ART, Attractions, Museums, TRAVEL, WRITING

What in the World are Public Interactives?

Picture from
Picture from


See that big silver coffee bean in the middle of the picture of Chicago?  That’s a public interactive.  It’s in public and it’s purpose is to engage the public.  Some might just classify it as art, but there’s more to it than a painting on a wall.  It was designed specifically for a public space and you’re supposed to do more than look at it.  You’re supposed to walk under it, look at yourself in it, observe how your reflection changes depending on where you stand and then post a picture of yourself on social media.  Well, I added that last part, because social media wasn’t really a factor when the piece was installed, but now that selfie is as much a part of the experience as the Chicago skyline.

“Designing Culture: Reading Walls, World Expos, and Digital Memorials”

Communication is my thing, so when my alma mater, University of Texas at Dallas, invited me to a free lecture with Dr. Anne Balsamo an “emerging media expert,” why would I stay home?  I wasn’t sure what public interactives were, but I figured I needed to know.

Dr. Balsamo, is one of those academic types who get paid by large think tanks to do really cool stuff the rest of us would love to do, except we have real jobs.  What kinds of stuff?  Well, she got to make a bigger than life computer dog, for instance – as a part of an exhibit which was built to explore how the public interacted with various types of media.  The result of that study can be found at your local museum.  Which museums you might ask?  Well, there’s several interactive reading walls I can think of off the top of my head:  the musical exhibit the DMA has in conjunction with the Vermeer exhibit, the entry section over at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at SMU and the Expanding Universe Exhibit at the Perot.  Not that Dr. Balsamo was directly involved in any of those museums or exhibits, but she’s part of the buzz in that world.

A Slow Start to a Fascinating World

By the end of Dr. Balsamo’s discussion I was on the edge of my seat taking copious notes on my phone, but when things began, I thought I might have made a mistake.  My husband cut his trading day short to join me at the lecture.  At first, some professorial sort got up to introduce the speaker and the mono-tonal recital of alphabet soup almost put us both to sleep.  Dr. Balsamo didn’t do much better as she laid the foundation for her presentation.  I was actually wondering how awful it would be to sneak out when she started talking about the exhibit with the giant robot dog.

Bill gave me a look that pleaded for an exit, but I waved him off.  I knew this wasn’t his cup of tea, but I began to realize it was mine.  I should have felt guilty, but I’ve sat through innumerable lectures about investing and trading, which caused my eyes to glaze over quicker than you can quote the Nikkei average.  It was his turn to be a little lost.

The Question of Sponsorship, The Aid’s Quilt and Pages

If you’re at all interested in the subject of “public interactives,” you’ll be glad to know that if you google it there will be 604,000 results, so you can really dig into it.  It’s certainly a fascinating subject and I’ve been interested in it since that day in the Charles de Gaulle  airport when I saw ads flickering on a sign above the escalator instead of helpful directions.  That was back in the seventies and it was the beginning of something new in advertising, but like the advertisers on the airport’s innovative sign, the subject of sponsorship is at the bottom of the whole question of public interactives.  Dr. Balsamo raised the question in conjunction with a world fair presentation, but it’s an old question.

Think back to the Renaissance.  Where would we be today if Leonardo di Vinci hadn’t caught the attention of the Medicis or the Pope hadn’t tapped into the genius of Michelangelo?  I’m sure there were all kinds of brilliant guys back then who never made it out of their home village.  There were only a handful of people back in those days with the means to support the arts in a big way.  What about today?  Different millennium, same problem.

When something is for public consumption (or interaction) who’s supposed to pay for it?  If you want the public to pay, you have to put up a ticket booth and charge admission, which sort of defeats the purpose of public interactives.  The whole idea is to catch people unaware for casual collective collaboration.  The government could pay for it, but then we’d get into a whole different discussion about mind control and undue coercion.  That leaves patronage and sponsorship.  In a day when every major venue is named after its sponsor and even the chairs of museums and universities have a sponsor’s name tagged onto their title, sponsorship gets tricky and leads down the road to over-commercialization and even censorship.

