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Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday Sucks!

Yesterday as we drove to my father-in-law's for Thanksgiving, we notice that the Elder-Beerman department store at our local mall was open.  Elder-Beerman was the second largest regional department store in Ohio until Macy's parent company Federated Department Stores bought out Lazarus and subsequently re-branded them under the Macy's name. It's also the last big anchor store at our mall since JC Penney closed this summer.

But the Goddess-damned store was open at 10 a.m. on fucking Thanksgiving Day.

Maybe I'm turning into the get-off-my-lawn guy. Maybe it's the lovely symptoms of menopause. But damn! Stores can't give their people one fucking holiday off?

I mean, yeah, I sell books for a living. But I rarely, and I mean RARELY see a sale on a holiday.

Which is how it should be. You should be celebrating the holiday, and if it's not with the family of blood, then it should be with the family you made.

And even for the holidays I've spent alone, and there's been a few, I wouldn't want to put someone else out, keep them away from their family, out of some selfish need.

I'm not going to suggest or ask or beg you not to shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. You gotta do what your own conscience tells you.

But me? I'm not shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday.

What I will ask you is this: please, PLEASE show a little compassion for the folks in stores and restaurants who are just trying to make their rent and put food on their table for their kids. And these people are told they will be fired if they don't show up on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. There's a lot more of them than you realize, and even a decent tip or a smile can make the difference.

So if you need to shop, please be kind.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

#NotAllMen, Comic Book Stores Redux

When I get a private e-mail response to one of my posts, it's almost always a guy, and it almost always starts with, "I didn't want to get into it with you in public, but..."

The missive sent because of Monday's post about failing comic stores was my first official #NotAllMen response for this blog.

WOO-HOO! I finally got my feminist cred! *Snoopy dance*

The gist of this Particular Reader's missive was that his local comic shop was run by a woman and she mean to him.

First of all, I don't doubt Particular Reader's account of his encounter for a second. But there's a few things to keep in mind:

1) I never said women were better managers than men. I've ranted more than a few times on this very blog about Blue Willow Bookstore in Houston and the snotty female manager who got pissy with me because I wanted to buy a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, with the current slump in comic book sales and the closing rate of comics store, chasing away ANY behaving, money-in-hand customer is not a smart idea.

2) I'd like to point out that in the numerous independent comic books stores in five states and the District of Columbia that I've visited since 1988, only one was owned by a woman.

3) The two articles I mentioned in Monday's post regarding the comic store downturn were written by...wait...for...it...TWO WHITE DUDES! Now, if two white men can recognize a problem in the industry they cherish, maybe, just maybe, there is an actual PROBLEM!

4) If you're selling a particular type of merchandise that you're not intimate with to the point you can't answer a customer's questions, then you need to hire someone who is familiar. One of the people I mentioned yesterday was the little old lady who ran the Book Nook. She knew the DC and Marvel lines, but she wasn't as familiar with Dark Horse, Image, etc. She hired her nephew who was.

5) Going back to point #1, the owner of the Book Nook was a class act. Like I said Monday, she sold new and used romances as well as new and used comics.

One day back in the early ‘90’s, I’d taken the afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment, one of those things at 2pm where it’s not worth going back to the office. I stopped by the Book Nook on my way home. There was a display wall that partially divided the comics from the romance section. I was behind that wall when an older man came in.

Apparently, he’d come in during that quiet time on weekdays after the lunch crowd, but before school let out to pick up some romance books. He and the owner were discussing the latest Nora Roberts when I walked up with my stack of comics. Poor guy turned twelve shades of red when he realized someone else was in the store. (Have I told you how bigoted this town is?)

The owner didn’t bat an eye. She just turned to me asked for my romance suggestion. I said I preferred Harlequin’s Temptation line since it was a little more modern, but my grandmother swore by Debbie Macomber. Once he realized I wasn’t going to tease him about his reading choices, he chilled, and the three of us had a nice chat.

And that's what makes a good business owner who will get repeat patronage.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Comic Book Store Conundrum

I've been reading comic since the '60's.

