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Newsletter #49 March - May, 2000

Award News

        The Mystery Writers of America have announced the nominees for the 2000 Edgar Allan Poe Awards. The nominees for Best Novel are River of Darkness by Rennie Airth ($24.95), Bones by Jan Burke ($23.00), L. A. Requiem by Robert Crais ($6.99), Strawberry Sunday by Stephen Greenleaf ($23.00), and In A Dry Season by Peter Robinson ($24.00 signed first edition). The nominees for Best First Novel by An American Author are Certifably Insane by Arthur W. Bahr ($23.00), Big Trouble by Dave Barry ($23.95), The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison ($24.95), God is a Bullet by Boston Teran ($24.00), and Inner City Blues by Paula L. Woods ($23.95 signed hardcover or $12.00 trade paperback). The nominees for Best Paperback Originals are Fulton County Blues by Ruth Birmingham ($5.99), Lucky Man by Tony Dunbar ($5.99), The Resurrectionist by Mark Graham ($5.99), The Outcast by Jose Latour ($13.95), and In Big Trouble by Laura Lippman ($6.50). The nominees for Best Fact Crime are The Ghosts of Hopewell: Setting the Record Straight in the Lindberg Case by Jim Fisher ($24.95), Mean Justice by Edward Humes ($26.00), And Never Let Her Go by Ann Rule ($25.00), Disco Bloodbath by James St. James ($23.00), and Blind Eye: How the Medical Establishment Let a Doctor Get Away With Murder by James B. Stewart ($25.00). The nominees for Best Critical/ Biographical Work are Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing edited by Rosemary Herbert ($49.95), A Suitable Job For a Woman by Val McDermid ($14.95), The Web of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction By American Women by Catherine Ross Nickerson ($49.95), Ross MacDonald by Tom Nolan ($32.00), and Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower ($32.50). We have a listing of all the other catagories and nominees available to look over at Uncle Edgar's.

        The Preliminary Nebula Ballot consists of all works that received at least 10 nominations. The Final Nebula Ballot will contain the top five vote-getters plus perhaps a sixth title added by a jury. The Preliminary nominees for Best Novel are Minions of the Moon by Richard Bowes ($13.95), Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler ($13.95), Prophets For the End of Time by Marcos Donnelly ($5.99), Vigilant by James Alan Gardner ($5.99), The Termination Node by Lois H. Gresh & Robert Weinberg ($6.99), Noir by K. W. Jeter ($6.99), Changer by Jane Lindskold ($5.99), A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin ($25.95 signed first edition hardcover), Bloom by Wil McCarthy ($6.99), Mission Child by Maureen F. McHugh ($6.99), Tower of Dreams by Jamil Nasir ($5.99), The Blood Jagaur by Michael H. Payne ($6.99), Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson ($6.99), The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan by William Sanders, Climb the Wind by Pamela Sargent ($6.99), Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer ($5.99), Mockingbird by Sean Stewart ($13.00), A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge ($6.99), and Brute Orbits by George Zebrowski ($6.99).

        The nominees for the 2000 Philip K. Dick Award are Code of Conduct by Kristine Smith ($5.99), Not of Woman Born edited by Constance Ash ($6.99), Tower of Dreams by Jamil Nasir ($5.99), Typhon's Children by Toni Anzetti ($5.99), Vacuum Diagrams by Stephen Baxter ($15.00), and When We Were Real by William Barton ($6.99).

        The Lambda nominees for Best Lesbian Mystery are Hunting the Witch by Ellen Hart ($24.95, signed copies), Lost Daughters by J. M. Redmann ($24.95), Murder Undercover by Claire McNab ($11.95), She Came in Drag by Mary Wings ($6.50), and Sleeping Bones by Katherine Forrest ($21.95).
        The nominees for Best Gay Men's Mystery are Drop Dead by Mark Zubro ($22.95, signed copies), Innuendo by R. D. Zimmerman ($21.95, signed copies), Justice at Risk by John Morgan Wilson($22.95), The Death of a Constant Lover by Lev Raphael ($23.95), and The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman ($16.00).
        The nominees for Best Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction/Fantasy are Minions of the Moon by Richard Bowes ($13.95), Night Shade edited by Victoria Brownworth ($12.95), The Annunciate by Severna Park ($23.00), The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman ($16.00), and Through a Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman ($14.95).

