up, that competitive advantage has disappeared and manga sales are reverting to normal numbers.

If I include graphic novels overall, we are down 3.5% in sales. (Probably mostly manga.) It's become impossible to separate graphic novels from regular novels since we're pretty much ordering them from the same place. 

I believe things are reverting back to normal. There was a boom during Covid because we were open while restaurants, theaters, and game play spaces were closed. That we can match Covid number despite overall competition increasing is actually pretty impressive. 

To put this in perspective, we are selling 5 times more books then pre-Covid! Having to close for two months turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When we laid down new flooring it gave me a chance to reorient the store toward books, and it paid off. 

I think surviving for forty years in downtown Bend comes down to making these kinds of adjustments to the economic conditions. I've been lucky that I've mostly guessed right about trends. 


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Risk reward in pre-ordering books.

I think Pegasus Books is in a unique situation. We really don't have people coming in seeking the latest bestseller. I see other bookstores getting large numbers of the big books and selling them right away. Whenever I see their "new releases" wall, it's full of books I don't carry even a single copy of. 

Meanwhile, shunted off to one side in those stores is a shelf of slightly older books, and that's the shelf that looks like my store. 

These are proven sellers. Almost all of them are books I've sold more than once. 

I've always said, we order about 20% new releases and 80% backlist books, whereas most other stores seem to do the opposite. 

What am I missing and how can I change it? Should I even try to change it?

I had a customer come in who'd been referred to us by Dudleys for a SF book. Sure enough, we had it in stock. 

"I didn't think you were a bookstore," he said. 

"Yeah, a lot of the locals just don't see us that way," I start to say.

"I've never been the Bend before," he says. "I saw your store walking by, but didn't think you'd have what I wanted."

"But all I have in the windows is books!" I say. 

"Yeah, but it doesn't feel like a bookstore," he says. 

Like I said, I don't know if there is anything I can do to change that perception, except by taking away from the 35% of the store that isn't books. I mean, I could do that, but I've learned over the years to never let go of viable product lines because someday you will probably need them.

Games, toys, and cards are all viable parts of my business, but even more importantly, I can't deny the pop culture slant of our store. Yeah, you go into Dudleys expecting "literature." Now, I may have the exact same books, but that's not the impression I apparentlygive.

On the plus side of this, I'm not having to outlay a large part of my budget on hardcover books that may or may not sell. I know that almost all the books I'm ordering will sell. I'm so sure of it, that we forgo the option of returning unsold books in order to get a higher upfront profit margin.

The other advantage to this is that I can order books more or less on the day they are released. I can tailor my budget to what's happening that moment in my store.

The downside of this is when a new bestseller sells out in advance. This means those stores that ordered bestsellers weeks or months in advance will get them and I won't.

This is relatively rare, but is starting to happen more often. I believe that books like the "Fourth Wing" selling out for weeks is being done on purpose to drive up demand.

Hey, guess what. I played that game for most of my career--sports cards, comics, games, toys: ordering in quantity in advance in order to make sure I have a supply. I still have to play that game with Pokemon and Magic (though this is fading), but I quit playing that game with everything else.

It's gambling, in hopes of a big payoff.

So when a competitor tells me they sold 80 copies of "Black Flame," (the sequel to the "Fourth Wing), while I can't seem to get a single copy from my wholesaler, I console myself with the knowledge that I'm not gambling on books but ordering proven titles in small enough quantities that I can turn a reasonable profit without a unreasonable risk. 

If I'm going to sell large quantities of new bestsellers then I'll have to change the store and wait--or rather hope--that people will come around. 

Ordering larger quantities in advance makes it very hard to control the cash flow. It's very hard to predict months in advance how well business will be on the day a product arrives. 

Ordering this week's books this week make it all very easy to manage. So I may be missing some large sales, but the lack of risk is worth it. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

It's the little things in traveling that wear you down.

We were mostly prepared for the big things on our trip to Australia. 

The amazing scenery, the animals(!), the architecture, the oceans, the vegetation (!), the people--they were all great. I probably should be talking about those first, instead of the small annoyances, but there you go...

Other big things: I fairly easily translated the distance and monetary differences. Since I used a credit card for everything, I never needed any cash. I suspect this is true everywhere in the world, now. (I tried to pay for everything--the trip was my idea.) 

I found a dollar coin on the ground, (or rather, Wes did, and I grabbed it out of his hand.) So I have a souvenir. I was standing in a grocery store line and almost asked a lady if I could touch her plastic money, But then I realized how that would sound and shut my mouth in time.

The time difference, we adjusted. I won't say easily, but it was unavoidable, so we dealt with it. The driving on the other side of the road, well...more on that later.

The planes and airports were an ordeal, but expected.

The Australians were more reserved than I expected, but once approached, they were almost always nice and helpful. Weirdly, I felt like I was the extrovert, which is not my normal disposition. 

I had to leave the US without my full tranquilizer prescription, but it proved not to be a problem. It appears that my agoraphobia is all but gone. I was immersed in crowds in the cities and airports and restaurants, and I could look around in total calm. I had one incident in a coffee shop where I felt the walls closing in and everyone staring, but I resorted to the "five senses" method of coping, and it worked! The tranquilizers are such a small dose, and I take them so seldom, that they are more a panacea than anything. I'll probably always have some with me, but they are there as backup nowadays. 

Linda is a wonderful traveling companion. The only time there was strain is when we were lost, and even then, we learned to cope. We were with each other for every hour of every day, for thirty days, but she's funny, and supportive, and kind, and interesting. We had each other's backs. We seemed to cuddle a lot, which I think is something we should continue in our daily routine!

GPS is a lifesaver, let me tell you. Even if it did constantly send us on unintended detours. We actually made it out of Sydney and down to Wes and Ev's place without GPS, but not having it the rest of the trip is unimaginable. 

Wes and Ev were incredibly gracious and helpful. Took us to see the animals, especially the penguins. Really were the solid center of the whole trip.

There were some through-lines from the US to Australia. Motels are mostly the same, except not having coffee in the lobbies. McDonald's were in every town (they call it Macca's) and I could grab my computer and get the wifi going. A bit of the routine, even if it is America at it's most colonizing mode. 


Anyway, back to the reason for this post: The stress of the trip came from the small things. I know there are exceptions to everything I say here; but these are what we struggled with:

No ice for drinks. You bought ice with the drink or bought a big bag of it. They don't have the little stations in every store and gas station to fill a cup with ice and soda like the US has.

Small portions (especially of coffee!), but maybe that was good thing. I'd just order two lattes, instead of one, and ask for extra sweetener. Couldn't find any of the creamer we like. Also, no powdered lemonade or kool-aid. Since I live on the stuff, this proved to be a big deal for me. Their lemonade is some kind of carbonated something. I hated it. (Hey, lemonade is water and lemon juice with sweetener, am I right?) I drank way more soda than usual because I didn't have my usual thermos of lemonade.

Extra switches to get the lights going and having the wrong adapters and not enough computer cords. Stupidly, I didn't make my phone international, just Linda's, which was a HUGE mistake.

A rental car that was clunky and hard to drive, despite our asking for a small sedan (more on that later...)

The price gouging at all the intersections between tourism and normality. I suspect this is true all over the world, not just Australia. In the US, too.

Narrow roads, confusing street patterns. This was somewhat compensated by the fact that, once you're out of the big cities, the traffic is sparse by US standards. Sydney was a trial by fire--had to get out without GPS and driving a strange car on the wrong side of the road.

Most of the little things people take for granted. For example, the listing of plane flights on the electronic bulletin board flashed by so fast and we were in such a hurry, that we couldn't get the info. Then, with a flash of "duh" I realized that they were listed by time. Once I knew that, it was easy. Constant small learnings can wear you out. 

I handled the left handed driving for 30 days, until 15 minutes. Hurrying to the airport, I hit some barrier in the road and blew out a front tire. Some guys walking by came to our rescue and put on the spare (I would have gotten it about three times the time.) Left a bad taste in my mouth. Damn

But we mostly handled it just fine. If we ever did it again, we'd know what to do. (Like that is ever going to happen.)