Wait. Let me amend that statement. I learned to read from the comics in the '60's (and Dr. Seuss too but he's not the point of this post). In an issue of Spider-man, Peter had a friend who'd taken something called angel dust and gotten sick and was about to hurt himself. Peter as Spider-man saved his friend, and the cops said Spider-man was all right in their book. And a little boy asked his mom if Peter's friend would be okay. She said she didn't know.

Yeah, I was four at the time. I didn't quite understand everything that was going on. But for once, I couldn't quite glean the story from the colorful pictures like I could Superman or Batman. So I made the effort to figure out the words in the balloons.

Which led to the drugstore in town that had comics on the bottom rack of the magazine wall.

I didn't have money back then. I relied on my cousins. Especially my cousin Frank. He used his allowance to fill his comic addiction, and he'd let me read his books. In fact, he spent so much money the owner would let him and his friends have the stripped copies when the new books came in.

Then our little town's drugstore went out of business in the mid-'70's. The bookstores in the bigger towns closed soon after. Finally, comics disappeared from the big grocery stores as well. I didn't know this at the time, but this was one of the first distribution crises that would hit the publishing industry.

In the early '80's, my little brother's middle school was selling magazine subscriptions. Lo and behold, a few Marvel comics were available, including my favorite The Uncanny X-Men. So I coughed up the money for it and New Mutants.

Once a month, they arrived in our rural mail box. The trick became getting to the mail first. Otherwise, the younger siblings, and sometimes my dad (yeah, Dad, I know you were reading my X-Men), would read them and not necessarily return them right away. In Dad's case, I think he piled his farming magazines on top of them to keep Mom from knowing he was reading them.

(Mom was an English teacher and had some specific, and very negative views, of comics, and science fiction too. Mind you, she could go through a grocery bag of Harlequins in a month. I'm talking the big department store brown bag with handles. Pot meet kettle. *rolls eyes*)

By the time I was out of college in the late '80's, the independent comic store had sprung up. And since I had a job, I had this wonderful thing called discretionary income. I could buy more than just two books a month. And I lived and worked in a town that boasted two comics shops. You would have thought I was in heaven.

*sigh* Do you have any idea what it's like to walk into a store, money in hand to buy stuff, and have everyone stare at you?

(Yeah, I know some of you do, and I know why. You're not the ones I'm addressing.)

At the first store, I tried to check out some of the back issues of stuff I couldn't afford earlier in my life, like the '70's issues of the Legion of Superheroes, but the silence and the staring grew to be too much. I grabbed the current issue of Wonder Woman and went to the counter to pay for it. The owner sneered and said, "Figures that's what a chick would buy." I never went back to that store.

At the second store, the owner and other patrons weren't quite as weirded out by my presence. However, I made the mistake of discovering my first issue of Sandman. When I went to pay for it and the rest of my selections, the owner commented how a lot of "chicks" seemed to like that book.

I answered that I was glad Vertigo had resurrected Cain and Abel from DC's old horror lines. My statement seemed to shock the shit out of the owner. He blinked and asked what else I read. We actually had a civil discussion, which led me to dropping by his store once a month for my comic fix.

Unfortunately, the good times couldn't last. I took a new job in another state and had to suffer through the same crap as before. After a second job-related move and more uncomfortable staring and nasty comments, I went back to subscriptions, this time through comic store in Colorado called Mile High Comics.

Shortly afterward, the First Gulf War and its accompanying recession hit. I was laid off, and I thought I'd have to cancel my subscription. Then a miracle happened, and I don't just mean finding a new job.

I moved to small town in Ohio that had a little shop called the Book Nook. It was split into two sections. One was new and used romance books. The other side held new and used comics. The best part? The store was run by a little old lady who didn't give a flying flip about which side of the store you shopped. I was in heaven!

Until the husband I found in that little town and I moved to Houston. Then the bullshit at local comics shops started all over again.

Around this time, I had a niece whose tastes were as eclectic as mine. So for Christmas, I gave her the first trade paperback edition of Sandman. She loved it! The sad part was I didn't buy any of the books I gave her for subsequent Christmases from comics shops. Not wanting to deal with the bullshit, I went to Barnes & Noble instead, though one clerk in particular was as snotty as the comic shop people in the totally opposite way. *sigh*

Maybe my patronage didn't matter in the long run. By then, I was in law school, and I still had my Mile High subscription. But comics were stacking up faster than I could read them. A couple of years after Genius Kid was born, I gave up my subscription. Partly because I didn't have the time. Partly because I didn't like the creative turn the X-books were taking.

