Barrett Manor

Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

ConDFW Wrap-up, plus bonus housekeeping!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Had a grand time at ConDFW this past weekend. The panels were fun, and I made a little money at my table. Of course, I saw many old friends and made a few new ones.

I was sorry Charlaine Harris couldn't make it, but I do wish her the best. I'm sure she'd rather have been at a con than having her gallbladder out.

My one bit of "fun" happened on the way home. Someone ahead of me in a left turn lane suddenly backed up and stepped on the gas. I narrowly avoided getting slammed into, which is a really good thing because the truck is in the shop. That would have left us with the motorcycle. In this rainy weather. 

Spent the last two days on some minor site updates that turned into a major pain in the ass. My comments page still isn't right, but if you want to leave a comment, please follow the instructions. It'll get posted. I'm working to fix it.

Geek speak alert!

I use a Captcha on my site in an attempt to weed out spammers. Over the weekend someone started to hit the contact link. And then when I went to fix it I discovered that the Captcha I'm using will no longer be available after the end of next month. This meant installing a new one and jumping through various hoops to make it work.

In the process of doing that I updated some other software that I'm using on the site, and now the comment box is a mess. I'm using the same software to post this entry, and the box looks fine. Go figure. I'm looking into it. I've a feeling that the problem is a software conflict. I hope I'll figure it out. (Update: I'm using a different text box "thing" here, it turns out. Oops.)

So, how are things in the clean world?

Filed under: ConDFW   Housekeeping   Life      
2/20/2018 3:58:56 PM
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So You Want To Be A Convention Panelist?

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Yep, it's time for my annual(ish) guide to becoming a panelist at conventions. The short version is that it's not as easy as you think. The long version is based on years of attending and running cons. I've attended - and helped run - all sizes of cons. But I don't speak for any con I now run or have helped run in the past. This is based on my experience, and of course, your mileage may vary.

So you have a book our a game out, and you've heard one of the best ways to promote it is to attend a convention. Yes, but... 

Let's talk about small-medium fan-run cons. These are probably your best shot for getting on programming, partly because there are more of them, and also they're generally non-profit and not autograph shows. They also provide a better chance to meet and mingle with fans, and network with authors, agents, and publishers. Yep, there's a lot of action going on in the bar, and I'm not talking about pickup artists. (Even if you don't drink, that's the place to be if you want to network. And you want to do that, along with promotion.) But we're talking about promotion.

The first thing is to set your expectations. You're very likely not going to get an hour to talk about your book. If you get an autograph slot, you will likely share it with other authors and artists. Most small-medium cons are run by volunteers, and they get their income from people who pay at the door, just like the big gate shows. So just like the big gate shows, their guests, panelists, and programming needs to appeal to their audience. Think about that when  you apply or make your pitch.

Have you never attended a convention before? Please attend one. Sit in on some panels. Soak up the culture. Every con is different, and every culture is a little different, but the focus is on having a good time and imparting some knowledge. Along with panels on writing and the business of writing, you'll probably find workshops (writing, costuming, art, prop building, etc.) and even plain fandom panels. There are probably tracks on art, maybe comics. Observe how other artists and authors promote their work. I guarantee you'll walk away with some good ideas. And maybe see some things you don't want to touch with the proverbial ten foot pole.

Target a convention or two you would like to attend as a panelist. Following are some Dos and Don'ts:

DO check out the convention web site first. There may be an application for panelists and/or a list of what the convention is looking for in a panelist. If the convention keeps an archive of past web sites, dig through the last couple of years and see what they did for programming. 

DO note deadlines. 

DO NOT apply at the last minute. Six months or longer is usually a good time, but cons may vary. 

DO send your inquiry/application to the proper email address. If they ask you to contact the chair, do that. If they ask you to contact programming or guest relations, do that. 

Please DO NOT spam every contact on the site. Don't copy your inquiry to other addresses unless you are asked to do so. 