Sunday, October 29, 2023

We do things our way. Isn't it charming?

I've been thinking a lot about income equality on this trip, as on all trips. When you travel the disparity strikes you anew. 

Here in Australia, it seems much more egalitarian; but traveling has also taught me that I'm only seeing the surface. Still, it I think I can see some similarities and some differences.

Today Linda and I visited the Newtown area of Sydney. It struck me as slightly seedy, slightly glamorous, probably mostly hipster. So the question was, when does this Funky atmosphere become gentrified? Along the way we met a young man who exclaimed "It isn't the same Newtown! You should have seen it ten years ago!" Which is the cry of every long time resident of a gentrified area. 

The clerk at the bookstore told us that the majority of her business was tourists, which put a new light on the hordes of people on the sidewalks. Most of us were tourists. The bookstore was eloquently seedy, if that makes sense.

It reminded me of downtown Bend. We're maybe a little further along in the gentrification process; much of the funky has already been replaced by the upscale, but there is still a little of that. 

So tonight in the motel, I'm reading a book by Kim Stanley Robinson, "New York 2140," about a future drowned New York that nevertheless is still motivated by ruthless capitalism:

" with everything, the logistic curve rules; rate of profits drop as workers expect higher wages and benefits, and the local markets saturate... So at that point capital moves on...The people in the newly abandoned region are left to cope with their new rust belt status, abandoned as they are to fates ranging from touristic simulacrum to Chernobylic calm."

The words "touristic simulacrum" really leapt out at me. 

I was in a small indie bookstore in Wagga Wagga a couple of days ago and the woman was basically trying to create a store like mine in a downtown that was struggling and I was trying to tell her that she needed to make her store different and authentic. 

But, to be fair to her, that only works if you're in an area that has become a tourist attraction, such as the store we visited today...or to be completely honest...with my own store. 

In a sense, it's a performance, something to attract the tourists. It's charming and authentic that we don't have a point of sale computer; it's curation that we pick our own books; the books are arranged in an eccentric manner; and so on. 

In a sense, it's a "touristic simulacrum."

That's not putting it down. It's an adaptation to circumstance, it's fulfills a real need. But it's only possible and necessary when the proper ingredients come together.  

I was reading a review of a fancy New York restaurant in the NY Times and it struck me the same way. It wasn't really about the food, it was the performance, the act of doing it. 

I think it has to be intuitive to those of us that do it. It has to be, in a real sense, authentic.

We do things our way. Isn't it charming? 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Stupid travel tricks.

So I haven't done much traveling, especially in the latter half of my life. Been pretty much working behind the counter or home writing for my adult life.

On a whim, I booked a trip to Australia. What inspired me is that my friends Wes and Ev are in residency for a couple of years, so we could stay with them for awhile. That was the one smart thing I did on the trip.

I did very little planning, and boy does it show. I think I did this in about the most expensive way possible. So without further ado, what I've learned (which would be particularly helpful the next time I visit Australia--which will be never.)

1.) When they say get there early for your flight, they really mean it; especially for international flights. Nearly missed our flight out of Hawaii. 

2.) Book a round trip, stupid. Save some money. And while you're at it, collect some flyer miles. (Actually, we may have gotten lucky with getting away with booking a one way trip...)

3.) Sign up for some hotel program or another that allows you to cash in bonus points for free stays. Comfort Inns are about Linda and my speed. In fairness to my own stupidity, it didn't occur to me that the program would be available in Australia until the last third of the trip. 

4.) If you're going to rent a car for a long road trip, make sure it gets good gas mileage. Didn't even occur to me until we were well into our trip. 

5.) Speaking of road trips. While they are fun, they are also exhausting, so it might be better to do more staying in one place for a longer period of time.

6.) So some of the touristy things. While I particularly loved visiting the small towns, driving down country roads, going for nature walks, I suspect I'll remember more the stuff Wes and Ev planned for us: a sanctuary visit to feed kangaroos, the March of the Penguins, going out to dinner with them. 

We're going to be in Sydney for the last five days of the trip and I've decided to do the tourist thing: the Opera House, the aquarium, stuff like that. I hadn't intended to do that but we flew 8000 freaking miles to get here so get some of those memories.

7.) Figure out the things you'll need that the country won't provide. (For us, it was electrical adapters; sharing is fine, but better for each person to have their own.) I've traveled this whole trip without cash, which maybe isn't the smartest thing to do. Need my coffee in the morning, in a certain way. Need my soda with ice (what the hell, Australia? What do you got against ice?) 

8.) Most people don't care you're from another country, so unless they ask, don't make a big deal of it.

9.) Carry a small back pocket (or purse) notebook with essential info and a place to keep notes. Things will occur to you along the way that you'll want to remember. A phone is great, but having the backup of a notebook is very reassuring. 

10.) Speaking of phones, don't get all cheap like Linda and I did and have only one phone hooked up for international service. Really stupid.

11.) The small differences are unavoidable and a constant pain in the ass. Just figure they are going to happen.

12.) GPS. Of course, but I hadn't realized how important it was.

13.) Don't bring your homework with you. You'll never get to it, so it's a waste of space. On the other hand, you'll read more than you expect (lack of TV?).

14.) Pack light. No really. You can do laundry. 

15.) More underwear, less pants. Only need one over-shirt (or sweater) but don't forget a light coat if you're headed for spring, winter, or fall.  I could have gotten away with two pairs of jeans. Right number of shirts, about four. Light shoes will cover most everything, including hikes.


I'm going to remember more things and will add them later, but there's a beginning list.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Murdered by a book.

Ran out of reading material on the trip so grabbed a title I'd vaguely heard of: "The Thursday Murder Club," by Richard Osman.

It's about a retirement community group of crime solvers.

I don't recognize any of these old coots, even though I'm the same age as some of them. They're all endearingly quirky, but they seem like what a middle-aged man imagines old people to be like. Sure enough, the author is 52. He has a glimmer, maybe.

Then again, I've never felt like the rest of my age group, ever. The idea that people would choose a retirement community is amazing to me. I can't imagine. 

I'm also a little tired of CUTE narrative voices.

Going to finish it, but next trip I'll bring more books.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Our house is still intact?

Just read a story about a woman who's house was demolished while she was on vacation...

The only reason we left our house, and more importantly, our cat Buddy Jasper, is because we had our two sons willing to occupy the place while we were gone.

We're a day away from Adelaide now. The weather has been rather nice for half the trip and rather horrid for the other half. Big rains and wind yesterday. 

I'm realizing now that we didn't do much planning for this trip other than the broad outlines. Part of this was on purpose--I didn't want to tie us down too much. But what we're discovering is, a road trip is a road trip. It isn't landing one place and relaxing. Fortunately, we had our week with Wes and Ev, but the rest of time is mostly on the road.

Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the terrain; Australia seems to have so much more variety of trees and plants and birds and strange animals. The rolling and green hillsides are cool. 

But the roads are narrow and hard to navigate, and being unfamiliar with the driving makes it hard to make impulse decisions to pull off the road. So we aren't do that as much as I thought we would. 

Somebody said that Australia was like the US in the 1950s, and I can see that. I think it's the relatively fewer people. I keep noticing how the smaller towns seem kept up, and yesterday it occurred to me that we in the US gave up on a lot of small towns when we built the interstate system. 

Here, their equivalent of an interstate is not so overwhelming, except outside the big cities. So the highway system is still viable for businesses, which in turn keeps the small towns going. 

We keep taking wrong turns with our GPS, which has a tendency to tell us to turn right or left one intersection too soon. Then we go on long detours getting back to the main route. This has turned out to be a feature, not a bug. 

I've enjoyed the country roads we've accidentally found ourselves on.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Halfway through our trip to Australia.

Halfway through our trip to Australia. Toby is taking over the catkeeping and housekeeping chores from Todd.

The last couple of days I've finally started feeling like myself. I was in a bit of fog there for the first week or so. 

