To be continued…
To be continued…
This being the tenth Texas Frightmare Weekend show for the Triffid Ranch. the dynamic of the crowd coming by the booth is changing, and all for the good. Teenagers who came by to peruse in 2009 are now bringing their kids by, and others bring by pictures of plants purchased in previous years as if they’re showing off grandchildren. Sometimes the shock is how much the kids have grown in just a year. A lot of Frightmare regulars will relate how so many of the attendees are like family, and that’s a fair assessment: I’m just the uncle who sits near the end at Thanksgiving dinner and makes those seated at the kid’s table ask “How DOES he manage to get that soda straw that far up his nose?”
To be continued…
So. About last week’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show. I could talk about the extra weeks spent on making sure that everything was done in advance, so I could roll up a truck and head out early on Friday morning for load-in. I could bring up the ongoing tradition of Dallas getting heavy thunderstorms during that weekend each year, one of which led to my nickname among the convention staff as “Sparky” after the truck was hit by lightning. I could mention that after my left ankle decided to go in directions not recommended by the rest of my skeletal structure, I’m putting down nonskid tape on the front steps of the gallery this weekend so slipping on rain-slick concrete on those front steps never happens to anyone else. I could mention how after having to miss load-in on Friday, the Frightmare crew helped get me in early on Saturday morning, with everything up and ready literally as the first crowds came rushing back. I could mention that nine hours of standing while talking with customers isn’t bad, except that favoring an injured left ankle puts all sorts of stresses on one’s right knee. I could, but why belabor my failings on what was probably the best Frightmare yet?
As a vendor, I look at each year’s show with surprise: it’s hard to believe that the show runs this smoothly every year without some sort of public incident, but there you have it. When the biggest complaint is the relatively high cost of hotel food, and this is NOTHING compared to comparable costs at various convention centers in which I’ve set up booths, you have a show that should be emulated by everybody in the science fiction/fantasy/horror convention circuit. Events run within a couple of minutes of the stated time, instead of “when we damn well feel like it.” The registration crew handles general queries and emergencies with the aplomb of a tapdancing brain surgeon, and with a lot less mess. Convention security is practically invisible except when needed, and then they cloud up like a bee swarm and take out the issue right then. The promotion is savvy and understated, since the best promotion is word of mouth, and this year’s attendees were a great mix of first-timers and decade-long vets. After decades of conventions with far too many attendees and staffers assuming that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was an instruction manual, there’s something incredibly relaxing as a vendor in knowing that everyone is watching out for each other, and that’s Frightmare’s greatest strength. All of this needs to be put at the feet of founder Loyd Cryer: every time a reporter notes that he had serious questions from loan officers about the viability of a horror convention in the Dallas area when he started in 2005, we all just laugh and laugh.
In return, as befitting such a great venue, the plant selection rose to the challenge, especially with the number of longtime attendees finally ready to move to more exotic and challenging species. The new butterworts were a huge hit, especially after pointing out the containers full of Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite” to the H.P. Lovecraft fans. A wider range of highland and lowland Nepenthes to go with the beginner’s plants, and the first time the Triffid Ranch table had Heliamphora on display…oh, and a starting selection of hot peppers, with both “Numex Halloween” and “Carolina Reaper” catching everyone’s eyes. This year, the problem wasn’t with having enough for everyone. The problem was illustrated by the people who came by later on Sunday because of the crowds four and five rows deep in front of the booth on Saturday.
As with each previous show, the aftermath of this year’s Frightmare tested new display concepts, highlighted the need for new ideas, and emphasized the need to get rid of ideas that no longer work. This means a lot of work between now and next May 3 to finalize such things as QR codes on both individual plants and groupings by genera, leading to pages on basic care in order to make it easier on the folks on the outer edges of the crowds to get information. It means updating display shelves, both for improved access to the plants and for improved weight management. (The only thing heavier than glass is glass full of water and sphagnum moss, as my biceps keep telling me.) It means alternate lighting systems, such as a heavy-duty battery for venues where access to electricity is either unavailable or ridiculously expensive. It’s a lot of work, but now that the gallery is reasonably under control, it’s time to focus on upgrading the off-site presence.
And the really surprising part? It’s a matter of looking back over the preceding shows to see how far it’s all come. That first show in 2009, with all of the plants that could be shoved into the back of a PT Cruiser, a big bookcase full of vintage gonzo gardening books, and a lot of stuff that simply wasn’t necessary or got in the way, was pathetic compared to last weekend. It’s a shock as to how far it’s all come, and that gives incentive to push even harder to get to where it’s going.
Well. With Texas Frightmare Weekend recently ended (and photos and discussions on same will be online shortly), it’s time to shift gears, relax, and take a couple of weeks off to recover. And if you believe that, I have some great converted shopping mall live/work spaces at the bottom of the Trinity River that I’ll regretfully let go to someone who will appreciate them, too. Right now, the clock starts for preparation for the next Frightmare, and the real trick is to get everything else done over the next year as well.
Because of preparation and arrangement time, May and the first part of June will be relatively quiet as far as gallery events, but that’s because the Triffid Ranch goes mobile over the next two months. The fun starts with a showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company on Sunday, May 20, focusing on larger enclosures, from 2:00 to 6:00 that afternoon. Three weeks later, the Triffid Ranch gets much more hands-on with a workshop on carnivorous plants at Curious Garden and Natural History in Lakewood, including leaving with your own hand-planted sundew or butterwort enclosure. For the latter, contact Curious Garden to reserve your space in the workshop: the fee for registration and supplies is $30 per person.
This doesn’t mean that the gallery is abandoned: the next big gallery event is scheduled for Saturday, June 30 as a very slightly early Canada Day celebration. This includes a celebration of the famed French doctor and naturalist Michel Sarrazin, for whom the genus Sarracenia is named. Yes, that means lots of North American pitcher plants, as well as some other surprises. As always, admission is free, with lots of plants available to take home.
On the convention circuit, things will be quiet for the rest of the year, with one possible exception. After founder Larry Lankford’s death in 2013, an absolute on Dallas conventions with the older crowd was reminiscing about the long-defunct Dallas Fantasy Fairs, which ran three times a year from the mid-Eighties until their demise in 1996. A few members of that old crowd would make noises about reviving the shows every once in a while, but those noises remained such until about two weeks ago. That’s when the first formal announcements of headliner guests announced the 2018 Dallas Fantasy Fair, scheduled for the weekend of November 23-25 at the Irving Convention Center. It’s still early days yet, so the convention has little more than a Facebook page for further information, but the con organizer is already taking vendor requests for more information. If nothing else, a convention the weekend after Thanksgiving is a good way to get started with regular weekend openings at the gallery all through December. Details will follow as they arrive.