I don’t have answers to the questions raised by Dr. Anne Balsamo, but a quick read of the Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 should get you to asking questions, also.

Sponsorship aside, Dr. Balsamo offered the Aid’s Quilt as an example of various forms of public interaction.  In 1987, the first time the Aid’s Quilt was exhibited to the public, there were 1920 panels.  It was displayed on the Washington D.C. Mall near Washington Monument By 1996 there were 40,000 panels and the number continues to increase geometrically, even though the disease itself is losing its ability to kill so effectively.  The quilt is so large now that the only way to exhibit it in it’s entirety, in a way that allows for public interaction, is to reproduce it digitally – a virtual quilt.  While you can still have the quilt displayed in your community, all you’ll get is a 12 foot section.

Since the project was first announced, it was designed for interactivity.  The panels were produced by members of the public.  It was viewed and reacted to by members of the public.  Due to public interaction, the quilt continues to grow.  Due to demands for access it was digitized and is still shown publicly, albeit in part, never the whole.  And people are still interacting – even digitally.  You can get an app.  You can follow it on Twitter.  You can leave your comments online.

Dr. Balsamo ended with the wistful recognition of the fact that in spite of all this hoopla about public interaction, there is one very old form of public interaction that is still the most enduring and reliable: the printed word.  In other words a book, as in hard copy.

When that exhibit with the giant computerized dog was made it had a big footprint.  Along with the exhibit itself, there was a blog, a video, maps, walls and a DVD.  The exhibit itself was scrapped.  Technology has moved on, so the video and DVD are no longer operable in today’s equipment. The digital footprint disappeared.  You’ll need a book to experience it.  That makes me very proud to be a writer.

ART, Attractions, DFW Metroplex, Performing Arts, TRAVEL, WRITING

Speech Tournament Delivers Hope and Memories


So, if a couple of hours could make a difference in a kid’s life, would you make time for it?  Hypothetically we’d all say yes, but I’ve discovered a way to do just that.  I’d love for you to have the opportunity to join me and all it will cost you is a little time and a little gas.  Let me tell you about my day of judging and then you will probably want to contact and volunteer for the speech tournament in March.

The Ask

A friend of mine knew I lived somewhere over here on the east side of the Metroplex, so she told me about a speech tournament in Wylie.  She home-schools her kids and they would be participating.  She asked if I would be a judge.  Before you start trying to disqualify yourself for one reason or another, let me assure you that if you can read, write and hear, you’re qualified to be a community judge.

My friend didn’t know I had participated in speech tournaments during my high school career.  She just knew they needed judges.  However, as soon as I read her email, I remembered my first speech tournament.  I was lucky enough to catch a ride to Houston in Jimmy Jordon’s red convertible.  To this day, just a few notes of Marvin Gaye singing “What’s Going On” will transport me back to that beautiful October day.

On the strength of that memory, I agreed to sign up for the Wylie tournament.  I didn’t know NCFCA from MSNBC, but I remembered the excitement of dressing up in my very best clothes and giving a humorous speech-to-entertain titled, “My Life as a Compulsive Big Mouth.”  It was not (as I had hoped) the beginning of my career as a stand-up comedian, but since a good portion of my professional career was spent speaking in public, in a wide variety of situations, I do believe the opportunity to participate in speech tournaments contributed to my life’s journey.

Since so much in our world has changed since that exhilarating ride to Houston, I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed in high school speech tournaments, but I knew there was little reason to speculate, because the tournament was only a week away.  I’d find out soon enough.  I carved out enough space to judge three events and went on with my business.

The Day

On the day of the tournament I stood in my closet wondering what to wear.  Would there be young men in suits or a kaleidoscope of blue denim?  I hedged my bets and wore trousers and a blazer.  That way I’d fit in either way.  As I drove to the tournament I noticed the weather on that February day was much as it had been on that October day of the red convertible.