We traveled from Sydney down the east coast of New South Wales and on into Victoria. Lots of little towns along the way. It's hard to remember towns that have such unusual names. Sydney, (first night), Mascot (breakfast), Wollongong, Shellharbour (second night, visit to the mall), Gerringong (for picnic lunch in the park), Moruya (third night, breakfast), Eden (fourth night, first appearance of live kangaroos, echidna alongside the road, back up to Merimbula (fifth night), and then on to meet our friends, Wes and Ev Hare in Churchill, (about an hour and half from Melbourne.

Most all this trip was on Princes Highway, which at times was an "M" (the equivalent of interstate) but most of the time was a two-lane highway.

We took lots of side-trips down interesting roads, spent time at beaches (saw some whales far in the distance), time in "national" parks, which I believe is the equivalent of state parks, (lots of signs warning of fox poisoning). We'd stop in small towns along the way for meals. 

We stop at every bookstore we see. Interesting to see the differences and similarities, the biggest of which hardcovers are rare. All the "new" books come out in trade paperback.

As I said in an earlier post, these small towns seem to be kept up pretty well. One of the towns was not so much touristy and almost everyone was a resident, so was glad to absorb that. Can't remember the name of the town and it was too small to find on the maps.

No one much impressed we're Americans. (I know, I know.) 

Also, as I said earlier, it really is the small things that throw you. Things as little as finding how to open the gas cap, using the right terminology for things. Close, but not quite. The general outlines are the same, but of course eucalyptus trees have a different feel than pine. 

Wes and Ev had us pretty much scheduled from the start. First day, we went to an animal sanctuary to feel and pet the kangaroos and koalas, see the Tasmanian devil and the dingoes, (no wombat). Then on to an airbnb on Philip Island. Spent two nights there, had dinner in the town, then on to the Penguins. Small little blue penguins ("Little Penguins" is actually their name.) They come ashore every night during breeding season, The March of the Penguins, so you can sit on a viewing platform only feet away (inches) as they come shore. On our night, there were 2500 of them. They ignore us big galoots, except the Chinese tourists who no matter how often they were warned or threatened with eviction, took flash pictures. I found myself pointing at the guy left of me, who was so fidgety trying to hide his picture taking that it was distracting. (It scares and blinds the penguins.)

Then the walk back up to the parking lot with penguins squawking and making big noise along the way.

"They're having sex, aren't they," I said to a park ranger.

"If you hear their wings rustling, they are. But they are very quick and efficient."

"Oh, is that what you call it?"

Next day, we requested a rest day. (I've read three books on this trip so far, which I didn't expect. But as I said, we drop into bookstores everywhere we go.)

Yesterday we drove on into Melbourne, to the Victoria Market, which is a famous (?) bazaar. Lots of very kitschy product and shady boothkeepers (at least, they felt that way to me.) We did buy some Australian opal ear rings and a necklace because it's our 40th anniversary in a few days, and opal is the gem for October. So we'll remember our trip. 

Yesterday, Wes and I went for a walk in the wilds. This is what I've been looking forward to the whole trip. Saw a mob of kangaroos in the wild, walked up a hillside to see the 'primordial' forest. I thought I'd be doing more of that, but Linda arthritis is giving her trouble. She's offered to stay in the car while I troop around and I may take her up on that the second half of the trip.

Another rest day while Wes and Ev actually attend to the business they're here for.

Tomorrow it's back to Melbourne to visit a church friend of Linda's. 

The second half of the trip is up the Gold Coast road to Adelaide, (which is spectacular by all accounts.) Then straight a few nights on the road to Canberra, then finally back to Sydney where we hope to meet our niece, Sophia, for a day or two. 

Home by way of Hawaii again.

I'm glad we gave it a month. Hard to imagine heading back after a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Adventure 9.

My theory is that millennials are taking over these old highway motels and gentrifying them. It's happening in America too. It's rather charming, actually. There is always something a little funky about these places no matter how much they try to yuppify them. 

It's great to be waking up at 6:00 in the morning and have hours to get ready to leave. Also a little daunting to know that the opposite would happen on a trip to Europe. 

I'm sure if we were at home, we'd be glued to the news. Here...we can't seem to get anything to work. This trip has proven once and for all that Linda and are out-of-date, left technologically stranded. I'm probably the last generation of store owner that can get away with a cash register and a clipboard. We finally found a store with maps but we passed since we're going to reach Churchill today and we're hoping Wes can help us get GPS.

It seems to me that there are a lot more birds here, and that they're a lot more noisy, and they inhabit very colorful trees. 

The sun ROSE over the ocean this morning...


Having the whole day of quiet in a motel room just to read and nap was incredibly refreshing. I'm an introvert for sure. Too many people!!!

Monday, October 9, 2023

Adventure 8. 

Overall, it appears to me that Australia is taking better care of their homes and neighborhoods, though I really haven't been here long enough to be sure about that. In Oregon, the coastal communities can often seem run down. Here, the downtowns in all the small towns seem prosperous. Lots of kids and playgrounds. 

It seems like the wealth is spread a little more evenly than in America, though again, I haven't really been here long enough to be sure about that. 


No one here seems to have heard of Oregon. To be fair, Linda and I haven't heard of most of these places either. We usually say, "We're the state on the west coast just above California. Basically, halfway between Seattle and San Francisco."

They've all heard of the latter, at least. They also all seem to ask about fires. 

Linda and I decided to take a day off from traveling. We checked into a motel only about 15 minutes away from Eden in Mirembula and are just resting. Tomorrow we push on to Wes and Ev's place in Churchill, which is five hours away.

Adventure 7. 

We have been driving all the "tourist detours" on our way south down Princes Highway. We kept seeing signs showing pictures of kangaroos or wallabies "next 3 miles" or "next 9 miles."

Hey, where are they? You promised me wallabies!!!

We got to Eden, and the motel manager directed us to the nearby golf course. And there they were, even a joey in a pouch. All the people going to dinner completely ignored the critters while the stupid Americans took pictures. 

As Wes told me, "There are 30 million people in Australia and 50 million kangaroos."

So I've finally seen some. Also saw whales splashing off the jetty, plenty of large and small and very noisy birds. Wes and Ev are going to take us to basically a petting zoo and an island with penguins. 

Meanwhile, in Shellharbour, we visited a mall in order to get an American to Australian adapter and to visit the corporate bookstore there. 

The mall was enormous and busy. Weird. I think malls are mostly dead in America, replaced by "lifestyle" shopping centers. (I may be wrong, maybe that's just in our neck of the woods.) But for an area with a population smaller than Portland, the mall was huge.

Anyway, the bookstore folk didn't want to talk so we moved on.

Last night we stayed in Moruya. It had an independent bookstore and owner was chatty. They had a lot of current bestsellers in trade paperback that won't be out of hardcover in America for a year or more. Apparently, hardcovers aren't really done here, except sometimes later, and only ordered by special request. An interesting difference. 

We've decided to stay in Eden for a couple of days recovering from all the traveling. I'd hoped we could stay one whole day doing nothing before now, but each and every motel we've stayed at had some reason we didn't want to stay. (3 out of 4 promised two beds and delivered one, which is really annoying. Linda has terrible restless leg syndrome and I thrash and turn so much we've learned we sleep better next to each other, but a foot apart in space.)

In a couple days we'll reach Churchill, Victoria and visit Wes, my best man our wedding, (and I at his) and his better half, Ev. They sound like they have plans for us. 

Meanwhile, back at the home front, Jasper the cat has taken to Todd, apparently, so all is well. Toby will be house and cat sitting the second half of the month. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Adventure 6

Little things that are different. 

Not a lot of huge pickups. What pickups there are, are midsized.

Everyone backs into parking spaces. 

Their cups of coffee are small and dainty. 

Basically, when you travel by plane you are cattle, being herded everywhere by exasperated cowboys. 

Australians bustle as much if not more than Americans. 

Light switches are cute little nobs, and have to be turned to "on." (I suppose to save energy,)

You don't pass on the highway, you "overtake."

Can't cancel reservations at the hotels, as far as I can tell.

Our rental car has a definite portside tilt. We've decided it is the car, not us. Biggest problem continues to be turning on the wipers instead of the blinkers. (55 years of muscle training.)