And on longterm trips, it’s official: the 2018 International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference is running the weekend of August 3-5, and the Triffid Ranch is heading to California to hear what the real experts have to say. This is purely a factfinding expedition: no plants, no displays, nothing but notebooks and lots of business cards, just in case. That works out the best: I haven’t been in the Bay Area since the beginning of the dotcom boom in 1996, so it’ll be nice to see it without prior job interview commitments or any other commitments.
Finally, the just-concluded Frightmare show marked a solid decade since the first Triffid Ranch show, and the size of the crowds and their needs confirmed that it’s time for a revamp of the show table look. Among other things, it’s time to enter the Twenty-First Century as far as information and organization is concerned. As before, details will follow as they arrive, but let’s just say that attendees at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 will have the opportunity to get questions about plants answered so long as they have a smartphone. Considering that the crowds were four and five rows thick through most of the last show, a change is essential before the next one. This doesn’t even start with a project inspired by Demetria at The Curiositeer, which should go live soon. Oh, this one will be entirely too much fun.
It’s been…interesting around the gallery this last week, mostly because the focus is on having everything ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend next week. (I’ve been joking that the response to the phrase “We’re a week away from Frightmare!” is enthusiastic cheering from the attendees, cries of “Once more into the breach, once more!” from the staff, and a sustained Brown Note from the vendors.) Everything is coming through so far, so here are a few photos of the blooms in the Sarracenia pools as they emerge from winter dormancy:
And a little extra in order to demonstrate that carnivorous plants aren’t a dependable form of insect control. This little corner of North Texas is becoming an enclave of the longhorn crazy ant, and they’re doing quite well in disturbed areas such as suburbs. The last two months have been a rush of insect controls such as orange oil drenches, to which they respond by moving their mounds a few meters away and starting fresh. Well, apparently they’ve discovered Sarracenia nectar, both in blooms and in traps, and it’s not turning out well for the little junkies:
The Sarracenia are benefiting for the moment: a percentage of the nectar-slurpers will fall in and feed the plant. However, each pitcher catching five or six per day does nothing for the hundreds of thousands or even millions back in the original nest, so about the only sure way to take out the nest involves art. And so it goes.
Nearly a third of the way through the year, and April 2018 is already shaping up to be a lot less exciting than April 2017. Of course, this time last year involved frantic shelf-installing and box-unpacking after the move from the old gallery space at Valley View Center, so it’s all a matter of perspective. (And if anybody had any doubts about not getting involved with the Rock Candy Mountain promises of artist spaces opening up at the Midtown project allegedly replacing Valley View, they’re gone now.) Yes, the weather keeps fluctuating between “typical” and “too cold to get out of bed right now,” but we haven’t actually gone below freezing…yet.
As far as last weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show was concerned, April follows in the tradition of last February: announce a gallery event, get everything ready to go, and then watch the weather feeds for impending catastrophe as a sudden atmospheric fewmet comes to visit for a while. Last February, it was a last-minute ice storm that hit north and west of Dallas, making a lot of potential attendees understandably reconsider a trip into Dallas if the roads were going to be frozen over by the time they attempted to return home. This time, Friday festivities were greeted with tornado sirens going off over most of North Texas: we got a bit of heavy rain for about an hour, but a friend coming in from Chicago found shelter with a multitude of others in a furniture store north of here, and folks to the south and the west had their own issues with hail and lightning. What issues Friday brought were mitigated on Saturday, where chilly but otherwise excellent weather brought out lots of first-time visitors and Valley View regulars. If nothing else, the weather caused reevaluations of having an outdoor event in spring, because any tents set up in the parking lot would have been blown to Oz and back. Maybe next year.
And on that note, further events in April will be restricted due to the need to get ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 4 through 6, and then things get interesting. It’s too early to discuss particulars, but everything leads to a gallery show on June 30, just in time for everyone uninterested in traveling out of town for the July 4 weekend. The subject of that show is a secret, too, but let’s just say that anyone attending can say with authority that they’ve never been to an art show like this one.
Lateral shift to go back to talking about Texas Frightmare Weekend: the vendor map and listings arrived yesterday, and we’re back on our favorite row. As for most of the decade, the epicenter of Frightmare is at the Hyatt Regency DFW in DFW Airport, thus making the entire wing of DFW Airport by the hotel available parking for the convention. As in previous years, the Triffid Ranch and Tawanda! Jewelry tables will be in the back of the Made In Texas Hall in the hotel basement, right next to the signing lines. Since this coincides with the first-ever Triffid Ranch show a decade ago, those already taking advantage of the Shirt Price discounts have an extra incentive to wear their Triffid Ranch T-shirts to the show: while supplies last, everyone showing up in a Triffid Ranch shirt or purchasing a shirt at the show gets a special present, no additional purchase necessary or needed. It’s just an extra bit of thanks to those who have not only made Texas Frightmare Weekend one of my favorite shows, but who have made the previous nine shows so much fun.
One ancillary note about Frightmare, not for this year but for next year: I’m regularly asked about getting vendor space at Fan Expo, the local convention that inspired the “Malcolm Rule” mentioned a few weeks back. I’ve balked for many reasons, and now my refusal became personal. Ever since the old Dallas Comicon was purchased by out-of-town convention accumulators and turned into Fan Expo, it and its associated Fan Days events always conveniently scheduled themselves against other similar events so that local attendees could do one or the other but not both. (Longtime fans may remember when the Dallas Fantasy Fairs did the same thing in the early Nineties, stunting or killing up-and-coming conventions that simply couldn’t compete against the Flimsy Fair hype machine and guest lists. Those fans who aren’t longtime fans might not be familiar with the name “Dallas Fantasy Fair,” as the Flimsy Fairs blew up very spectacularly in 1996 after choking out all other competition, just in time for the big comics speculation bust that caused Marvel Comics to file for bankruptcy at the end of the year.) Five years back, Fan Expo’s parent company offered to buy Texas Frightmare Weekend for a pittance, and when told no, attempted to run a horror convention within the main show that was an unrelenting disaster. Since then, Fan Expo management concentrated on scheduling opposite the A-Kon anime convention, ultimately causing it to move out of Dallas entirely, and then settled for running two weeks after All-Con.
Well, that was 2018. You can imagine the surprise vendors at Fan Expo 2018 had when they received advance registration forms for 2019, and discovered that Fan Expo had moved its date to the first weekend of May. Not only does this directly conflict with Texas Frightmare Weekend, forcing attendees and vendors to choose one and only one, but May 4 is also Free Comic Book Day across the US and Canada. Frightmare never competed against the many comic shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex participating in Free Comic Book Day, but Fan Expo’s list of comic artist and comic adaptation film and TV star guests does, and not just with comics dealers and stores having to man a booth at Fan Expo during their stores’ busiest day of the year. Fan Expo management hasn’t released a statement as to why the schedule suddenly needed switching, but I’ll bet $10 that when it’s finally released, the statement will bray something along the lines of “this is a pure coincidence.”
