Wednesday, November 8, 2017

WFC 2017: This is How We Stop Failing


This is a post about hosting events, and more specifically about running genre conventions, and most-specifically about World Fantasy Con. It’s also about the ongoing problem of inclusivity we’ve been having over here in literary SFF fandom, and my worm’s-eye view of what we can do to improve it.

NB: I am fairly new to fandom (my first convention was in 2013), and among the younger set of traditionally-published SFF authors (I just turned 35). I am an instigator, organizer, presenter, and/or attendee for three-quarters of a shitload of events annually, most of them writing-related. I also had the singular honor of being the volunteer coordinator for the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio over this past weekend.

Like Mi Tierra, it was lit. (Shoutout to Sam Knight for the brilliant photo.)

There is a little story to tell first, and it goes like this:
Once upon a time, there was a little girl in third grade. (Not me.)

She came to school one day with a huge rat’s nest in her hair – and man, it was making her miserable. She could NOT sit still or pay attention or hardly even stand to be in her own skin.

The teacher, my beloved Auntie M, finally stopped class, pulled a hairbrush out of her purse, sat the girl down at the front of the room, and started to brush her hair. She carried on the class discussion while she brushed and brushed – gentle and carefully, a little at a time. It took the better part of the morning – but when it was done, the difference was night and day. The girl felt SO much better without that awful knotted wad of hair gnarled up on her head. After that, she third-graded happily ever after, for the whole rest of the day.

Y’all, we do have a huge rat’s nest in SFF fandom, and it is making us ALL miserable. It’s a whole horrible tangle of issues (a rat’s nest always is). It’s harassment, and discrimination, and invisibility, and lack of accessibility, and more besides.

The people on the receiving end of those things are sick and goddamn tired of dealing with them. The people deliberately perpetrating those things are assholes we badly need to get rid of. And the rest of the people, the ones who just want everybody else to chill out and have the same good time they’ve always had – well, a lot of them are anxious, defensive, and tired of getting yelled at for every problematic thing under the sun. And none of these feelings happen spontaneously or without reason: a little neglected tangle becomes a big angry knot becomes a huge event-wrecking snarl, and soon nobody involved is having any fun. Except maybe the assholes.

But short of whipping out the scissors, there’s only one way to untangle a rat’s nest. You have to start from the bottom and work your way up. And I mean from the BOTTOM.

Con-runners, event-organizers, fellow hosts of all stripes – you see this Maslow’s hierarchy chart here?


This is what I’m talking about. We have to start from the bottom of THIS. We have to start with meeting people’s basic physical needs.

Does your event have reasonable facilities, including accessible parking and clear signage? Are there restrooms and water available, and easily findable? Is the temperature comfortable? Can your attendees sit when they want to, stand and walk when they need to? Can *everyone* hear and see what’s going on? If it’s a long event, do you have food available (for purchase or for free), and is there enough for everyone? Does the menu provide adequately for people with common dietary restrictions? (Fact: humans require protein to live, and the joyless oil salad your hotel liaison is touting as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, and halal satisfies nobody.)

This was our improv-directory for the mass autographing session: because letting authors sit where they want is a time-honored WFC tradition, but helping guests not have to hike up and down every single aisle and row to find their person is just plain thoughtfulness - whether they have limited mobility or not.
These considerations are not the last step in the event planning process, the mandatory-minimum meat-suit maintenance we have to do in order to get on with the important stuff. This IS the important stuff. Hospitality is a sacred duty so ancient we tell stories about the people who screwed it up. Traitors to guests are tortured in the deepest circle of Dante’s hell – worse than thieves, worse than murderers, worse than blasphemers and adulterers and people who leave trash in the airplane seat-pocket – and even if you aren’t feeding your attendees the roasted flesh of their own children, you absolutely cannot afford to fail on this front. Anything you are ignorant about you’d better learn. Anything you can’t do or provide had better be unmissably advertised beforehand, so that the people you aren’t equipped to serve know to plan accordingly or stay home. The instant they walk through your door, your guests are entrusting you with their one irreplaceable human body – and you MUST care for it faultlessly.

