Barrett Manor

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

New in Nostalgia

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I'm going through old family files and the like for a few weeks. Today I ran across a couple of postcards of Downtown Dallas featuring Reunion Tower:



You can read the entire entry here.

Filed under: Nostalgia   Housekeeping         
10/4/2018 11:11:58 AM
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Look! Writing Musings!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Been a while, hasn't it?

I'm presently (yes, still) plotting out a novel. One of the problems I'm facing is how is the main character going to defend herself? She probably will end up with a small gun, but allow me to walk you through my thought process. (Please note that this has absolutely nothing to do with current politics or attitudes about firearms. *)

Weapons = power. So what happens when a person gets so good at defending themselves with a natural or supernatural weapon that it gets boring? 

Bear with me a minute.

The sheriff has the biggest, baddest gun in town, and all he has to do is point it in the direction of the bad guys, and they drop their weapons and cower in the corner in Freudian fear. As a reader or viewer, that works once or twice, and then you expect that to happen. Maybe the protagonist worked hard to get a bigger and better weapon (or power, in the case of a supernatural protagonist), and through several books (or films) this building of power worked. But when you get to the point where the protagonist relies too much on that big bad weapon, the writing gets lazy and the readers get bored.

This, I'm convinced, beyond all political reasons, is why MacGyver didn't use guns. It's more exciting to watch the hero use his brains and his well, macgyvering skills, to outwit the bad guys. **

So what happens when the hero has the big, bad weapon that can pretty much save them the trouble of going through the motions of an actual plot? The writer has to toss in roadblocks. Maybe a hostage, explosives that the weapon could trigger, a bad guy with an even bigger, badder weapon. If the wizard knows how to disarm explosives or make guns jam with a spell, then there has to be another roadblock. 

Because it gets boring for both the reader and the writer to have the protagonist use the same weapon, the same power over and over again. 

The writer has another, er, weapon in their arsenal: The reset. Something happens to make the protagonist use their most valued weapon. Somehow they lose their power. The weapon jams or breaks beyond repair (maybe it gets melted in a fire). This forces to the protagonist to go back to the basics and rely more on their wits. Or maybe there's a cost to using that weapon. What if it makes you sick? (P. N. Elrod used that with Jack Fleming to curb his power to influence people into doing what he wanted them to do.) What if the protagonist discovers that using the weapon causes something bad to happen elsewhere? Now there's a real cost to using that weapon or power, and it can only be used as a last resort. This forces the writer to sit down and do some actual plotting!

This has definitely influenced my thinking about how my character defends herself. My story takes place in 1903, so a large hatpin would be an obvious weapon. A small gun could be another weapon. I really want her to rely more on her wits, so I want the weapons to be a last resort. Not that I have anything against weapons. I just don't want to use them as a crutch.

But power is easy. It can be a crutch to limp along what could be a cracking plot. 

Remember in the first Indiana Jones movie where he faced the guy with the fancy swordwork? We expected him to use his whip and he kinda said "screw that" and went for his sidearm. It was a great moment. The next time he was in that sort of situation, he didn't have his gun, so he had to find another way out. Having him use his gun in that situation would have been lazy writing and unsatisfying for the viewer.

So there ya go. That's what's been going through my writer mind lately. I'm still working on stuff. It's just slow. I wish I could push this process, but it is what it is. I guess. Thanks for reading along.

* No, I'm not anti-gun. Let's not even go there. Thank you.

** And speaking of Richard Dean Anderson, "Legend" is available on DVD! This was a summer replacement series (remember them?) on UPN (remember that?) starring Anderson and John DeLancie. Here's the IMDb link. We have commenced a rewatch.

Filed under: Writing            
6/19/2018 10:12:09 AM
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Updated Tech Museum

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

As I've been cleaning and going through things, I've been taking pictures and adding items to our Tech Museum. While I was at it, I did a little work on the presentation. It's still a tad clunky, but better than it had been. I've also added a sort of feed of the newest items, so if you've been there before you can cut to the chase and see what's new.

Check it out!

Filed under: Housekeeping            
4/24/2018 2:58:43 PM
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Pictures! We Haz 'Em!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

It's been a long time since I've just dropped everything and gone outside to shoot some pictures. The wind made it a challenge, but I think I got a few interesting ones.

What roses are blooming have been through a storm or two.


Here is a native smoke tree, just starting to bloom. The blossoms turn a smokey gray eventually, hence the name.


Waxleaf in bloom.


And the Virginia Creeper is, well, creeping along the fence next door:


I have to say that it felt really good to get out and just shoot some images. I should do this more often now that the weather is nice.

Filed under: Pictures            
4/17/2018 10:25:20 AM
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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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