Food portions are also smaller. 

There are McDs everywhere and thank god they all have wifi. 

Australians are very very friendly and helpful to helpless old codger Americans. 

I keep telling Linda, "This ain't Australia until I see a Kangaroo!" We ran into a lady at a reststop and she asked with a puzzled look, "What's with the fascination with kangaroo?"

I answered, "You come to America and we have wolves, and badgers, and opposums, and raccoons..."

"Oh," she exclaimed. "I'd really like to have a raccoon!"

"We have black bears, and coyotes, and mountain lions, and deer, and elk...but we don't have kangaroos."

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Adventure 5.

So much traveling is just traveling, so not much to say. 

I drove all day yesterday on the left side of the road. It was alarming how cars seemed to be coming right at me, even though it's just a mirror of the same thing in the states. My biggest problem was that I kept hitting the wipers when I was trying to use the turn signal, then I'd get flustered and miss the turn altogether. 

Got honked at two or three times, so I know I was probably out of bounds. The lanes seem much narrower here, at least until we got to the M (the equivalent of an interstate.) Turns out, the road from Sydney to Wollogong was all traffic until we turned onto a national park road, and emerged on the other side on Princes Highway. Now we're in Wollongong, which I'd never heard of but which is somewhere between Eugene and Portland in size. We naively thought is was a little town and wandered around lost for a while.

Thank goodness I got the advice that all McDonalds have wifi services, so we are able to stop and sort things out.

Even though we thought we were getting international service on Linda's phone, it doesn't seem to be working or we aren't doing it right. Fortunately, we still have email to communicate with Sabrina.

I left Sabrina in total charge, ordering and all, but it's interesting that she still lets me kibbutz a little without complaint. It seems like the younger generations are much more cooperative in that way. Boomers just seem more competitive and jealous of there prerogatives. 

I've learned this about myself: it's not that I don't want to delegate, it's that IF I delegate I want to delegate the whole damn thing. That's why Sabrina has been given that power, because I know she'll do it responsibly. 

(Same as, I'm not really a workaholic, it's just that if I'm going to work, I'm really going to work, and if not, not.)

Anyway, we wandered a little off the path in the national forest, but didn't buy any permits. Linda doesn't feel like she can walk too far, so we're pretty much going where a car will go. 

Finally got out of traffic at Wollongong, the ocean spread out in front of us. From here on, we just have to stick to one highway, Old Princes Highway, which is kind of cool. Goes to Churchill, then to Melbourne, then on the western edge up to Adelaide. Keeps it simple.

We're only driving about three hours a day, taking every turnoff we see. Both of us have the power to say, "Go that way," and we go. 

The vegetation is tropical, but unlike Ohahu , seems dry this time of year. No wildlife yet, except the Ibis's and some crows with white tails. (Looked it up.. Pied Currawong?

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Adventure 4. 

Took off from Redmond without a hitch. Was the most nervous at the beginning. Got to Seattle, waited three hours, then a five hour flight to Honolulu. Managed to catch the shuttle to the hotel and settled in.

That was a long five hours. Two babies crying in the row across from us all the way. I had my earplugs thinking I might snooze, so wasn't bothered much. They really do pack people in like sardines. Linda taught me a new online game and we took turns playing it.

Lots of friendly people, many oldsters like us--I guess we're probably the generation that can afford it. We seem to be chattier than most people, which is a bit of a surprise. I've been calm and collected the whole trip, which is also a bit of a surprise.

You know what? They make it really easy. The routes and routines are all intuitive, easily marked, and the people are mostly helpful. The tourist industry seems completely tuned into the duffers. 

Took the shuttle back to the airport this morning, rented a car and drove all the way across the island to the north beaches. Seemed like mostly locals there, not so many tourists. Saw a sea turtle and some very tanned people, old and young, half naked, old and young. 

Drove back, negotiated the rental thing, back to the hotel at what for us was around 8:00, but 5:00 local time. 

On our way to Australia tomorrow, me much relieved that it isn't a difficult journey at all. Though 12 hours in a plane, (plus two or three hours of hurrying up and waiting) is intimidating.  

Todd, Toby, and Jasper are taking care of the house. Jasper patrolling the neighborhood making sure all is secure. King of the Cul-de-sac. 

Having the whole day with the car was the way to do it. No hurry, no worries about getting lost. Just looking at everything. Now that we're on our way, I can see it's something we needed to do.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Adventure #3.

I almost bumped our airline tickets up to a higher class. It would have cost a minimum of 2k to do so, on top of and more than the original tickets. I filled in all the info and my fingered lingered over the submission.

"Nah, I'll sleep on it."

In the morning I decided that the flight would be the equivalent of a long work day. Instead, we'd donate the 2K to Linda and my chosen charities. Mine being Family Kitchen, and Linda's a new homeless venture in Redmond, Oasis Village. 

So if we suffer on the trip, it was for a good cause.


It's weird how time just sped up once we decided on the trip. But in the last week, it's slowed down again in anticipation. I think we've gotten everything pretty much ready, so now it's a matter of waiting and doing the small things. 


A little before dark yesterday, we got a knock on the door. It was one of the neighborhood children, a seven year old (or so) little girl, asking if it was okay for her to take Jasper to the park (which is a couple of blocks away.) 

"We'd rather not," Linda and I said.

"Well, he followed us down to the park. My brother is bringing him back."

 We look down the sidewalk and the brother, who is probably about nine-years old, was awkwardly carrying Jasper. The cat seemed to see us watching, and he squirmed out of his arms and ran, tail fluffed, to our backyard.

Thing is, Jasper will hardly let Linda and I pick him up. As much of a lap cat as he is, being picked up isn't something he likes. So I was astonished that he let the neighbor kid pick him up, much less let him carry him. 

We're told that Jasper gets around, watches the kids playing, communing with the cats who are housebound, and otherwise making his presence known.

King of the Neighborhood, apparently.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Adventure #2.

Almost bid for an upgrade to "premium cabin," which is the equivalent of business class in international travel. We'll be on the plane for 12 hours, so...once in a lifetime trip, you know.

But, my God, why the huge difference in price!

The low bid is still almost double the regular price, or three times the price overall. Basically, we'd be paying $100 bucks more each for each hour of flight, that's IF they took our low bid. The "confirm" bid is would end up being four times the regular price. 

None of this is probably news to the travelers among you. 

But couldn't they design a price system where everyone gets a bit more comfort for a bit more of a price? Eh? Average it out?

I've read up on the deregulation of the airlines. My understanding is that air travel before deregulation was just flat out expensive because the only people flying were business people and/or the rich. The empty seats were more or less compensated by the government. 

Nature abhors a vacuum, so when they deregulated, the trick was to fill those empty seats, so travel got affordable. 

But we still had the business people whose companies paid for their trips, and the well-off, who could afford the older way of traveling, so we have what we have. 

Fucked up.


Monday, September 25, 2023

Heading down under.

No, not to hell. Not yet. Linda and I are going to spend the month of October in Australia.

Todd and Toby are going to house and cat-sit for us. In fact, if it wasn't for them, Linda probably wouldn't have left Jasper alone at all. 

So I'm going to be annoying and probably post stuff most days. It's a casual trip, no real schedule. Landing in Sidney, driving down the east coast to Melbourne, staying with our friends Wes and Ev for a week or so, then driving up the southwest coast to Adelaide, then over the top of that southern bulge back to Sydney by way of Canberra. 

It's my first overseas trip. I haven't even been on an airplane in 40 years. Linda is much more traveled than I am. 

Leaving the store completely in Sabrina's hands. A good practice for when she takes over completely. 

Adventure #1. 

So I thought I was really being smart by buying electrical adapters for our gear. So the adapters arrive...and they are Australian to American rather than the other way around. 

It never even occurred to me, but of course.... Even then I had a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Now I'm just hoping our two prong stuff will work on their 3 prong stuff. 

That's traveling for you. A series of complications you just have to get over.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The dwindling usefulness of the internet.