DO make a pitch that shows how your presence can benefit the con. Do you have some expertise that you can share? We know you have a book (mention it, please!), so tell us something else about yourself. Are you a librarian? Pitch a panel on research. Are you an organization specialist? There's a panel! Are you an accountant? Pitch taxes and record keeping for writers and artists. Maybe you have a hobby that you can share. Do you teach writing at a school? You get the idea. Remember, the con is looking for programming that will sell memberships and engage the fans once they're on site.

But how does that tie into promoting your book? You get to mention it on every panel. (Just don't build the proverbial fortress of books. People want to see you, not your backlist.) If someone finds you interesting and engaging, they may be more likely to check out your books. Bring promotional materials, because virtually all cons have a "freebie" table. 

So you didn't make the cut? Here are a few tips:

DO NOT take it personally if you get turned down. Often, there are more people who want to be on panels than a convention has available slots. 

DO Thank them for their consideration and ask when you can apply for next  year.

DO buy a membership (non-profits often call that fee to get in the door a membership instead of a ticket or admission) and attend, particularly if you're local. Take advantage of those networking opportunities. You may be able to take it as a business expense. (Yep, ask a tax specialist. That ain't me.) 

Did you buy a membership? Then DO contact programming and make yourself available as a last-minute fill-in. DO NOT make yourself a pest over this.

DO NOT mount a word-of-mouth campaign to get yourself on programming. There's nothing wrong with asking a friend to recommend you for programming, but it can go too far. This falls under taking rejection personally. That can only end in tears.

DO ask if you can send promotional materials. Most cons will be happy to put your stuff on their freebie table for you. (This is also a great way to spread the word at cons that are too far away for you to attend.) 

If you do get onto programming at one convention, be aware that conrunners attend conventions. If they see you on a panel and like what they see, that no may turn into a yes, even if it's for next year. 

One other thing to keep in mind is that you're not going to be a good "fit" at every convention. This falls under not taking it personally. 

Conventions love finding new talent and helping to promote it. Just keep in mind that it's not always easy to get onto programming. Persistence can pay off. 

If you see me at a con, do say "hi." While I am running one con this year, I'm not the person to contact to get on programming. But I can put you in touch with them. 

And I just want to say, "good luck. We're all counting on you."

Filed under: Conventions            
2/8/2018 9:45:25 AM
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2017 Wrap Up

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

So I thought 2016 sucked swamp water? 2017 Hasn't been a lot better. I have been able to take about a week and a half off at the end of the year, and yes, we did get that vacation we've been trying to take for years. Thanks to a last-minute Etsy sale, I think I've managed to slide into a sliver of profitability this year. No thanks to the people who haven't paid up on jobs. That's part of the deal when you freelance.

Last week we finally got the last major bits of the estate in place, and the attorney has been busy with the follow-ups on that. We're not finished. I still have things to do - including taxes - over the next few months, but at this point there are few hard and fast deadlines save for the one imposed by the IRS. It's going to be good to get that monster off my back.

One business positive is that I did manage to carve out a little time to work on a three-year business plan. I'd pretty much declared the year a total loss back in the fall. Honestly, a few Etsy sales saved my bacon this year. While I have some plans in mind, there are still too many factors outside of my control, and some "I knew the job was dangerous when I took it" commitments that I don't feel comfortable dropping. And some I just can't. Hey, I'm in charge of a trust, now! I'm going to have to do a LOT more delegating and a LOT more of just saying no to things that either don't pay or pay too little to cover my time. Juggling things and learning to delegate and say no will be my biggest challenges.

So, what's on tap so far for 2018? Check the Events page for a start. I'm also looking at some local craft fairs. I have ideas for expanding my line, which I must do if I'm going to attend more shows. I'm working up a plan to to tutorials/streaming video for Steam Cat. I have mixed feelings about that one, but I can't fail spectacularly if I don't try. I have to raise my social media profile (to bring in new customers) without being all "buy my stuff" all the time. I'm planning to learn some new skills. 

Let's just say that I'm very cautiously optimistic about 2018. But things are still precarious enough that it can all fall into Excrement Estuary at a moment's notice. We'll see what happens, eh?

