C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

World’s Biggest: The Unfortunate Death of the Last Big Bookstore and What Happens Next

For a long time I’ve predicted the thinning of bookstores. They’re not going away completely, but you’ll have to drive farther afield to get to one. When I was a sales rep for numerous publishers, the bookstore chains decimated independent bookstores. Most of the little stores I visited with my sample case and catalogues are long gone. Now, it’s the chain’s turn.

Still, I got a shock this week. My shrine is closing.

In the heart of Toronto lies a huge bookstore, three levels and 64,000 square feet. Soon it will empty to the bare walls. The World’s Biggest Bookstore is shutting its doors in February. It was great for treasure hunting. The Indigo book chain’s lease won’t be renewed and tourists and book lovers won’t wander into World’s Biggest anymore. This store, a champion of the paper book, will be no doubt be replaced by high-end condos for people who trade stocks on Bay Street. 

When the sale was announced, the owner of the property (son of the original bookstore owner, Jack Cole, who founded the store in 1980) said the deal is about a real estate sale, not the slow death of the bricks and mortar bookstore. Whether for a massive real estate sale or for other reasons, World’s Biggest is the flagship of the Indigo fleet. It’s going down and will not resurface.

It was a destination bookstore and we won’t see its like again.

Whenever in downtown Toronto, if you could read, you just had to go there to browse. I never left without an armful of books. I took out-of-town friends there to wander the aisles. It was such a great place to hang out and…brace yourself for the unexpected…they didn’t even have to sell coffee, knick knacks and dustables in order to lure people to shop.

There are many other bookstores, of course, but they’re all lookalikes.

In the announcement, the owners of World’s Biggest invited customers to slip down a block or two to visit nearby Indigo locations. I have a chain bookstore down the street from my home that looks exactly like all the others. I don’t need to go to Toronto to get that experience. I don’t even have to drive five minutes to my nearest Indigo bookstore to look at paperbacks. The Starbucks looks busier than the bookstore most days and Amazon’s catalogue is more extensive than any bookstore could possibly offer, anyway.

Amazon is the World’s Biggest now.

My social scene will have to come from Skype and social media. My destination now is my keyboard, my kindle and the ease of the one-click buy. For the Starbucks experience, I’ll set the coffeemaker between the couch and the wood stove. Goodbye, World’s Biggest. I won’t dwell on nostalgia or write a treatise on the tragedy of any more lost bookstores or pen an ode to the smell of book glue.

I write. I read. I stay home. The world turns, turns away, and moves on.

Filed under: Amazon, book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , ,

How I lost a job over the end of the world (and how I tried to fix it)

Episode 2 of This Plague of Days launches today!

Contagious diseases that threaten to end civilization as we know it have already affected me personally. (You know, besides the Not Wanting to Die Part. We all share that.)

I wrote the bulk of my horror serial, This Plague of Days, two years ago. I was definitely inspired by The Stand. However, the scariest book I’ve ever read is The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (and it’s non-fiction, by the way). That plays a large part in my story’s inception. The Hot Zone became much more personal when its warnings  became real to a family member. My sister-in-law has a very important job in a Toronto hospital. SARS hit Toronto hard and she was in the middle of the crisis in 2003.  

A coronavirus that may cause SARS. (transwikie...

A coronavirus that may cause SARS. (transwikied from en.wikipedia.org) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SARS made a huge impression on me. Helplessness came first.

Vancouver could have been hit as badly as Toronto. However, one astute nurse averted a worse disaster. She identified the symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome immediately. She spotted a patient in an ER waiting room and isolated the infected person to avoid an outbreak. You’d hope that best case scenario would happen every time. Toronto wasn’t so lucky.

My sister-in-law and many healthcare workers were in danger. However, they did the job they signed up for and did so bravely. As a result, several of those killed by SARS were health care workers.

Though I’d never worked in a hospital, I was in danger, too.  

Through my research, I knew the agency I worked for planned to facilitate the government’s plan to make me and my colleagues in hospitals in the event of an outbreak. The bureaucrats, without consulting the membership they said they served, were ready to give me up, volunteer me and put me and my family in harm’s way. With two young children at home, they weren’t merely ready to put me in danger. Their emergency plans put my kids in danger. (I’d have to go home sometime after being exposed to contagious diseases against my will.)

Those same bureaucrats plan to hide in their homes during an outbreak while sending me and my colleagues into the thick of it. This is especially egregious when you grok this: Where I live, doctors and nurses refused to pledge that they would report for work during a pandemic. The medical experts understand that when the world flu pandemic arrives, isolation from contagion is the surest way to save the most lives. Staying home is the best chance to avoid an ugly death in an overcrowded hospital. 

