Barrett Manor

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

Bad Dreams Are Made Of Win - Sometimes

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Last night I had what I call the "horror movie" nightmare. I'll spare you the scenario, but I was with three people and I left two of them in a safe spot in order to rescue someone who had been removed from the group. We were on our way back and were surrounded.

No way out.  

This is the moment when I woke up with my heart pounding and my lungs working overtime. It was one of those situations where I couldn't shake off the dream and kept trying to figure out an exit. "You're supposed to be a writer, dammit, you can do this." Of course, that just brought on another level of stress, so I picked up my tablet to read and was out again in maybe ten minutes. Distraction is good sometimes.

Most of answer came to me this morning while I was brushing my teeth. I was trying to do the self-rescuing princess thing. Is it okay to be rescued sometimes? I came to the conclusion that of course it is, particularly when it leads to major character development on the part of the rescuer(s). The other two people happened to be women (as was the person I rescued), but one of those two would have to overcome some almost paralyzing fears in order to even leave the safe spot, much less take part in a rescue mission. The other woman was someone we had picked up along the way, so they had little idea of how to motivate the other person, much less get them to calm down in a stressful situation. 

Tension! Conflict!  

But also, teamwork. This would mean that my job was to stave off the monster attack for long enough for the other two team members to do the job. 

So, how do they do it?  

I have some ideas. This is a story I probably won't write, but it applies to a WIP right now, so it's worth at least trying to think through it. I tend to overthink things when I put my protagonist in a bad situation, and so this gives me hope that I can move forward. 


Filed under: Writing   Life         
1/6/2019 12:12:36 PM
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My Not A Resolution For 2019: Respect

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Hey, I managed to type that title without messing up the year! Score one for me, particularly since I was just looking at an envelope with a 2018 postmark. I'll take the small victories.

I dislike making resolutions for a number of reasons, but the top one is that most fundamental changes that people make don't depend on the turning of a calendar. If you can make resolutions and get them to stick, more power to you. The first time I even hiccup after making a resolution I tend to beat myself up, which brings me to the Not A Resolution for 2019:


Respect, in my mind, is at the root of so many problems. Not just personally, but in America, in particular. I'm going to be skirting on the political with this, but bear with me. Just look at the comment section of your local newspaper or on social media. Someone has an opinion, and the attackers pile on. There's very little respect for differing viewpoints, and I have to wonder if that's rooted in a lack of self-respect. People attack others to feel better about themselves.

Respect isn't just lip (or keyboard) service. If an employer respects an employee, shouldn't they pay that person a wage that covers at least the basics? A minimum wage can't cover the rent in many areas now. Yes, I know all of the arguments. Why, prices will go up! People should get a better job! Or a second job! Are there no poorhouses? I have to think that people who feel disrespected have trouble respecting themselves. It's a downward spiral that's tough to break free from. I know this first-hand.

And this is where my Not A Resolution comes in. I've dealt with a lack of respect for several years. Respect for my time, respect for my talents. There are people who seem to think that since I (or someone like me) works from home, that they won't mind taking on this big volunteer job at the last minute because someone else has something important to do, or just doesn't feel like doing the task. I find myself avoiding some social situations because I know someone is going to try to push something on me, or demand to know why I haven't done that thing they pushed off on me. There are people who think that thing that I'm selling for barely more than the cost of materials is too expensive. I've lowered my prices to make more sales, and it's getting me nowhere. There are people who think it's perfectly fine to pay five bucks - a month down the road - for a day of work. 

None of this pays the bills. All of it wears me down. Why should I respect myself if no one else will respect me?

Let's make no mistake that I bear the fair share of the burden for this situation because I've allowed it to happen. I've taken on things when I shouldn't have for several reasons. Sometimes I hope it will raise my profile. It rarely does, at least not in a helpful way. Sometimes it just makes the "sucker" target on my back larger. And yep, I want people to like me. I'll spare you the angsty childhood stories, but suffice to say that this has always been an issue. So maybe I just need to learn to like myself.