The first thing I noticed were young men in suits looking very serious as they scurried between buildings.  The breeze snatched at their ties and played havoc with the dresses and tresses of their female companions.  I grinned widely.  Some things do stay the same.  Kids still wore their best clothes to the tournaments and they were nervous as they trekked between events.

I found a parking space and made my way into the building.  I can’t explain to you how warm my welcome was.  The lady sitting at the Judge Registration Table made me feel as if I were some sort of hero.  Feeling even better about my decision to judge, I took my badge and headed towards the judges lounge, passing the judge’s snack table along the way.  I was delighted to be a part of the mild chaos going on around me.

The Events

After a brief training session on judging, my first event to judge was a round of interpretive speeches classified as Biblical Presentation.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded interesting.  Was it ever!  Biblical Presentation is a dramatic interpretation of portions of Scripture.  The students presented lengthy passages from the Bible with intros, comments and summaries they had written.  All the passages included dialog and the students would portray each of the characters with only a small piece of cloth as a prop.

Each student memorized about eight minutes of dialog and accompanying gestures.  We had Queen Esther; the Prophet Balaam and his donkey; Mary and Martha; and a few others.  While Esther, Mary and Martha were to be expected, I was surprised when more than one contestant selected the talking donkey and pleased the focus of their interpretations varied greatly.  By the end of the round I had developed a new appreciation for the youth of America!

My next event was debate.  This was a more challenging event for the judges.  We had to keep a flow sheet of the arguments, judge who won the debate and judge the performance of the individual debaters outside the outcome.  In my debate, one of the debaters was by far the best speaker and I actually agreed with his point of view, but the other young man blew him away when it came to formulating his position and defending it, in spite of the weakness of one of his defenses.  I gave the debate to the guy I disagreed with, but gave the other speaker higher points.

I thought my final round to judge would never begin.  This time I had chosen Impromptu Speaking.  I was exhausted from the technicalities of the debate and Impromptu Speaking seemed as if it would be easier to judge than Extemporaneous Speaking or Apologetics.  The round was supposed to start around six, but through no fault of the contestants we didn’t begin until almost seven.  We were short on judges (hint, hint, hint).

In extemporaneous speech, a contestant is given 30 minutes to prepare a 7 minute speech.  From my memory, those speeches had some pretty heavy subject matter.  Impromptu topics ranged from Make Believe to Bad Habits and only last about five minutes after two minutes of preparation.  That seemed more my speed.

My brain was worn out, so I can only imagine how exhausted the kids were.  They’d been performing all day, compared to my half-day of judging.  Many had an event in each round and some multiple events within a round.  It seemed almost cruel to have extemporaneous and impromptu speeches at such a late hour.  As much as I wanted to cash it in and call it a day, if these teen-aged troopers were going to speak, I was going to judge.

While the Biblical Presentation scoring depended to a certain extent on how well the kids were able to memorize a lengthy passage, Improptu Speaking was all about thinking on your feet.  The kids had up to five minutes to speak, but most barely made it past the two minute mark.  One spoke for about six minutes, but that didn’t help their score.  The point was to use up the time without going over.

The last contestant in the round was the most heart-breaking for me.  From some conversations I had overheard, I learned this particular young man had not only performed multiple times that day, he’d also had a big hand in running the tournament.  Someone had to go find him and bring him to the room.

One of the most heartwarming things about the day had been the courtesies the students extended to the judges.  As they entered they would shake our hands and then move into position to speak.  They’d wait quietly until we’d finished shuffling our papers and whispering among ourselves.  Then they’d ask us if we were ready and politely ask for the timekeeper to start the clock.  After they had performed, they would shake hands with each of us and thank us for judging.  Sure it was rehearsed and formulaic, but it was invaluable skill-building and quite touching.