Filed under: Life            
12/30/2017 10:20:17 AM
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2017 Catmas Card

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

The 2016 Catmas Card has arrived! And with it, I've redesigned the Catmas Card pages. The design only dated to the year 2000. How bad could it have been? 

It's fun looking at the archives to see both how my modest graphics skills have improved over the years. The execution of our ideas depends not only on those skills, but the mood of the cats. And sometimes my archive of cat pictures comes in very handy. And then there are the ideas. Sometimes it's tough to figure out an idea. This year one hit me over the head like a falling Christmas tree. I hope it worked.


Physical cards should go out on Monday.

Filed under: Catmas   Cats         
12/9/2017 4:54:50 PM
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Updated Nostalgia Section

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I've been hard at work on some web site updates. The first major update is in the Nostalgia section. From here on out I'll try to post updates to the journal so they make the feed.

Here we have downtown Arlington, Texas, circa 1961. 

You can view the entire post here.

Filed under: Nostalgia   Housekeeping         
12/7/2017 6:21:47 PM
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Preaching to the Choir? Or Pissing People Off?

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I'm either preaching to the choir or I'm gonna piss a lot of people off with this post. Let's see what happens. 

Every time I see a story about Roy Moore in our local paper (or sometimes shared out here on FB) there's a group of usual suspects who start yammering on about Bill Clinton. You know what? When Bill Clinton runs for office again or if someone else steps forward to accuse him of new sexual improprieties, then let's talk about it. I'm all for it. But in the context of Roy Moore, discussing Bill Clinton (or Al Franken or Joe Barton) is distraction. Neither Clinton, Franken, or Barton is running for the Senate in Alabama right now. You know what? Even talking about Donald Trump's "p*ssy grabbing" is moving the spotlight away from Roy Moore and the election in Alabama.  

And that's the deal. The spotlight needs to be on that election. Further, if I lived in Alabama and could vote in this race, the latest allegations wouldn't have made any difference. Roy Moore has been removed from the bench twice. Some people say he was just standing up for the Constitution, but I ask those same people if someone had posted a quote from the Quran in front of a judicial building, what would their reaction be? What would their reaction be if a judge directed public officials not to perform interracial marriages? Or marriages between people of two different religions? Funny, when I ask those questions I get crickets. Or sputtering. Or more talk about Bill Clinton.  

There are reasons that we don't have a state-sponsored religion. These people say that "Christian" is our religion, as if some vague label did the job. No, go read a damn history book or two. England practically tore itself apart more than once in conflicts over the one true version of Christianity. Our founders wisely realized that religion is personal business, and not the business of the state. 

Many Americans are morally guided by their religion, and that's not a bad thing. But do you want lawmakers to demand your circumcision, gentlemen? Or to impose rules on what you must eat and drink? Of course, you don't. And there's the slippery slope. There are many interpretations of the Bible. If you don't believe me, do what I did and get a job at a Christian radio station listening to "preaching and teaching" programs all day. Or just spend some time listening. There was little agreement on anything from the steps to salvation to diet, to the Rapture, to who was qualified to teach and preach. And they all got their guidance from the same book. 

I'm not putting down sincerely held religious beliefs. I'm just saying that there are many interpretations of the Bible, and why should one rule our system of laws over another? Our founders understood this. Why can't we?

Filed under: Politics            
11/27/2017 9:53:37 AM
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Had This Been An Actual Emergency...

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I've been reading that a national EAS test is scheduled for later today. That brings back some memories. I worked in radio in the early-mid 1990s, back before there was digital anything. I was doing an air shift during a national test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This was back in the days of the Civil Defense. I had to open (dun, dun, DUN!) The Red Envelope. It was a direct simulation of what to do in the event of a national emergency. They sent us all instructions ahead of time, and we were all standing around the wire machine waiting for ten bells, which was the signal for a national emergency. They sent the code word, and then I had to grab the envelope, open it, and start the test.