Computer News

        If you've been into the Uncles since the end of January, you know that we've started using the new computer system as "smart" cash registers. We spent the last ten days of January running every transaction at Uncle Hugo's through both the old cash register and the new computer system, looking for problems and ways to solve them, and making sure that both systems came up with the same numbers.
        As we approached the January 31st expiration for the old discount card, about 95% of Uncle Hugo's new books had been entered into the data base, along with about 70% of Uncle Edgar's new books. If we had waited until almost all of the books had been entered before switching to the new system as a cash register, we would have been dealing until April 30th with 3 different kinds of discount cards-the non-computerized Uncle Hugo's-only cards, the non-computerized Uncle Edgar's-only cards, plus the computerized discount cards that covers both stores. Our experimental use of both systems in the last 10 days of January showed that dealing with three different kinds of discount cards on the computerized system would be a Very Bad Thing. So, we've been selling the new computerized discount card for $4.00 that covers both stores. When we started selling the discount card for $2.00 over 25 years ago, $1.25 paperbacks were starting to replace $.95 paperbacks, and you had to buy quite a few books to get to the $20.00 break-even point. Now, $6.99 paperbacks are replacing $5.99 paperbacks, and it doesn't take very many books to reach the new $40.00 break-even point.
        By the time you receive the newsletter, we hope to have about 98% of the new books at both Uncles entered into the computer system. (Some of the books are so old or are from such small publishers that they not only don't have bar codes printed on the books-they don't even have ISBNs on the copyright page, or they have covers that would be damaged if we printed our own bar codes to stick on the books.) Once that is done, we'll then have to go through the store a second time entering how many copies we have of every title in the store. Then, we'll go through a third time telling the computer how many copies we'd like to have for every title. Only then will we start to see a significant benefit from the monetary and time investment in the new computer system

New Card Games

        Just before this issue went to the printer, we received the new Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time Collectible Card Game. One person plays the Dragon Reborn deck, while the other person plays the Forsaken deck. Each deck is $9.99, or you can get a starter set that contains both decks for $19.99. Booster packs of 8 cards are also available for $1.99.
        At the same time, we also received the latest Magic the Gathering expansion set (expert level), called Nemesis. There are four decks (Mercenaries, Replicator, Eruption, and Breakdown) at $10.00 each, plus 15-card booster packs at $3.30.

Frequently Asked Questions
(With Answers)

        When is the next Terry Goodkind novel coming? His fifth novel, Soul of the Fire, will be going from hardcover to paperback early in March. This sixth novel, Faith of the Fallen, is scheduled for hardcover release August 22.
        When is the next Harry Potter book coming? Both the U.S. and the U.K. publishers are going to try to release the 4th Harry Potter book (tentative title Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament) on July 8. There is no news about when the 2nd Harry Potter will go to paperback. (Perhaps when the Steven Spielberg directed movie of #1 comes out next year?)
        When is the next Robert Jordan book in the Wheel of Time series? A month ago, we were telling people "Not this year," based on what we had heard from the publisher. About a week ago, we heard that the publisher has now tentatively scheduling it for November, 2000. But this is based on the author's estimate of when he will probably finish the manuscript.
        When is the next Honor Harrington book coming from David Weber? Around March first.


