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. 

So...it'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.

Edison was a bastard.

The more books I read about 1800s and early 1900s business, the more I realize that business fuckery has always been with us. The amount of copyright and patent fights and theft and lawsuits makes it all very confusing. The good guys (the real inventors and innovators) didn't usually end up winning. I mean, Edison was one hell of a bastard, but he was also typical.

It's a jungle, I tell you. 

The longer I'm in small business, the gladder I am that I am an owner and also that I am small. We are finally making good money, by luck, and experience, and longevity. I don't know that we'd have done any better by being bigger. Maybe, but it wouldn't have been worth it. 

Luck because downtown turned around and became popular again and our landlord stood by us.

Experience enough to change with the times. 

Longevity by pure stubbornness. 


Speaking of which: Summer Fest.

These events don't kill us anymore. We're doing about average for a Saturday so far, but the number of transactions is a little scary. Pretty much a ring-up every five minutes, which doesn't leave a lot of time to do anything but stand at the counter.

Thing is, our store is already so packed that it almost becomes a negative. Too many people in the store means that everyone avoids coming up to the counter, unless one of them breaks the logjam and then it becomes a cascade. I mean, it can almost become too much.

This is going to sound strange to say, but I think we maybe shouldn't be promoting downtown anymore. Let nature take its course, let us do our business without interference. Maybe I think this because we're doing well and maybe there are stores not doing so well, but still... 

It's not my battle anymore. I think the events are unnecessary or should be done without closing streets, but I'm not fighting it anymore. People are having fun, but I'm pretty sure the same things could be accomplished without all the interruption. Oh, well.

Time doth pass...

fuck me, I'm already dead.

I was looking in my collection for an album I loved, Cheap Trick's "Rockford," which is quintessential power pop, my favorite kind of music. This late album by the group is, in my opinion, every bit as good as their early popular stuff, with the added benefit of being all new and not worn out by radio. 

I couldn't find the album, so I decided to listen to it on YouTube. Here's the thing. If you had asked me when the album came out I would have honestly said, "Oh, five or six years ago."

The damn album came out in 2006, seventeen years ago.

Jesus. I don't think I have that much time left.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

That's just painful.

Getting $77 worth of books from Diamond Comics next week, this following a $100 worth of books this week. Together, the profits probably wouldn't pay some of the utility bills at the store. 

Diamond used to have the exclusive distribution rights to Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse, which represent about 85 to 90%  of the comics sold. The other several hundred comic publishers make up the last 10%.

Well, the Big Four have left Diamond, so we're left getting the scraps from Diamond.

Obviously, it's really hard to see how this continues.

What's really amazing to me is how many comic retailers and publishers were pushing for this result. It's as if Diamond was a leaky boat and their feet were getting wet, so they started screaming about sinking the damn boat! When there wasn't another boat on the horizon!

I started seeing this trend about six years ago and started changing course. There was the choice of becoming a "collectables" store, but I'd already rejected that years ago. So I started looking for a life raft and the obvious choice was new books.

It was a solution, though I didn't realize how well new books would perform. 

So we will still sell Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse by ordering through two other distributors, and it's a major part of our store. More expensive and time-consuming, but that's the cost. But all the rest of the stuff we were getting from Diamond is in jeopardy, especially small publishers and toys. 

We'll do what we can, but I'm glad I'm not depending on those categories to keep us going. 

It's just painful to see happen.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

A constant flow of books.

Stupid business stuff that has to be dealt with. 

Preferably, I'd like to time the arrival of books, so that most of them arrive at predictable times, best of all during days I'm already working. Absent that, I wouldn't mind just being able to know a day of the week I could depend on them arriving.

Well, with about a third of the books coming from Penguin Random House, this is completely impossible. They send books in a willy-nilly fashion, piecemeal in smaller orders at different times no matter when I actually order them.

So I've been trying to wait until I get notice of when PRH books will show up and then time our Ingram orders to match them. But PRH is all over the map and waiting for them means delaying my other orders.

So I'm just going to make constant orders throughout the week from PRH, and do a couple of (predictable two day delivery) orders per week from Ingram, and just get in to the store to put them away when I can. Our UPS driver now delivers them to the back hallway so if I don't get to the store, we won't have boxes clogging the display space. 

I've just sort of realized, after doing this for about a week, that I'll probably get the orders out almost as fast even if they sit in the hallway occasionally. Trying to put away books all at the same time just meant delaying orders to consolidate them.

 Well, ordering constantly means that books will perhaps arrive sooner, so sitting the hallway won't delay them further. If that makes any sense.

There is so much in small business that I simply have no control over. Usually I can figure out a way, but with PRH being so unpredictable, I've given up. 

After spending most of the 4th of July putting in an order to replace the large volume of books we sold over the weekend, I'm having to admit to myself that there are a lot more hours being put into the process than I've been willing to talk about. Partly because I sort of enjoy the process--but it makes me realize that anyone running the store when I'm gone will have to factor in the time and energy and homework needed to get the job done. 