By the time I started homeschooling GK, the comics stores closest to our house with the nasty owners had gone out of business thanks to the combination of the economic downturns of 2001 and the house bubble bursting in 2008. One of my former secretaries recommended Bedrock City Comics near her apartment.

This store was worlds away from crap I'd experienced in my twenties. The staff were helpful and pleasant. My original mission to get GK hooked on Spider-man didn't succeed. He arrowed straight for the manga shelves. But I found I liked the new person writing Wonder Woman and picked up a bunch of new and back issues. And we went to pay, the manager asked if we found everything we wanted.

I laughed and told him I wanted to get my son hooked on Spider-man. The manager chuckled, but we had a nice conversation about the generational differences in reading material.

We couldn't afford monthly visits to Bedrock City at that point, but I tried to go quarterly as a reward for GK hitting a homeschool goal. Still couldn't get him to read Spider-man, though.

Then a new store opened closer to our place, but I didn't get the chance to check it out until a few days after we'd closed on the sale of our house. I had some time to kill because our Houston mechanic was doing some repair work on our car before I drove north. So I stopped at the shop on my way to pick up some lunch.

Holy crap! Women were working in this store! Not just one, but three! And they were fucking enthusiastic and engaging!

They wanted to know if I was looking for something specific. When I said I was just browsing, they cheerfully let me do so without trying to force a specific sale.

And I wanted to cry. Because this was the store I'd always wanted to go to, and now I may not ever visit it again. If you're in Houston, I strongly recommend The Pop Culture Company for its excellent selection.

At the time, I told myself, "It's okay. You're moving back to the place with the Book Nook."

However, when I pulled into the strip mall a few days later, the Book Nook sign was up, but the lights were out. I peered forlornly through the dirty windows at an empty store. Apparently, I'd missed their closing by a matter of months.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought my first comic since that visit to The Pop Culture Company three years ago. I bought the Wonder Woman '77 Meets The Bionic Woman trade paperback from Amazon. I fed my nostalgia bug and didn't have to deal with snooty clerks from either end of the spectrum.

So why am I telling this story? This morning, I read Ed Catto's column in the online magazine ComicMix. Ed's essay was an answer to Glenn Hauman's column from last week in the same magazine.

Some comic shop owners are blaming PC culture and/or SJWs for their downturn in business. Yet, from my experience over the last thirty years, a lot of these shop owners have gone out of their way to chase customers they don't approve of out of their stores. Customer who want to buy their products and have cash in their hands. And this was long before the issues of sexual harassment at publishers and representation in stories became publicly debated issues.

Nor is my gripe specifically about women versus men working in a comics shop. It's about attitude. I'm sad that only one male shop manager wanted to treat me as a customer from the moment I stepped into his shop instead of looking at me like I was a cockroach infestation. And that type of attitude difference can lead to long-term consequences for a retailer.

Retailers exist to fill a customer need or want. Customers don't exist to provide a living for the retailers. If the retailers are not fulfilling that want or need, then the customer will go elsewhere. It's that simple, and that difficult, at the same time.

I've seen a couple of different customer studies (most were proprietary which is why I can't quote them directly or provide links). If a customer has a good experience in your store, they will tell 1-2 people at most. If a customer has a bad experience, do you think it's the same ratio?

Nope, it increases exponentially. The customer will blast their bad experience to 10-20 other people. And the studies I've seen were commissioned well before the rise of social media. Now, bad experiences can lead to viral incidents where millions of people will see you acting like a shit to a ten-year-old girl who's dressed as her favorite superhero in your store.

So yeah, if you're a comics shop owner, times are a little tough. But don't make things tougher on yourself by driving away paying customers because they aren't 55+ white men. You know, like the cousins who first introduced me to comic books are now. Because they are retiring and dying, and by the time they finish, you won't have any customers at all.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Trusting Your Art

Artists of any stripe can be a insecure bunch, probably because they are often belittled.

In American culture, pursuing art is considered inconsequential. A waste of time. Criticism of this pursuit is often vocalized by artists' friends and families as helpful advice.

