Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Key Takeaway

This gnarly yellow safety cabinet is not much to look at, I realize. But y’all, BLOOD AND THUNDER IS COURSING THROUGH MY VEINS.

The cabinet belongs to the jewelry and small metals division at the Dallas Makerspace (where I office most days of the week) and they needed a key made for it. Your favorite red-hatted junior locksmith took up the challenge, but I quickly realized that I was out of my depth (didn’t have the right key blank, didn’t want to order a box of 50), and dutifully took the lever handle over to the local locksmith’s shop, where they promised me they could make a new key within the next day or so.

Which became a week.

Which became a real imposition.

Which became me going over there to hear how the lock must have a broken wafer, cuz they’d ruined five keys and still couldn’t do it.

So I said, “all right, I’ll take just the blanks then.” (Which apparently were free, because I ceased to exist for the employees as soon as said blanks were on the counter.)

And I worked at it for an hour this afternoon – blackening the key blade, grinding it back and forth in the lock, looking under the pocket-microscope for tiny telltale wafer-notches, filing those down, blackening again, grinding again, microscoping again, wash rinse repeat, telling myself all the while that there was NO way this was going to work, because the actual real pro guys had tried and couldn’t do it.

I was so het up I forgot to take a picture of the actual key impressioning process. But here's the gear from the forensic locksmithing class I ran last night, so this post will still look all technical and impressive.
And it didn’t work, all right… until about the 400th blister-inducing attempt, when suddenly it did.

The key turned. The lever turned. This nasty old rusty cabinet, which probably dates from the Watergate break-in, does NOT now need 60 days and $60 for a manufacturer replacement, because my happy ass just rectified that shit with a divinely ignorant fierceness.

And yes, I’m bragging online, because that’s what we do. But I am also here to tell you, just in case you needed to hear it, that it is the easiest thing in the entire world to talk yourself out of trying something.

But what would happen if you did?

What would you feel like if you actually popped the hood, cracked the cover, picked up a pencil, asked somebody out, applied for an unbelievably fabulous new gig… and it WORKED?

Current research indicates that it feels like power-washing a slaughterhouse while screaming F-14s seed-bomb the rainforests back to life and the Statue of Liberty lap-dances on the Lincoln Memorial, but more data is needed. So try a brazen and outrageous thing today and see what ‘unlocks’ for you!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Willamette Writers, Assemble!

Howdy y'all! If you are here at the Willamette Writers Conference this weekend, this post is for you!

Three Useful Things:

1. If you are attending the Conquering the Freshman Fifteen intensive on Sunday afternoon (and you should!), make sure to download, print, and read through both of these first chapters: The Nightingale (first 15) and The Martian (first 15). Please bring them both with you on Sunday!

2. If you would like the slide decks from my weekend presentations (No Mustard on Your Shirt: Spill-Proofing Your Grammar and Style, or Juice Box Hero: Squeezing Plot From Character), sign up here by Sunday and I will send them to you!

3. If you would like a whole-manuscript review of your work in progress, please let me know! You can email me - tex at - by Friday, August 9th. (You can send your actual manuscript later on, but I need to save your place before my calendar fills up completely!)

Good? Great! See you conference-side, and remember: this weekend, it's kickass-thirty, and the big hand is on you!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Bold and the Bucketful

Oh my goodness gracious.

Y'all, it's been a trip. As a matter of fact, it's been several. In the past two weeks I have driven a thousand miles, visited with more wonderful writers than I can count, and read-and-critiqued 678,000 words. That is no imposition - I LOVE reading stories and getting a chance to visit with their authors - but like... you know how you have three platefuls at Thanksgiving, and when you belch afterwards, you can kind of taste everything at once?

Well, let me tell you: I have shotgunned everything from inspirational homestead romance to body horror to middle-grade fantasy... and shoveling all that down like Garfield at a pan of lasagna makes for some really peculiar dreams. Is Ambien basically just Pepto Bismol for your subconscious? Asking for a friend.

Also, I saw this car while I was out in California earlier this month. Yes, that is a for-real fully-recessed license plate.

Kind of makes you think about how much extra effort it is to craft an intricate, deliberate departure from the norm... and how much more fascinated we are with the result.

Also kinda makes you want to lean out the window and holler "TAKE A BATH, HIPPIE!"

...not that you would, of course.

And speaking of going the extra mile to depart from the norm -

The Last Cowboys Court in Canadian Texas

You see this little snapshot here? I took it at The Last Cowboy's Court in Canadian (the BEST hidden gem of the Texas Panhandle!) - and it is my new everything.

