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.