I’m sure it is. Of COURSE it is. Likewise, it’ll be a pure coincidence that everyone involved with Frightmare, from staff to vendors to guests to attendees, will spend the next year doing nothing but amping their games so Frightmare isn’t just the biggest show in Dallas on that weekend, but the must-attend show of its kind in all of North America. It’ll also be pure coincidence that so many of us involved in Frightmare will do our utmost to have the backs of our comic shop brethren when May 4, 2019 comes around. Refusing to advertise with venues that continue to do business with Fan Expo, for instance, or otherwise demonstrating with dollars or shoe leather that scheduling opposite established events with the attempt to create a monopoly may not turn out the way everyone expected. After all, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs attempted to create a similar monopoly, and a little voice should have told their organizers what Fan Expo management really needs to hear:
And now on a purely friendly note. It’s been about three years since the last Cat Monday event on this site, mostly due to the time taken by the gallery, but its main subject, Leiber, is still going strong. As of Friday the 13, Leiber turns 16: he’s still the so-dopy-he’s-cute FreakBeast he was when we adopted him in August of 2002, but he’s a little stiffer today. Aren’t we all. Those who have met him are welcome to wish him a happy birthday, although he’ll probably only care if the person offering the wishes brings cat treats as well. And so it goes.
One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)
This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.
After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)
And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.
And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…
As regular readers might note, you didn’t get a state of the gallery update for February, mostly due to gallery-related distractions. Of course, February also didn’t get a full moon falling anywhere within it, either, which just meant one more good thing about March. Considering how fast March is moving, sliding through February was probably for the best.
As far as past and future events are concerned, February’s Date Night event was a mixed bag. The event itself was very successful, but as is the normal state of affairs with local weather, Date Night coincided with a nasty ice storm spreading through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex that kept a lot of potential participants off the roads, and encouraged a lot of those who attended to leave early before the roads were impassable. This just means having to hold more events and showings during more clement conditions. This leads to:
Numero uno, things on the site are going to be extremely quiet through the end of next week, all due to the first external Triffid Ranch show of the year: All-Con in Addison. As in previous years, All-Con is a four-day show, running from Thursday to Sunday, with Thursday offering “try before you buy a weekend pass” free admission all day Thursday. Combine this with the already huge spring break contingent, and everyone is VERY glad the convention is running at a new, larger, and much more conveniently located hotel. Easy access to the hotel via DART buses, a wide range of restaurants within walking distance, a tremendous lineup of lectures and workshops…my only regret is that All-Con has that many activities scheduled through the weekend, but getting out from behind the table is pretty much an impossibility. This, of course, is a good thing.
Numero two-o, the next big show is seven weeks later, and if Texas Frightmare Weekend didn’t already exceed everyone’s expectations every year, people might be surprised to hear about plans for the next Triffid Ranch booth in May. Let’s just say that when running a booth in a convention already so packed that the convention announced that it has no more room for further guests, and that the host hotel has been booked solid since last year and attendees spill into FOUR more overflow hotels, getting away with a merely average display is unacceptable. In addition, not only is this the tenth Frightmare Weekend with a Triffid Ranch booth, but the end of the show falls on the tenth anniversary of the first-ever Triffid Ranch show, at the late and much-missed CAPE comic event off Lemmon Avenue in 2008. This, of course, demands a suitable anniversary celebration, so let’s see if everyone can pull it off.
Numero three-o: in between these two, don’t assume that the intervening six weeks will just be full of the usual panic about potting, casting, gluing, and painting, along with the usual snot-bubble crying of “I suck! I suck! I wanna go back to the mall!” in the corner. Since last year’s move preempted plans for a 2017 event, the Triffid Ranch proudly announces a return of a wildly popular event from the old ArtWalk and presents the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show on April 6 and 7 from 6:00 to 10:00. Yes, it coincides with all sorts of other events in the Dallas area, including the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, but that happens all through the city in the weeks before the weather really heats up. Besides, where else are you going to go in the Dallas area to view carnivorous plant blooms and bracts and the plants that produce them?
Oh, to close up, and for the barest hint of what else to expect at the Manchester United Flower Show, here’s a sample of the centerpiece to a new enclosure:
Yes, this is a Cryolophosaurus skull, so anyone familiar with previous discussions on my fascination with the flora of pre-Pliocene Antarctica has an idea of what to expect. It and other enclosures premiere in April, so make plans to see the final enclosure after it’s planted and ready. See you then.
Whew. October 13. Nearly four months since the soft opening of the gallery, and now it’s showtime. I could go on about experiments with new materials not working out the way they were expected, or whole enclosures being held up based on how one component finished, or the simple fact that paint takes at least six times much time to dry as expected, but you know what? The work speaks for itself, and it all goes live this weekend. Relics: A Carnivorous Plant Enclosure Exhibition starts at 6:00 CST on Friday, October 13 until midnight, and reopens on Saturday, October 14 from 5:00 CST until midnight. After that, a day or two to recuperate, and then back to the sphagnum moss and silicone molds until the end of November.
As an additional note, many regular Triffid Ranch customers are familiar with the concept of Shirt Price on the larger enclosures: attend an event wearing a Triffid Ranch shirt, and so long as you’re wearing the shirt, the listed discount “Shirt Price” applies. Since October 13 is a Friday, and it’s a little over six months until the 2018 Texas Frightmare Weekend starts, Shirt Price discounts at the Relics show apply to anybody in a Frightmare T-shirt as well. The individual Frightmare year doesn’t matter: if it’s a Frightmare shirt, it qualifies. This isn’t authorized by or endorsed by anyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend: this is just a return for all of the kindnesses and considerations I’ve received from Frightmare staff, guests, and attendees over the last decade. You lot have earned it. (He said, frantically collecting caches of glassware in anticipation of next year’s Frightmare. The 2009 Frightmare was small enough that just about everything I had fit into a PT Cruiser: next year, I might have to move to a 15-foot truck to haul enough plants to the show to keep everyone happy.)
For those who can’t make it this weekend, this definitely isn’t the last gallery event of the year. It’s a little too late to get involved directly in the Ricochet 17 art event through the Arts Incubator of Richardson on October 21, but next year’s Ricochet is on the agenda. Instead, after the Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays show in Austin on November 19, we’ll be open all day for casual wander-arounds (and wooing dates) for Small Business Saturday on November 25. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment, and now’s the time to discuss custom enclosures in time for the holidays.
And after that? Let’s just say that everything for the first half of next year pivots on getting a special confirmation in November, but I’m not going to say anything until said confirmation comes through. When it does, though, the Triffid Ranch moves to a whole new life stage and a whole new location. Until then, you’ll just have to wait.