Publishers' Customer Service
by Don Blyly

        I've written in the newsletter in the past about how various parts of the publishing process function or malfunction, especially regarding the credit departments. Let me tell you about three interesting experiences I recently had with three different customer service departments.
        Many of our customers were very eager to get Laurell Hamilton's newest Anita Blake book, Obsidian Butterfly, as soon as possible, and we were eager to supply it as soon as possible. On Tuesday, January 4, a customer came into the store and said two friends had already found copies on the East Coast, and wanted to know why we didn't have it yet. I explained that the books were shipped from an East Coast warehouse, so it would make sense for East Coast bookstores to get the book a couple of days before we received it. But when our Wednesday deliveries did not contain the books, I called customer service to make sure the books had been shipped to Uncle Hugo's. I was immediately told that the publisher had not printed enough copies to meet their initial orders, so there were no copies available for me to order. I explained twice that I was not trying to order more copies of the book. I had ordered the book months before on such-and-such a date on purchase order number such-and-such, and I was trying to find out if those books ordered months before had been shipped to me before they ran out of books. The second time I went through the explanation, the customer service person finally understood what I was asking. She told me, "That's a very difficult question to answer. I'll have to get my supervisor's help and it'll take me about an hour to get the answer. I'll call you back when we figure out whether or not your books have been shipped." After an hour and a half, I still had not received a return call, so I called customer service again, and this time got a person who immediately understood the question. He put me on hold for a couple of minutes, and then came back to tell me that the computer still showed that title as "back ordered" for my account, so clearly they had run out of books before they got around to filling my order. I told him to cancel my order for the title, and that I would instead order the books from one of the national wholesalers. Less than 48 hours later, we received the books directly from the publisher by regular ground delivery, on an invoice dated December 14, 1999, 22 days earlier than customer service told me that the books had not been shipped to me.
        Also, in January we received box 1 of 3, box 2 of 3, and box 3 of 3 of a large order, with no packing list in any of the boxes. I gave customer service for this publisher a call, explained the problem and passed along the invoice number and the account number. She said, "This is now a very complicated procedure. Please hold on." After 5 minutes, she said, "Are you still there?", and I assured her that I was. She said, "Well, I couldn't hear you breathing anymore." Another 5 minutes went by, and then she asked for my fax number. I gave it to her, and got another 5 minutes of silence. Then she said she'd be faxing it right away, and hung up. I complained to Scott about being on hold for 15 minutes when she could have gotten my fax number at the same time she got the invoice number, and then I could have been doing something useful during those 15 minutes. Scott explained that keeping me on hold for 15 minutes was her way of keeping her line busy for 15 minutes so she'd have time to actually deal with my problem. If she had gotten all the information at once and then hung up, there would have immediately been somebody else on her line with another problem to solve. And, I did receive a fax of the invoice fairly quickly.
        About the same time, I received boxes 2 of 3 and 3 of 3 for a shipment of new titles from another publisher, with no packing list. I figured the box with the packing list would probably show up the next day. After a week of the missing box not showing up, I called that publisher's customer service. I explained the problem, and that I was concerned both about the packing list and about the missing books. The customer service person checked the invoice number, and then told me that the missing box (#1 of 3) was shipped out over a week after the other two boxes of the shipment, and that I'd just have to wait until it showed up to see a packing list. I was also told not to call back about the problem for at least an additional week. (A few days later, the missing box and packing list did show up-weeks after the same books were available from the local wholesaler. Of course, we had the books as soon as the local wholesaler made them available, so many of the books in the late shipment will have to be returned to the publisher.)
        Until a few years ago, most sales representatives advised that I call customer service if I had a problem. Now, many sales reps are telling me not to waste my time talking to customer service if I have a problem, because customer service will either do nothing or make things even worse. They tell me to come to them with my problems, because they know who to go to within their company to really get problems solved. Of course, if the sales reps are busy doing customer service-type work, they don't have as much time to do their own work.
        


