Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Stealing Fire: An Ask, and an Offer

I went. I conferred. I wouldn’t say I conquered (‘endeared’ is more my style), but I had a hell of a time on my great northeastern odyssey this month. Now I’m home, and after a *delightfully* indolent Thanksgiving with some of my very favorite people, the sleepless throbbing behind my eyes has finally subsided, and I can think again.

Favorite people, and favorite dogs. Can you spot dog #6?
So I’m coming at you with two things: an ask, and an offer.

The Ask

At the beginning of 2016, it occurred to me that we have a real conundrum in the writing community: how to pay teaching professionals appropriately for their time and expertise, AND still make that education available to everyone. (Usually it’s one or the other: either the presenter is being asked to donate their time, or the price tag on the event is shutting out a whole stratum of writers – usually the ones whose perspective is most conspicuously missing from the bookshelves.) I wanted to change that.

Fortunately, the DFW Writers Workshop gave me their blessing, guidance, and funding, so that we could start a new DFWWW program. It’s called the Writers Bloc, and the formula is simple: every month, we bring in an author or expert to give a presentation about some aspect of writing (craft, business, marketing, etc.), throw a cocktail/social hour afterwards, and make the whole thing free and open to the public. No membership needed, no money required. We’ve had attendances upwards of 80 people, and more enthusiasm and support from all corners than I ever expected.

8-year-old corner included.

So now that we’ve proven that there is a demand, a value in doing this, our next goal is simple: help the Writers Bloc to pay for itself. It will always be a DFWWW program, but I firmly believe that it can pay its own way – without an up-front charge. I’m thinking of a PBS or public-radio model, here: where the people who CAN afford to contribute help cover the cost for everyone, and get special swag and goodies for doing so. We launched the Writers Bloc Patreon page earlier this year for just that purpose – and we’re about halfway to our funding goal. Hooray for progress!

And the really cool thing about this Patreon drive is that it’s letting us bring these local events to a wider audience: we’re now video-recording the presentations and sending out the accompanying notes and handouts to our supporters, so even people who don’t live in DFW (or who are not available to attend in person on Saturday afternoons) can benefit from these seminars.

Here, try one out: this is our "Dialogue for Non-Fluent Characters" webinar with Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen - and here are both handouts to go with.

So. January marked the beginning of this great adventure – and I would love, love, love it if December saw it come fully to fruition. I want the Writers Bloc to pay for itself by the end of this year, to prove that this community-support model can pay our professionals AND hold the door open for all comers – and for that, we need your help. Your financial contribution, and your help in spreading the word. $5 per month for the big thumbs-up and supporter’s badge. $10 per month for our presenters’ notes and handouts. $15 per month for full access to our video vault – every recording of every class, plus a new one every month. (Here’s our current list of archived classes.) Any dollar you can pledge is another step toward the goal, and another vote for community-supported writers' education. If you value these resources and want to see more of them, please contribute what you can.

Okay, so that was the ask.

The Offer

One of my tour stops this month was the Writer Unboxed Unconference – a phenomenal, transformative, life- and craft-affirming week-long event in Salem, Massachusetts. I attended as a student, not a presenter, and walked away with a massive stack of notes, an entirely new understanding of story-chemistry, and more new friends than I know what to do with. The pros there were the best of the best – Donald Maass, Lisa Cron, Kathryn Craft, Keith Cronin, and so many more – and it was a thing of beauty to look around that room and actually SEE the scales falling from each others' eyes as we listened (when I wasn’t frantically typing 100 words per minute, that is.)

This was not all of us - just the 10% who wanted to brave a 7AM walk.

And here’s the thing, y’all. Not everyone can spend a week and a thousand dollars on a conference like that. Almost nobody I know has that kind of opportunity. And when I lie awake at night and wonder who I’m supposed to be, the only answer I can rest my mind on is “some kind of squishy, cheerleading Prometheus.” Most of my advantages are unearned – but they won’t go unshared. My life’s mission is to steal fire from the lofty far reaches of the world – from thousand-dollar writing conferences and six-year graduate degrees and million-page arcane reading lists – and share it with every striving wanter I can find. (And that is the handy thing about fire: taking some does not at all diminish the original quantity.)