I still think the store can be handled by about one and a half workers, or divided up, maybe one full-time and two half-time workers. But it is work, and it will have to be done. It seems relatively easy to me, but that might be because I got used to spending 60 or more hours a week at the store for years, without any employees. 

Ordering books from homes hardly seem arduous but, like I said, I enjoy doing it.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

How does anyone get anything done?

People were surprised by how many books I wrote and how fast. 

The thing is: that's ALL I did, for about eight years. Especially the first three years, my focus was totally on the writing. The garden went to hell, I trusted Sabrina to run the store, and I shut out everything else.

It wasn't as hard for me as it probably is with most people. I've always been a loner. I love being by myself.

Anyway, last summer I bought a large collection of comics which I spent most of the winter bagging, boarding, and pricing. My intention was to replace all the back issues upstairs in the store with the stuff I've been working on. 

I figured it would take a week or two to make the transfer.

Now admittedly, there was some time in the Spring when I could have got it done but faced with the task, I procrastinated. I've been telling people for months now that it was going to get done "soon."

I set June as the month I would absolutely, positively, get it done.

Then my family visited for a week, coming from all parts of country. Today, Linda's niece is visiting for a few days, and so on.

I haven't got a thing done. One week of visits is really two or more weeks of preparing and recovering. 

So just this much social interaction has thrown me completely off. Which makes me wonder how the rest of the world, who are probably almost all more social than me, get anything done at all!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

I just don't have the collector mentality, which considering what I do...

...which considering what I do for a living is kind of strange. (Edited to say, not so much "collector" mentality as "collector/speculator" mentality.)

Anyway, I found a guy who is selling pulps online and contacted him. 

He offered .25 each.

I understand what he's doing, I understand he has his perimeters, but I'd rather just keep them. I countered his offer for what I consider a low price.

Haven't heard back from him. Heh.

Even if he agreed now, I wouldn't follow up. Like I said, I understand how the game is played, but I ain't giving them away. I looked up a few of the John W. Campbell edited, "Astounding"s, the man who boosted Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov and just about every other Golden Age writer and they were worth quite a bit. One of them is probably worth more than he was offering for the whole batch.

Of course, that's if you can find that person who wants it. 

He's missing a bet, but it's none of my business. I probably undersold what I had; which I'd rather do than oversell. But, in my mind at least, this was the equivalent of the mythical "warehouse find," where someone finds a warehouse full of untouched copies of something in demand.

So onward, selling them at the store. Basically selling one book at store = 24 copies to this guy, with none of the work. I've already paid for the books out of the store, and then made keystone selling a bunch of the Bad Girl art to a collector. 

I don't want these tossed when I'm gone, so I have to make sure Todd and Toby understand how cool and rare these are. 

I just don't have the collector mentality.

It reminds me of, back in the 80s, when I bought a Silver Age comic collection, took them to the Portland comic convention, and sold almost none of them though I thought I'd priced them low. 

Took them to the next year's convention, same thing happened.

Decided to quit going to conventions, but then got a call from the guy putting on the convention telling me that my Silver Age collection was the best he'd seen in all of Oregon and he'd give me a prime location near the entrance if I'd come again.

Went one last time, same thing happened. 

Somehow, it just never made sense to me.

So for example, I had a few mint copies of the first appearance of Punisher in Amazing Spider-man. It was selling for about $50, but no one offered more than $25. 

Next show, it was worth $100, but no one offered more than $50.

Last show, worth $150, but no one offered more than...well, you get the picture. (Currently, a Graded 9.4 is going for about $10,000.) 

I basically got out of the collecting part of the business because I had no knack for it. I didn't have the right brand of bullshit. 

It was one of the best decisions I ever made as a businessman and it probably kept me in business much  longer than otherwise.

I've seen some drops in my time, but a 90% drop is the biggest.

(No, not us. We're doing fabulously) ☝☺


Next week's invoice from Diamond Comics is a little over $100. 

To put this in perspective, Diamond Comics supplied the majority of our product for most of my 43 year career. First Marvel left Diamond, then DC, then Dark Horse, and most recently Image comics. That's probably 95% of the comics in the world. 

Did we gain anything from this change? Not a bit. Whatever postage we saved we lost by losing percentage discounts. We now have to deal with three wholesalers to get our comics, instead of one. It's much more complicated to figure out ship times, arrival dates, postage rates, Final Order Cutoffs, returns, etc. etc. 

Even though I have mainstreamed my store, transitioning to a full-time bookstore, I was still getting the majority of my toys from Diamond, as well as almost all the smaller publishers. We are having record sales, but it's by selling lots of books, including graphic novels, as well as pop culture material.

It's hard to see how Diamond can survive a 90% drop in sales. 

I've stocked up on toys in preparation for the future. I'll be sorry to lose access to the hundreds of small comic publishers Diamond carries, but I simply don't have the time and energy to set up accounts with each publisher. 

This is kind of a disaster for the comic industry. 