When the final contestant came in, he was visibly spent.  He went through the handshaking routine and retreated to a corner to prepare his speech on the subject he had drawn.  It was apparent that he was an accomplished, well-spoken orator, but it was also apparent he was done for the day, long before he entered the room.  The merciful part of me wanted to give the round to him out of compassion, but I remembered this wasn’t just about who won or lost the round.

I put him among the top contestants, because he did do a better job than some of the others, but I didn’t give him the round.  In my comments I told him I regretted not being able to proclaim him the winner, but I hoped he’d take my advice to heart – learning your limits and managing your assets is more important than winning a round in a speech tournament.  This fine young man will probably manage a major corporation or run for high office someday.  At least I think he will, if he doesn’t run out of steam somewhere in his twenties.  I will probably not see him or hear of him again and if I do I won’t recognize him, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I shared some of my hard-won wisdom with him at a time when it might do some good.

Now It’s Your Turn 

The next NCFCA speech tournament is March 9th-12th at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen.   Go to to sign up.  Click Texas on the map and select “Allen Qualifier.”  I hope I’ll be seeing you there.


International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, WRITING

Blame It on the White Puerto Rican Rum

The Ad Campaign That Captured My Imagination


Advertising used to be a lot more fun.  Camels could smoke and you could watch an entire episode of the evening news without having to consider the perils of a four-hour erection.  In those more innocent days, my favorite print ads promoted the sale of white Puerto Rican Rum, but alcohol was not the attraction.

coffee table 001
The Cave Family Coffee Table. Note the Frankoma Ware.

Tabletop Reading

What magazines covered the coffee table when you were a kid?  Family legend says there were no magazines on ours during my toddler days, because I thought it was playground equipment.  As soon as I was able, I would crawl through the bottom and once I could pull myself up?  Forget about it!

Though she wasn’t always able to store them on the coffee table, Mom took Better Homes & Gardens and McCall’s for as long as I can remember.  Reader’s Digest and Guideposts were more Dad’s style.  In 1966 when Southern Living started, it was added to the mix, as was Texas Highways, since we were finally back home in Texas.  The yellow borders of National Geographic were also a family standard.

Forget Recipes, Where’s the Rum?

1976 Discover your own pleasure. Mix your club soda with white rum from Puerto RicoI devoured National Geographic and Texas Highways page-by-page.  Reader’s Digest, which was usually stored in the bathroom, had great humor pages and I read some of the other articles, but I was most fond of the Condensed Books volumes, of which we had many.  Guidepost articles seemed a little melodramatic to my childhood tastes and I had no interest at all in homemaking, cooking or crafts.

Still, I was a kid who would read the back of a cereal box if nothing else was available.  So if the newspaper had already been thrown out and I didn’t have any library books, I’d thumb through whatever I could get my hands on.  (FYI, I usually read through my schoolbooks during the first week of school.)

Somewhere along the way, I got hooked on Puerto Rican  Rum – not the beverage, the ads.  I don’t even remember which magazines carried the ads, but I remember lingering lovingly on the pages of the rum ads, dreaming of doing exactly what the people in the magazine were doing.  My daydreams had nothing to do with the beverages in their hands, but everything thing to do with the photo-shoots.

Farewell to the Age of Print…or not

My current stash of travel brochures.
My current stash of travel brochures.

Though I still subscribe to Texas Highways, most of my travel dreams reach me via a screen.  The Travel Channel, Discovery, AWE, The Smithsonian Channel and National Geographic all get lots of airtime on my TV.  When I’m researching a trip I do it on my PC.  I make my reservations online and apps follow me around on my travels.

When I get home I write this blog for my personal audience and reviews for Trip Advisor, where they tell me hundreds of thousands of people read what I say.

However, those travel companies are pretty clever.  They’ve by-passed the magazines and deliver their gorgeous travel brochures directly to my mailbox.  When I go to travel shows they fill tote bags full of sumptuously printed media.  I still dream in hard copy.