This is the Writers Bloc help board, which I think captures the Unboxed spirit as well: a place where everyone can ask for help with one hand and offer it with the other.

So here is the offer: help me finish funding the Writers Bloc (we are only $250 monthly-dollars short of our $450 goal!), and I will get these 35,000 words’ worth of typed, finished notes to every one of our Patreon supporters, yourself included. That means you get the writeups from all of the following:
  • Anne Greenwood Brown – Wrangling Plot (plus interactive Excel ‘beat sheet’ – plug in your ideal word count and see every plot point laid out!)
  • Donald Maass – Character Layers and How to Use Them
  • Donald Maass – The Hidden Novel
  • Donald Maass – The Story You’re Not Telling
  • Donald Maass – Unboxed Story (four-hour workshop!)
  • Heather Webb – Making the Good Great with Revision
  • Kathryn Craft – Emotional Turning Points
  • Kathryn Craft – Spotlighting Techniques
  • Lisa Cron – How to Write a Scene
  • Lisa Cron – Secondary Characters, Subplots, and Flashbacks
  • Lisa Cron – Story Genius (four-hour workshop!)
  • Lisa Cron – the Reader Manifesto
  • Therese Walsh, Barbara O’Neal, and Heather Webb – Writing True Characters

And I’m not asking you to take a leap of faith here, either. Here is collateral on the promise: my witeup of Donald Maass’ four-hour “Unboxed Story” workshop, now in handy printable workbook form. (Do yourself a favor and curl up with a paper copy of this – it is an incredible, in-depth exercise that will change the way you think about your characters and your relationship with your story - not for scrolling and skimming.)

To be clear: if you become a Writers Bloc Patreon supporter, you’ll be charged monthly, for whatever dollar amount you choose. You can choose one of our $5/$10/$15 levels (and get the goodies that go along with them), or type in a different amount. You can cancel anytime you want. And the Unboxed notes offer is good for any dollar amount - $1 and up. I'll send the entire package as soon as we reach our $450 monthly goal. (Heck – if this works out, maybe we can start doing this notes-sharing thing on the regular. I have quite a stockpile already, and more conferences on the calendar for 2017.) DFWWW members, I'll happily include you as well - but you must opt in (email writers.bloc at dfwwritersworkshop.org if you're not already signed up), and I would really appreciate your help in sharing this initiative.

So that’s it. That’s what I’m asking, and what I have to trade for it. Please reply here with questions, or hit me up by email: tex at thetexfiles.com. It’s a strange proposition, to be sure... but I believe in this, and us, and you. And the beautiful thing about fire is that only grows by sharing it.

Friday, November 25, 2016


Y'know, back when my grandparents were living, we made the four-hour drive to Houston to visit them for all the big holidays. I have vivid memories of Game Boys and apple-juice boxes in the backseat, and waving to the big statue of Sam Houston as we passed, and a dog or two that always woke up and whined whenever we got off the freeway.

But I also remember Mom and Dad explaining that there were some things we talked about at home that we weren't going to talk about in Houston, because it would upset Nana and Pawpaw. I'm sure my sister and I messed that up a few times, but overall it was the most natural thing, the understanding we had through our whole lives: our parents were liberal, and our grandparents were conservative, and that meant that there were some things we wouldn't agree on. It never kept us from playing gin rummy or making flapjacks or watching Nana cry when we played Leontyne Price's "O Holy Night" on Christmas Eve. (EVERY time, y'all. Every time.)

It was only later, as a teenager, that I realized that what our family did was not universal - that lots of families couldn't enjoy each other's company at all - and only MUCH later, as an adult, that I realized that there were legitimate reasons for that - that some people just can not control their emotions or behavior, and are not safe to be around. So I will never question or criticize anyone who chooses not to visit their family.

But y'all - this year, of all years, I am more grateful than ever that our parents went the extra mile to make sure we did not miss out on having grandparents. I am so, so glad that they made sure we spoke thoughtfulness as a first language. And for all you guys who are doing that same work this weekend - choosing your words carefully, focusing on the things you CAN do and discuss together, taking care to make the time enjoyable for everyone at the table - you have my deepest appreciation. We need you now, maybe more than ever before. And the values you're living right now will last longer and reach farther than you know.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Edge

This is a crosspost of the newsletter that I write for my friend Kristen.