Here are the things I'm going to be doing this year:

  • Learning to say no, and how to do it with respect for others.
  • Taking more care with how I interact with other people.
  • Valuing myself more. This may mean raising my prices. It's certainly going to mean putting myself first a little more often. This isn't being selfish. It's what's now called self-care. I put off doing things just for me, like taking a break or going for a walk because I've let myself get talked into doing things I shouldn't even be doing. And then when it comes to doing the things I need to do, I shoehorn them in or drop them entirely because there just aren't enough hours in the day. I'm stressed all the time because of this, and that cannot continue.
  • Buy more things from indie artists and writers. I've already started down that road, but I intend to keep on it. But hey, I have to earn some money so I can buy some things!
  • Step back a bit from social media. Not only is it a time sink, but it's not good for me. I need to get some different perspective. 

So, that's my Not a Resolution for 2019. 

Filed under: Life            
1/2/2019 3:48:24 PM
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2018 Wrap Up

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

This is much like 2017's wrap up. I didn't lose money, and it was just a bad year. Not a really bad year, which makes it an improvement!

It was just really, really difficult for me to push through on some things this year. I'm still waiting outstanding issues on the trust, and here comes tax season once again! Once this last thing on the trust goes through, then I can finally close out my mom's estate.

I hate making resolutions for the new year, but an unstated goal for this year was to reduce my stress level. I pretty much took a month off after FenCon this year, and was very glad I did so. I see myself taking baby steps in the direction of getting my business back on track. There's a part of me that's tired of banging my head against the wall and wants things to turn around instantly, but that's not going to happen.

On that front, I'm looking for more cons to attend and more shows I can do, and maybe more art shows that I can send things to. I'm losing two conventions that I've attended in the past. One just isn't profitable. Another is holding their last event in about six weeks. I'm really sad about that one. It's not a huge moneymaker, but it's close and the people are wonderful, which makes it worth my while. A four hour drive to pull in $40 when I'm not also on programming...not so much.

Which brings me to my high and low points from last year. I'll hit the low point first. It was at the con I'm not going back to. The dealer room was dead all weekend, and some kid walked up to my table and told me (probably was repeating his mom) that my stuff was too pricey. Yet, he hung out at the table all weekend. Since he insisted on hanging around my table, I gave him a lesson in what it costs to run a business. I don't think it set in. But I was bummed all weekend. Is this what people really think about my work? Am I just beating my head against the wall?

The high point was at the very next con. A kid about the same age pulled me aside after a panel and said he'd sat in on a panel I'd done last year about wearable electronics, and I had inspired him to get interested in electronics. Wow, that was really cool, and a great way to end the con season. 

I guess I'm somewhat optimistic about next year, but I'm still finding my way back to getting my business going, not to mention getting my self-esteem back. After the last few years, I'm feeling very worn down. 

I'll finish on a high note. I *almost* finished the last bit on my new studio today. Last week we finally brought in Paul's mom's old sewing machine, a post-war behemoth that sounds like a one cylinder lawn mower, but sews like a dream. I used it to make a new cover for the cabinet it lives in, and a skirt for my cutting table. Sadly, I ran out of fabric before I could get to a matching curtain to cover the closet. Guess I'll have to buy one, but it would probably be less expensive than buying more fabric. And hey, I used up some serious bits of my stash of twill on this. One goal I have for next year is to reduce my stash as much as possible by creating products I can sell. I hope I can do that.

That's it for this year. I hope for a better next year, and I hope you have a wonderful 2019.

Filed under: Life            
12/31/2018 8:59:05 PM
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Meowy Catmas!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

It's time again for the annual Catmas card

We enjoy doing these every year, and it's good to show that Midnight is still alive and kicking (and giving gifts!) after 18 years.

Merry Christmas and best holiday wishes to everyone!

Filed under: Catmas            
12/7/2018 5:49:49 PM
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Lessons Learned From (About) Ten Years of Art Shows

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I participated in my first convention art show in 2009. I did it on a whim, and I sold out. Completely. This is a feat I have never duplicated since. But hey, these art shows have helped through some tough times.

Over the last few years, though, it's become evident to me that I need to get more businesslike in how I handle things. Oh, I've kept track of sales and paid my taxes, but the nuts and bolts of deciding what to show and how to price have always been by the seat of my pants. It's well past time I got beyond that, which is why I've just finished up a project to catalog as many of my art show sales as possible. 