Below, I'm giving you link to the latest column by Brian Hibbs, another comic retailer, about the current state of the comic industry. 

My advice to my fellow comic retailers is to forget about being a "comic" shop and focus on being a "pop culture" store. One thing my transitioning into a bookstore has taught me is that there is a lot of product out there that is tangentially related to comics that sells. Whatever you lose by catering to the comic fans you can gain by selling to the general public.

It's truly amazing how many DC and Marvel titles come out in formats that comic retailers never see, not to mention all the movies and TV related books, all the cult IPs, all the manga and anime. For instance, I have one entire shelf of nothing but pop culture cookbooks: Princess Bride, Studio Ghibli, Alien, D & D, and so on. 

There is a whole world of pop culture stuff that appeals not only to comic folk, but just about everyone else too. 

But if you haven't already started this process, well...good luck. 


Sunday, June 25, 2023

Posting more.

You'all may have noticed I'm posting much more often. 

Well, I've been writing these all along but I wasn't posting. I had decided to be diplomatic and circumspect and not reveal anything that might make me look bad or stupid.

Well, the the hell. I'm 70 years old, I've made it through the work years, and I'm pretty much a loner anyway. 

As Epictetus says, "What you think of me is none of my business."

It's always a choice of being circumspect/boring or foolish/interesting. Or, at least, that's the danger. 

So I've decided that other than giving out actual business numbers and/or something that might hurt someone else's feelings, I would allow myself to be more candid. I'm not sure it matters. I'm not that important. People are probably making up their minds about me anyway, so what the hell.

My book list.

My mentor, the local and accomplished Western writer, Dwight Newton, advised me 41 years ago to keep a notebook and list the books I've read. So I've been doing that since 1982. I've kept it up, filling one entire notebook (I used to joke that when the book was filled, I'd probably be dead and sure enough, I filled the book about the time I had my heart attack, which in non-modern times probably would have killed me.)

I started a second notebook a few years back. It feels like reincarnation.

For the first decade or two, the notebook was very handy. I would find the copyright of a book and look at every entry in the years after the publishing date, and see if I'd read the book. But it's become so long and cluttered that I rarely do that anymore. 

Last night, I was looking up Walter Jon Willams', "City on Fire." I'd read "Metropolitan" and liked it a lot, and this was the sequel, published in 1997. 

The listings were a mess. I trudged through about twenty years. As I did so, I realized that the list was full of titles and authors I had no memory of. I couldn't tell you what they were about. I saw that a few times I read books twice and didn't even realize it.

My memory sucks. 

If I have the time, I'm going to post this list on Goodreads, and arrange it by author, date, and title, and then the list might actually be useful to me again. Plus, I'm intrigued to find out how many books by how many authors I've read. 

It's all a blur, but some titles and authors stand out. I guess that's the real test of time.

Does it really matter?

Dreamed I met a well-known horror writer and I introduce myself. He says, "You're not a writer," in the most brutal, insulting way. At the same time, I watch him be a real weirdo. He has a following who seems to ignore how weird he is, and after awhile, I realized he's pretty far on the spectrum. Still, I keep telling people how weird he is. He is motoring down a hallway and I prepare myself to trip him, but instead he falls flat on his face before he reaches me. 

I'm not being nice and I realize it, but I'm also very insulted.

I'm sitting with a few of these "strangers" as more and more like-minded people gather and they're all really out there, strange and weird and really into being so. There are tables full of fantastical paraphernalia. I'm feeling more and more out of place. I'm not connecting and I'm not enjoying myself. Finally, I say to some cute goth girl, "Is everyone waiting for a movie?"

She gives me a strange look and then says "it's Horrorapolloza," or something like that, "we meet every Thursday to get weird."

"Not my thing," I say, though I think in a non-judgemental way, and get up to walk out. 

Then a song and bunch of special effects follow me out, like in a movie, and I know it's the goth girl putting me down, but I'm not insulted, I'm intrigued. I turn around and say, "I dig it."

Anyway, I think this is how it would go at a horror convention. I'd be a fish out of water. 

Then I dream I'm a congressman, and my Dad is there, and I say to him, "Do these congressmen think I'm strange?" and he says, "They think you're a little choppy, but they're intrigued. I try to interpret for you."

These are relatively benign "ostracism" dreams, the most common type of dreams I have. It all goes back to my ten years of exile when I was depressed, but it also isn't far from my current reality and fears. 

I like to think of myself as "Weird but cool." Whether anyone actually thinks that, I don't know. Probably more the former than the latter, eh?

I wake up, and I'm relieved. I've got an unexpectedly helluva nice life. We're comfortable, I'm married to a wonderful woman, my kids are great, I have some good friends and family, and I love owning my business. I like the writing I did and I'm not dissatisfied with how it turned out. It's always reassuring to wake up from my ostracism dreams and realize I made it through. 

I usually don't post these kind of blogs. The wiser thing to do is to be circumspect in what I reveal about myself. 

The more boring thing to do is to be circumspect. 

