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.

Friday, July 29, 2016

One Night in Sixes - The Annotated Edition!

Yes, today is Friday. And that deserves a shout-out. But I'm celebrating extra hard today, because it's ALSO the two-year anniversary of One Night in Sixes' release. I could write a whole post about what I've learned in that time - and maybe I will!

But again: today is Friday. A day for classroom cupcakes, cutting out of work early, and staying up late. So let me pile on to your already-awesome weekend plans with a special goodie. Today, I'm giving away...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Yep - you read that right. This here is the real deal - a copy of the book hand-annotated by yours truly, with notes and Easter Eggs and translations galore. Here's a few spoiler-free sneak previews:

Are you excited? I'm excited. My good friend Jodi Thompson even helped me set this up so that there's multiple ways to enter - and the biggest fans have the best odds. Go, click, enter - you have one magical week to maximize your fanhood before we pick a winner!

The eyes of the a'Krah lit up at the mention of horses. Vuchak tried to hide it, nodding in reserved contemplation, but Weisei clapped his hands to his knees in thunderstruck enthusiasm.

"Afvik," he said with a tipsy bright smile, "do you like to play games?"

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The First and Only EdCon

I was getting ready to go to a memorial service today when I noticed this weird, bitter taste in my mouth. I brushed again, drank water, chewed gum - nothing helped.

So naturally, I thought "well, it probably means I'm about to stroke out and die. I should hurry up and get to the service so someone can call 9-1-1 for me." (If anyone's looking for the secret sauce of my life, there it is: gratuitous anxiety + can-do pragmatism.)

Anyway, the service was for Ed Dravecky, the much-beloved confather of WhoFest, FenCon, ORAC, and more fannish organizations than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at. The memorial was called EdCon (of course!), and it truly was a grand convention: food, panels, open mic, wonderful tributes all around. Over 150 people packed in to every corner - standing room only. (Let me tell you: you haven't seen nerd-love until you've seen a man so overcome that he gives up eulogizing with one hand over his eyes, and the other lifted in a "live long and prosper" Vulcan salute.)

And like... you guys. I'll never be as infinitely knowledgeable as Ed, or as well-read, or as massively in love with indoor soccer. His accomplishments can't belong to anyone else. But my god, I want to be that good. I want to be that inspiring, that well-remembered - I want to be a uniter and a doer and a big-hearted, infinitely-patient touchstone of human warmth and kindness. *I want to be that guy.*
The real shame is that Ed didn't get nearly enough innings. He was only 47. If I make it as long as he did, that gives me 14 more years to live up to his example.

Challenge accepted.


(Also, the weird taste in my mouth is gone now. No guarantees, but I reckon I have at least a 50-50 chance of surviving the night.)

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Different Kind of Call Goes Out

Okay, so you know the “this is my 2AM phone call” post from a few months back?

This is not that. This is not an emergency or a crisis or a disaster. This is a state-of-my-union address, and... let’s say a casting call.

Today is June 27th. Six months exactly until Dreams of the Eaten comes out. And the almost-perfect halfway point of 2016.

This is how I've spent my time this year, in hours.
I’ve worked hard this year, and with good results. So far, I have:
  1. Started a “secret” coalition of DFW-area writers groups. We have seventeen in the fold so far, with more still to add – and we are beginning to do great things.
  2. Begun a new program for the DFW Writers Workshop, called the Writers Bloc – a fledgling once-per-month education and social group, free and open to the public. It’s still a work in progress, but we’ve had great response so far.
  3. Taught at my first paid gig – a writers retreat – and been invited to another one (which is going to be awesome - you should come!)
  4. Led a three-month "speakers workshop" to prepare new instructors to teach at DFWcon 2016 - which is always one of the highlights of my year
  5. Started teaching for the Writers Path at SMU here in Dallas. I’m having such a good time – this is one of my proudest professional accomplishments to date.
  6. Helped Kristen stay in her house. (Actually, you-all have done that – I’m just banging the gong)
  7. Initiated a partnership with the Dallas County Community College District - too early and still too tentative to call a win, but one that has the potential to change the entire DFW literary scene
  8. Started teaching my own one-day writing workshops – irregularly, but to great enthusiasm
  9. Formed a crew of convention ambassadors from the DFW Writers Workshop – a bad-ass panelist posse if there ever was one
  10. Finished the edits for Dreams of the Eaten... almost.
And I haven't even gotten rolling yet. I haven't even started putting together the fan-swag and writer-merch I want to sell - still want to create a booth-sharing con-going author-coalition - am determined to get this "Page it Forward" free first chapters project off the ground.

You notice, though, how many of those list items up there start with the word “started,” “begun”, etc. – and the one “finished” thing isn’t even finished yet.

And what I’ve learned in the first half of 2016 is that I’m not going to make it through the second if I keep this up. I’m pushing hard because these are things I want to do for a living – things I want to spend my life doing. And if I’m going to stay in the game for the next 30 or 40 or 50 years (and I plan to!), I need my health. My friends. My marriage. All of which have been back-burnered for months now – none of which can afford to stay there.

This is not my to-do list.
This is one of my ten to-do lists.
But the other thing I learned, while we were making the big push for Kristen, is that it's not always a selfish thing to ask for help. Sometimes it's the hardest, bravest, kindest, most generous thing you can do - for yourself and for the people you're asking.