Neighborhood News

        As mentioned here before, the major factor holding up the redevelopment of the former Sears site across the street of the Uncles is lack of parking. As of mid-February, the developer still expects ground-breaking for the new parking ramps in either March or April of this year. (The city has already asked for bids for the construction of the ramps.) This would lead to a grand opening of the renovated center in Fall of 2001.
        The city of Minneapolis has trash cans scattered all over town, mainly on commercial streets, often on street corners and near bus stops. The idea is to make it easy to throw trash into a trash can instead of throwing the trash onto the street. In one of the city government's more stupid recent decisions, they've now decided that sometime later this year they will stop collecting the trash from the trash cans. If a nearby business or resident decides to "adopt" a public trash can, the trash can will be left alone as long as the "adopter" empties it regularly. Any trash can that is not adopted will be left alone until it starts to overflow with trash-at which point the city will send a garbage truck around to pick up and crush the trash can. Then, even those who would rather not litter will have a hard time finding a place to throw their empty soda container or candy wrapper, other than on the sidewalk or into the gutter. The Chicago-Lake Business association has been trying to get a bid from a commercial trash hauler to service all of the 38 public trash cans within a 6 block radius of the intersection of Chicago and Lake, but none of the five big haulers are willing to even bid on the job.
        Perhaps this is related, perhaps not, but if you live in Minneapolis, you might have noticed in the small print that the charge for sewage treatment has gone up about 20% this year, because the city has decided that part of the sewage treatment money should go into street sweeping.



        Early in February I attended a meeting organized by the local city councilman, attended by a representative of his office, several members of the police department, a representative of the county attorney's office, several residential block club representatives, and many local business people, to discuss crime and safety issues in the area around the Chicago-Lake intersection.
        One topic that was discussed at great length was the impact of the buses (almost 600 per day) that pass through Chicago-Lake. We learned that the north-south bus line on Chicago Avenue is the busiest in the metro area, while the east-west bus line on Lake Street is the third busiest in the metro area. As a result, Chicago-Lake is the busiest transfer point in the metro area, as 2500 to 3000 people per day hop off one bus and try to run through traffic to get to their next bus. Because of the room required for the bus stops, there isn't space to put in badly-needed left turn lanes at the lights. Between irritated motorists pulling around other motorists trying to make left turns and huge numbers of pedestrians ignoring the traffic signals to try to catch the bus that is about to pull away, Chicago-Lake is also one of the most popular places in the metro area to get into an accident.
        As part of the redevelopment of the former Sears site, all of the bus stops will be moved off of the intersection into a bus transfer station in the former Sears parking lot, so that people can get from bus to bus without dodging through traffic. This will also allow the city to wipe out the bus stops and some street parking at the intersection in order to put in left turn lanes. But all these wonderful things won't be happening for another year and a half.
        Another problem is that a relatively small number of well-known problem individuals tend to mix in with those crowds at the bus stops, trying to buy or sell drugs, or trying to sell items they've just shoplifted from area merchants. (They are well-known because they do the same thing day after day after day, get arrested for it repeatedly, and are back doing the same thing in the same place within hours of being arrested.) There was heated discussion of what to do about this problem. The business owners felt that an increased police presence would help substantially, as would increased sanctions for those who keep being arrested over and over and over. The representative of the county attorney's office seemed to see merit in this idea. The lieutenant who was being spokesperson for the police started out very hostile to this idea. First, she claimed that police have no impact on crime. (If I believed this was true, I'd be happy to suggest a way the city could save a lot of money from their budget.) Then, she claimed that the real problem was that the local merchants hadn't done enough to stop crime. (The merchants had thought that it was primarily the cops' job to deal with crime, and the merchants' job was to try to stay in business.) She started out saying she had a bunch of suggestions about how the local businesses could improve the crime situation, but never came up with any positive suggestions. She went on to say that the crime problem was made worse by the fact that so many of the businesses near the corner had covered their windows with signs about sales or displays of merchandise. (Apparently, a criminal who will not change his behavior if he sees a uniformed policeman, will be terrified of being seen by a retail clerk who glances out the display window between transactions.)
        The lieutenant's comments lead to lengthy and heated debate.
        The lieutenant did suggest that all of the bus stops be removed from the intersection immediately, so that traffic would flow more smoothly, and so that the few problem individuals would no longer have a crowd to hide in. (Never mind the 2500 to 3000 people per day who need to switch buses there.) One business owner commented that he often saw plenty of police directing traffic downtown in peak periods, and he thought that have a uniformed policeman directing traffic at peak periods at Chicago-Lake would help with both traffic and with the problem individuals who hang out around the corner. If Chicago-Lake is such a major problem from a traffic point of view, why can't we have a uniformed cop to deal with the problem. The lieutenant said she couldn't possibly put a traffic officer in the intersection, because she'd then have to make time to visit him at Hennepin County Medical Center after he got run over.
        Towards the end of the long meeting, the lieutenant agreed that it would be a good idea if the police put together a list of the most frequently arrested individuals, so that they could send a request to the county attorney that these 8 to 10 guys who have already been arrested 40 to 60 times actually get some consequences.

