Does it really matter?

Sunday, June 18, 2023

I dreamed of impossible books about impossible things.

I dreamed of impossible books about impossible things. Five mountains, each more impossible than the last, fractured and splintered piles of Jenga, folded into a white sky. 

I dreamed of climbing Nikisue, the third mountain, yet unconquered, though in truth, I came to doubt that either the first mountain, Sistier, or the second mountain, Hartiani  had yet been climbed either. And most impossible of all, the crashing oceans that must be crossed before the expeditions could even begin. Two great channels of whitewater, merging into a whirlpool, ice sheets severed by the warming climate, unapproachable except by hugging close to the shores of the wider of the two passages, the North Cascade, in kayaks that could be at any moment dashed against the rocks by a errant wave, in a place where all waves were errant, where winds could lift the kayak into the air and turn it upside down, never to be seen again. 

No one knew how many men and women had been lost in this impossible quest. I knew from the moment I saw the first mountain, softly sloping before rising into heights that the eyes followed upward and upward until you felt as though you'd tip backward and slide back down to the bottom of the earth; I knew it to be impossible and yet I dreamed.

There were those who thought the fourth mountains, Contrari, would never be climbed. 

The fifth mountain, the Unnamed and Unnameable, for no one had yet come up with a sound, a combination of letters, that could capture its magnificence. Oh, it had a title on maps, but none of us who lived near it called it by name, and it was an unacknowledged, unspoken agreement that only the man or woman who stood at the summit could give it a real name.

The first two mountains had been conquered, but with a troubling absence of all evidence, all cameras, all witnesses but the single survivors, returning half-dead, claiming to have done the deed, doubted by all and yet lionized and celebrated too, for all of us wanted to believe that it could be done, especially those of us who congregated on the small island of Sandora in the middle of the South Cascade, an island shielded by an accident of calm waters, at least, calmer in comparison to everything that surrounded this lone sentinel in the chaos. It was a dangerous journey even to get there, but once there, most never left. Most pretended to plan their expeditions, waiting for weather and conditions that would never come, whiling their time away with mythical tales and frustrated and scared ambitions, their money slowly dwindling until they became spectators to the new arrivals, still flush with funds. 

We couldn't just fly there because of the mountains currents, the tornadoes of air that were permanent companions to the five peaks, obscuring them most of the time, except for rare and life-changing moments, when the sky cleared and all five jagged, pointed summits could be seen, one on top of the other, like broken corpses left tangled and shattered by the gods. 

We all knew it would never be done, but we all dreamed of being the one who did it. The climber of five Everest's in a row, beckoning fame and glory and death. 

On the walls of every dwelling, in every explorer's planners, there was the same photograph, taking from high above, an accident of fate, an off-course airship, a single passenger who understood the rarity of a clear day, who by happenstance had a quality of camera that could capture all five mountains, and take measure of the labyrinth of canyons and pinnacles. Thousands of routes had been diagrammed over this single picture, by thousands of would-be explorers, near and far, but every test had failed, for the terrain was too massive and complicated to be tamed by lines in a map.

I never expected to be there. I wasn't a mountain climber, or explorer, I was a merchant trying to land a few accounts selling high-end cameras in a backwater, who was a passenger in a plane, who saw a beautiful sight as I looked out the window, the clouds miraculously parting, the camera in my lap that I'd been fiddling with, trying to figure out, and lifting and taking that snapshot, a photo that made my fortune, that paid for my unexpected and unlikely new course, an ambition I'd have never thought I'd have, the be the one who conquered the most beautiful, in my opinion, of the mountains, Nikisue.

By the time we reached Sandora, the boat I was on had flipped over three times, a 21st Century Coast Guard vessel from old Earth, designed for waves one-tenth the size of the ones we'd just encountered, transported at enormous cost to this world because none of the current technology could handle the primitive conditions. 

"Easy passage," the captain commented as I disembarked. I almost vomited on him in response. Though I'd been strapped in, I felt as though every bone in my body had been compacted into dust. I could barely stand, much less walk.

But I'd paid a fortune to get here, and was now an adventurer by rite of passage, and I was damned if I'd give the old salt any satisfaction.

"My gear?"

"Already off-loaded." Can't vouch for the condition, his shrug added.  

The docked was attached to a narrow beach with a narrow opening through the cliffs that circled the island. The little town of Sandora was in a caldera, protected, at least by this world's standards, from the elements. A crew member of the transport beckoned for me to follow as he drove an overburdened sled toward the gap. I managed to trip my way over the beach and into the sudden silence of the crevice; until that moment, I hadn't realized how overwhelming the sounds of the surf had been.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Pulp this!

Galaxy Science Fiction October 1952 Front

Pictured is the cover the the Galaxy Magazine, October, 1952, my birth month. Except the cover to the copy I own is actually much more pristine that this. 