Sometimes it's the littlest stuff, y'all. Like pulling chairs away from the round serving table so that all feet and wheels can get the whole way around it without blocking traffic.
And that brings us to the second step on the pyramid. Guys, it is not enough to have staff on site. Their mere presence is not sufficient – because A) those people need to be equipped (advised, trained, directed, empowered) to spot problems in the making and help the guests who need it, and B) your guests need to be able to find them. I cannot overstate that second part. How do we KNOW who the helpers are in the crowd? Are they wearing matching T-shirts? Special hats? If “blue badge” means “staff”, how do attendees know that? Regardless of what insignia you use: if it can’t be spotted clear across the room, it isn’t visible enough. And if your guests don’t know that a staff member is present, he or she might as well not be.

The 'deputy sheriff' star badges I used for WFC were a step in the right direction, but not visible enough - you can barely see them here. (Fortunately, Team Domitz took the whole 'volunteer uniform' thing to a new, slightly frightening level of badass.)


Realness, y’all: I had a terrific time at World Fantasy Con in 2015, but it had conspicuous failures on both the physical needs and the security/safety steps of the pyramid. And it is FAR from the only major convention to do so.

If you’ve read this far, I trust it’s because you’ve recognized the bigger problems we have in our community – with passively excluding disabled people, with harassment and silencing of women in particular, with utterly failing to draw in minorities and then giving the “diversity panel” token treatment to those we do manage to attract. (And, I would add, with dogpiling on people who are more scapegoats for than active perpetrators of the issues listed above.)

All of the above are failures of inclusion, fault lines in our greater fan/writer community. They are conspicuous and highly-charged cracks in the “belonging” step of Maslow’s hierarchy. And we will NEVER be able to repair them until we fix those first two steps in the foundation. At a societal level, that means addressing poverty, violence, and institutionalized inequality. But in microcosm, at a convention or other event, it means ensuring that ALL our guests feel safe and well cared-for from start to finish.



All of us organizers want to put on a great show, and we are all apt to feel frustrated when the end result is criticized. Eventomancy is one of the most demanding of the extrovert sciences, and not for the faint of heart. But to my fellow party-planners: when you catch yourself feeling frustrated by criticism and sorely tempted to fire back or give up, please don’t. We need your passion and energy for big-tent human connection now more than ever. Instead, go back to the beginning. Start at the bottom, with the most basic and universal human needs, and work your way up. Ask yourself “how will they find the bathroom?” (And for a photo-annotated love-rant on what a ten-out-of-ten host-tacular convention looks like, click here.)

Unfortunately, we at World Fantasy 2017 were not able to unilaterally clear step three of the pyramid. But we have enjoyed a whole lot of post-con positive buzz, and I dare to hope that our stumbles were considerably smaller than in previous years. If that is true, it is because everyone on the back end put a hell of a lot of effort into getting those first two steps on absolute judo-grip lockdown. Watertight accessibility and harassment protocol. Killer hospitality suite with a 'conucopia' of dining options for nearly every appetite. Clear signage, abundant space, and visible volunteers everywhere. This weekend was Texas hospitality done right - and I could not be more proud to belong to a con-com and a culture that is synonymous with boisterous, big-hearted generosity.

Baltimore, the ball is in your court now. You know what to do.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Digging in the Spurs at the Paragraph Ranch

Y'know, it's always a strange experience coming back from a convention. Kind of feels like going home from Hogwarts for the summer. There was this magical place, full of fantastic people and all the most delightful conversations... and now I'm back here in the real world, belatedly plugging back into the news, the inbox, and the Face-feed, and y'all - I'm not sure who started what, but absolutely EVERYONE is pissed off about something. I swear this happens every time.

They call it a 'hard return' - and boy, is it ever.

There's a pattern to the readjustment, too. First you're annoyed that the 24/7 Internet slap-fight has made no allowances for your lingering literary wizard-buzz. Then you feel guilty for getting to run off to La-La Land in the first place, even and especially while things were getting real on the six o'clock news. Sometimes you just feel like everything you're doing with your life is some kind of first-world frivolous... or at least I do. It's hard to feel like writing daring new adventures for your story-barbies is all that important or helpful when the doomsday clock perpetually reads one minute to midnight.

But you know what else? We are sharing a planet with some incredibly sharp, talented, big-hearted ambitious doers - and if you put your own self out there often and enthusiastically enough, sometimes you can catch one of them on their way past, like the Little Prince netting a comet.