        Other notable authors have been lost to mystery readers (and others) over the past months, and I'll mention a few.
        It seems just a short while ago that Lawrence Sanders died, but it was '98. The First Deadly Sin ('73 Berkley, $6.99) was and is a genuine classic suspense thriller. A substantial effort combining the aspects of psychosexual serial killer and police procedural, the novel predated (if not influenced) authors such as James Patterson, John Sandford, and countless others.
        We heard of George V. Higgins' passing last November. Higgins' gritty first novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle ('72 Holt, $11.00) was perhaps as influential as Sanders, but fell well short in popularity. Since then we've seen more and more crime novels featuring a low-life protagonist (no one could call Eddie Coyle a hero) who never wears a white hat. Perhaps what can be appreciated most is Higgins' insistence that all good writing pass the acid test of being read aloud. Which is why, when sampling that first paragraph or page of an unfamiliar author with an unknown new novel as you browse at Uncle Edgar's, reading aloud is not only acceptable but downright encouraged.
        Bob Kane, artist and creator of Batman, and countless colorful villains, was also lost to us a few weeks ago. The enormous enduring success of the hard-boiled Dark Knight is evident to all. But what shouldn't be forgotten is that Bruce Wayne as the Batman is one of the Great Detectives in fiction. First appearing in Detective Comics, Batman over the decades and regardless of gadgets and working capital may have proven to be the best of the puzzle solvers.
        But perhaps the most unsettling was news of Sarah Caudwell's (Sarah Cockburn) death recently at the age of 61. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was convinced the author was older. Sarah Caudwell's deserved reputation as "a master of the most elegant and literate comed(ies) of manners in the mystery field today" rests on just three distinctive novels: Thus Was Aldonis Murdered ($5.99), The Shortest Way to Hades ($4.99), and The Sirens Sand of Murder ($5.99). The books feature a coterie of four close friends; young Oxford educated London barristers Cantrip, Ragwort, Julia, and Selena, who are watched-over by their former Professor, the scholarly and donnish Hilary Tamar. Hilary, as first person narrator, approaches the epitome of the armchair detective since much of the "investigation" is done long distance over a realistically extended period via the reading of personal letters and such. All three novels feature an academic tone, arch British humor, seemingly constant wine drinking, and uncertain sexuality of characters primary and secondary. The light-hearted controversy among mystery readers as to whether Professor Tamar is a man or a woman has been going on since the appearance of that first novel. In my view, Hilary Tamar is undoubtedly a man.
        To liken Caudwell to Dorothy Sayers, as I've seen, is silly. Caudwell has humor, Sayers does not. But a comparison to Edmund Crispin or Michael Innes is certainly in line. There's been a long and frustrating quiet spell where Caudwell's only writing to appear was a short introduction to American Walter Satterwait's collection of African mystery short stories, The God of Mayani ($25.00). Now there's a fourth Hilary Tamar mystery on the horizon, The Sibyl in Her Grave (Delacorte, $23.95, due July 11). For a very long time the most asked question by fans at Uncle Edgar's was "When is the next Sarah Caudwell?" (since supplanted with the question, "When's the next John Dunning?"). Now I've a good answer. I've had the golden opportunity to read the uncorrected proof and am confident that readers will find The Sybil in Her Grave most satisfactory. Sadly the publisher's promise of "author publicity" must now be ignored.
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