I'm on the verge of selling most of my pulp books and magazines. The deal may still fall through--the buyer is coming by the house this afternoon. But I'm hoping to find a home for these rare and beautiful books. I'm 70 years old, and while there is always a chance I might open a used bookstore someday, (I have all the fixings, books and fixtures, in case anyone is interested in starting a used bookstore for an extraordinarily reasonable price), it's looking less and less likely. 

I'll retell the story about how I got these books. Some guy came in the store a year or so ago, and wanted to know if I was buying books. I told him no. He told me the story of his father owning a market on the west side of Bend for over 50 years and telling his family that the books he was setting aside would someday be worth "a fortune."

However, the family couldn't find any buyers.

Then he said the magic words. "Pulps."

"Do you have any with you?" I asked.

"Oh, I can bring a box by if you want to see what they are."

He left, and I didn't think anything more of it, but somewhat to my surprise he came back with a box. And it was a treasure trove. Not only full of great covers, Bad Girl Art, Westerns, Science Fiction, but they were in great shape, anywhere from excellent to mint.

Let me tell you, that is truly rare. In the 43 years I've been at the store, I've been offered only a handful of pulps and most of them were in terrible shape.

So I agreed to go to their storage unit and check it out. 

Out of the 40 or so boxes they had, only about 5 or 6 actually had pulps in them. Most of the rest were pretty junky 70s and 80s books that would be very hard to sell. 

But the 5 or 6 boxes of pulps, to me, were worth what they were asking. It was also pretty clear to me that they were on the verge of chucking them all out and that would have been a tragedy.

I had them all moved to my garage and dipped into them a little more, looking them up online. By and large, the pulps were "worth" anywhere from $5 to $100. But I've done this long enough to know that is a very loose measure. What really counts is how much you can actually get.

Thing is, these books truly are a treasure, but I have no way of proving it except by a long hard process of establishing my reputation for quality online. Meanwhile, I'd spend half my time trying to find a price between what I'm being offered and the price I think their worth. Plus handling and postage and time spent online. 

I should probably say here, I'm very allergic to dickering. The sports card phase of my business was so unpleasant, I have a case of something very like PTSD. I don't buy collections from the street, which is a bit of a competitive disadvantage when it comes to owning a book/comic store. IF someone presents a collection to me at a reasonable price, I might consider it, but that almost never happens.

So back to the pulps. I was still thinking of someday opening a used bookstore, and have already having set aside about 20,000 books, so in my mind, I saw a "Wall of Pulp" behind the counter at this store. That would look spectacular.

As a lark, I grabbed a handful of pulps and took them to the store and put a $6 price tag on them. I purposely chose a random sample, because selling only the best or the worst doesn't establish a true value. 

Somewhat to my surprise, they sold. At first I sold about 10, and then a few days later, 5 more, and then all 30. I refilled and sold another 20 or so. 

Admittedly, most of these sold to one customer, but there were also a couple of other buyers. 

That one customer is coming by today. He has proven his bone fides to me, and I'm willing to let him have the books for a reasonable price. I won't let myself be cherry picked--I'm hoping he'll buy them all but about 20 I'd like to keep for myself. In my mind, I need at least a "retail markup" from what I paid, so I'll draw the line there. But anything he offers at or above that markup, and they're his. He seems a bit younger than me, and he's shown by purchasing the books that he values them. 

I really want these books to find a home with someone who appreciates them. 

LATER: He was really only interested in the Bad Girl covers, so I still have the SF and the Westerns. I told him he might be missing the most valuable stuff, but he isn't a speculator, but a collector. 

He bought a little less than I hoped, but combined with what he had already bought at the store, I probably hit keystone, with 90 of the stuff still mine. 

Fair enough. I don't mind still having those books and pulps. He also got tired looking through 60 big cardboard boxes full of books so started leaving some pretty good Bad Girl covers too. So I can continue to show them off in the store. 

The other stuff was worse than I expected. A bunch of 70s and 80s junk, hardcovers without covers, and so on. If I ever sell the entire backstock of books, I'm going to have to explain that the first 50 boxes of books or so are junk, the good stuff is in the back of the storage unit. Heh.

One card to rule them all.

Dreamed all night about the new Lord of the Rings cards from Magic. I'm at some tournament, trying to figure out how it's all going. I run into some guys who see some of my old sports cards and comment about how they "are worth something." (Not my store, but it's a dream...so make little sense.)

Part of this is the anxiety of knowing that my competition will be selling the new cards today whereas I have to wait until next Friday. (I don't have playspace nor do I sponsor tournaments, so I don't qualify.)

Weird how this is preying on my mind. I ordered roughly five times the normal amount of Magic this time, partly because I do love Middle Earth, but also because I think it will be a hot item.

On the other hand, the stuff was available right up until today, so that makes me wonder how hot it could actually be.

In other words, I gambled, and now I'm wondering if I gambled too much, or  too little. 

I have a kind rule of thumb: If a product is hot, no matter how much you ordered, you won't have ordered enough. If a product is cold, no matter how much you ordered, it's too much. 