You know, it’s funny what travelling does to you. You understand intellectually that there are billions of people in the world and no two exactly alike – and yet it’s not until you actually walk in to the Super 8 motel on the south side of Toledo and actually meet the young man behind the counter that he stops being a hypothetical person and becomes Justin W., your bespectacled, soft-bodied, keycard-programming fellow human. He’s still a stranger, but now you have to save him if there’s a fire.

Kristen and I thought about what we would like to say in this newsletter. It’s the last one before the US election, which absolutely everyone is sick of. So we would like to have a different kind of discourse here.

You know that we have strong feelings about the failures of the workers’ compensation system here in Texas. That large businesses and insurance companies have used the Texas legislature to sew up the system so tightly that it’s almost impossible for wounded workers to access fair treatment and compensation. You can probably guess that that pits us firmly against our state’s status quo.

Unfortunately, we have to vote on candidates, not individual issues – and this is far from the only issue on the table.

So let’s step back and picture the table itself for a minute.

It’s big and round, glass-bottomed, and there are a bunch of little people on it. All of them can look down through the glass and see how awful it would be to fall off, what a long drop there is between them and the floor – but some of them are closer to the edge than others. Some are so close that one jostle, one bump, will push them right over.

That’s not so bad, most of the time. There’s enough room for all of them, and for the most part they can be neighborly. But sometimes the table gets bumped by a huge unseen thing far below, and that scares everyone. They push and shove to get closer to the center of the table, where it’s safe – and the people in the center start pushing back.

The bump was bad, but the fighting that follows it is tremendously worse. Everyone is so focused on who does or doesn’t deserve to be in the center that they stop looking outward. They don’t notice the people who are getting pushed off the edge in the chaos, maliciously or by accident. People fall off, and they aren’t missed. Nobody ever saw them slip. (This is something Kristen frequently remarks on. “Before my injury, I had no idea that this could happen to people. I had no idea that the system had gotten so bad.”)

And what’s really unfortunate is that most of it is preventable. Bumps will always happen. Some tablefolk will always be closer to the center than others. But if they stopped pushing and started pulling – if every one of them took hold of just one person who was dangerously close to the edge – it would be so much harder for anyone to fall... and downright impossible for it to happen unnoticed.

So that is our wish for you, our fellow denizens of Floorland. We are bigger than the Tabletopians. We can make better choices. And even though our media urges our attention relentlessly toward the center – to the politicians, athletes, celebrities, and headline-writers who live and die according to our attention span – it is our moral imperative to look back to the edge. Look to the edge, where we have always found the best in ourselves. Look to the edge, where everything truly exceptional about our country was born. Vote with one hand, and give the other to someone who’s standing at the brink of the abyss, and you will never wonder whether you made the right choice – because you will have chosen more than yourself.


P.S. If you're wondering who this Kristen person is, start here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Infiltrating Yankeedom: The Great November Con-a-Thon

It's getting real, y'all. As I type this, I'm on a flight to Ohio, kicking off the first leg of this year's grand tour. Can we do three and a half weeks with nothing but a yellow backpack, a red hat, and a blue jean jacket? There's only one way to find out.

Not a celebrity author rock-star. Just a black-belt carry-on badass.

So here's what's on the itinerary - please let me know if I'm hitting close enough to your neck of the woods for a hang-out hoedown!

World Fantasy Con - Columbus, OH - Oct 27-30

Winter Wheat - Bowling Green, OH - Nov 3-5
presenting "The Seven Deadly First-Page Sins"

(I'll mosey up through Cleveland at this point. Have rental car, will carouse.)

Writer Unboxed Unconference - Salem, MA - Nov 7-11

WindyCon - Chicago, IL - Nov 11-13
writers workshop instructor; panelist

Wake Up and Write Writers Retreat Workshop - Haverford, PA - Nov. 14-19

After that, there'll be a couple more days of Phillyandering before I fly home on the 21st.