I mean, how often have all of us heard the following:

"Why are you wasting your time on that crap?"
"When are you going to get a real job?"
"No one can make a living writing/singing/painting/etc."

And even if we get past that bullshit, there's the people related to the type of art we wish pursue, i.e. the current professionals, the critics, the brokers, who again in the name of helping can hold us back. You know the type of well-meaning advice:

"Instead of writing Y, you should write X."
"This is crap. You need to change everything."
"If you have so-and-so doctor/edit/review your work, you'll make lots of money."

One  of the hardest parts for any artist on this crazy path is learning to trust themselves. There's going to be a lot of people who have opinions of your work.

And that's okay.

But it shouldn't matter to you either.

Why? Because if you present your work to the public, you can't stop them from having an opinion about that work. Nor can you control the life experience those other people bring along as baggage as they read/look at/listen to your work. And trust me, there's a lot of baggage those consumers drag along to the party.

For example, an editor for a publishing company (and no, I'm not naming names) stated that zombies are over.

And I laughed. Why? Because that same editor has been saying vampires are over for the last twenty years, and I still haven't seen bloodsuckers totally go away.

It doesn't matter what someone else says. If you want to write about vampires, or draw superhero comics, or create weird metal statues, then DO IT!

Trust yourself to fulfill your vision of your project. Only you can create things a certain way. A way like no other person can. And the world will be a poorer place without your vision.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Indie Drama Queens or Why I No Longer Have Many Writer Friends

I don't know about the rest of you, but for me, high school was horrible. It's one of my top three worst experiences in my life.

And the other two consist of DH's emergency surgery when we didn't know what the fuck was wrong and me nearly dying during my C-section when my blood pressure crashed for no apparent reason.

So yeah, high school was pretty fucking bad. So bad, I will never, ever go to a high school reunion. Why would I want to hang out with people who spread vicious rumors about me, threatened me, and generally treated me like shit?

Yet, I keep running into indie writers who desperately want to re-create that experience. The cliques. The bitchiness. The infighting and taking sides over some innocuous happenstance. In other words, the drama queens.

It all comes down to some variation of validation. You have X, but I don't. Or I have Y, and you don't. Where X and Y are considered certain factors that signify a "real" writing career.

I thought we got over that years ago when we decided to forego begging agents for a crumb of attention, following editors into bathroom stalls, or being ecstatic that a publisher granted us a measly 6% of the income from our books.

But no, we humans are insecure little fuckers. We devise new and better ways of trying to prove we are better than our peers. And we often succeed in making ourselves and others totally miserable.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm so fucking tired of that kind of bullshit. My path isn't yours and vice versa. Judge your success by making each book better than your last one.

Or go live out the rest of your lives in high school. That's okay because I'm going to be over here doing something entirely different and my teen self will be having a blast doing it!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Aftermath

The Mallet Hammer had a boulder and concrete land on it.
The frame was so twisted it was considered unsalvageable.
Last week, I accompanied Darling Husband to a business event at his employer's headquarters in Tampa. He can't fly anymore thanks to an anxiety issue. Part of the reason I went was because I worry about him driving alone for extended periods. The other part was we needed some alone time as a couple after the last few years of life insanity.

Also, we're at a point where Genius Kid is a capable young adult. He can drive. He can cook. He has his own bank accounts. He gets his ass up when his alarm clock goes off and heads for school without (much) prodding on our part. And he kept an eye on his grandfather while we were out of town.

We also planned for two days for travel, instead of trying to do the entire 1126 miles in one day. We left Sunday and spent the night at some friends' house in Nashville. We had a lovely time there.

Arriving late Monday night in Tampa, we immediately crashed. I don't even remember hearing DH get up and head to the office for his meetings. (The hotel and his company's office are in the same building. Yay!) Then I woke up about one p.m.

And therein lies part of my problem. I expected the exhaustion, having come down with a nasty cold the week before we left. What I didn't expect was the severe muscle and joint pain.

I've been immune-compromised since my pregnancy with GK. The doctors don't know why. My new doctor here in Ohio has taken my issues seriously. He's tested for lupus. The pain issue has been too inconsistent to be fibromyalgia. He's as thoroughly stumped as the doctors in Houston.

