Daily Archives: August 7, 2012

Things To Do In Dallas (And Fort Worth) When You’re Dead

To hear natives tell it, absolutely nothing happens in the Dallas area during the summer. “It’s too hot to do anything,” they say. “The real action hits in autumn, when the big yellow hurty thing in the sky stops trying to turn us into ash.” “We don’t even like going out swimming, because the water evaporates before you can dive off the high board.”

Yeah, don’t you believe it. If you fall for that, you’ll fall for the real whoppers, such as how getting a degree in journalism is a guarantee of high and stable income for the rest of your life. (Well, it is if you moonlight as something much less socially reprehensible than a music or film critic.) My problem is that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, especially concerning the journalism degree, and then the rest of the summer is booked solid.

Anyway, to start the festivities, I sympathize with those who have families this time of the year. By the middle of August, the kids are both going insane from a two-month diet of cable television and the impending dread of the new school year, and they want to do something. Their parents are going insane with the realization that if they don’t take vacation time now, they won’t have any opportunity to take a vacation until after Christmas, and that they have a long four-month intervening slog in the linen mines until they’re paroled. Both take a good look outside, stick a finger out from underneath sunscreen and shade cloth, scream as the radiation leaves them able to see the bones in that finger before the flesh catches fire, and decide “Whatever we do, it’s going to be someplace with air conditioning and thick ceilings.” Not that I blame them in the slightest, as this is the time of the year that makes me impersonate the lifestyle of my totem animal and stay underground.

Well, the good news is that the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas’s Fair Park is run by people who think like sane parents, which is why it’s hosting this weekend’s upcoming Discovery Days event, Discover Going Green, before school starts. The Triffid Ranch will be out there to show off a selection of carnivorous plants, carnivorous plant impersonators, and general oddballs on both Saturday and Sunday, so stop by and say hello.

As for the first serious Triffid Ranch show of the fall season, we’re now officially 45 days away from FenCon IX, running in Addison this September 21 through 23. Same hotel as previous years, but with luck, we’ll be seeing the first serious break in the heat about then. You may think you don’t want to deal with gullywasher storms on the weekend, but anything beats the smell of burning flint everywhere you walk. The start of autumn weather not only promises to make things easier on the folks coming out from places where the local hydrogen in the atmosphere doesn’t spontaneously fuse, but it may make for some particularly interesting plant arrangements.

And lest I forget, announcements for the 2013 Texas Frightmare Weekend see release next week, and along with that, first availability of passes. Naturally, the Triffid Ranch plans to crash the party again: at this point, the idea is to be the first in line for vendor’s spaces. Considering the crowds at the 2013 show, get your tickets as soon as they’re available, because the weekend passes could very easily be sold out six months before the show. It’s happened before.

Finally, last year’s drought put paid to previous plans, but it’s time to return to the Funky Finds Holiday Shopping Experience in Fort Worth the weekend of November 10. Any excuse to go to Fort Worth is a good excuse, and I certainly don’t have problems with spending the weekend at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. That is, if there’s room to squeeze in the Triffid Ranch. We’ll see.

“Sweetie, if you don’t let me come, I’ll adopt a Hynerian baby!”

In the last few weeks, I’ve run into several people who knew me during my old writing days, and they don’t really believe that I’ve quit. In many ways, I don’t blame them, because they can’t kick the writing habit, so they can’t believe that I’ve gone cold turkey. Well, I get the usual “you’re doing a blog, so you’re still writing” garbage, but that’s like saying I’m still a drug abuser for popping a couple of aspirin. For the sake of argument, let’s presume that the discussion of what constitutes a writer involves those who write for publication and/or payment, in a venue which they do not have direct control. I know this will offend the self-publishing obsessives, but I haven’t offended anybody in the last few hours, so it’s their turn.

It’s not that I don’t miss writing in general. I miss the communication. What I don’t miss are the mindgames that go with traditional publishing of all sorts. I don’t miss having an editor/publisher sit on a manuscript for months or years. I don’t miss being rewritten without warning (especially when I volunteer to take on rewrites) and having to take the hit when the editor screws up. I don’t miss having articles gutted because an article submitted by the editor’s girlfriend ran five pages over, and she threatened to go postal if the editor so much as changed a single word. I don’t miss book and magazine distribution nightmares. I don’t miss having to wait six months for payment on articles, or of editors magically deciding “we can’t afford to pay until we’re profitable,” and then going out of their way to make sure their publication remains unprofitable. I don’t miss editors who still owe me money for dead publications from fifteen years ago who move to a new one and assume that I’ll play the same game. Most of all, I don’t miss having to commiserate with friends about how utterly terrible and horrible it is that one venue or another went under, when what you really want to howl is “I’ll see it in Hell, sucker!”

Amazingly, these people still wonder why I’d give up the glamor and lucre of writing for science fiction magazines for raising carnivorous plants. Heck, some even get offended that I won’t come back.