And seriously, y'all. Do hit me up if you want to do something. I like playing these away games, but they are notoriously short on familiar faces - and yours would be more than welcome.

Okay? Okay. And for those of you on the home-front: please be good to my dude and my cat while I'm gone. They take good care of each other, but there's more to life than shotgunning beer, kibble, and Cops.

Another night on the road - another sold-out show...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fighting the Fugue

Dear diary,

Yesterday was my last day to be 33. Today I am 34.

So far they don't look very different. Yesterday I moderated an author panel at the library, dashed off a critique, and started writing a presentation for next week. Today I’ll do my dialogue workshop, meet with an editing client, go over next weekend's event details with my colleague-buddy, and have lunch with my mom. Really looking forward to lunch with my mom.

That’s pretty much how it’s been for months now, and it’ll be the same for at least a couple months more. Events, email, travel, editing, teaching, email, conventions, housework, projects, even more email. I enjoy most of those things, most of the time (except for the email). But lately I can’t even tell whether I’m having fun or not. It all just “is”.

No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater... than an empty inbox.

I thought of a metaphor for this, by the way. Carving out a creative career is like running a marathon with a bag over your head. You hear people cheering and hollering, and you know you must be going some kind of distance – but there is no dang telling whether you’re gaining ground on anyone, much less how far you still have to go. You just run your best, and try not to think too much about the rest.

The rest is creeping up on me, though. For one thing, I have been a less-than-fantastic wife and friend this year – missing messages and visits like I never did before. Everybody has been kind and understanding, but it’s not fair of me to keep flaking out. And for another thing, those thirty-odd pounds I managed to kick off last year have all come back. More pounds means more snoring. More snoring means more nights on the couch – not the end of the world, but it wears on you. I’m not too sure how to fix that. I do all right when I’m cooking for myself at home, but I’ve been out of town 82 days this year, with another 39 still to go. Hard to hold on to a healthy routine when you don’t have a routine.

Life in morse code: traveling-dots and appointment-dashes.
But I am going to try. I DO like doing these conventions and events, even with all the extra time and expense they incur. Being out in the world with people makes sense in a way that e-anything doesn’t, at least to me. And if I want to get to keep traveling and doing, I need to not turn into a couchbound pizza-yeti. (I am noticing this more as I do more events: we geek-people seem to have more health/lifestyle problems than the general population, and I do not like where the ghost of Christmas future is leading me.)

So that is the goal, at least for the remainder of 2016. Career-wise, there’s nothing I can do but to keep running the race. Writing-wise, I’ll showcase the upcoming book and start banging out the next one. But health-wise, and friend-wise, and partner-wise, this what I’m doing has to become sustainable. Crashing and burning is not an option when you’re sprinting full-tilt with a bag over your head.

Especially not when this dude is waiting for you back home.
So that’s what I’m going to work on: getting sustainable by the end of the year. But since it’s my birthday, I will also treat myself to just a little pride: 33 came and went, and I used up every bit of it.

Now get over here, 34 – you look positively delicious.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dear Future-Self

Please tell me this turns out to be worth it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dreams of the Eaten ARC Giveaway

All right, y'all. It's three months to the day until Dreams of the Eaten drops - which makes today the perfect day to give away three advanced copies of the book.

And oh, what a book it is.

After trials by fire and thirst, Appaloosa Elim's quest to bring home the body of the crow prince is finally nearing its end. 

But the coffin is missing, the funeral party is hopelessly scattered, and the fishmen are hell-bent on revenge. Worse yet, the pilgrimage has disturbed an ancient power – and the earth is crumbling in its grip.

As the ground shakes and the crows gather, the final reckoning promises to unite the living and the dead in a battle for the land itself. One way or another, blood debts will come due, Elim will face his judgment, and the World That Is will be forever changed.

I know, right? Prepare your face now, lest it be rocked clean off. Then and only then will you know what to do.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You have until midnight on Monday to stake your claim. Go, click, win!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Surviving History

Y'know, I'm one of the older vanguard of millennials. Graduated high school in the year 2000. Got a little less than a year of legal adulthood under my belt before 9/11. I'm only just now realizing what a rare treat it was to grow up in the late 80's and 90's - after the duck-and-cover drills, before the active shooter drills. My cohort is the last one to remember life before the Internet.