Well. We made it. We had to get through the first half of the year to get there, but the Texas Triffid Ranch is set and situated in its new home. The gallery’s soft opening (the art world’s equivalent of a dress rehearsal) occurred on June 30, with the only problem being everyone coming early. Not that this was a problem: the early attendees included Nicholas Bostick of the Dallas Observer, and his assessment of the soft opening gives a lot of ideas for future plans. Combine that with commentary and suggestions from other attendees, and it’s off to the races for the next big exhibition, Relics, starting on October 13.
In the interim, in addition to the Small-Con and Blood Over Texas shows in September and November, the Triffid Ranch goes on the road. Of course, it’s just down the road to the Half Price Books Mesquite store, with a lecture and presentation starting at 12:00. Admission is free, and this may be the start of many at Half Price stores through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Emphasis on “may”: everything depends upon the attendance at this one, so feel free to come out and gaze upon South American and Australian pitcher plants and other surprises. (Later this month, I hope to share news about upcoming shows for the next year, but a lot of that involves confirmation of acceptance. For instance, next year would mark ten years of the Triffid Ranch at Texas Frightmare Weekend, this is dependent upon making it past the juried acceptance process, and neither I nor any other vendor at TFW will make that kind of assumption. We have too much respect for the TFW crew to even think about it.)
And future plans for the gallery? As mentioned previously, a new exhibition, Relics, opens on October 13, full of new enclosures and displays, and expect hints and in-progress shots on a regular basis. Until then, keep checking back, because reality stretches, and things currently invisible may emerge if reality stretches enough.
Four months. Four months since the old Triffid Ranch location had to shut down, and we had to track down a new space. Four months of potting, painting, sweeping, drilling, screwing (keep your mind out of the gutter), stacking, pitching, dumping (again with the bathroom humor), repositioning, and vacuuming. Four months of discovering the joys of the difference between renting residential and commercial properties, the vagaries of plumbing replacement, and the tribulations of a moth invasion that came literally from nowhere. Four months of learning more about security systems, air conditioning units, bathroom plumbing, and glass polishing than anyone would think was necessary, and then the real fun with potting and prepping plants began. Combine this with two of the biggest Triffid Ranch shows of the year in the middle, and the necessary downtime on gallery preparation to focus on those shows, and guess what?
We’re nearly there.
Things still aren’t perfect: one of the advantages to the new gallery is a significant increase in usable wall area and volume, along with a nearly exponential increase in power outlets compared to the old Valley View space. This means doubling the old space’s shelf space, which also goes with an increase of usable floor area and tables to take advantage of it. This means that the next big Triffid Ranch exhibition is tentatively scheduled for mid-October, just to build enough enclosures to fill all that new display space. (Sadly, the regular ARTwalk exhibitions are as dead as Valley View’s artist community, because the time lost in preparing for and cleaning up after each ARTwalk cut into enclosure preparation and construction time.) Details will follow, but the upshot is that the Triffid Ranch opens for commissions and consultation as of July 1.
(Please note: as with the Valley View space, the new gallery is open by appointment only, preferably with at least 24 hours’ advance notice. Apologies for the inconvenience, but a day job intrudes.)
And on the subject of shows, the rest of summer and all of autumn are going to be busy, with things staying lively all the way through the end of November. Many of the events are awaiting final confirmation, but Small-Con in Addison on September 9 and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 19 are absolutes. As this changes, the calendar will be updated accordingly. This goes double for events in spring 2018: vendor applications for Texas Frightmare Weekend officially open on June 23, and we hope to have a special surprise lined up for next April. We’ll see how it goes.
In other developments, visitors at the Dallas Arboretum may have noticed the new carnivorous plant bog in the Children’s Adventure Garden, and expect more carnivores very quickly. Because of a bumper crop of second-year plants from last year’s seedlings, getting the new plants potted up requires having to make room, and the big established Sarracenia are perfect for the Arboretum’s purposes. Expect photos soon, especially if our expected rains on Saturday don’t wash us all back to Oz, because everyone involved really made an exceptional display, and it just needs more plants to fill out the area. It has a way to go before it can compete with the Atlanta Botanic Garden’s carnivore beds, but the challenge is half of the fun.
Free plugs: both of these deserve proper reviews, but keep an eye open for both the BBC/PBS two-part miniseries Plants Behaving Badly, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and the new Janit Calvo book The Gardening In Miniature Prop Shop, published by Timber Press. The former dedicates one episode each to carnivorous plants and orchids, and the only issue with either is that one hour is nowhere near enough time for a decent presentation. The latter, though, is going to be an essential resource in the Triffid Ranch workshop, so buy both for the best effect. And so it goes.
In all of the obvious love shown to Texas Frightmare Weekend, don’t think that it’s always perfect. No, there’s always someone who takes issue with what the Triffid Ranch is doing. The plants are living things, they yell, you shouldn’t be selling them, they yell, at least not something I can’t smoke. By way of example, for the first time, I share pictures of a heckler. The character came below and did nothing but take offense that his brethren and sisters were available for sale in glass bottles and containers, and he let me know it. Well, he kinda did: he was rather hard to understand, and random grumbling and wheezing counts as heckling, right?
Very seriously, it’s no exaggeration that I now spend the entire year getting ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend in one way or another, and I hope to pull off a display in 2018 that’s not affected by a sudden gallery eviction and relocation. Many thanks to everyone involved with Frightmare: attendees, guests, staff, support crew, and fellow vendors, and thanks in particular to convention founder Loyd Cryer: if not for him ignoring the various voices in the area telling him that a horror convention in “as conservative a city as Dallas” wouldn’t work, we wouldn’t be having THIS much fun. Here’s to seeing everyone next year, because the only way I’d miss it is by being dead, and even then.
Trying to describe a show like Texas Frightmare Weekend to folks completely unfamiliar with the concept is hard enough, but trying to explain the costumers is harder. Part of it comes from the assumption that the costumers are just nostalgic for Halloween, or from the cliche of the convention costumer circa 1985. Both work from an assumption that costumes should be quick, flashy, and quickly discarded once the event is over. And that assumption is so wrong that it’s saddening.
As someone who first started attending conventions in the early 1980s, and who only became a vendor during the great costuming renaissance of the 2000s, this is another area of fandom where I have no interest or urge to go back to the Good Old Days. The sheer professionalism of costuming these days makes it worthy of further study: in fact, it’s the reason why so many TV and newspaper crews come to events like Frightmare to get images and video of the proceedings. In many ways, they treat Halloween the way Hunter S. Thompson handled New Year’s Eve: that’s the day you back off and let the amateurs have their fun.