You could say I was annoyed by these policies. One bureaucrat in charge of emergency planning told me “This is the government. They can do what they want.” (I thought the point of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was…oh. Never mind. We live there now.)

And yet the doctors’ and nurses’ unions found a spine, maintained their dignity and refused to sign the government’s proposed pledge because (1) their membership at least got consulted, and (2) many felt the government’s plan was stupid at best. 

When humans are in charge, they make mistakes. Some mistakes are deadly.

A chest x-ray showing increased opacity in bot...

A chest x-ray showing increased opacity in both lungs, indicative of pneumonia, in a patient with SARS. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Were you aware that with budget cuts in many hospitals, the first to be sacrificed are the people who cost the least money? Expensive upper management is rarely cut, but the cleaning staff has to go first? Those are the people who disinfect the elevator buttons and clean computer keyboards. SARS can survive (and wait for you) a long time on an elevator button.

You know those powerful toilets you’ll find in any hospital? They can aerosolize disease really well when flushed. There’s a factoid to keep you up nights.

During SARS, hospital cafeterias were closed. That sounds like a good idea until you realize medical staff have to eat, too. Nurses ate close together in cramped nursing stations.

Respiratory masks are hot and uncomfortable.

For relief, you drink more coffee. It’s not just to deal with the stress and exhaustion. It’s to get a break from the mask. Worse? A properly fitted hospital mask that’s tested and certified will protect you from many pathogens for maybe 20 minutes to half an hour. When it gets wet, and it does simply with respiration, it doesn’t protect you from possible contagion anymore. You read that right. To screw up most masks, all you have to do is breathe. We don’t all get HAZMAT suits.

I had to go to an ER at the height of the SARS crisis for a health issue.

The medical staff all wore masks and took proper preventive measures. However, when they gathered in a tight huddle to consult each other, they  pulled their masks aside.

How the truth set me free (of a job)

With all this in mind, I attended a meeting with representatives of that governmental agency I alluded to. They told us we’d be safe with any old mask at all. However, a carpenter’s mask keeps out sawdust, not viruses. A hospital-safe mask is fitted individually and tested with noxious smoke. If you cough during the test, the mask doesn’t fit and has to be refitted. (Bonus points for shortsighted and stupid: This test costs money, so it’s often skimped on or not done at all.)

At the meeting, I stood up and objected to the cavalier policy on masks. I thought I was a helpful and worried hero of the people. Nope! I’d become a problem. Problems are things to get rid of.

The next Monday morning my supervisor called to “discuss my contract.” They told me I’d challenged them in a public meeting. (I challenged them, but the meeting was in no way public.) They said I sounded angry. Um, yeah. With me and my family’s health on the line? I was angry. But there’s a difference between righteous indignation and ranting. I thought I hit the right balance. They didn’t agree. (And not for nothing, the highest ranking officer on the phone sounded more angry than I was. I have the tape.)

They said I was free to hold my opinions, but I couldn’t work for them at the same time and express the truth. They didn’t want to risk any “dual messages” getting out.

They questioned my integrity, but I’d done my job well so I guess they couldn’t fire me. They said if I wanted to continue, closer monitoring would be necessary. (I have no idea what that means, but collars make me itch.) I believe it’s simpler than that. They didn’t like me when I wasn’t nodding my head. I wasn’t happy with them anymore, either. I resigned because I thought that was what integrity looked like.

Now I wonder if they took that as some kind of admission of guilt. Then I get angry again. As far as I know, the government’s emergency preparedness plan has not changed an iota. The danger, and loss of personal choice, is no less real.

When you can’t find your opponent’s brain, stab for the heart.

So I wrote a book about the plague that’s coming to kill us. I write about how society reacts to the threat and how civilizations fail. Then 28 Days Later types of zombies show up. Interesting Latin phrases appear for the word nerds and serious lovers of literature get some existential contemplation between zombie attacks. There’s something for everybody.

In Episode 2 of This Plague of Days, released today, I include a chapter that shows exactly how bureaucrats like my former employers could kill someone like me with the same bad decisions. Will the bureaucrats read my demonstration of the worst-case scenario? I don’t know, but I’m sure they’ll keep an open mind. (I crack myself up.) However, maybe an emotional demonstration will resonate more than a defiant lecture. At least those potentially affected by these policies might get and spread the message so next time I won’t be standing up alone.