As you would guess, there was a script to follow for a standard test. This one was similar, except we inserted the word "national," which they'll be doing today. Our EBS test announcement was recorded, but I had to read this one live because it was a national test. Hoo, boy. I had never opened one of these envelopes before we had instructions to return them, sealed, to the station manager. I think we got a new one every quarter. I don't know if that was our protocol or that of the CD. The face of the envelope was printed with dire words in all caps proclaiming BAD THINGS might happen if we dared open the envelope except during an emergency. So I opened the envelope and remember reading more dire warnings to double check that the code word was the same as the one we had received over the wire. It was, so I went ahead.


We had to activate the system for a test once a week. There was a little box under the console with a button, a speaker, and a little headset. The button was to activate the tone. We had to watch the clock and push the button for the specified number of seconds. The way this worked was that there was a cascading stream of stations. One station in the area would be a primary (that was KRLD). When they ran a test our box would sound an alarm. That was fun when they ran a test during one of our station breaks! We had to log the test. Sometimes the National Weather Service would ask them to activate the EBS system in the event of a tornado warning. We only had to log that. We were never to activate our own system unless there was a test or an emergency and we were instructed to do so. Yep, that meant opening The Red Envelope. That never happened when I was on the air. And I lived in dread of making a slip-up (even when we passed along a watch or warning that came down the wire) and saying "Godless Tornadoes." As one does, of course.


So you may be wondering about ten bells. Back in the day the wire machines were essentially low-res dot matrix printers connected to a phone line. We had to replace the ribbon once in a while. Ewww. There was a bell (much like a typewriter bell) inside. They'd send a code down the wire to make the bell ring anywhere from 1-5 times. 1-2 rings was "hey, you may want to look at this." It was mostly normal alerts which were anything from the latest stock market numbers to non-critical story updates to announcements ("hey, the president his holding a scheduled press conference today. We'll move details as we get 'em.") Three bells was important stories and updates. Four was breaking news, but not exactly a bulletin. Five was an honest-to-goodness we're-not-kidding-here-you may-want-to-break-into-programming bulletin. I heard one while I was on the air. Ten bells was The Big One. Or a test for same.


Anytime I heard three or four bells that was a signal to check to see what was going on. We had no idea if it was a national or local story until we went and read the copy. Five bells was "holy crap, this ain't good." In this era of breathless reporting of breaking news every time someone farts (I suppose that would be breaking wind news), I'm going to translate this to a Trump scale.


1 bell: Trump is doing nothing. We just wanted to let you know. BTW, here's the latest numbers from Wall Street.


2 bells: The president tweeted again. This time it was about Justin Bieber. Nothing political. Go about your business. BTW, he might tweet something important. We'll let you know.


3 bells: He's at it again. This time he's calling us Fake News because we reported that a cat had been run over on a residential street and it turned out to be a dog instead. BTW, there's a multi-car accident on the freeway which has traffic backed up for miles. And the mayor is making a major announcement about the homeless situation. We also heard Mueller has issued another subpoena.


4 bells: Yes, we've confirmed the subpoena. Also, an old movie star has died. There's been a major earthquake near the old Texas Stadium site. Speculation is that God is upset that His Team got moved and He can no longer watch when they close the dome on the new stadium. Details forthcoming.


5 bells: Alert! Congress has actually done something! Also, a major celebrity or former president has died. That accident on the freeway turns out to be a hazardous spill, and a five mile radius is being evacuated. Someone has declared war or followed through the declaration with an attack.


10 bells: Someone's got their finger on The Button. Or it's just a test. Carry on.

Filed under: Humor            
9/27/2017 8:54:31 AM
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Know Your Enemy

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I'm going to make a confession. 

When I was in high school, I read "Mein Kapmf." I wrote a paper on Adolph Hitler.

There was a reason I did that, and when the teacher understood my reasoning she wholeheartedly approved of my research topic. I wanted to figure out how he got to power in the first place. How good people could let this happen. (The answer is complicated. The paper was long.)

I once came upon a book in German, where, hidden in plain sight among many innocuous things, was the text of one of Hitler's speeches. I laboriously translated the speech. You now what? He was seductive. He told people what they wanted to hear. He - and his speechwriters - knew just the correct words to get the crowd on his side and to his cause. He was passionate, and that passion was infectious. Like the plague. 