I say "as many" because I seem to have either lost the bid sheets and my notes for some shows, and/or I never got a complete sales report from some shows. I got better (but was not turned into a newt), over the years at keeping more precise records. There are only a couple of shows where I don't have complete records, and they may still be lurking in the black hole of a filing cabinet, so I haven't yet given up hope. In the meantime, I've learned some things:

  • Better recordkeeping is good. 
  • I've made mistakes.
  • So have conventions.
  • I have  LOT of room for improvement.

One thing I don't have control over is how conventions keep records and pass those along to artists. This isn't a complaint, but a data point. I've noticed that, over the years, conventions in general got a LOT better at providing useful data. One thing I've tried to do at the end of a con is update my copy of the Control Sheet as I check out. I'm tired at the end of a con, and so are the people running the art show. Mistakes happen all around. But I think the big thing I need to do is to try to reconcile at least my minimum bid with whatever the con hands to me, if possible. I found one con that (long story) snuck in a sale under the radar. I had an item with a minimum bid of $30 and they sold it for $10, according to their paperwork. I should have caught it on checkout, and I didn't. That particular con died after that year, so I really didn't have any recourse. $20 (less commission) owed me was nothing compared to what they were undoubtedly in the hole. I chalk it up as a lesson learned. There's another con where the checkout paperwork showed an item sold (and I didn't bring it home), but the final paperwork didn't show the item at all. I followed up, but this was during a family crisis, so I failed to continue to follow up. My fault. The lesson learned from this is to take the time to double-check all of the sales against my minimum bids, and then to do it again when the check arrives.

Checking out of an art show is chaos, which is why I'm not placing the blame anywhere except on my shoulders. It's up to me to verify this stuff. 

The next lesson is entirely on my shoulders. My pricing is all over the place. This is something I've always done by the seat of my pants. I need to find someone to sit down and give me some advice.

I need to do better targeting of pieces to conventions. Okay, sometimes selling is just pure luck. But I should have known some things would very likely not sell at a Steampunk con, for instance. 

On the other hand, few artists sell out (or mostly do) on a regular basis. There is  bit of a lesson from retail, here. You walk into a store and there is a ton of stuff. Most of it you don't need or don't want. But you may see an impulse item. And the management doesn't know if the next person through the door is looking for diapers, or a potted plant, or a flat screen TV. They have to put a variety of goods out there and see what sells well and what doesn't. I have data, now! Still, I believe there is a bit of an element of luck involved, but maybe I can mix in a little science and see what happens.

I need to expand my product line and keep producing new stuff. This is a no-brainer, but the data really hammered it in.

I'm going to look at expanding my reach and mailing art to some cons. I would love to attend more conventions personally, but it's not possible right now. 

I need to (gulp!) get out there and promote my work some more. That's going to be the toughest part for me.

What can conventions do? The first thing is to provide useful data. I can think of a few shows that I've done over the last few years that have excelled in that. For many, I'm on my own. Or they provide a decent report one year, and just a check the next, depending on who is running the art show. Hey, I'm not going to turn down "just" a check, but it's good to know exactly what sold and for how much, and if it was a minimum bid, quick sale, Sunday sale, auction sale, etc. 

Some conventions can do a better job of promoting their art shows. Yes, I help run a con, and one thing I'm discussing with the leadership is how we drive traffic to both the art show and the dealer's room. In the end, if the artists and dealers are making money, the con is more likely to make money, and those artists and dealers are more likely to come back. 

As an artist (and a dealer at some cons), of course I want to make All The Money. And if I'm doing it in the art show, then the con is taking more of a commission, which is better for their bottom line.

Is this all of any use? I would say "I dunno," but the data is useful, and now that it's in a database I can run all sorts of reports and get a better feel for what items do well and what pricing may work best. We shall see.

Filed under: Conventions   Art Shows         
10/18/2018 6:00:34 PM
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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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Events and Appearances:
2/15/2019  - 2/17/2019
SoonerCon 27
6/7/2019  - 6/9/2019
FenCon XVI
9/20/2019  - 9/22/2019