If you still think it’s a crazy, paranoid and unlikely scenario, have a look at today’s links to real-life events on MERS in “Related Articles” below. Also consider that epidemiologists are clear: we’re long overdue for another terrible disease outbreak.

Read This Plague of Days. And please, wash your hands frequently.

This Plague of Days, Episode One (99 cents)

This Plague of Days, Episode Two (99 cents)

or

just grab

This Plague of Days, Season One

for $3.99.

Filed under: author platform, Books, My fiction, What about Chazz?, What about you?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Met Kevin Smith at Live From Behind in Toronto! He and Jay have my book!

Kevin Smith

Image via Wikipedia

Last night I shook hands and had a chat with Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob for those not in the cult). Each now have a signed copy of my book, Self-help for Stoners. They couldn’t have been more gracious, interested, warm or friendly. It was a big moment for me, especially when Kevin recognized the book and said, “Hey! I know you!”

Each got a personalized recommendation for stories they might particularly like from Self-help and it was a genuine pleasure all around. We laughed a lot. As always, of course, Kevin spoke inspired and inspiring words about writing and the creative process.

I’m a bit emotional today. It was a milestone in the evolution, not just of the book, but for me taking the leap to writing full-time. It was just over a year ago that I decided I needed to “stop chasing the puck” and quit my job of twenty years. Things went full circle last night. And now? Onward. Three novels are coming out this year with my name on them. Hoo-ha!

I must make this writing thing work.

Bonus? As I walked up onstage, Jay sang Paperback Writer. Yes!

Filed under: All That Chazz, authors, Books, ebooks, My fiction, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Book Distribution Company Bankruptcy

A map of Canada exhibiting its ten provinces a...

Image via Wikipedia

One-hundred and twenty-five employees are out of a job at HB Fenn, a major Canadian book distributor. It’s cold in Toronto and those rents are killer. Best of luck to all those employees.

I’ve worked for a publisher as they began to collapse. I was working at Lester & Orpen Dennys just before they went under. It was okay for me. When I came in, I knew I was hired for a short-term job. I was one of the lucky ones in that I bounced on to another publishing job at Cannon Books. The people who stayed longer had to face looking for work in publishing just as everyone else at the company was looking for work. It must have been a terrible situation for some.

For those who missed the details: HB Fenn, declared bankruptcy late last week. Until recently they distributed more than 50,000 titles including MacMillan, Whitecap Books and American sci-fi heavyweight, Tor.

According to The National Post, this marks “the largest collapse of a Canadian publishing company since General Distribution Services/Stoddart Publishing went under in August 2002.”

Publishers have to try to get skids of books back but that may be very difficult while the company deals with paying off creditors.  Authors will get it in the shorts as bookstores wait for cartons of books to arrive that never shall. This is a bad blow to Canadian book publishing, especially since, increasingly, publishers have less to offer but could still pride themselves on their bookstore access and distribution system.

HB Fenn once had controlling interest in the now-defunct Key Porter books, as well. Key Porter was once a major player in Canadian publishing.One company’s death would be enough of a bad sign. Two companies might be a bald symptom of the trend down we’ve been seeing.

NEXT POST: THE PROMISED BLOG-O-RAMA—ONE OF MANY TO COME—ABOUT THE WRITERS’ UNION OF CANADA SYMPOSIUM ON THE STATE OF PUBLISHING. (Yes, this post is a clue.)

Related Articles

Filed under: Books, publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

Word on the Street Toronto

The Word on the Street

Image by mgerskup via Flickr

 

I spent a good chunk of yesterday at Toronto’s Word of the Street books and magazine fair. The event is huge. I remembered it when it was a much smaller festival. Now they take over all of Queen’s Park and close the streets. I met some old friends and made some new ones. Word on the Street takes place across Canada in various cities. If you can go, I recommend it. 

I know I loaded you up with links last week. As a result of my day trip to Word on the Street, here are just a few more: 

The Horror Writers Association is the only organization dedicated to the support of authors of dark literature. Check it out at www.horror.org

Details about Bloody Words, the Canadian Mystery Conference, can be found at www.bloodywords.com

For information on the Crime Writers of Canada, go to www.crimewriterscanada.com. Members include authors, publishers, editors, booksellers, librarians, reviewers and literary agents as well as developing writers. 

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression is a non-profit organization supported by Canadian Journalists and advocates of free expression. They defend the rights of journalists around the world. www.cjfe.org 

PEN Canada also advocates for writers in prison, writers in exile and works to promote freedom of expression. www.pencanada.ca 

  

Filed under: banning books, Books, Media, publishing, writing tips, , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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