They've freshly renovated absolutely everything, so it's a wonderful place to stay - but do you see how they've done up the bathroom here? That is a bona-fide old feed bucket they've used for the bathroom sink. The shower in the mirror behind it is made from corrugated steel barn siding. The wood plank towel rack probably came from the same building. There is an old family photo above the sink, and feathers in the dip jar - and the part that really gets me is that everything in this photo is so deeply rooted in its place. New or used - everything you see there came from THERE, right down to the soap.

I think as writers we worry a lot about making sure our work has all the industry-standard fixtures. You know, the literary equivalent of a Holiday Inn suite. Often times, the only alternatives we ever see are kitschy, over-the-top novelty themes firehosed all over the walls of a tourist-trap motel by a corporate decorator on a business trip.

But y'all... powerful, intentional, authentic divergence is a thing of beauty. The best stories I've ever read (published or otherwise) remind me of this photo here. Whether it's a setting, a mood, a character, a conflict - the author has used second-hand pieces of themselves to construct something new and breathtakingly special.
It takes huge confidence to do something like that. You cannot pick up easy-to-follow instructions for building a galvanized bucket-sink from IKEA or Home Depot. It is tremendously hard to build something original AND functional, out of nothing but the plan in your head.

But I'm so, so grateful that you are up for the challenge. And I hope you know you don't have to do it alone. No barn-raising is a solitary enterprise - no matter what kind of critters you mean to hose down in those stalls!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Confessions of a Serial Socializer

Confessions of a serial socializer:

Lately I find myself enjoying someone a whole heck of a lot, before realizing what a mission they have undertaken to make that possible. Whether it's saving up spoons, medicating, meditating, clawing out a precious pocket of free time from the hurricane-scribble of other obligations, or just working inch by painstaking inch to zip yourself into the too-tight "fine, thanks" human-suit you are expected to wear in public... y'all, thank you *so much* for doing that.

And if I can say something to folks like you, on behalf of folks like me... you know, sometimes we're not very smart or sensitive. Hanging out with you is so easy and so fun for us that we forget that not everyone gets that same rush. But we enjoy you SO MUCH, even when you don't feel capital-A amazing. Please don't ever hesitate to ask for what you need, whether it's extra time, extra space, a corner seat, a quieter room, a ride home from the party, or a guilt-free rain-check. You are so worth it. And nothing makes our extrovert hearts happier than returning a tenth of the joy that we get from being with you. Remember: 'amigo' does not mean 'alike'!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What's In Your Box-Trolley?

Okay, so guys. You know that one friend you have? The one whose life would be five million percent better if they would just listen to you and [dump that worthless mofo / see a therapist / try the diet or program that changed your life / etc]?

Let me be that friend for a moment. And let me confess: I don't mean to be obstinate or ungrateful. It's just that even if your advice or solution is absolutely correct, I can't make the leap from where I am to where you want me to go. The gap is too big, and I can't see the other side from here.

So if you really, really, super-actually want to help me (your hapless hypothetical friend), here is what you can do: create a space where I can get completely outside this mess of mine, even if only for a day or two - a place where I can rest, catch my breath, and clear my mind. You see my problem so clearly, because you're *outside* it. If you love me, please help me get outside of it too - and then listen to me when I tell you what's really going on in there.

Kathryn McClatchy did exactly that for me this weekend, and it has remade me. I have known for YEARS that I needed help - delegation skills, an assistant, etc. - but have never made any meaningful progress in getting things off my plate. So finally, in a breakdown moment of frustration and despair, I booked her for a two-day intervention at a little cabin in Granbury... and oh my gouda.

She let me dump my entire to-do list in her lap, and then patiently sorted through it with me. She didn't tell me that I had to use a certain program or hire a certain person. She didn't arrive with a pre-fab holy-grail solution in mind. She just asked every good question in the book, and helped me build a system around the brain and workstyle and habits I already have. And I have never felt so helped or so overwhelmingly *heard*.

This here is a photo I took while I was walking the neighborhood around the cabin, and I hope it will serve as a helpful reminder: y'all, build your system to accommodate your nature, and not the other way around.

And if you could use some help with that, holler. I know just the lady you need to talk to.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Biggest Kind of Little

You know, I have never felt smaller than I did when I was trying to be a big name. Now I am a small name, and I have never felt bigger. HUGE love to Nancy Golden and the entire Carrollton League of Writers, and big congrats to Jennifer Rabey Crippen, Lauren Bass, and all the winners. It is an honor to be adjacent to your greatness!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Rapping on the A-Train

So while I was in San Francisco, I took the subway to go visit my friends. It was the end of rush hour, so not very crowded once we got into the city proper. Then a guy got on, carrying a little portable speaker and a microphone, and arranged his gear in one corner.