From the obvious, Twitter, to the slightly more subtle, Google, the internet is becoming less and less generally useful. It's still completely necessary to dedicated tasks. It would be difficult to run my business without it. It's handy to pay bills, to check my accounts, everyday housekeeping and storekeeping chores.

But informationally? It has diminished noticeably in the last year or so. Or maybe I'm just noticing it more. 

I used to say to anyone with a question: "Google it!" But that isn't great advice anymore. Now it's "Google it...AND be sure to search deeper into the suggestions."

For example, I wanted a very simple price gun for my store. I wanted just the one feature, a printed price label, nothing more. I searched for a long time on the question "Price Guns," and all that was suggested were higher priced and elaborate price guns. It wasn't until I bought one useless price gun that malfunctioned almost immediately that I thought to refine my Google questions to "old-fashioned" price guns. It had to have been 30 pages in...I don't want to have to search 30 pages in or constantly change my simple questions to get a simple answer.

I never much used Twitter, and have left it completely now, so I'll say no more about that.

There is a recent article in "Vulture" about the corruption of the website "Rotten Tomatoes." I'd already pretty much decided that it was becoming less and less useful as a guide to good movies and shows. It seemed to me that objectively bad or mediocre movies were getting 70% to 80% rating. (And yes, I think quality can sometimes be objective.) While shows that were excellent were ALSO getting 70% to 80% ratings. 

I could, of course, try to figure out what the "top critics" are saying, but even that doesn't work anymore. I think the term "top critic" has been watered down to the point that it no longer makes a difference. 

Facebook. Same people everyday, (bless your little hearts) less and less response to my posts, more and more ads, more and more unoriginal, lazy posts instead of personal posts. So I go to Facebook much, much less often than I used to.

I never made the jump to the other social media sites. They just seem like sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

I'll admit, some of the dumbing down of the internet an actually be worked: for instance, as a 70 year old male with a reading range of thrillers, SF and Fantasy, horror, mystery, non-fiction, and some literary, I was having a hard time trying figure out what to get for younger readers, as well as female readers. So Tik Tok books comes along and I simply order what is being recommended there and, Wal la,(viola!) problem solved. At least for the time being. But I can pretty much predict that this site will also be gamed into uselessness. 

Oh, well. Can't stop progress...or is it, can't stop devolution?

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Of course he's a fake and con. That's the point.

Listening to the "Fake History" podcast, the episode about professional wrestling, and he makes the point that Trump is an exemplar of the "heel" in wresting. Someone who bends the rules when it suits him, then cries foul if anyone else does. Who knowingly twists the truth, knowing that his fans will know he his twisting the truth and cheer him on. He quotes a scholar from the 50's whose description of the "heel" is eerily Trumpian.

In other words, calling Trump a fake and a con is like calling professional wresting a fake and a con. Only idiot liberals wouldn't understand what Trump is doing, thus confirming the reason to back Trump in the first place.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Froth in the economy?

Somebody asked me if I thought there was a housing bubble in Central Oregon. 

I'm not sure about that--a bubble is a frenzy, and this seems like a steady climb. But I do have the sense of there being a bit of froth in the economy, at least locally. 

Lots of people moving here without really seeming to know where they moved. Just because Bend seems like a happening place. That doesn't seem to me like a sturdy reason. And if, or when, there is a slow down, I suspect they'll be just as easy to up and leave. 

I'm noticing a lot of frothy cultural events, that if you asked yourself if they would do those sorts of things if the economy was struggling, is a big no. 

A lot of new competition for me in the store, trying things that I've seen being tried in the past and which never really took hold before.

Frankly, as a business owner, I've noticed a certain cycle, that all of a sudden people are coming out of nowhere to do things that people in Bend are already doing. The thing is, recessions have a way of either keeping that from happening too much, or worse, shutting them down completely. 

I do pretty well in these slowdowns, because I'm established and have had multiple experiences and I kind of know when and how much to cut back. 

I don't know that we've really had a recession in a long time. Covid didn't do it, not really. In fact, I think some businesses came out of Covid in better shape for a lot of counter-intuitive reasons. So we've had steady expansion and I think we've reached the frothy stage. 

When that will end, I can't predict. It almost always takes longer than I think it will. But these slowdowns probably need to happen once in a while to keep things from bubbling over. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

My take on the current publishing world.

Sometimes you have to step away from something to see it clearly. 

I haven't written anything for publication for several years now, but I pay attention to what's happening in the publishing industry, and while I don't think I've learned anything particularly new, I'm seeing the same things with less emotional freight. 

I think I've had a pretty good handle on the odds against writers; the combination of talent, luck, persistence, and connections it takes to succeed. I came back to writing at the age of 60, not worried about money, and I decided from the start that I wouldn't try to get published again by the mainstream. 

I liked writing as much as I wanted, when I wanted, and what I wanted, and it was clear to me that trying for any kind of career as a mainstream writer was going to take way too much effort, and even then, the odds were pretty much against any significant success.

I think it would have been possible, given the right combination of circumstances, but I understood that I lacked a lot of the personality traits and work habits that would make it likely. (My one foray into mainstream was a ghostwritten book that actually hit the Publishers Weekly bestseller list one week: but that was a completely awful experience, which only reinforced my suspicion of mainstream publishing.)

Talent? Who knows. But I knew it took more than talent.

I had doors open a crack for me every time I wrote something, and I got pretty good at sneaking my way through those cracks, and then finding another crack in the door, and then another. 

That was fine. My books got out into the world, more than few people read them, and I was personally proud of them. I spent a fair amount of money on editing and covers; but my earnings paid for that. I had two or three books that sold better than your average indie writer. 

I found a publisher who backed me up, who was willing to publish what I wrote, but when I felt I couldn't give them my best efforts anymore, I didn't think it was fair to keep sending them my scribblings. 

Looking at the terrain now, it seems to me that all the factors I identified early have only gotten bigger. It's cool to see that the USA Today bestseller list is replete with "self-published" authors, but these aren't the same kind of self-published authors as I remembered. These authors are dynamos of promotion and organization: pretty much the opposite of me. Bless their little hearts.

And more power to anyone who is willing the buck the odds and keep on trying.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Philosophy, Poetry, and Self-Help, oh, my.

By moving the music books to their own shelf, I've opened up enough space to separate the poetry and philosophy books. 

I'm continually amazed by how well both sections sell. I never would have thought it.

Meanwhile, I get asked all the time for self-help books. Thing is, the requests are always very specific and I'm leery of that. Self-help books are a little like diet books; they have limited shelf-life and once their day in the sun has passed are nearly impossible to sell. 

So what I've taken to doing is waving my hand and saying, "I have a philosophy shelf over there."

The way I look at it, most self-help is simplified-for-consumption philosophy or spiritual writing. (I also put most "new age" books in the philosophy section, also trying hard to limit how many I carry for the same reasons as self-help.)

Stoicism is especially popular right now. Not quite sure why. Linda and I have been delving into stoicism for several years now. (Most all philosophy I delve into are because of Linda, who has a expansive interest in such things.)

I also put all the wicca books in the philosophy section. 

When I first married Linda, I was the kind of guy who scoffed at all that stuff. I had spent ten year of depression reading worthless or even counter-productive self-help books. I was also pretty much an agnostic about spiritual matters. I still tend to think that the supernatural doesn't exist, at least I've seen nothing to convince me otherwise.

On the other hand, there is a world of interesting ideas. Philosophy, if you will. So spiritual books and wicca books and personality tests and, yes, even tarots have their place. I think of them as "prompts," if nothing else. 

I'm much more accepting of philosophic ideas that seem a little fringe. I respect Linda a lot, and she sees worth in it, so I follow.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The more experience you have at something, the harder it is not to become cynical. 

For me, it's both books and small business. My experience so often seems completely different from what others say. It's gotten to the point where, if they say something that seems off to me, I either attribute it to newbie naivete, or experiential bullshit.

This cynicism not an attractive quality in myself, especially when expressed to others. It comes off as sour grapes. At the same time, to myself I have to acknowledge the truth of what I think. 

The trick, I guess, is not to say anything at all, but how boring is that?