Sometimes, if you are really lucky, you can catch two.

I'm still not sure exactly how it happened, but I seem to have roped a pair of shooting stars called Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon. You might already know Kay as the editor of Lone Star Literary Life, and Barbara as the director of the Texas Historical Commission's panhandle region. Writing plus Texas history. Hold that in your memory buffer - it's about to get radically relevant.

And so is this place right here.
Because guys. Kay and Barbara have cracked the code. They have figured out how to harness writing-energy and turn it into something that makes a positive, real-world impact before you ever publish a single word. Are you ready? Here's their secret.

Step 1: Find a historic West Texas town that has been losing population to the big cities - one that has modern infrastructure and conveniences, but needs a new economic engine to survive.

Step 2: Move there. Buy a big plot of land with a storied house and outbuildings. Work like a twenty-mule team to completely update and remodel it from top to toe.

Step 3. Invite scriveners of all stripes to come out for a writers retreat like no other - in a place where you can perfect your craft in perfect rustic splendor, while your presence helps keep small-town Texas living sustainable for generations to come.

It's called the Paragraph Ranch - in a little place called Spur, Texas. And if you are up for the adventure, I'll meet you there. Here's what we're doing:


WHEN: December 1st-3rd

WHERE: In Spur at the historic Back Door Inn (we are making our home base at this fantastic B&B for the first year, while Kay and Barbara finish their renovations).

WHAT: Come and write! And while you're there, let's talk about your work. Send me your current project - whether it's 800 words or 80,000 - by November 27th. (Yes, you can send me your entire novel. No, I'm not scared!) I'll read it and come ready to have a one-on-one conversation tailored to your specific goals and concerns. Kay and Barbara will also open up the treasure trove of their knowledge as successful working authors, and we'll have opportunities for you to share some of your writing with the group.

HOW MUCH: $250 for the weekend. That includes your room and board, and all of the expertise on offer - everything but your gas and road-trip snack supply!

We're keeping it simple this first time out, and giving it 100% - all you have to do is get there. Here is the thing, though: we have to make our minimum head count by November 1st in order to hold our space at the Back Door Inn. (I hope this won't be hard to do: we have eight beds, and two are already spoken for.)

So. If you like the idea of racking up good keyboard karma - if you want to get in one last big burst of word-slinging before the holidays eat your life - if you're willing to pack up your laptop and hit the road to help keep small-town living going strong - please sign up as soon as you can. (If you have questions about it, hit us up - lonestarliterary at gmail.com , tex at thetexfiles.com - and we'll be happy to tell you more!)

Regardless: you know this isn't your only chance to catch a comet, y'all. You know you don't have to wait for a moonshot to make good things happen for yourself, or to put your goodness out into the world. I'm just saying: if you've been feeling a little short on light in your life, there is a twelve-gigawatt bright idea passing right overhead - and you never know where it might take you.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Writers in the Field: Your Hogwarts Letter Has Arrived...!

Okay, so you know that whole thing about karma: whatever it is you dump out into the cosmic ocean on a daily basis will eventually wash back up at your front door. I can't say for sure that it's true, but I have been striving (however imperfectly) to pour out Exxon-Valdez quantities of love and realness and radical generosity. Helps cut down on water weight, if nothing else.

Of course, you never know exactly whether or how your moral exports will come back to you – but a few months back, a bona-fide unicorn beached itself at my feet. Only this is a marine metaphor, so like... maybe a narwhal or something. His name is Shane.

He's basically Mead Hall Dumbledore.
Anyway, so you know that thing, when somebody just randomly says to you, "Hey, so my wife and I own sixteen acres down south of the airport, and we've been running this big-ass awesome steampunk ren-faire for a few years now, and I'm not a writer or anything, but I'm a huge reader, and... how do I say this... is there some way I could help you guys like, not screw up your fight scenes?  And period clothing and such? Like, if I got some of my sword guys down here, and a poisons expert, and the WWII artillery crew, and some folks who could show you how to pick locks and sew Victorian underwear and make real-life herbal remedies and stuff... do you think writers would be interested in a thing like that? We can throw in a wine-tasting too, by the way. Do writers like wine?"