I usually go my own way on pricing. I usually try to keystone most of what I carry. I make the simple declarative statement: "I''m a retail store."

On the other hand, the only product that I actually offer discount on is Magic. This is because of competition, basically. I have tried to distinguish our store from other stores by having a very wide selection. We have over 60 brands in stock, which is considerably more than most places. But this isn't quite enough.

But, because Magic is everywhere these days, I also make a gesture toward discounting by offering "Buy five packs, get the sixth pack free." This amounts to a roughly 20% discount.

What I don't usually do is offer boxes at a huge discounts, unlike lots of stores, and especially unlike what is available online. But I've ordered so much LOTRs that I'm thinking about putting that 20% discount on a few boxes as well. 

Oh, decisions, decisions.

Probably the best thing to do is put the stuff out at normal margins and see what happens.

To repeat:  "If a product is hot, no matter how much you ordered, you won't have ordered enough. If a product is cold, no matter how much you ordered, it's too much."

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Slow writing and staying out of my own way.

Summer is almost here for the store. I'm counting this Friday as the start, more than midway through June. It used to be so easy to keep track of summer. Labor Day through Memorial Day, simple as that. But over the years, the school year has expanded (as have, to be fair, the number of out-of-school days in the school year.)

Like Christmas, it's always a little daunting to see how much money we need to make per day to make it all work. It seems like an impossible number, but as I always have to remind myself, summer always arrives and the Sheriff of Nottingham hasn't yet successfully cancelled Christmas. 

I just have to keep the faith. 

I have lowered my expectations. We are still far, far above what we were doing pre-Covid, but not as high as we were at our peak.

The main thing for me is to let it all happen. The store is completely stocked, top to bottom. It is time to let all the new customers and tourists find what we have and not try to so hard to chase them. I just need to keep the inventory at the current level and not gamble. Just let summer be summer, and hopefully at the end of the season, we'll have made the money we need to make.  

I'm not writing every day the way I did when I was on my tear. I thought perhaps I was done, but I still get the creative urge, so I have a world I've started to create, allowing myself to do so very slowly. 

Slow writing. 

I've never succeeded at this before, and it's too early to know if this is going to work this time. But I think the concept will hold up to long delays between entries, and so far it feels pretty natural. 

And besides, compared to George R. R. Martin, I'm on a streak!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The strategically small store.

While ordering books, I ran across the title, "The Strategically Small Church: Intimate, Nimble, Authentic, and Effective

I loved both the title and the thinking behind it, but I applied it to my store instead of a church. In fact, I'll just take the description of the book below and type in "store" instead of "church" with a few other small changes. (The words in bold type are changed.)

The author of this book..." helps owners understand that a smaller store is sometimes better than a big one. He demonstrates the strengths of small stores, including that today's..."shoppers" want services that are local, personal, and intimate. Also, small stores provide space to nurture close relationships across age and lifestyle barriers, and they facilitate a higher level of commitment... And small store budgets are often more effective because of greater efficiency. The Strategically Small store will encourage small store owners in their businesses and challenge them to play to their strengths. "

Well, there you go! That's what I've been trying to say! 

I look around and see stores trying to get bigger, with more employees, more space, more complexity. And yet, I have a strong feeling that this isn't what they really want, they just think that's the way it should be. 

I know there are many store owners who want to get big, but I suspect that there are also a lot of owners who only wanted to follow their passions, to be in control of their own lives. 

The irony is; the bigger they get, the less they can follow their passion, the less control they have over their own lives. 

I've come up with a corollary to the Peter Principle: Store owners will expand to their level of incompetence. 

There is an overwhelming ethos in business in America that bigger is better, that you must constantly grow and expand or get left behind. But think about it. A small business owner is there talking to his customers, getting a feel for what's happening, enjoying the everyday business. A big business owner is in an office, managing other people, not talking to customers except through intermediaries and not really getting to do the everyday stuff. 

It seems to me that a small one to three employee store can manage things down to the smallest levels, have complete control over their policies and budgets and feel the day-to-day flow of the world. They can make friends with their customers, they can know their customers wants and likes. They can enjoy the casual banter, lean up against the counter and be an equal. They can go around and adjust things, do things spontaneously. 

At some point you maximize what one person can earn. You have to decide if you want to expand your offerings, your space, your time. Either you do it yourself or you hire someone.

Do it all yourself and you risk burnout.

Hire someone and you may just be handing over the extra profits you were trying to earn.

I'm not saying you don't have to work hard. There will be times when you are tired and stressed, but you can keep it to manageable levels. 

There is a happy medium to all this. A level by which you can keep the everyday enjoyment, earn a decent living, and not burn out. The owner controls how big their business gets, by how big the store is and how much inventory or services offered. No one cares as much about a business as the owner and a small crew who identify with the business. We can keep up the quality of service and appearance that we want.

I've tried to keep the store at a busy level, to the point where both Summer and Christmas can be almost too busy for just one person, but where for most of the year, it is manageable. This is what I want. I will turn down money if it means too much work or too much stress. I'm not sure, though, that I'm not a hell of a lot more efficient and effective with a small business than I would be at two or three times the size.