I thought we'd never see that here in the United States.

Boy, was I wrong. 

Mark my words, Hitler was not a good person. Nor were the people he surrounded himself with. He was evil. And yet, I'm going to ask you to consider reading "Mein Kampf." And doing some research into that era of history. Because, as has often been said, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. That book is hard to read through the lens of history, and you may want a bath or six when you're finished. But you'll gain insight into his thinking and the thinking of some of his followers today. For they are his followers, no matter how much they disavow it.

This is the very the same reason some very good people who hate racism, who decry fascism, delve into those vile underground web sites that promote these things. History must not repeat itself. As Sun Tzu swrote, "know your enemy."

There are no statues in Germany to honor Hitler or his regime. There are markers that tell stories. There are memorials to those who died fighting his cause, or died just because of his hatred, and the hatred he whipped up among his populace. 

Don't let that happen here. Please. Know your enemy. Know your history so it doesn't repeat. My friends, you are good people. And good people don't let this evil happen again.

Filed under: Politics            
8/17/2017 9:47:46 AM
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Thunderbolt And Lightning, Very Very Frightening

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

We had just settled in to watch some telly Saturday night, when:


If the house itself didn't get hit, something close by certainly did. There was no damage to the house. We have a large tree in the front yard, so that was obviously a worry.

However, we did lose several bits of electronic equipment including the router, the printer, a monitor, the receiver, and the sprinkler timer. The printer had two levels of surge protection, so I was most upset over that one. Turns out that HP has a procedure for resetting the power supply after a power surge, but that didn't work. 

Paul and Ami found some good deals on most of the other equipment, and I set out to look for a new printer. I've always had a multi-function with a paper feeder so I could scan large documents. When the last printer died we ended up with a really sweet deal on a large format printer. I've had a lot of use out of the large scanning bed, so I wanted another if possible. Did a lot of shopping in person and online and found a wide format printer for just $30 more than the regular format one, so I trundled down to MicroCenter to make the purchase. 

I grabbed a cart and went to the printer area, and found they didn't have any boxes on the floor, much less a display model. The web site had indicated two in stock. Maybe they'd sold. A helpful (honest!) salesguy offered to go back and check. "May I follow you with the cart?" (I remembered that the previous one came in a large box and we had used a handcart to get it inside the house.)

"Oh, no. I can get it."

Famous last words. Five minutes later he returned, panting, and asked for the cart. I so wanted to say, "I warned ya, but did you listen to me? Oh, no. It's just a teeny little box, isn't it?"

The box was larger than I had expected. It just barely fit in the cargo area behind the seats in my car. Got it home, and Ami helped me get it on the cart and inside the house. Then I made a quick run to the grocery store for fixins for a fast meal. 

I came home to find Paul had put the printer in place and he was setting it up.

This thing is huge. It's a freaking Death Star.


And that's a harmless little stapler on the desk.

That, the cable box, and the stuffed cat are there for scale. Damn, I should have added a fish. For scale. I'm here all week. ;-)

So it's been Monday here since Saturday night. And how did I celebrate? By stripping the bed down and turning the mattress. I'm such a masochist.

Filed under: Technology   Pictures   Life      
8/14/2017 11:18:56 AM
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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Well. This was our first vacation in a Very Long Time. I think it's been thirteen years. That's a lot of years of schedule conflicts and family emergencies. The planets and the calendars finally aligned, and we decided to get out of town while the gettin' was good.

We went to Canada!

We had a great time, but it was pretty warm up there. However, we got to walk around and explore and see lots of interesting things. One day we we drove out to Hamilton to see where some of the exteriors for Murdoch Mysteries were filmed.

I'm not going to fill this with vacation snaps, but if you want to see more, you can find them here. These pictures were all shot with my DSLR, and I expect we'll add a few cell phone shots to the mix soon.

But now it's back to work!

Filed under: Pictures   Life         
8/7/2017 9:48:47 PM
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Events and Appearances:
SoonerCon 27
6/22/2018  - 6/24/2018
FenCon XV
9/21/2018  - 9/23/2018