And y'all... when a dapper pipe-smoking karma-narwhal asks you a thing like that, there is really only one thing to say.

Writers in the Field: a hands-on, gloves-off, first-of-its-kind research experience for writers! Handle authentic weaponry, clothing, tools, and more - Interview nationally-renowned field experts - Explore thirteen acres of live demonstrations, special exhibits, and rare displays - October 14th and 15th in Mansfield, Texas. Featuring wonders medieval to modern - outdoor venue with shade and seating - wine-tasting by prior reservation - live music and evening performances - tickets starting at $30! Register now at www.writersinthefield.com

It's called Writers in the Field. It is going to be PHENOMENAL. And I am asking for your help in making it an unforgettable smash hit.

Shane and his crew have thrown themselves into building this event. They've been hammering away at the pavilions and the booths for weeks now.



They've brought in a slew of experts from their huge arcane Rolodex, for every kind of hands-on tutorial and demonstration you can think of.

A small sampling of the faculty. Anybody know a good potions professor?

They've got first aid, security, parking, concessions, restrooms, vendors, electricity, and wifi all taken care of – and kept the ticket price for the entire glorious weekend to only $45. Yes, really.

This is it, guys. This is your Hogwarts.
This is going to be an incredible event, y'all. It's built - it's happening - and the only thing we need now is you.

And let me be clear: even if you live a thousand miles away, we still need you. 

If the logistics don't work out for you to attend this year – we still need you.

If this isn't exactly up your genre alley, or your writing is on the back-burner right now, or you've already given your bottom dollar for worthy causes and don't have a penny to spare – we still need you. 

Because damn it, the fun's not going to have itself!

If you're thinking "man, this is such a cool idea - why hasn't anybody done this before?", let me tell you: it's because an event like this is a five-leafed clover. Because nailing down the venue AND the outdoor-event-management know-how AND the talent AND the community connections AND still keeping the cost down to something the humble striving scrivener can afford... is damn near impossible. You can't do all this when you are hiring for each of those positions. You can't create something like this as a strictly transactional enterprise.

Which means that something like Writers in the Field can only happen under the most perfect and unlikely conditions – when you have *exactly* the right balance of passion, talent, generosity, and one-in-a-million golden opportunity. We just-so-happen to have lucked our way into the perfect primordial alchemy here - and you are the lightning that is going to bring it to life.

Your playground awaits...
So. If you like the idea of making hands-on education and research opportunities accessible to writers from every walk of life – if you want tentpole writing events that go beyond the ballroom of the airport Hyatt - if you want to see this event come back next year with even more variety of activities, for even more kinds of writers – if you want to help us establish a strong precedent for one day having something like this in YOUR neck of the woods – then we need you to come out of the gate *roaring*, as fierce and enthusiastically as you ever have. We need mentions. We need shares. We need good old-fashioned buzz. More than anything, we need 'proof of concept' - and that means tickets sold.

...and so does your saloon.
And of course, I wouldn't ask you to do anything without putting my own skin in the game. So let me make you a deal.

1.    If we can sell 150 two-day tickets between now and midnight on Sunday (three days from today) I will personally read 5,000 words of your work - any format, any genre, any combination - and you and I will have half an hour of undivided real-time conversation about it. Phone or Skype or whatever you want to do. Once we hit the 150-mark, you forward me your ticket receipt and attach your doc file and we will make us a date.

2.    If you can't attend Writers in the Field but want to get in on the critique deal – or again, want to vote with your dollars for more events like this one – we can totally do that. Just buy a ticket and use promo code GIFT when you check out. We will give the ticket to a local writer who couldn't otherwise afford to go - and you will get the critique, even if we don't hit the 150 mark. Like I said, y'all – this is about love and realness and radical acts of generosity. And, you know, learning how to hit people with swords.

This is how we do it, guys. This is how first-evers become first-annuals, how we know more and do better, how we give ourselves something fantastic and special to be proud of, even when it feels like the whole rest of the world is going all to hell. This is how game-changing greatness begins.

It is also how legends begin.
Epic, unforgettable, totally-worth-the-hangover legends.