In fact, I know I would not be because I did it. I had four stores and it was awful. So I asked myself why I got into business, what I was doing, and how I could change it. Basically, I jettisoned all the stuff that made me miserable, and kept the stuff I liked. It took time to pivot, and I had to build back up from a pretty small level, but eventually we got to that happy medium, where I was doing what I wanted and still making a good living.

For example, if I was willing to trade or buy collections, my business would probably be more profitable. But I would be miserable. Instead, I turn my attention to what I can get through wholesale, shaping the inventory so that is profitable without being a hassle. I'm not saying that you'll love everything you sell or do as a service, but you can try to turn it that way as much as possible.

A small store may be just what you want. 

Who the fuck wants to be a nasty billionaire anyway?

Saturday, June 10, 2023

We'll have tons of Lord of the Rings cards on June 16th.

My love of Middle Earth overcame my better judgement and I ordered about 5 times the normal amount of Magic cards. I mean, at worst we'll be able to sell them over the next few years. I'm hoping there'll be mad demand for them. Even 43 years of up and down experience hasn't quite broken me of my gambling predilection.

Because we don't have play space, Pegasus Books has to wait until the 23rd of June to release them. 

Wizards of the Coast has created One Card (of the Ring) To Rule Them All, which people are already offering a million bucks for. We have to almost hope no one finds it too quickly. 

Anyway, it's the start of summer and we should start seeing crowds soon. 

With four times the normal cards, I sure hope so. 

 Magic: The Gathering Unveils the Literal One Ring to Rule ...

Friday, June 9, 2023

Old School Cool and Instant Nostalgia.

I've been grabbing, at random, a supply of old pulps to bring to the store.

To me, they are awesome. They are very cool. They are evocative of another era, and yet somehow appropriate to this era. "Bad girl" art covers, goofy 50s style SF art, Golden Age Westerns. 

Most people don't even glance at them, but every once in a while, someone will perk up. 

"What's that?" they ask.

I tell the the story of the old grocery store on the west side of Bend where the owner had boxed up the paperback books and pulp magazines for 70 years or so. How he had told his kids that they would be "worth a fortune," but how when the time came to cash in, it was harder to find a buyer than they thought.

Until I found out about it. They offered the books for $300, and I paid them $400...because I knew I was getting a real prize.

So, yeah. It was a real prize, but I ran into the same problems they did. Who the hell will buy these things?

I know for sure that there are people out there who would fall all over themselves to get these pulps if they saw them. They are in "Fine" to "Near-Mint" in condition. Just their existence is incredibly rare--being in that condition is almost unheard of. The problem is getting them out there so that the people who would be interested could find them.

Now my store is functioning very well right now without any online presence. To establish an online presence right now would require knowledge, time, and patience I don't have. So I thought...OK. I'll take a few handfuls of the books to the store and see if anyone is interested.

I priced them at $6, though online they probably would go for three or four times that much, to the right customers, who believed me when I told them the condition, and so on. Sabrina had some plastic bags she'd purchased for our manga, and they fit the pulps perfectly. Once in the plastic, the wonderfully evocative covers to the pulps, just popped. Beautiful, instant nostalgia. 

To my great surprise, we sold out of the first batch. I mean, it was probably only two or three people, and one person in particular who bought them up. That may be a one-time occurrence, but it's still encouraging that someone out there saw the appeal. 

I want to find these beautiful books a home. I've pretty much already got back what I paid for them. I love looking at them, but I've got enough to satisfy me. I guess we'll find out if there are other people who appreciate these books as much as we do.

How much can I pack into the store before it bursts?

I tend to think I over order on a regular basis. But every once in a while I get a hint that maybe there is a method to my madness. 

Sabrina and Ashley have decided to takeover one of our book racks and create thematic displays. This removes space for about 20 books or so.

Just 20 books, but there is absolutely no place to put them. What's strange is that I get hundreds of books a week that I manage to find space for, but these 20 books seem to be a step too far. Which means, I think, that subconsciously I'm calibrating the flow of books to a fine degree. 

I've always felt that I have a spacial talent for figuring just by looking how much or how little product a space will hold. Along with an ability to make the most of the space we have. The joke in the store is that every week or so, at some point in the process, I'll look up from trying to find space and say, "That's it. There's no more space. We can't order anything more." To which Ash and Sabrina will roll their eyes. 

Funny thing is, it's been true for a long time, but it just keeps happening. The other joke is, "I've got to find a way to suspend books from the ceiling," to which Ash and Sabrina will usually agree and start brainstorming ways to do it. Ha.

 So I'm just going to say it. We're out of room. I got to quit ordering stuff....

My finger hovers over the order button. Nah....I'll figure it out...

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Ask yourself if it is worth it.