It's coming down to a choice. Keep the store completely stocked and accept the savings we've made so far the summer or starve the store a little in inventory and catch up later. I pushed a little too much of the burden into the two non-overhead weeks of this month without remembering how severely business dropped last year at this time. The smoke days did their damage.

I have to remember--this is savings I'm talking about. How much I can save, not how much I lose. More savings than I ever though possible, having been in debt almost my entire career.

I tried to have it both ways, and it's not quite working out. Not really a surprise. Always hoping for the best. 

Looking it over again, I'll be lucky to save any money over the next two weeks even if I don't spend another dime. I don't think I can wait two weeks to restock, so it may be a moot point. I was just a little too generous with the store over June, July was exactly as I planned, and then tried to squeeze too much savings into August. Didn't work out.

It's possible I can make up the difference in September. Not easy, but possible. 

Again, by most measures this has been a spectacular success. But there is always that wish for an even more spectacular success!

So just enjoy it and do the best job possible.

Diligence is a bitch.

I've spent my entire lifetime trying to identify how things affect me. My ten years of depression were all about that, obsessively trying to figure out my triggers and how to avoid them.

Here I am, nearly 71 years old, and I'm coming to realize how much procrastination weighs me down. A couple of years ago, I let most of the gardening season go before I tried to deal with it. I felt the burden of that.

This year, I took care of the gardening early and I've kept up since. 

This year, it's the backstop of comics. It really feels like a looming danger, somehow, even though there is no real harm there. At some point, the procrastination itself becomes the point. 

I've been holding off ordering tickets for Australia, though it puts the whole endeavor into jeopardy. 

At this moment, it's taxes. My appointment is in less than two weeks. I need to get that done.

In the past, I'd feel this weight, but I don't think I always understood what was causing it. As I've gotten older and money and personal problems have been resolved, the other things that bother me become clearer than before. 

Sometimes they nag at me for years. The store is always a little run down, a little dusty and dirty. But unless it really becomes noticeable, I tend to let it slide. But, for example, when I finally replaced the flooring, it improved the store tremendously.

I spent years planning to write at least one more book Once I started, the floodgates opened, and ten years and 25 books later, procrastination is not a problem.

There is a cost to procrastination, but it has to be weighed against the value of relaxing, or not worrying, of letting things take their natural course.

There is always a time in procrastination when I get it done, and it feels good. But almost always, the next thing I've been delaying immediately come to mind and has the same weight. 

Responsibility and diligence are a bitch.

Friday, August 25, 2023

The History of Bend

I often get asked for a "history" of Bend at Pegasus Books, but I'll be damned if I can think of one that fits the bill. 

When I was growing up, there were two books that were sort of the standard references for Central Oregon, if not Bend specifically. 

"East of the Cascades," by Phil Brogan, and "The Oregon Desert," by Reub Long. Even when I read them back then, they weren't entirely satisfying. But at least they talked about the early years.

But here's the thing about a history of Bend: it would need to be two different histories because Bend has been two different towns.

There is the town I grew up in, which had a population hovering around 13,000 until I went off to college in 1971.

And there is the town that started booming in the late 1970s, crashed during the 1980s, and then really took off, with fits and starts, in the 1990s. 

Who's going to write that history? Who is still around whose experience and knowledge contains both towns? 

Most people I talk to haven't lived in Bend long enough to remember even the 80s, much less earlier. There is almost no institutional memory in the city or county government, and I have to wonder how many people in the media have any real clue about even the recent past.

I remember when the first TV station started broadcasting in Bend. They opened with pictures of a Bend that I didn't recognize. There were (and are) plenty of local landmarks which give the flavor of Bend, but whoever made that ad missed all of them. It was a strangers' view of Bend. 

That has continued to be true since. The customer who comes in my store and confidently announces that Bend never has snow. (The irony being it was a very heavy snow year that followed.) The real estate agent who announces that it was preordained that downtown Bend would be popular because of the river and the historic buildings. (Nobody who worked downtown in the 80s would agree that it was preordained. And...well... we have very few "historic" buildings.) 

Then there was the woman who came in and asked about doing a "ghost" tour and basically making up stuff when there were actually some interesting things about downtown having to do with a sort of Red Light district, this being a lumber town. I was told that Wall Street used to be the 'ladies" side of downtown, while Bond was the less gentile side, with most of the bars. 

But these are stories, not history. In fact, the tourism history can be very misleading. It's fascinating to me that the "Old Mill" has become romanticized. What I remember was that working in the mill was incredibly hard work, dirty, dangerous, smelly, environmentally damaging. I distinctly remember the layer of oil all over the mill grounds, the smell of it, the occasional loud grinding noises. Our days were marked by the old mills whistles. It was a working mill, with all that entails.

There are superficial or specialized histories of the area, mostly around tourism, but I'm not aware of fully researched and inclusive Bend history. (I could be wrong--if anyone has any ideas, let me know. Especially if it's a book that can actually be ordered at wholesale.)

Someone could research Bend from the Bulletin archives alone. The Bulletin itself has a fascinating history: starting with George Palmer Putnam, publisher of the Bulletin, who was heir to the Putnam publishing empire and who was later married to Amelia Earhart. There were the Chandler years, when the paper had big city aspirations.

It could be done, but it would best be done by someone who has actually lived and experienced the different phases.

It won't be me! I'm too lazy and old for that task. I suspect we'll get histories of Bend that are influenced mostly by it's later incarnation, relegating the older incarnation into something quaint. 

The truth is, for most of Bend's history we just weren't big or important enough to chronicle, and for the last fifty years or so, we haven't been interesting or unique enough. 

Like I said, it would take someone who really loves Bend, both past and present.

 I would buy that book in a second. 


Monday, August 21, 2023

The specialty market.

It occurred to me that I can't remember the last time I sold a board game. Which got me thinking about the dynamics of the thing. 

So here's my take:

We used to be a "specialty" store. We carried a wider and deeper inventory on items that weren't well known by the public. But if you were in the "know," you'd seek out the specialty story to get your fix. But even then, only a small percentage of that specialty item would sell well. I'm going to use the 20/80 rule as a point of reference. 

Basically, my interpretation is, that in retail the 20/80 rule means that 20% of your product will make 80% of your profits. So as a specialty store, you'd use the profits from that 20% to help carry the other 80%.

Board games are a great example of this. For years, the games Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride and a few others were the main fuel of the entire product line. 

Anyway, sometimes a specialty item becomes much better known to the public, so it starts showing up in places like Target and Walmart. Again, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are perfect examples of this, but it's happened before. The biggest falloff in business I ever had was when the chainstores finally took notice of sportscards. 

Obviously, this causes problems for a specialty store. To be blunt, the product is no longer a specialty but a commodity. That doesn't mean it doesn't sell well, it just means that is sells in the larger arena. The problem with this is that the chainstores, because of how big they are, get better deals, better discounts, wider exposure, and operate on lower margins and higher volume. Add to this, they often get return privileges and get exclusive variations. They often use the "hot" product as loss leaders.

Obviously, it becomes much harder for a specialty store to compete. The irony is that, when a product finally gets noticed, there is usually a surge of specialty store competition as well.

Oh, I hear you say, but we get to carry all the other games that the chainstores don't carry! Yeah, but the reason they don't carry the 80% of slow sellers is exactly that. They are slow sellers. 

At first, I leaned into the specialty stuff (80%) that the chainstores didn't carry, but quickly found out that I was selling even less than before because I didn't have the draw of the 20%. So I reversed gears and carried only the hot sellers, which of course didn't satisfy all those customers who had got used to us carrying the odds and ends. 

You can gamble and go all in, doing every little thing to distinguish yourself. That is probably what most specialty stores do, but bottom line, you're working harder for less and burnout is often the result. Burnout is trying to do absolutely everything, the heavy lifting, and getting minimal results. 

So you need to shift, either into another specialty product that hasn't been discovered yet. Not so easy to do. That product has to exist for you to shift to it. Or you enter the larger market with something that is sold everywhere.

In the end, being a specialty store sounds great. You're dealing with people who appreciate what you're doing, you're surrounded by cool stuff, and you can maybe eke out a living. That is, until the cycle turns against you. 