As for being a vendor? I get to watch literally thousands of enthusiasts go by, and I get to ask questions. For a short time in the Eighties, I took inspiration from such makeup effects maestros as Dick Smith and Tom Savini and wanted to dive right into the world of movie illusions. I’ve gone off in a drastically different direction since then, but a lot of what I learned back then still influences plant enclosures today. How do I make this illusion? How do I put it together for the maximum effect? Does it grab the audience in the same way it grabbed me? I may be using live plants, long-fiber sphagnum, and perlite instead of silicone and resin, but it’s still the same thrill.
One of the things that’s hard for people outside of the dealer’s room at a big convention such as Texas Frightmare Weekend is that it’s WORK. Heck, it’s hard for some people in the dealer’s room to understand, for that matter. (And no, I’m not naming names, although it’s tempting.) This means that very few of us have the time or opportunity to break free from the booth to view preview movie screenings or guest signings. This means that while the attendees are heading out to catch after-hours parties and concerts, we’re usually either heading home or to our hotel rooms to get some sleep before it starts all over again. This means having to cancel dinner plans with near and dear friends because a customer asked for a special commission that has to be ready by the next day. For anywhere from two to four days, depending upon the length of the convention, it’s a matter of scrambling and dancing and occasionally throwing things (you get really good at hitting trash cans from a distance when the crowd is too thick to get to it directly), and none of us would give it up for anything.
And why wouldn’t we give it up? That’s because the party comes to us. At Frightmare, that meant anywhere between six and nine hours of fascinating people coming from all over the planet, in costume and out, all with different stories about why they were there. It’s a three-day Troll Market, and everyone involved simultaneously wishes that it could go on for years AND thanks Odin, Marduk, and Arioch that it doesn’t go on for a solid week. I don’t think any of us could handle more than five days, just because there are limits as to what the human body can endure.
As an aside, it’s time to share the Great Doughtnut Dropoff story. When Texas Frightmare Weekend moved to its current location at DFW Airport five years ago, we made a run on a grocery store for drinks on the last day of the show, and decided “what the heck: let’s pick up a flat of doughnuts to share with the vendors and the staff.” Considering how many vendors were waiting for their final sales on Sunday to know how much gas money they’d have (yes, things were a bit tight that year), the box was denuded within seconds. Since then, things have gotten considerably better for the vendors, but the doughnut tradition continues. Every Sunday at the end of Frightmare, it’s a matter of going over to Donut Palace in Garland, one of the best doughnut shops in the whole of the D/FW Metroplex, and picking up a few dozen for the staff. They’re exhausted from running the show, so the sugar pick-me-up is important, and it’s a very careful thank-you for the realization that while all sorts of emergencies may have occurred over the weekend, attendees and vendors didn’t know about any of them. (Remind me to tell you about the fire alarm at Space City Con in Houston in 2014 some time.)
This year, it was the usual: seven dozen, all fresh out of the fryer, and a suitable mix so that everybody got at least one of their favorites. By the end of the show, though, one box remained on the registration desk, with two or three remaining. By the time we finished packing up the truck and did the traditional “Did we get EVERYTHING?” inspection of the booth before leaving for the night, one was still there. It looked perfectly edible, so was that last one left because nobody wanted to be That Guy Who Took the Last Doughnut (And Thereby Had To Dispose Of The Box), or did someone write “Lovingly prepared by Tyler Durden” on the bottom? Next year, I’m setting up a remote camera, just to check.
Now, not that this year’s Frightmare was perfect. The horror lay in leaving the show. Everything packed up perfectly, we were all done and loaded into the truck at least an hour ahead of schedule, and it looked as if the few remaining plants would go back into the gallery before dark. Everything was going great, until the truck encountered the tollbooths at the north exit of DFW Airport. Judging by the scars on the concrete barriers separating each toll booth, a lot of drivers discover that they don’t have very much clearance at all. In my case, I came to the booth, inserted my original toll ticket and the parking validation from the hotel, started forward, and caught a lovely “BLAM!” Starting forward a little further, the right wheel was making a lovely whup-whup-whup sound, so it’s time to pull over. One of the wheel struts had broken, so it was a matter of waiting for a tow truck to haul the beast back to the gallery and from there to a repair center. (A little bit of advice for first-time vendors at conventions and shows: if you get to the point where you need a truck to haul merchandise to shows, go for a rental to each show until you reach the point where the rentals are costing more than payments on a new truck. If you rent, always, ALWAYS buy the offered insurance, because that $20 to $40 expenditure every show is much better than the $2000 or more that will come out of your hide if something should happen. Thirdly, if you find a dependable and friendly rental service, stick with these people, and let them know how much you love them at every opportunity. Not only can I depend upon U-Haul Moving & Storage of Garland, but I let them know much they’re helping, every time I pick up a van.) U-Haul driver support was exceptional, the tow truck driver was a hoot, and I was able to get everything unloaded and in the gallery within minutes, with only one broken flask. Not exactly how I wanted to spend a Sunday evening, but it beat waiting on the side of the road, wondering what I’d do next.
As the greatest movie ever to namedrop the town of Garland, Texas noted, “sometimes it’s all about the little things.” We didn’t have Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone tearing things up out here, but the sentiment applied all weekend. Half of the fun wasn’t just in introducing new people to the world of carnivorous plants: it was meeting someone who was in middle school when she bought her first carnivore at her first Frightmare show, introducing her husband and first child all these years later. This is why I do this.
One of the interesting side-effects of Texas Frightmare Weekend happening at the same time each year is that it’s generally the weekend before Mother’s Day. When I first started showing plants at Frightmare back in 2009, quite a few people used to pick up enclosures and arrangements as Mother’s Day gifts, on the idea that “Mom will love this, but I don’t know if she’d like to come out to the show.” This year, not only was Mom leading the way to the booth, but she’d simply look around, point at a container, and insist “I want THAT.” Next year, I’m going to have to set up a separate arrangement just for Mother’s Day pickup orders, so they already know what they’re getting as soon as they walk inside.
This year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend was an interesting mix of people, and none more so than the folks who came by the Triffid Ranch booth. A lot of longtime Frightmare fans came by, with many deciding that this was the year they were finally going to break down and buy a plant. A lot, though, were out here for the first time, and the enthusiasm was obvious. That enthusiasm is one of the reasons why prepping for Frightmare in the spring takes priority over everything: you never know how attendees’ pocketbooks are from year to year, and I understand completely when folks walk by and admit that they can only look this year. The last thing I want to do, though, is disappoint.
The eternal question at this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend was “When will the gallery be open?” That was a very reasonable question if a bit surprising, because we had no idea how many people were waiting for that answer. The eternal response was “Well, I could get the gallery ready or I could get ready for the Frightmare show, and Frightmare wins, every time.” And oh boy, this one was one for the books. Not only was it the largest show I’ve seen in nearly a decade of them, but the crowd was one of the most mellow yet enthusiastic I’ve ever dealt with. Texas Frightmare Weekend already has a reputation among Dallas conventiongoers for an excellent experience all the way around, but the number of people coming from all over the planet? That’s always surprising.