It does feel like we're teetering on the brink of something huge right now, and not in a good way. But I've spent so much time worrying about all the grim possibilities that it just now occurred to me to think: what generation ever did get to live out an entire human lifespan without enduring some kind of great global convulsion? Two World Wars - a flu pandemic - Great Depression - Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War - Cold War, arms race - energy crisis - Great Recession - 9/11 - rise of ISIS - and most of that still within living memory.

So maybe the adult thing to do here is not to lie awake worrying about whether or when the Next Dire Thing will happen. Dire things keep rolling off the conveyor belt of history with depressing regularity, and fear leaves us vulnerable to manipulation by the Powers That Be. Maybe the better thing is to plan for the worst, push hard for the best, and start holding on tight to our people - the ones already living at the edge, the ones who can't easily weather a national tempest.

I haven't been an Earth-person for very long, comparatively speaking, but I have studied history. I see that we've endured great trials over and over again, and survived every one. But I also notice that the periods of our greatest shame, the things we don't like to commemorate or discuss - Jim Crow, Japanese internment, McCarthyism, et al - are the times when we turned against our neighbors. I have no doubt that we will survive the Next Dire Thing, whatever it may be. The bigger question is what we'll be able to say for ourselves in its wake.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Directions to the Writers Bloc

The time is nigh. The great convergence comes now upon us. What convergence, you ask?

The great one.

So here you are - on your way at last! Here's how to get to Sesame Street the Writers Bloc. (The images below are thumbnails - click to embiggen.)

1. The thing to know about North Lake College is that it has two entrances - one on MacArthur and one on Walnut Hill. Take whichever one your heart and/or GPS desires. (For the record, that's 5001 N. MacArthur Blvd in Irving, 75038.)

2. Whichever way you get to campus, make sure you park in the north lot. This is the best way to access the A building, where our classroom is. (The map below is helpfully oriented so that north is west. Thanks, Kimye.)

Here's what that actually looks like from ground level. Can you see the F building to the left, and the A building on the right? Then you're good. (Notice the giant white Martian dome on the far left there. That's the pool - and that's how you know you're in the right ballpark.)

3. On your way in, head for that big green A. Remember: A stands for awesome. What are you? Awesome.

SO awesome. No stairs, no hills - just the first entrance on your right.

4. Now you're inside. Which way do you go? If you said "left", you're right! Head down the long, apparently endless hallway to your left. No stairs, no elevators.

So... endless... (This part is a metaphor for the writers journey: it takes forever, and feels like you're getting nowhere.) When you get to the Blazer store, you're halfway there. Keep going! Don't give up! Do or die - death or glory!

Keep going! Keep going! Keep - oh, did you get to the art gallery? You went too far. Back up about ten feet. We're in A206.

And what does this A206 look like, you ask? Oh, just you wait, Henry Higgins... just you wait!

Remember, y'all: it's about the journey, not the destination. But the destination is pretty freakin' rad. See you there!


Monday, August 15, 2016

Earning My Clownshoes

I shouldn't be writing this. I'm so tired, and I have ten thousand things to do.

But there was a convention two years ago that had me crying for days on the back end, because I knew even then that it was a singular, amazing, never-to-be-repeated event. I tripped over another one this weekend, and it has knocked my emotional teeth out.

On the face of it, it was a pretty straightforward exercise. Fly up to Portland, stay with my legendary lifemate Jennie, and together she and I would go to the Willamette Writers Conference. They set me up to teach one two-part class on Sunday, and the rest of the time was free. So Jennie and I decided to do some volunteering. It was all set up to be a fun, productive time.

This part was decidedly more fun than productive.
It started out pretty ordinary. We did the volunteer orientation on Wednesday night, and then I got to help with pitch desk setup on Thursday while she was at work. We were supposed to work in the bookstore together for most of the weekend.