So this is me, taking the plunge, asking for help. Here in approximate order of urgency are the things I need.
  1. A digital me. A carnival barker – promoter – cyber-bard – whatever you want to call it. I am an organizer, teacher, motivator, and thoroughly analog human. I am not a promoter or an e-socializer. I need someone who can tweet, face, blog, and email so that the rest of the world can find out about these great deeds-in-progress. Maybe two someones (one for my books, and one for my writer-doings). And I’m happy to pay for that, but I don’t want to dig up some rando out of the phone book. I would much rather work with somebody who’s already drunk the Kool-Aid – who’s as excited about this stuff as I am. (You can buy a person’s time, y’all, but enthusiasm is a priceless, unsellable treasure.)

  2. Book reviews. The kind you write yourself, on Amazon and Goodreads, and the kind book bloggers write on their websites. This is the one kind of promotion I can't (ethically) buy or barter for myself. Getting Sixes past the 50-review mark on Amazon would be terrific. Getting Medicine to 25 would be fantastic. And getting *any* book blogger of size to pick up this series would be unutterably wonderful.
  3. Stockpiling pre-orders for this one would be good too.
  4. Speaking opportunities. I want to be on your podcast, at your conference, in your bookstore. Anything that involves speaking out loud, in real time (in person or online) is 100% my jam - and travel and expense may not be the barriers you think they are. Hit me up. Connect me. We’ll figure it out.
  5. Press. Publicity. Especially the kind that doesn't involve me having to sit down and gin up a 1,000-word blog post on my own initiative. (I can do those. I will do those - especially if your name is the Mary Sue, io9, John Scalzi, or Cracked. But they take a lot out of me, and I don't have the juice to do guest posts on the regular anymore.) If you can do the chronicling, I will provide all the insightful, hilarious, Textacular content you can handle.
  6. To date, I have not been on TV. But I've definitely been near TV.
  7. An artist - one who has enjoyed my books. Again, I will happily pay for time and talent - but it would be really great to have enthusiasm come pre-installed.
  8. Website help - especially someone who knows their way around a shopping cart. (And Shawn, Jonathan: thank you so much for putting yourselves forward for the Droughtworld website. I'm absolutely going to take you up on it. This bat-signal is for the events/workshops side of things.)
  9. Classroom/workshop spaces in DFW. They need to be suitable for video presentations (I can provide all the A/V equipment), ideally able to seat up to 25, available nights and weekends, and - here is the critical part - okay with me accepting money on the premises. I'm happy to give a percentage of what I make - so if you have an office or big back room that's going unused after-hours and want to see if we can help each other out, please hit me up.
  10. An A/V pro in DFW. Someone we can hire to help us to create professional-quality recordings of our Writers Bloc classes (one Saturday a month in Irving.)
Yeah, I know - it's a hell of a list. And the delicious irony of all this communal ruckus-raising I've been doing over the past couple years is that I've surrounded myself with people who are as driven as I am - who are stretching themselves to the max to chase their own dreams. It makes for a fantastic friends-circle, but doesn't leave any of us with much room to help each other out.

So for all of you wonderful people who would walk through fire and brimstone for me if only you could find five spare minutes to fire up the coals - don't worry. And don't let your chronic altruism sucker you into overcommitting yourself. I need your friendship more than anything on this list - and in that, you've already given me a great gift.

Including but not limited to the gift of shenanigans.

But if you do see something here that gets your inner overachiever all fired up ("Ooh! Me! Pick me!"), and you genuinely do have the bandwidth for it - please let me know. Here or email (tex at or smoke signals or a brick through my front window. And when you do, let me know how this will fit into your bigger picture - because so often we can do for each other what we can't do for ourselves, and I would love to be part of your success, too.

My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait - just you wait...

Friday, June 3, 2016

Con or Bust or Else

Okay, time for a happy one.

So I went to ConQuest this past weekend, which proceeded to treat me and everyone else like nerdy superstars. (Seriously, it's a terrific con. If you want aggressively welcoming bookish SFF, go.)

Per my usual custom, I waited until the last minute to figure out bunking arrangements, and asked on the ConQuest FB page if anyone needed a roommate. Carol Cao answered the call. We got to talking, and I asked her what took her all the way up to Kansas City. She said, "well, I applied for funding through this organization that provides assistance for fans of color to attend conventions, and -"

"- oh, you mean Con or Bust, right?!" (Me, gleefully interrupting)

"Yes! You know about it?"

"DO I." (NB: I do. It's my main charity.)

And it was the most aptly-timed conversation ever, because that was the last day to enter something in the annual Con or Bust auction, and I was seriously considering bailing this year. Don't have time, ruinously tired, need to stop adding more stuff to my plate, etc.

But here was a CoB recipient, offering me hotel space after my own total lack of forethought or planning. And you can't let generosity end there.

So now I have a new friend (she's going to Italy in a week, y'all! Cheer her on!) And now YOU have 48 hours to bid on these wonderful things:
  • an ARC of my third book, Dreams of the Eaten
  • a "director's cut" author-annotated edition of my second book, Medicine for the Dead
  • a "personal training session" for writers
All right here, right now.

And just in case you were wondering - yes, those are our excited faces.