Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Going Against the Granola

Happy December and a pre-emptive Merryween, y’all! I suspect this will be my last message for the year, so buckle in – there is more than my usual one-paragraph parable here this time.

Actually, what I have for you today looks an awful lot like a box of granola bars. Exhibit A:

This box box of granola goodness was gifted to me at Bouchercon at the beginning of November. And you know, you just can’t keep a thing like that all to yourself.

So I brought the box with me to Steampunk November, where it provided excellent snacks for the ticket booth volunteers.

But there were lots left over, so then I brought the box to my guest-lecture at Collin College the week after.

And to the corporate training seminar after that.

And to the Dallas Makerspace class after that.

I even brought it with me to the Fort Worth Writers meeting before Thanksgiving, but they had an ENORMOUS cornucopia of goodies already there, so my little snack-box was entirely superfluous to requirement. (Seriously, y’all. The FWW is for REAL.)

Now it is almost empty, and I could not be more delighted. It’s such a good feeling to know that my little snack-box has been so many places and fed so many people.

The thing about a box of enthusiasm like this (and you knew those shelf-stable carbs were going to be a metaphor for something, right?) is that it’s meant for sharing. And when your enthuse-o-box gets low, that’s a good signal that it’s time to leave off giving for awhile, so you can rest and replenish yourself. I always look forward to resting at this time of year. Winter is when all the conferences and conventions are over, the publishing world is shut down, and I get to enjoy a whole lot of house time.

But a funny thing happened earlier this year. I got another box in the mail, with ENTIRELY different goodies.

There are tweezers and pins and plastic baggies aplenty in there, screws and cams and plugs galore. These new treats are mechanical, analytical, procedural – nothing at all like the creative story-shaping stuff I’ve been dealing in for so long now. And I have more of them than I know what to do with.

Y’all, it is so strange to be typing this, but I seem to be turning into a little baby forensic locksmith. I got my AFL (ALOA Fundamental Locksmith) certification earlier this year. Joined the IAIL (International Association of Investigative Locksmiths). Signed up for forensic science classes at the local college. And I am now several weeks in to my new job as a bench tech at the local lock shop.

You may refer to me as "The Keymaster" :)

I found out recently that there are 49 Certified Forensic Locksmiths in the world. And I am just passionately, hell-bendingly keen on becoming CFL #50.

I’ll be the first to admit that this does not fit the narrative of my life at ALL. In every locksmithing course and conference I’ve taken this year, it has been STUNNING to find myself the only squishy little lady-wordess in a room full of top-tier tradesmen, my ignorance as pure and deep as the driven snow next to these fellas with 20 or 40 years of experience in the industry. (They have all been tremendously kind and welcoming, by the way.)

I have struggled mightily to justify any of this to myself. It has been humbling and refreshing to enter a world so demographically different from the creative-writing community in which I’ve spent my whole adult life. It is also hard not to feel like the very silliest of no-hope impostors in this new company. Almost everyone in this business seems to have come from a police, military, or family-locksmith background, and my two semesters of Latin feels mighty out of place here. It’s been an eye-opener into how some folks must feel when they dip a toe into our creative-writing world, for one thing. Whenever you consistently find yourself the only (X) in the room, it’s awfully hard not to wonder if you’re in the wrong room.

One of these things is not like the others...

I tell you what, though, y’all – and this is the part that I hope will be most relevant to you. I’ve noticed something really interesting happening here of late. When I am among writers, I am the only locksmith present. When I am among locksmiths, I am the only writer. And that has made a POWERFUL difference. I’ve already made friends in high places by transcribing and reformatting the IAIL training manual – because they didn’t have anyone who could do that. I’ve already been invited to give a hands-on lockpicking workshop at a writers' conference that's turned me down three years running – because they didn’t have anyone for that either. I have stood out and been noticed more in the last six months than I have in the past six years. And I think you can too.

Posse, the bigger and more anonymous our world gets, and the more we feel like helpless specks competing against millions of other author-hustlers for that coveted buy, click, like, share, or follow, the more I am convinced of this truth: if you want to be the best, be the bridge.

It feels truer the more I think about it. Mister Rogers was the bridge between the exciting new television medium and the timeless care and patience needed to nurture young children. Julia Child was the bridge between classical French cooking and everyday American households. My friend Bud was the bridge between me, a writer, and Shane Richmond, a master-class swordsman and outdoor events impresario – and now we have Writers in the Field. And so many of our favorite genres - urban fantasy, romantic suspense, and alternate history, just to name a few - are a fusion of others.

Or tequila suckers, which are a fusion of candy and regret.

Bridging is not an easy thing to do, I'm discovering. Sometimes your blending results in a masterfully delicious beefy cheesy chili-mac - but just as often, you are left with a quivering pile of meat jello. It takes courage to scrape the bowl out and start over - and over, and over, and over.

In the meantime, have no fear: my granola-box is not empty, and I have no plans to discontinue my regular brand of literary ruckus-raising. I’ll be travelling less in 2020 while I work on building up the far side of my bridge. But I’m really looking forward to keeping up with you and your own building projects – and if I can be helpful with those, I hope you’ll let me know. (My plotting and developmental-editing brain is ever at your service!)

Anyway - I hope you’re proud of your year, y’all, whether your win was total domination or just getting through it. And I hope you have something already set up to look forward to on other side of the holidays. Regardless: rest up, write on, and don’t give away the last of your snacks – you will need them for the road ahead!