Here's the Catch-22. If the specialty product never takes off, you're only going to eke out a living. But if it takes off, you'll have most of your customers taken away from you. 

Comics to me are an example of a specialty item that the chainstores have never learned how to do. It's difficult and confounding. Sales end up just not being worth it. There have been a few times when comics almost made the leap, and to a certain extent, graphic novels have, but every time there was a boom in comics it would crash just before the chainstores really got a hold of it. 

Great...but that means probably that sales for your store are probably not great either. 

So here's the lesson that I learned very late in my business career, almost by accident. 

I started carrying new books. Now new books are, in some senses, both a commodity and a specialty item. The chainstores carry the product; indeed, there are chainstores who do nothing but new books. There is, of course, Amazon.

So you'd think that this would be a hard business to compete in. But the difference between the specialty items we've always carried (toys, games, cards, comics) and books is the difference in who buys them. 

A very small percentage of people buy comics. I could literally hand out free comics on the sidewalk and at the end of the day a large percentage of them would end up in the corner sidewalk trashbin.

A much, much larger percentage of people buy books. So it turns out, if you want to have healthy sales, you need a large customer base to draw on. 

The rest is simple competition--how well you do your job, what your locations is, your curation of titles. 

In other words, no matter how good I job I do in comics (or games or cards), there will always be a ceiling. 

But with books, the sky is the limit. (Well, for me, space is the biggest limiting factor.) 

I can compete with Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I can co-exist with Roundabout and Dudleys and Big Story, because there are enough good books that my selection can stand out to enough people to make it all worth it. 

I'm not giving up on any of the product I've been carrying for the last 40 years. Comics and toys and games are still a significant percentage of my business, but I've found out that having something that more people want, funnily enough, means you sell more.

It's a cycle. To my great surprise, for instance, sportscards have once again become a viable specialty item. For how long, who knows. But one thing for sure, there was no way for me to survive waiting 30 years for them to come back. 

My store has been designed in some ways to be competition resistant. I carry a variety of product so that no one thing is vulnerable. I just keep watching the cycles and adjusting. 

 Boardgames are having their moment in the sun of the broader market. 

We'll see how long they stay there.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Ongoing list of great out-of-print books.

Another really great one: "Behold the Man," Michael Moorcock; also great, "The War Hound and the World's Pain."

Should add, "The Languages of Pao," by Jack Vance. Not to mention, most of his other great books. (Note: upon further search, I can find them, but with a minimal wholesale discount...)

Another author almost impossible to find at wholesale prices (not used, though those books can be hard to find too): Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Most of the Tarzan books past the first three (26), all the Pellucidar books (7), all the Venus books (5), and most of the Mars books, again past the first three (11). I've heard no explanation except that the Burroughs estate is difficult to deal with because of trademarks (?) (not copyrights) and no one wants to deal with them.

Anyone know the story there?

And then there is the most in demand impossible to get in the format everyone wants: Elfquest. The ones that came out in the 80s, that you could find in Waldenbooks. Yes, you can get Elfquest in three or four different sizes, but not the right sizes. You can get recent color stories, but not the ones people remember. You can get the ones they remember in B & W, but not in color.

My assumption is that there is some legal reason they don't come out in the color "album" size that people remember so fondly.

Again, anyone know what the scoop is?


Meanwhile, can't currently get most of the Ian Fleming, James Bond books.

"Casino Royale" has just come out with a new printing, and "Live and Let Die" is coming later this month, and Moonraker is coming out in July, and so on. My assumption is that they took these books off the market so they could be bowdlerized for modern tastes. (Not sure how I feel about that.) But I'm adding him to the list, temporarily.  

UPDATE: they are coming out in order every couple months. Edited, I presume.


Anyway, added to the List:

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Ian Fleming 


Harlan Ellison

Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock
The War Hound and the World's Pain, Michael Moorcock
Lord Valentine's Castle, Robert Silverberg
The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Michael Swanwick
Tunnel in the Sky, Robert Heinlein
Shardik, Robert Adams
Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold
Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold
Cordelia's Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold 
Deathword Trilogy, Harry Harrison
Demon, John Varley, (especially exasperating because the first two books of the trilogy are available.)




No shame and the A.I.

There's a lot of talk about how A.I. can't be creative.

From what I've seen, it very much can be. The mash-up images for made-up movies are pretty astounding. If I was a director looking for storyboards, I might want to try that. (Not that I would.)

That's just it. Most creativity is simply mash-ups of what's come before, new mixing of old elements. 

For instance, I combined the Donner Party and Werewolves in "Led to the Slaughter." Neither are new on their own, but when I first came with the idea of combining the two, no one had. When I look around at current fiction, not much of it is amazingly original. In fact, most of it is formulaic. Lots of readers want what they expect. 

All well and good to try to be avant-garde, but you aren't going to garner a lot of readers.

But what constrains most of us is that we want to be original enough not to be accused of simply copying what has already worked. Of course, there are always examples of writers who shamelessly rip off other writers, and unfortunately, many of them are rewarded for doing so. 

I have some infamous examples in my head, the type of book where I ask myself, "How does that writer feel good about that?" But I don't want to call out names here. Some of it is simple naivety or ignorance, some might be attempts at homage, much of it regretfully works. 

But I think most writers do want to express themselves and are telling stories like the ones they already like. And there is nothing wrong with that, as long as it's their own creation.

A.I. will have no such scruples. I predict that they will come up with a lot of shameless content, and some of it quite by accident, will come up with some ideas that will seem obvious once done. 

There'll be a lot shakeout while all this is happening. A lot of dross,

But a few good or even great nuggets will creep through, and that will only encourage the shameless to keep trying. 

I do believe true originality will remain the domain of humans, but that's assuming that most readers really want true originality. There'll be two tiers of literature, popular but uninspired fiction, and startling but hard to read fiction, and the occasional miracle of both populuar and inspired. 

Most if not all A.I. will be unoriginal...but then...most fiction always has been.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Owning a business means obsessing over budget.

I had a goal for saving money this summer, and we quickly passed it. I raised the goal, and we quickly passed it. I raised it again.

Over the last week, the sales have dropped enough that the middle goal is probably the real one. 

I was feeling down about it last night. But as I went to bed, I thought, "Quit stressing over money. You're fine. You're more than fine."

I'm just used to to obsessing over budget. Owning a business means obsessing over budget. Constant vigilance over cash flow. Checking sales on an almost hourly basis. Making sure bills are paid. Crunching the same numbers over and over again. Getting product ordered and back in stock as fast as I can manage. 

It's hard for me relax over these things. The store is doing fine, better than fine.

Besides, perhaps we've survived as long as we have because of my single-minded obsession. Anything less and it gets away from you. 

We're no longer on the edge of the cliff, but I can't get over the feeling that we still are. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

The Middle Man Trick.

I'm going to need to watch "The Beanie Bubble" because of how much Beanie Babies helped my business. It was one of four fads in a  row that helped us survive the massive debt incurred by the first couple of fads.

1.) Sports cards (and non-sports cards.)

2.) Comics

3.) Magic

4.) Pogs

5.) Beanie Babies

6.) Pokemon.

My definition of a "bubble" is along the lines of, "I know it when I see it." A bubble is madness, exponential growth in face of doubt, a complete buy-in, a cresting series of warning signals, and then a collapse. 

All of these bubbles (or, if you will, fads) happened in our first twenty years of business. I think since the internet came along there haven't been any retail bubbles that quite match them. (By my definition). Covid revived some of them, but not to bubble level.

Obviously, there have been many bubbles since then, but mostly I've sidestepped them over the last 23 years. Bitcoin is a good example, the housing bubble another. Ironically, it was my experience with retail fads that helped me avoid the housing bubble. I joked that Pogs and houses had the same dynamic, but it's also strangely true. 

Everyone is excused one bubble, because unless you've actually experienced one, you have no idea. 