As far as the traditional pre-show incidents were concerned, nothing comparable to last year’s lightning-struck box truck happened this time, but the show starts earlier and earlier. That is, the doors open at 5:00 on Friday evening for VIP attendees, but previously that gave just a little time for people to wander back through the dealer’s room and check out the sights. Not this time: at 5 sharp, the crowds were already rushing back to see what we vendors had this time, and it didn’t let up for six hours. This normally isn’t a problem, but that was about the time the Dallas Observer photographers came through to take photos for its annual Frightmare slideshow. Naturally, I show up in the last slide, crusted with salt from hauling plant tubs inside, and no chance to change into decent clothes before the mob hit. We should all have such problems. (The additional joy was having Robert Whitus of Drink With The Living Dead across the aisle. A great way to keep a sense of humility at shows is to have your very own heckler across the aisle, and since Robert has known me for 30 years, he had a LOT of material.)
Out at Texas Frightmare Weekend. Don’t wait up.
While it’s been a bit quiet around the electronic homestead, that’s due to changing priorities instead of deliberate omission. Last week’s show at All-Con was quite the success considering the timeframe (this was the first time in seven years that I’ve tried to conduct a plant show right after a move, and that’s a game best conducted by the young), and all available time since then has been dedicated either to getting the gallery in operational condition or in cleaning up the greenhouse. If someone has a good working vaccine for sleep without nasty side effects, please pass it along.
Anyway, for those keeping up with the Triffid Ranch over the years, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the priority right now, and for the next five weekends, is preparing for this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend on the first weekend in May. This involves getting together a lot of surprises and probably the largest collection of plants ever displayed at a Triffid Ranch event. With the move from the Galleries at Midtown and the subsequent ending of the ARTwalks, it’s time to amp up the number of outside shows and events, and the first one on the schedule is SmallCon in Addison, Texas on September 9. This list WILL expand throughout the next few months, so keep an eye open for further updates.
Other than that, it’s back to the linen mines: photos from All-Con and a final overview of leaving the old Valley View Center space will be up shortly. Again, if someone isn’t developing that vaccine for sleep, this is what is called “creating a new market.” Get to it.
The big buy-stuff-and-get-drunk holidays are done. At the day jobs, everyone’s starting their first full week of work, and already planning vacations to get away from co-workers without the promise of violence. The kids are back in school, which in Texas means dodging the dolts who are terrified of thunder birds swooping down and stealing their children away, so they have to park in the middle of the street at rush hour and walk their kids directly to the front door. This being Texas, the weather keeps fluctuating between “black ice on the bridges” and “you’d think it was spring if you didn’t know better.” Yes, January is here, and preferably with as little pain as necessary.
With the new year comes the regular evaluation of where the Triffid Ranch is going, because we’re not sure ourselves. To answer the incessant questions: yes, we’re still at the old Valley View Center in North Dallas. Yes, we know the mall is going to be demolished. No, we don’t know when it’s coming down, or when we’ll have to vacate the space.With the incessant TV news segments involving someone who hasn’t been to the mall in 30 years, with closeups of the shock on their faces to discover that Wicks ‘n Sticks and Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby are shut down, you’d never know we had a thriving gallery community out here. Tell some people where we’re located, and they react as if they’ll be hit with demolition charges and buried in loose bricks the moment they step inside. (I had to explain that to a niece who had to comment that “the mall is coming down” as if we’ll be caught in the destruction the next day, explaining that just because the mall will eventually be brought down, but it won’t be brought down today.) This isn’t being helped by coverage in the Dallas Morning News by the self-styled “James Lipton of Fandom,” where you have to wonder exactly how many times he had his head flushed in mall toilets during his high school days that he’d dedicate so much time and effort gloating about the mall’s demise. (As someone who also once had a career at a weekly newspaper involving writing about nothing but science fiction movies and comic books, yes, it sucks that nobody can afford to pay for that coverage any more. Get over it.)
So here’s the situation as we know it so far. Yes, Valley View Center is facing demolition. Everyone knew that going in, and we specifically knew that when we opened the gallery nearly two years ago. No, we don’t know when demolition will start: that information hasn’t been shared with us or any other gallery owner. Yes, some galleries have cleared out, but most of that was because of the hype about the demolition last summer, where patrons worried about flying bricks stopped visiting. Right now, what we know is that the AMC Valley View 16 cinema, which I’ll add is the best first-run movie theater in the Dallas area for the price, signed a new lease for at least the next six months, and demolition can’t be completed so long as the theater remains. The old Foley’s building at the southwest corner of the mall is beginning demolition, but as that space had been empty for years, this doesn’t affect anything with the main mall and won’t for a while. For the duration, until we specifically hear word otherwise, the Triffid Ranch will remain at its current location, and we’ll be continuing with events at that location until we get that final word.
On that subject, the next Midtown ARTwalk is scheduled for Saturday, January 21 from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., with this month’s theme being “January Green“. This one will be a bit different: besides premiering a new commission for famed voice actress and dear friend Clarine Harp, this show features guest horticulturalist Christian. A local high schooler, Christian first came out to the gallery last year to see Nepenthes pitcher plants in situ with his large and very enthusiastic family, and then invited me to see his collection of rescued plants. Folks, seeing Christian’s work with cuttings and plants previously rejected as being “too rough for sale” made me remember what I was like when I was 17…and makes me want to invent cheap and effective time travel to go back and kick my previous self’s lazy butt up around his shoulder blades. January Green is an exhibition and sale of Christian’s best houseplants, and all sales will be matched by the Triffid Ranch with a donation to the charity of Christian’s choice. Yes, he’s THAT good.
As for the rest of the year, the show season is going to be a bit sporadic, and only partly because of the mall situation. For those unfamiliar with the glorious fiasco that was the Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve event last month, we didn’t dodge a bullet by not attending. We dodged Slim Pickens riding the bomb. We missed this, but after last summer’s InfiniCon, combined with more and more local conventions and shows having issues with attracting attendees, it’s a matter of cutting back on outside shows and concentrating on the gallery. That said, All-Con on March 16 through 19 and Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 5 through 7 are still essential. As for the next Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the end of the year…if they want to put up with me, I’ll be honored to show off plants. Until then, ARTwalk is always open, and expect a special surprise involving the Dallas Arboretum in March. Details WILL follow.
And so ends another Texas Frightmare Weekend. Please excuse me: I have to get ready for the 2017 show, and that will probably involve an 18-foot truck and possibly air support to bring in enough plants to keep everyone happy. Splash.