And then he started rapping.

The song was something about peace and harmony - it wasn't very loud, and I couldn't quite make it out. Of course, my first thought was "God, what a jackass. Doesn't he know nobody wants to hear that?"

When he was done, he walked up and down the aisle, soliciting donations with his white-papered can. Everyone ignored him. And my second thought was, "How pitiful. This is like, the saddest and most awkward thing I've ever seen."

He got off at the same stop I did, but before I headed up the stairs, I waited - and watched him get on another train heading back the way we had just come. His microphone fell and dragged on the ground as he boarded, and my last glimpse was him gathering it up and turning on his speaker as the train doors closed behind him. And my third thought was, "Oh God. That is me. That is what I do. That is what my author-friends do. We are all just hapless schmucks belting our hearts out to a crowd of indifferent strangers and trying to get paid for it."

So today's thought is: let's do what we can to be kind to each other. Some of us are more skillful or subtle about it than others - but at the end of the day, most of us are just rapping on the A-train.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Seminal Seniors of SMOFcon

On the bus back to San Francisco after a fantastic too-short weekend at SMOFcon (The SMOFs, of course, are the Secret Masters of Fandom). It's a "convention runner's convention", where the programming and presentations are all about hotel negotiations, crisis management, codes of conduct, and so on. But it's also a fraternity of sorts, with traditions both hallowed and deeply silly.

I tell you what, though: for me, the coolest thing was to sit down at a workshop about social media, or software migration, and see that both the presenters and a good majority of attendees are people my parents' age. They did not grow up with any of this stuff. They might not ever use Twitter or Instagram for personal enjoyment. But they are passionately dedicated to mastering it and sharing that knowledge, because that is what their event and their fan community needs them to do. And I am so grateful that they are willing to keep carrying that torch forward, especially when so many people of my generation don't yet have the financial security or free time that you absolutely have to have before you can consider taking up the reins on an all-volunteer nonprofit event that's going to involve a thousand people, a quarter-million dollars, and over a year's worth of planning. 

Now I leave much gratified and more than a little lonely. My commitments to my own little community mean that I don't have the bandwidth to even attend, much less help out with, the fantastic conventions they're building out for next year and the ones after. But friendly friends - if you are ever tempted to doubt or despair, go listen to Ray Stevens' "Shriners Convention" and know that our reverend elders are doing tireless good work that is almost entirely invisible to the outside world... in between running late-night "statistics and probability seminars" with a nickel buy-in :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Well-Earned Campaign Tribute

My friend Michelle O'Neal said it better than I could have:

"I can't wait to vote for Allison Campolo again.

FWST Bud Kennedy said of Beverly Powell... 'Her strongest opponent turned into her strongest ally. Euless Democrat Allison Campolo, a young progressive half her age, ran a tough primary race and then instead of going home, helped organize the county get-out-the-vote campaign.'"

That's how we do it, y'all. You fight for your wins, learn from your losses, and keep your eye on the prize. At the end of the day, it's not about whether you can do the thing - it's about whether the thing gets done. I have NEVER been more proud of my big, beautiful, red-and-blue state... or more thankful that I stopped knocking my sister's teeth out before she started doing kung fu.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Making Space

I don't act on it often enough - but I believe to my bones in making space for the people who are making space for people.

Here's one of them right here. Her name is Shayla Lee Raquel, and for the last three years, she has moved heaven and red Oklahoma earth to raise up a first-class writing community in her backyard. She runs the Yukon Writers' Society, which just hosted the FABULOUS Writers Olympics. She travels down to DFW on the regular, donating her time and expertise to make events like WORDfest possible. She has been the fiercest pro-bono advocate an indie author could ever have (including nailing a VERY pointed set of theses to the Oklahoma Book Festival's double-standard front door). And anyone who has ever taken a turn with the organizer's hat knows how completely a good cause will tornado its way through your own personal life and projects. 

But today at last, it is Shayla's turn for the spotlight. Cinderella finally gets to go to the ball - not because a fairy godmother waved a wand and apparated a Pumpkin Miata for the occasion, but because she hitched up her homespun dress, laced up her trainers and walked her own self to the party.

It is terribly important to me to make sure that people like Shayla get more than a warm, fuzzy feeling for their efforts - that they are materially and powerfully thanked for the hundreds of hours they've given to making space for the rest of us. And if you would like to sign your name to that effort, this is where you can go to give her your congratulations, read up on her work, and gift a copy to the person in your life that her words were meant for.