Are you pumped? Are you ready? Then pick out a job below and go!
Set your watches now, y'all: in one month exactly, we make literary-adventure-field-trip history!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Announcing Tex Thompson's Tornado Alley Tour!

Listen, y'all. I can get down with left-coast libertines. I love the weather - the food - the public transit - the weather - the creative scene - and the weather's not bad either.

But it's time to get back to my roots. My people. My time zone. And that's why we're hitting the road and doing it: a two-week beat-the-heat red-state road-trip - with a different writers' event around every corner, and a good time to be had by all!

Will I see you there?


Click the titles below for time and venue specifics
unless otherwise noted, all events are free or pass-the-hat!

hosted by the Cisco Writers Club


It's a truth every interviewee knows: there's nothing more tragic than missing out on your dream job because the interviewer can't see past the stain on your collar. In this class, we'll tackle the grammar and style mistakes that even experienced writers make, and highlight winning strategies for scrubbing them out of your manuscript. Don't give your reader even one easy reason to toss your work aside: come learn how to put the "pro" in your prose!




Sat, 8/19 - Amarillo, TX - Word Alchemy Lab (Micro-Level)
hosted by the Texas High Plains Writers


If your book were a movie, it would be an instant classic. A stellar premise. Unforgettable characters. Mind-blowing plot turns. But somehow the words on the page aren't fully conveying the tension of the tight parts, or the loveliness of the pretty parts, or the shocking-ness of the shocking parts. Never fear!  In this class, we'll study the art of adapting your writing style to suit any purpose, refining each page and paragraph, and fine-tuning every line until it sings.


Sun, 8/20 - Lubbock, TX - The Plate Tectonics Theory of Dialogue

When it comes to dialogue, a good scene is a 'geologically active' one. Like pieces of the Earth's crust, characters clash, fold, and buckle as they interact (and yes, sometimes even bump and grind!) In this high-energy, interactive workshop, we'll analyze the features of real human speech, and how to amplify and manipulate them to suit your purpose. Whether your current scene is as subtle as a tremor or as explosive as an earthquake, we'll craft dialogue guaranteed to keep your plot moving, your pages turning, and your readers on their toes.


Mon, 8/21 - Kansas City, KS - The Seven Deadly First-Page Sins
 hosted by Lynette M. Burrows


There's no one right way to begin your story – but there are plenty of wrong ones. In this class, we'll take you on a cautionary tour through the pits of page-one hell, complete with agent pet peeves, reader turn-offs, and "thanks but no thanks" editorial dealbreakers. Don't let your manuscript suffer in form-rejection torment: let us guide you through the slush-pile inferno and lead your story toward the light!





Weds, 8/23 - Lincoln, NE - Quasi-Fictional: An Evening with Patricia Scott and Tex Thompson
hosted by Francie and Fitch independent bookstore

Shakespeare's Coriolanus becomes a high school baseball drama. American colonialism is reimagined in a world of cowboys, fishmen, and "culture magic". And authors Patricia Scott and Tex Thompson invite you to join in for a rousing roundtable conversation, in which we ask: how much fact makes for first-rate fiction - and when does fiction actually change the facts?





Thurs, 8/24 - Tulsa, OK - Dialect to Die For
hosted by Nevermore Edits

When it comes to dialect, we often hear that 'less is more'. So how do you render a good Scottish brogue, or Southern drawl – and for that matter, how can you give a non-English-speaking character a voice that's distinct but still readable?  In this class, we'll examine how to represent accents and speakers of other languages in a way that captures their voices without reducing them to verbal tics, gimmicks, or stereotypes.




Sat, 8/26 - Oklahoma City, OK - Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding From the Inside Out



It’s a hard truth every writer knows: a good story needs a great setting, and many a diligent storyteller has gotten lost in the details. But doesn’t have to be that way! Whether you’re adapting the past, delving into distant regions of the present day, or conjuring other worlds altogether, some principles of good story-grounding are universal – and you can start applying them right away. Come learn the secrets of crafting immersive, dynamic settings – real or imaginary! – that your fans will want to explore for years to come.