Oh, and please note the following. Texas Frightmare Weekend is a place where photobombing comes with the territory. To get photobombed by the one and only Tom Savini, though?
And before we go any further, it’s time to give full credit to the wonderful people who make up the staff at Texas Frightmare Weekend. For the last four years, I’ve made a point of bringing doughnuts on Sunday morning as a pick-me-up for a crew that had been running full-bore since the previous week: when I started, it was a few boxes, but as things have grown, so have the boxes. This time, I brought out seven dozen doughnuts for the crew, and I feel as if I didn’t do enough. Next year, I may have to bring barbecue, too.
Oh, yeah. This guy below is Jeb. Watch out for Jeb: when I asked him for a photo, he immediately turned and posed, and don’t be surprised if we see him auditioning for America’s Next Top Model before too long. I swear, as he got into position, I could hear him murmuring “And I shake my little tush on the catwalk…on the catwalk…”
Seriously, with a crew like this, is there any reason NOT to give them endless grief and abuse in 2017? Besides the fact that if I did give them grief and abuse for real, they’d be completely justified in demonstrating the metaphor “blood aerosol”.
And where to start on this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show? Well, I could start with Cursed Friday. The original plan was to have everything packed and ready to go on the Friday morning of the show, and arrive at the hosting hotel around noon. Between a client that showed up at the space at the same time I did and a nagging feeling that I wasn’t bringing out enough plants, the truck left the space at around 3 p.m.. Then, to make matters better, highway construction turned Dallas’s LBJ Freeway into a parking lot, and the logjam broke up just in time for one of North Texas’s famous spring thunderstorms. This culminated with my final approach to DFW Airport, when a flash and a horrible BOOM let me know that the truck had been struck by lightning. I was fine, the truck was fine, and the plants were fine, but combined with rain coming down in sheets wide and thick enough to be distinguished by weather radar, I was a little thunderstruck, literally, by the time I pulled into the hotel parking lot and faced the largest and most enthusiastic crowd Texas Frightmare Weekend had ever seen.
How enthusiastic was the crowd? The photo above is of the aftermath on Sunday afternoon, after the convention had ended. I started with 15 packing crates full of plants and containers, and almost all of that was gone by Friday evening. I started with twice what I normally would have brought to a Frightmare in previous years, and had to double THAT over Saturday and Sunday. Other vendors were complaining but not really complaining about the situation, too: one vendor down the aisle had spent the last year getting ready for what used to be a typical Frightmare crowd, and was glad that she brought a sewing machine with her because all of her inventory was gone by about 9 on Friday night. We weren’t even remotely prepared for the crowd: one of the best compliments that could be paid to the incredible vendors through the rest of the show was that the crowd wasn’t ready for us, either.
After spending most of 2016 reading about “Peak Convention” and how we were seeing far too many big conventions in the US and Canada and not enough fans to keep them going, I humbly submit that anyone wanting to get a better feel for the situation should get their memberships to Frightmare 2017 as quickly as possible. Yes, a lot of conventions are going to crater in the next few years as the initial rush of attendees a decade ago realize that they can’t afford to go to them all. Yes, a lot are going to die as they try to take out competitors by scheduling opposite each other and wondering why nobody’s showing up at all. (I watched this same exact scenario happen repeatedly in the 1980s and 1990s, and that’s a big reason why Dallas was nearly convention-free by 2001.) However, the crew at Frightmare should offer courses for beginning convention organizers as how to do things right: the Security crew was happy, the organizers were happy, the guests were happy, the vendors were happy, and the attendees were absolutely ecstatic.
As for the Triffid Ranch, the highest compliment as to what I’m trying to accomplish at Frightmare arrived on Friday evening. I’ve had the standing offer for the attendees arriving in costume that they qualivy for prizes if they come out in plant-related costumes, and a mother called up on Thursday to ask “are you still doing this? My son and daughter want to know if you’re doing this before they come out.” And this is how, right after getting everything situated (with full credit going to the Frightmare crew in helping me clear out my truck), two Venus Flytraps showed up in front of my tables. I’d better start saving up for a really big prize, because I can’t wait to see what these two do when they’re starting college.
To be continued…
It’s late and tomorrow is a long day, but time to pop back to mention that the Texas Triffid Ranch sets up its traditional table at Texas Frightmare Weekend starting this Friday afternoon. The last couple of weeks have been dedicated to getting everything ready, hence the lack of updates, and it’s all coming together. If you’re heading to Frightmare, we’ll see you there. If you can’t, then there’s always the next ARTwalk. Either way, reports are due after the festivities this weekend. Until then.
Well. September already, and everything is starting to gel. Lots of new developments with the Triffid Ranch, and all of them good. Now if I could invent the 47-hour day or remove the need for sleep, things will be spiffy.
Firstly, some may have noticed the new logo, courtesy of Gallantry Web Design. This whole summer has been nothing but change, and the logo sums it all up. The next plan is to update the rest of this site: things have been quiet here for far too long.
Now to developments. The first of these involves the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas, and its First Thursday Late Night events on the first Thursday of every month. This month, the subject is “Botanicals,” which entails a lecture by yours truly in the lower auditorium. Any excuse to get out to the Perot after normal hours is a good one, and you can either come to listen to me yammering away, or come out for the screening of the equally grim and gritty Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Either way, admission to the special events is free with a regular museum admission, so use this as a opportunity to see the rest of the museum without worrying about fighting the traffic while heading home.
Otherwise, the real news is that, after two months, the space at Midtown (formerly Valley View Mall) is nearly ready, with an official opening on September 19 to coincide with September’s ArtWalk. After that, the new space is open every third Saturday, from 6 until 10, and otherwise open by appointment. More details will follow closer to the opening, but one of the big upshots is that this allows the opportunity to produce enclosures and containers too big and bulky to bring out to individual weekend shows, as well as carrying carnivores too esoteric or too specialized for beginning enthusiasts.
This isn’t to say that the shows are stopping, though. Plans for a return to regular show tours fell apart due to several potential shows collapsing, but the following three are absolutes:
And as one final extra, the plan is extremely tentative, but 2016 may be the year that the Triffid Ranch escapes Texas, at least for one weekend. The idea is to haul everything the weekend of August 17 to Kansas City, Missouri for MidAmeriCon II, the 74th annual WorldCon. Again, that’s the idea: while Kansas City is about an eight-hour drive from Dallas, we also have the logistics of interstate plant certifications and dealing with KC’s not inconsiderable summer heat. If it works out, though, look for the distinctive logo above in KC, and with luck, this may be the first of many traveling shows outside of Texas. We hope.