I don't have the excuse for one bubble; I was caught by two of them. Sports cards were the biggest bubble, the biggest buy-in, the biggest collapse. Followed quickly by comics. Ironically, the comics bubble helped us survive the first bubble, at least at first. Then, the comics collapse just added to our debt level.  I thought I could outmaneuver the bubble, but it still caught me because the rules of the game changed. (Hint: there are no "rules of the game.") I tried to time the comics bubble, but the massive load of comics that came in after the collapse caused us to add to our credit card debt.

Yep. I did the classic. Maxed out 8 credit cards to survive. You could say it was stupid, but we did survive, after all.

Back to Beanie Babies. I decided that I couldn't forgo the massive influx of money that comes in on the upswing of a fad; I just had to be careful to get out in plenty of time. Fortunately, I'd learned a good trick: The Middle Man.

Toward the end of the sports cards boom, I decided to opt out of buying massive quantities of product direct from the manufacturers and instead buy smaller, more affordable quantities from a Middle Man. My discount was about 20% less, so I had to go full retail. (Another reason we survived--after we shed the huge number of customers who wouldn't pay "retail," we rebuilt with customers who valued us enough who would.)

So when Magic and Pokemon and Beanie Babies and Pogs came along, I continued that practice of not opening accounts with the manufacturers, but ordering what I needed from the Middle Man.

The Middle Man was a kill switch. I wasn't obligated to buy massive quantities in order the qualify for the product. I could cut my orders at any time without repercussions. I had an escape valve.

It's funny; I can look back on that moment in all these fads when I decided to get out. In every case, I had customers look at me in astonishment and say, "But the Beanie Babies, (Pogs, Magic, Pokemon, et al) are bigger than ever!"

And I'd just nod my head and quietly start reducing my risk. 

A dangerous game to play. I look back and see Pogs as a bases filled home run; Beanie Babies as a home run; Magic and Pokemon as good, strong triples.

I'm just as glad not to have to gamble on these things anymore, but it was the playing this game that pulled us out of debt that the game incurred in the first place. 

I still order, whenever possible, through a middle man.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Because I've run out of the Court of Thorns series, I decided to make an extra order to arrive on today. I feel like I need to get books in the store before the UPS strike. So spending a little more now and a little less later makes sense. 

Wanted to save 2% from Penguin Random House by joining some sort of program. So the guy from PRH arranged to call me "this afternoon."

Well, the sucks. I'm sitting here waiting, not knowing if he is going to call in the next five minutes or the next five hours. Stupid way to do things. (My fault.)

Got the call. Not only do I qualify, I'm a model store!



It's rare that I don't know of a significant pop culture thing, if only vaguely. 

There's a new comic out, and I had no idea what it was about. Starting in 1970, a spoof of SF and Horror shows. How the hell did I miss that? At the height of my hippie phase instead of my nerd phase, so I was probbly too stoned to notice.  

Cat led me outdoors, where he got on my lap. He looked totally alert and at the same time looked like he was nodding off.

"That's a cat for you," Linda said. 

The further I am from actively writing, the more satisfied I am with the writing I did do. I accomplished what I set out to do (write one book!) (25 books later...) I wrote what I wanted when I wanted and more than few people actually read them and liked them. I enjoyed the process, I loved being in a fictional dream for 8 years or so. 

Now I'm back at the store and enjoying that too. The biggest difference, and this is the same thing I noticed 40 years ago when I bought the store--any creative inspirations are instantly rewarded at the store. The rewards of writing are in the doing and if anything happens, it happens much later and with people at a distance. 

I'm glad I had the chance to do both things. 


Was browsing a Reddit thread on comics and it made me realize I'm completely out of touch with the comics world. I don't have a clue. All my knowledge comes from ten years back, or farther. 

Thankfully, Sabrina is completely up to date and in charge of all things comics. I only work behind the counter one and a half days a week, and I'm upfront about how clueless I am. I can only hope that they don't stop coming in because of my cluelessness. We sell a variety of product that I'm not completely immersed in: anime, manga, Magic, Pokemon, and so on. 

Books are about the only thing I can claim to be somewhat up to date, but it's a huge world with a huge history, so it's all relative.

Running a store isn't always about knowing all the details. It's about knowing the general state of things. You can't always keep the same level of interest in everything all the time forever. 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The 2% chance.

So Penguin Random House is offering an extra 2% discount to qualifying stores. 

I talked to the rep from PRH this afternoon. Turns out, the object of the program is to get comic stores to buy more books. Heh.

His comment was, We qualify easily. In fact, we're almost the model for such a store.

So here's the thing. I've long thought that most bookstores completely underestimate pop culture, almost completely neglecting most genres, especially SF, Fantasy, and Horror, but also Thrillers, Romance, and Paranormal. Never mind graphic novels and comics. I was in a bookstore last week that had zero SF and even weirder, almost no children's books. (Lots of bookstores do children's books, but then I have the opposite question: why just children's books, why not all?)

It seems like the Mystery genre is the one genre that most bookstores will take an active interest in.

It seems very snooty.'s their loss. Nothing I could say will change their minds. I've talked to some bookstore owners who even say that SF and Fantasy is important, but never seem to enlarge their selection much. 

At the same time, I believe that most comic shops are underestimating how many books they'd be able to sell. There are tons of pop culture books that would easily fit into the comic stores; not to mention, the YA graphic novel is probably the most popular books genre there is right now. 

But in both cases, the stores have to take a chance, build their inventory, learn about it, and find out the limits to how much they can sell. But it does require an effort.

In defense of comic stores, they are most often destination stores, not in places where the average book buyer is likely to find them.

But the average book buyer is very open to pop culture, even the most snooty of them. There is a decent chance that comic stores would sell more books if they had them. 

What I see happening, in both comic stores and bookstores, is that they will dip a toe into the other market, not have immediate success, and then be convinced it isn't worth it.

Far be it from me to suggest that they take a bigger gamble, though in at last some cases those stores would profit by it. It's up to each store owner to decide how much chance they're willing to take.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

How did we become a bookstore?

Dropped in on Brett at Heroes Haven in Roseburg. Very perceptive fellow. Made me realize how I go along with my own opinions and assumptions here in Bend, but never have them questioned or run by anyone else who does the same thing I do.

His store was packed with good stuff.

Anyway, in talking to him, it made me wonder about when and how my books sales became so important. I went back a few years to check.

Here's the thing: I'd been dabbling in book sales for years, and just before Covid, books had overtaken comics as our biggest seller, but not by much. 

So two things happened: 1.) I came back to work after writing at home for eight years or so. And 2.) Covid. 

Book sales had already started increasing because of my paying more attention to the store. Sabrina had done a great job running the store, but the decision to turn toward books came because of my own interests and also because I saw great potential there, whereas comics were veering in a direction I wasn't comfortable with (more collecting, than reading.)

When Covid happened and we had to close the store for two months, I took the opportunity to lay down new flooring. While I was at it, I also rearranged things slightly, rethought things, and managed to add a significant number of bookshelves. I saw it as a way to expand my selection and to get more books. I don't know that I thought it would increase sales.

But, strangely, it was the customers who told me I'd made a significant change. People coming in off the street gave me the feedback that we were, indeed, a bookstore. Not only that, but they started buying more.

From that moment on, my job was simply to supply that demand, which I've been doing ever since.

Our sales in books increased and then increased again. Meanwhile, our other product lines continued to do what they'd been doing, which had been more than enough to keep the store going. So, book sales were a huge bonus.  

It was the right move for us, keeping up with the changes downtown.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

The plot twist...magic is real (not).

Article in the New York Times about how some professional magicians are coming around to seeing Uri Geller as one of their own. (It doesn't sound like the predominant opinion: certainly, The Amazing Randi never came around to that view.)

"Wait a minute," some magicians are saying. "Isn't he just doing what we do? Pretending to be able to do magical stuff? Isn't this how magicians started? What if...what if Geller is just better at hoodwinking people? Maybe he's just carrying on the act full time!"

A simple little trick, bending a spoon, something most magicians can do. But Geller made people believe it was "magic."

Geller, for his part, has started to be a little more "wink, wink, nod, nod" about his supposed powers.  

I love this sort of turnaround, a paradigm shift that make you completely turn your opinion in the opposite direction. 

In a book, it would be a great plot twist.