First, I downed a couple of acetominophen. I took my time with a shower and getting dressed. Then I headed to the Starbucks across the street for some breakfast and editing.

I didn't last very long on the hard wooden chairs. I went back to our hotel room. Propped on pillows, I continued to edit until DH came back to the room to drop off his work stuff. His boss insisted I join them for dinner.

Apparently, she was worried I would be bored. I laughed and listed off everything I brought with me to work on during the trip. She was suitably impressed. And we had a nice time.

Wednesday morning, I felt a lot better. I took Baby Blue (my travel laptop which is essentially a glorified tablet) to Panera, which was literally next door to Starbucks, for breakfast. I didn't stay long because it was pretty crowded, but I did get in 3K words by the time DH was done for the day. We had a lovely dinner, just the two of us.

We left a warm 80-degrees in Tampa on Thursday morning. Just north of the Florida-Georgia line, we hit rain and a 20-degree temperature drop. The rain slowed us down enough we reached Atlanta just in time for the beginning of rush hour. URGH!

By the time we reached our hotel in Nashville, we were both exhausted. We had a light dinner at the hotel bar and crashed once again.

And I woke up to not only the same extreme pain of Tuesday, but a left knee swollen for no apparent reason. The rain was gone at least, and it was in the 30's. DH suggested the weather change might be responsible.

The 1,000,000th Corvette after its restoration!
We headed north once again. DH took Friday as a vacation day, so we stopped at one of our favorite places, the National Corvette Museum. We wanted to see the restored section where a sinkhole opened up beneath eight one-of-a-kind 'Vettes. It was pretty cool seeing the two restored cars, and a little sad seeing the five destroyed cars. The eighth is in another section of the museum, and you can watch as it's currently being restored. With the aches despite the painkillers and my swollen knee, I had to make frequent stops, but the visit was worth it.

We spent our final night in Cincinnati, and had dinner with one of DH's closest friends and the friend's significant other at the riverside Montgomery Inn. If you're ever in the city, I highly recommend the restaurant!

However, the relatively short drive between Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, left me pretty much incapacitated. We all made jokes about getting older, but I didn't dare drink alcohol with all the painkillers and decongestant I'd taken. And getting up and down stairs was a slow, torturous process for me.

After one last night in a hotel, we got home Saturday afternoon. After unpacking and starting some laundry, I collapsed on my recliner. I managed to edit a chapter. But that was all I completed before I went to bed and slept twelve hours. I still wasn't even fifty percent when I got up Sunday morning, but I worked a little bit while watching Cleveland-Detroit game and then listening to the Texans.

DH trying out the fit of a 2018 'Vette.
Don't get me wrong. We had a great time on this trip, but DH and I had planned to do some traveling around the country once GK graduates. But this little trip has me concerned about whether I can handle it. I very obviously won't be flying any time soon. We stopped every two hours for stretch breaks driving our drive to and from Tampa. I couldn't handle not moving for an extended period on the tight seats of an airplane.

Just as obviously, we won't be making a trip in a 2018 Corvette. DH tried one out while we were at the National Corvette Museum. Can you name the problem?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

I'm Going Senile...

Holy Crap!

I totally forgot to tell y'all that Sword and Sorceress 32 came out last week! It contains my short story "Unexpected", a delightful tale of a damsel saving the dragon.

P.S. There's a lot of other cool writers in the anthology, too.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sun, Coffee and Words

As you read this, I'm in the lovely city of Tampa, which also happens to be the headquarters of DH's employer. He had to come down for a two-day management meeting, and as I've said before, he no longer flies. So we drove down.

Don't worry. I won't be spending my days on the beach. My lily-white skin can't handle the sun. Seriously, I have to wear SPF 50 on the nights of the full moon.

Nope, there's two Starbucks and a Panera within walking distance of the hotel, and I have my frequent buyer cards. So I have no fucking reason not to get some writing done. Right?

Though I may have to sneak in a viewing of Thor: Ragnarok or two. Because Hemsworth and Ruffalo? YUM! Did I mention there's also a mall with a theater across the street from our hotel?

P.S. If you want proof I'm working, check out Chapter 4 of A Modicum of Truth.