At the end of every show, unless it was an absolutely horrible event, the final breakdown is melancholic. After two to three days of conversation and presentation, breaking down means that the party is over. Yeah, you might be completely exhausted, hoarse, and itchy (and this isn’t mentioning actual illness, such as the horrible fever I contracted at the end of All-Con 2014), and only able to see the color red, but there’s always a part of your brain that says “We can keep going, can’t we? Why can’t this show keep going for the rest of the week. This is the part of my brain that I try to kill by shoving pencils up my nose, because it’s awfully seductive.
No such luck for extending the party this year, but at least there’s next year’s show. April 29 to May 1, and the plan is to work with a larger space and even more new species than this year. Details will follow: considering that booth space for the 2015 show was sold out less than 24 hours, details will have to wait until we know for sure what’s going on. Considering the range of guests and events at this year’s show, the 11th Frightmare vendor space might be sold out within minutes.
My wife and I don’t watch a lot of television, mostly because we just don’t have the time, but we’re fond of shows we can run in the background while working on other things. We both have our favorites (mine is mostly because the damn show keeps recreating our conversations, as well as our relationships with our pets), but the Czarina recently became a Rehab Addict enthusiast. I can understand, and not only because we Michigan kids need to stick together. A lot of the appeal comes from host Nicole Curtis’s attitude: she’s renovating houses, but not just to flip them, and she’s very big on restoring houses to bring out the best without making them just like everyone else’s. I can sympathize, which is why I have a back porch as full of glassware as her basement is full of spare windows and doors. Want to know a secret? I get an especial thrill at shows after having found a beautiful glass container at an estate sale, having the Czarina question my sanity for buying it, and then having someone at the next show lose their minds over finding just the right plant in just the right container. At Frightmare this year, we had a LOT of that.
One of the greater thrills of loading tables at Texas Frightmare Weekend isn’t just in the expression of new attendees when they see something they aren’t expecting. The better thrill is seeing longtime attendees, who remember the early days of Frightmare from personal experience, who specifically look for the booth to see what I brought out this time. 2015 was a fair mix of both, which helps explain why this was the largest attendance yet. It wasn’t just a matter of explaining to newbies what I was doing, nor greeting longtimers who wanted to expand their collections. It was barely constrained chaos on all three days, and I can’t thank my booth assistant Nikki enough for her help. Without her ability to be in four places at once, we’d never be able to keep up with all of the people and their (to an individual, very good) questions.
Half of the fun of experimentation comes from seeing the looks on the faces of those receiving the results. Over the last summer, I’d conducted many experiments with raising Venus flytraps in open-mouthed glass globes in typical Texas conditions, and had this monstrous globe as a demonstration for a presentation at the Perot Museum in April. It held four different cultivars: a typical flytrap, a Red Dragon, a Cupped Trap, and a B-52, one of the largest flytrap cultivars ever developed. Show it to a couple who really wanted to try a flytrap again, after learning that one never waters with Dallas municipal water if one wants a live flytrap, and I learned one valuable lesson. Namely, I need to make up more of these.
Oh, and have I done a shoutout for the staff at Texas Frightmare Weekend and the staff at the Hyatt Regency DFW? I’ve been a vendor and a guest at a lot of conventions over the decades, and I say without reservation that Frightmre staffers are some of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with. I’ll say that double for the staff at the Hyatt: I’ve never seen hotel staff at a convention have this much fun before, and I was glad to return the favor by bringing doughnuts for both on Sunday morning. (And for those staffers wondering where the doughnuts came from: Donut King in Garland. Good folks, all the way around.)
A full year between shows should be enough to prepare, he said. Getting a greenhouse restocked and full of new plants shouldn’t be that much trouble, he said. This was before dealing with last-minute insanity with an old Day Job, getting an offer on a new Day Job, and seeing the start of what is officially the wettest May in Dallas history. Even with the number of eleventh-hour obstacles, the Texas Triffid Ranch opened its sixth show at Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 1 with a minimum of drama and a surplus of enjoyment. No matter how trying the weeks leading up to it, the attendees and crew at Frightmare make the trip all worth it.
Without question, this year’s Frightmare was the biggest any of us had ever seen, and the trick was preparing for it. This included an extra table, extra displays, Nikki the brand new booth assistant (who deserves a serious raise due to her exceptional presentation and sales skills), a larger truck…we joked at one point that the only way to bring out more was to turn the Made In Texas Hall into a big greenhouse, stay there the entire year, and raise plants in situ. It hasn’t gotten to that point, yet, but it’s awfully tempting.
And one thing that needs to be promoted more heavily next year. One of the side effects of running a carnivorous plant nursery is getting tips on all sorts of remainders and discounts, and making friends with the staff at a Walgreen’s meant being told “By the way, did you know that we’re marking down all of the Monster High Venus McFlytrap dolls we ordered for Christmas?” Of course, as any child of hoarders will tell you, the trick is not taking advantage of such largesse but making sure that it doesn’t take over the whole house. The idea seemed simple, as was posted all over Twitter: come out in a plant-related costume and win a free prize solely for showing up in costume. This year, we didn’t see more than one floral attendee, and she had no idea the giveaway was going on, but everyone won all the same.
More to follow…
*BEEP* If you’re receiving this message, it’s because we have relocated to an undisclosed location until the current crisis is over. Do NOT, repeat, do NOT attempt contact through standard communication channels until after the crisis is over. Dallas has fallen. Repeat: Dallas has fallen, with a complete collapse of military, police, and firefighting resources. Any civilians within the occupied zone are on their own. Do not allow yourself to be bitten or scratched under any circumstances, and seek higher, defensible locations and signal for rescue should the opportunity present itself. *END MESSAGE*
After nearly a year of preparation, after nearly a year of bad craziness, Friday evening is where it all comes together. May 1 marks the beginning of Texas Frightmare Weekend, the premier horror convention in the country, if not the world, and how could it be complete without a suitable selection of carnivorous plants?
For those attending, we’re still in the Made in Texas Hall in the downstairs convention area, same place we’ve been since TFW moved in 2011. However, this year, this includes both two spaces and the lovely booth assistant Nikki, as well as a lot of other surprises. The plants continue: among other joys, we’ll have multiple blooming species of triggerplant, a collection of Venus flytrap cultivars in one gigantic glass globe, and several ongoing projects that have been alluded to for the last 12 months. The extras include new promo postcards by the famed Dallas artist Larry Carey: you’ve seen the poster he designed, so for those collecting his concert posters, ask about a postcard to expand the archive.
Oh, and since Frightmare tends to attract a lot of makeup and costuming enthusiasts, here’s an additional incentive to come out and add some variety. For everyone considering a plant-related costume, come by the Triffid Ranch booth for a prize (one per attendee, while supplies last, retail value $10) specifically for celebrating floral horrors. In fact, may I make a suggestion?
Well, that sums up everything until the event starts, so I’ll see all of you at 5:00 on Friday. Take care until then.