Because of all the miss-impressions I hear about both writing and bookstores, I have to assume that I  have just as many miss-impressions of other peoples' jobs and hobbies. You don't really know something unless you do it, intensely and long enough to get the real gist.

Talking to my brother about the bookstores in his hometown. I won't say what town because I don't want to insult anyone. 

So there is a big-time bookstore there that does all the things that a big-time bookstore does. Has a in-house coffee shop, has famous authors come by for readings, and so on.

So Mike's wife, Sherry, goes in to ask for some support for a charity benefit and the owner is "rude and nasty."

So I said, "That's what I've been trying to tell you, Mike. The owner has probably reached her limit. She's overburdened herself trying to do all the things everyone tells you to do. It's called burnout and it will happen to almost all the owners of such shops."

Well, Mike is skeptical. Almost everyone I say this to is skeptical. To most people, that's what bookstores are: and no amount of failure or change of ownerships will change that impression. Because the trend is stronger than the truth. It overwhelms the real-world experience to the extent that even the victims of the myth buy into it. 

I'm in my 44th year at my bookstore and I'm enjoying it more than ever. Not even close to burnout. In fact, we're doing better than ever. 

What I do is sell books. That's it. Sell books.

Meanwhile, Mike tells me that they shop at the "smaller" bookstore in town. 

"Does it have a coffee shop?" I ask.

"No, but there is one next door."

"Next door is fine. That's someone else's problem."

I'm firmly convinced that in twenty or thirty years, the book industry will look back on this era and wonder what we were all thinking. "Wine and coffee, restaurants, and space and time for stuff other than books? WTF?"

Again, I don't think most will agree with this assessment, including other bookstores, but at the very least, there is something to my position. "Keep it simple, stupid." 

So Linda says, "But it's a draw. It brings in people who sit and chat."

So then my question becomes, "OK, say it's a 30% extra draw. Meanwhile, you have at least 100% more effort to stock and staff your restaurant. Everyone of of those author readings, and club meetings, and gatherings require planning and effort. All of it draws attention, time, and energy from your real job of selling books. If it doesn't, it's because you hired someone to do it. At best, it's a break-even proposition that will eventually drain you, 

All I'm saying is, ask yourself; "Is it worth it?"

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Publishers don't have time for that editing thing.

Funnily enough, I've only been what I would term "edited" by a publisher twice, out of 27 books and five shorts stories. (EDITOR: "There is no such word as funnily.")

I think there is an erroneous expectation on the part of beginning writers that publishers will work with you to fix a book, but in my experience, publishers don't have time for that. They get so many submissions, they can just accept the stories that already work. I suppose if you are a "famous" author, you have a hands-on editor--though I think the super famous authors can publish anything they want. (Some of the famouser SF writers weren't a rigorous with their later works: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke.) (EDITOR: "There is no such word as famouser")

When I wrote my first book way back in 1980, I just assumed that the publisher would take it over, fix it up, and away we go. 

Instead, other than a few copy edits, nothing. 

In some ways, it was a rocky start. I let the book be published (How could I say no?) even though it might not have been ready. I will admit, they rejected the first effort at the third book because they felt I was trying too hard to make two books out of it. That was the right decision: in fact, years later, I combined "Snowcastles" and "Icetowers" into one book.

By the time I wrote "Icetowers" I understood I was on my own and thus that third book holds up much better than the first two. 

From the time I came back in 2013 and published "Led to the Slaughter," I hired my own editor, not just for copyedits, but for story changes as well. Lara Milton was great at it, and all my books benefited greatly from her suggestions.

But I had zero pushback from the publishers. And so it went for most of the books following. Because of this, I made the choice not to publish several books because I didn't think they worked. Maybe they would have been fine, but I wasn't sure who would tell me that.

Finally, in one of my last books, I did have a publisher who asked for major changes, not once, not twice, but three times. The first two changes were major improvements, but I felt the third change was too much. Again, I wasn't going to dispute a publisher.

I can remember a couple of instances where I got major push backs from my copy readers. I went back and adjusted "Led to the Slaughter" a couple of time to its improvement. 

I struggled over the decision to leave the second chapter of "Deadfall Ridge" in or not. There isn't a lot of action in the second chapter, but I felt it was absolutely crucial in developing the character of the main protagonist. I've always been glad I chose to keep it. 

The last thing I ever submitted was a short story. To my great surprise, the first two short stories I ever submitted were accepted to anthologies, which will always make me wonder if I missed my true calling. Anyway, on the second story, the publisher was very hands on. Again, I accepted the first two rewrites as improvements. Again, the third rewrite, for me, went too far...but I didn't fight the publisher over it. Once they accept a manuscript, I sort of feel like it's theirs. 

From now on, I'm going to stick to my guns on changes I don't agree with, even if it means being rejected. I'll have to figure out where to draw the line; in the two examples, the first suggestions were great, the last suggestions not so much. I think I could have tried to politely argue the point. I've now had so many books published, I don't fear rejection anymore. 

Like I said, it isn't common to be edited heavily, and I suspect it will be even less common in the future.