Sun, 8/27 - Ardmore, OK - The Plate Tectonics Theory of Dialogue
hosted by Arbuckle Creative Writers

When it comes to dialogue, a good scene is a 'geologically active' one. Like pieces of the Earth's crust, characters clash, fold, and buckle as they interact (and yes, sometimes even bump and grind!) In this high-energy, interactive workshop, we'll analyze the features of real human speech, and how to amplify and manipulate them to suit your purpose. Whether your current scene is as subtle as a tremor or as explosive as an earthquake, we'll craft dialogue guaranteed to keep your plot moving, your pages turning, and your readers on their toes.


Sat, 9/2 - Roanoke, TX - The Plate Tectonics Theory of Dialogue 
hosted by the Roanoke Public Library

When it comes to dialogue, a good scene is a 'geologically active' one. Like pieces of the Earth's crust, characters clash, fold, and buckle as they interact (and yes, sometimes even bump and grind!) In this high-energy, interactive workshop, we'll analyze the features of real human speech, and how to amplify and manipulate them to suit your purpose. Whether your current scene is as subtle as a tremor or as explosive as an earthquake, we'll craft dialogue guaranteed to keep your plot moving, your pages turning, and your readers on their toes.

Want to see one of these in your home town? Email me at tex at thetexfiles.com - have Powerpoint, will travel!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sharing the Work

Y'all. Realness. It is 9:15AM on January 1st, and I am used UP. I've had about twelve hours of sleep in the past three days, I'm still all raw and leaky from going serotonin supersaiyan yesterday, and there is a toxic, pit-of-my-stomach sickening amount of work waiting for me. I seriously do not know how it is all going to get done.

But if you are like me, and if today feels less like a fresh start than a really messy middle - take heart, y'all. Have courage, and some protein. Today is traditionally about resolving to do things better and differently, to make positive changes – but maybe it would also be healthy to make it a day of forgiving yourself and letting go of some old ambitions that don't fit right now.
Maybe you are not the person who will sit down and make that perfect Pinterest-worthy scrapbook of family memories. Wouldn't it feel good to put that project back in the water and let it float on downstream - give someone else a chance to find it and pick it up? Would it be enough to keep on taking the pictures, without feeling obliged to curate and arrange them?

Maybe you are not currently in a place to start a fantastic new eating plan and take up a gym habit, even though you really want to capture the traditional New Year's momentum to start getting down to a healthy weight. Would it be okay to return that vision to the ocean of possibilities and be ready to receive it again when it washes back up on shore? Is there a smaller, more sustainable way you can start doing a daily kindness for your body in the meantime?

Donald Maass said a really excellent thing at the Writer Unboxed conference I attended in November. It was the morning after the election, and a lot of us were feeling terribly raw and anxious. He said, "We have work to do – all of us. And we will do that work."

I've thought about that a lot in the past two months. And to me the operative word is "we". Sometimes it feels like we are stuffing our shirts with these work-stones, these task-eggs, until we're so overfull that two fall out for every one we bend over to pick up. We are the first and often only person we delegate to. We see a thing that needs to be done and automatically stoop to undertake it, without necessarily asking whether we are really the best person for the job. We take so much on ourselves, because we either don't trust or can't bring ourselves to impose upon the people around us. We hoard the eggs until they rot, not trusting our fellow-humans to keep from trampling them otherwise.

And I think we would be a whole lot happier if we got better at choosing and sorting our eggs. Some to keep and incubate ourselves - some to give away or trade with a neighbor - some to put back down on the ground and walk away from, trusting their place in the order of creation.

So before I load my nest with one more "I really seriously have to", I hereby resolve to ask:
1. Is this really, objectively a thing that needs to be done? Who will be hurt if it isn't done?
2. Am I the best person to do it? Who is better-equipped to tackle this?
3. Do I need to do it right now? What is the consequence if I put this away and re-examine it next week, next month, next year?

I would really like to get better at answering those questions - because if I weren't so busy trying to keep my own eggs from dropping or spoiling, I would have more time to help other people hatch theirs. That would free them up to help me and others too. We might expend just as much effort as we did before - but we could do it so much more joyfully. We could enjoy each other's company during the work we do together, and relish the special tasks we dive into alone.

The man is right, y'all. We have WORK to do. But more importantly, WE have work to do.

So if you've got as dauntingly long a row to hoe as we do, please make it your resolution to speak up: a mule and a plow can do wonderful things together – but first you have to get them the same side of the fence.