Then they needed an emcee for one of the "Pitch for the Prize" events on Thursday night, so I signed up for that. (It was a blast - gave me an excuse to reprise the 'world's worst pitch' from DFWcon 2015.) Then on Friday morning they asked if I would work the pitch corral. You know how every flight you take requires a flight attendant to first give the schpiel about how to buckle your seat belt and where the emergency exits are?  This was that, but for a roomful of writers waiting to go in and pitch to an agent. The main difference is that instead of being ignored by people on their smartphones, you're talking to thirty desperate creatives on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

And somehow that became my entire weekend. Every ten minutes on the dot, we started the pep rally all over again.

Welcome to the Hunger Games, career introvert edition! Who's here to pitch to a film or TV agent? Excellent - District 1, head to the right. Who's here for a literary agent? District 2, to the left! You will enter here, through the Door of Destiny. When your time is up, you will exit to the left, through the Portal of Glory, smeared with the blood of your enemies and the last burning shreds of your self-doubt. Take a moment to prepare yourself: fly-check, cry-check, phone-on-silent-check. Good? Good. Now rise up to meet your destiny, word-warriors - your time begins as soon as this door opens. No shame, no surrender, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

It was fun in the moment - fun to talk to people about their story or listen to their Texas jokes or see pictures of the dogs or kids waiting for them back home. We joked about turning this whole pitch thing into a drinking game and shared horror stories about the wild speed-dating scrums from other conferences. And when someone came back waving a business card and vibrating with giddy disbelief, they wafted their good luck all over the people still waiting to go in. It was an incredible rush - the kind of wire-tight camaraderie you get among people who are all waiting to parachute out of an airplane. As the weekend wore on, the hugs and thank-yous piled up.

Then during Sunday's lunch, Jennie texted to say that they needed me in the ballroom ASAP. I thought something had gone seriously pear-shaped. In hindsight, I should have known better.

As usual, the only pear-shape was me.

The thing I want to emphasize here is that there was no awards presentation going on. This was not part of some kind of pre-planned ceremony. There were the usual lunch announcements - room changes, deadline reminders - and then I was up on stage, being named "sheriff" of the Willamette Writers Conference, and getting my badge pinned with a Portland flag.

I'm siting here groping for a way to keep this post from becoming an exercise in self-congratulation. That's really not what I'm trying to say. I keep thinking about what a fantastically fun, well-organized event this was, and how warmly the conference committee bent the rules and folded Jennie and I into the tribe (technically only WW members can volunteer), and how glad we both are that they took a risk on us. This conference has catapulted both of us forward in our respective life-goals.

Chief among them: finding hot sauce in barrel-mounted spigot-pail form.
But like... I do a lot of conferences and conventions. I'm used to teaching classes and moderating panels and getting compliments on my work. I think what makes this feel so revolutionary is that it's the first time I've gotten to be with someone during a potentially pivotal moment in their life and say with the voice of experience,"don't worry - you got this." I know it's small compared to what a delivery nurse or a crisis hotline operator does, but right now, today, it's the biggest thing in my world. Who would have thought that being the rodeo clown could be more fun than actually riding the bull?

And what REALLY gets me is that it almost didn't happen. I almost said, "I can't afford to give away 40 hours for the fun of it - I'll just sit in a corner and catch up on work." (Makes you think about how many insanely talented people aren't getting heard because they really, literally can't afford that time... but that's a separate rant.)

And to think: I nearly missed out on meeting Benedict Cumberbatch!
So I'm going to take this as a sign that I'm moving in the right direction - that if I keep dumping passion out into the world and looking for the places where it's reciprocated, good things will keep happening - that "audacious generosity" really can be a valid career strategy. (And if you're sitting there thinking "How could you have any doubt about any of that?", all I can say is, it's easy to beat up on yourself when you're four months out from a book launch and still haven't gotten around to planning for it.)

So... thank you for everything, Willamette friends - for an incredible conference, a fantastic initiation rite, and a sorely-needed spiritual affirmation. You've wrecked me in all the best ways, and since there's no riding off into the sunset when you're already out on the west coast, you better believe I'll be back.

Remember, y'all - it's a trash CAN, not a trash CAN'T.