In the past few days, though, I’ve reconsidered my stance. I can actually thank my local grocery store for this, because one quick peek through its Periodicals section demonstrated that there’s no reason why I couldn’t hop back, just long enough to pay for a new greenhouse and about 50 acres to put it on. All I need is the right gimmick.

Red Harvest front

By way of example, when passing through the periodicals racks, I usually focus on the magazines. Going through the books these days, though, is like wandering through the Marianas Trench. I’ve been far enough away from publishing that all of the denizens are odd to surface-born eyes, and some have all of the lurid fascination and danger of vampire squid and gulper eels. That’s actually unfair to vampire squid and gulper eels, because they can survive in the wild without assistance. The current trend in vampire/angel/werewolf/shapeshifter/witch romance novels is the literary equivalent of those “fruit cocktail trees” sold in garden centers: graft on enough scions, and someone will buy it just because it looks too strange to survive.

With the collapse of Borders last fall, it’s obvious that both the publishing industry and the publishing distribution industry are both in trouble. Both lost a huge market, and now they’re throwing whatever they can against the wall to see if it sticks. Hence, it’s hard not to ask if some poor overworked editor isn’t channeling the spirit of Max Bialystock and offering contracts for the science fiction equivalent of “Springtime For Hitler”. Hence, this viperfish of a title in the rack this morning:

Red Harvest back

Yes, you’re not just looking at a Star Wars novel. You’re looking at a Star Wars ZOMBIE novel. One of a series. To quote one of literature’s greatest fictional orchid enthusiasts, “PFUI!”

Next, there’s the “Featured” area of the periodicals section, better known as the “Pay For Play” area. Most days, this is filled with the latest issue of D magazine, highlighting its latest “Top 283 Left-Handed Vending Machine Operators Willing To Pay Us For a Full-Page Ad” cover story, but today? Today is a very different day. Today, the Featured area is full of the latest publishing sensation: three volumes of Twilight slashfic, with the serial numbers barely filed off before publication.

Featured entry in the Periodicals section

Fifty Shades Darker

I have to admit that this is absolutely brilliant in an odd way. Why kill yourself on creating original situations and characters when you can just high-grade the background of an established universe? Better yet, why kill yourself further on creating something truly unique, when (as Norman Spinrad noted fifteen years ago) a chimpanzee could type out a manuscript for a Star Wars novel and it would still make the New York Times Bestsellers list?

Fifty Shades Freed

Twenty years ago, my younger self would have been offended by this. Enraged. Screaming at the top of his lungs at this sort of gibberish taking over bookshelf space. In those intervening two decades, though, I’ve noticed that for all of the outrage, the final determination as to the success of these servings of literary Hamburger Helper is the famed invisible hand of the market. Yes, some of these sell and sell well, but the writers tend to disappear. The worst fate of all: the books go out of print, and they stay out of print. Or, to put it another way, these will probably be about as well-read and well-appreciated as the unauthorized rewrite of Gone With The Wind in the Nineties. And so it goes.

This is why I’ve decided not to complain and kvetch about this state of affairs, and I’m planning to use it to finance an expansion of the plant business, if not the opportunity to buy a new house. If I can’t get a three-book, six-figure contract for my crossover Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape slashfic, featuring the erotic exploits of Edina Monsoon and Pilot, then I’m just not trying hard enough. All editor queries welcome…

Ave atque vale, Ralph the Swimming Pig

I’ve officially reached that age where everyone stops sending me the latest memos. For all intents and purposes, I’m residing in the basement, with only my red Swingline stapler to keep me company. Nobody loves me enough to let me know that the world changed while I was taking a nap, and it’s all to make it easier to laugh at me when I ask where the VHS tape rewinder went.

Well, that’s okay. I’ve wanted to visit Aquarena Springs near San Marcos for decades, mostly because it still preserves a host of flora otherwise wiped out when Texas warmed and dried out at the end of the last ice age. Another reason is because Aquarena Springs is the closest I’ll be getting to Wakulla Springs in the Florida Panhandle for a while. (Nearly ten years away, and I still desperately miss that place.) But the most entertaining reason? For years, I was tantalized by the various tourist flyers for the amusement park at Aquarena Springs, including the star attraction, Ralph the Swimming Pig.

Well, I’m too late to watch Ralph, or one of the many Ralphs trained over the years, perform his famed “Swine Dive”, after discovering that the amusement park was acquired by Texas State University in 1996, and the attractions removed in order to protect the indigenous and often highly endangered wildlife in the springs. Even the Submarine Underwater Theater is gone, having been pulled up with one of the world’s largest cranes last May.

Well, a life without Ralph also means a life with the unique fauna and flora of San Marcos Springs. Schedule permitting, a weekend trip down that way next spring is in order.