Lucky Me

I am fortunate.  I’ve had the opportunity to chase my White Puerto Rican Rum fantasies.   I’ve walked hand-in-hand on white sand beaches, sailed into the sunset on gorgeous cruise boats and drank umbrella-decorated rum drinks from the hull of a coconut, but travel has been more difficult than the ads led me to believe it would be.  The Puerto Rico I saw had nothing in common with the ads I’d lingered over as a child and tween-ager.

I’ve run out of travel time today, but come back next week and we’ll follow the ad campaign into reality and see where it leads us.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States, WRITING

Country Inn & Suites in Oklahoma City

No prickly problems at the Carlson, then on to the botanical garden
No prickly problems at the Carlson, then on to the botanical garden


The primary reason we stopped in Oklahoma City was their art museum.  We also wanted to visit Bricktown and the botanical gardens.  All of these sites were downtown, but for a quick overnight stay I thought the downtown hotels were a little pricey.  So we opted for the Country Inn & Suites on NW Expressway.  Downtown was mere minutes away and the reviews sounded pretty good.

Can You Say Mustard?

Nancy the Navigator told us the Country Inn was nearby, so we started scanning the area for a sign of our hotel.  There are several in the general area.  To help Deb locate it I said, “It looked yellow in the picture.”  Suddenly a mustard yellow tower with brown mustard trim came into sight.  We’d found our accommodations.  If you have an aversion to shades of mustard, stay away at all costs.  You will see more variations of mustard yellow at this hotel than you ever imagined were possible.

However, if you just need a place to spend the night in OKC, then this is a great place to stay.  We got the room with two queen beds for under $100 on Expedia.  With the exception of the pervasive mustard yellow and some renovations, everything about the stay was fine.

Compact But Adequate 

When we first arrived all we did was throw our luggage into the room and head back out to Bricktown.  Registration had taken only seconds and they had plenty of luggage carts.  Our room was right across from the elevator.  We noticed the bathroom had been specially equipped for handicap access, which meant a roll-in shower with no bathtub.  I can’t tell you whether it’s that way in all rooms or just the bargain room we got, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.  It meant I wouldn’t be having my usual bubble bath, but I’m a big girl, so I could live without it.

The other thing we noticed was that the room was tight.  The sitting area is completely separate from the sleeping area, which was nice, but there’s not much space.  Not a problem for overnight, but I’d want more space if I were going to be there for several days with a companion.

When we got back from Bricktown we were exhausted and hit the sack pretty quickly.  I woke up about five and decided to go ahead and write the article that had given me such a fit before we left.  I dreaded fighting the log-in on the hotel’s wi-fi, which is usually a hassle, but I wanted to unburden myself from my perceived obligation.  If you want to read about the exhibition I previewed, you can do that here. Being able to close the door and leave Deb sleeping peacefully while I puttered around made things easier and that wi-fi log-in? Piece of cake.

About the time I finished my article, Deb was up and about.  We got ready and headed down for breakfast.  Breakfast was great.  The area set aside for the breakfast bar was actually quite nice.  The buffet offered everything from make-it-yourself waffles to bacon and eggs to fruit and yogurt.  I confess, I had the waffles.  Deb opted for the protein.  There was a baby who was making a lot of noise, but he was absolutely darling and it was happy noises, so we actually enjoyed him.

By nine we’d loaded up the car and headed downtown.  Let the fun begin.


Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States, WRITING

Continuing on the Wrong Foot


So, I’m suffering from a case of the blues, I’ve had a crazy week, my computer is all screwed up, there’s a certified letter at the post office and I need to attend a media event so I can write an article before I head out of town.  Easy peasy, right?

On the Way Downtown

At least Bill was up and he was working on my computer.  I coached him along by running in between the master bath and my office while I got ready.  Of course, the office and the master bath are on separate floors at opposite end of the house.  I was a little bit late, but I had to go to the post office first, because Bill wanted to know the story behind the certified letter and he was working on my computer after all.  So, I make a mad dash to the the post office in Rockwall, called Bill with the bad news the letter reported (certified letters always have bad news) and pointed my car down I-30.

I had smooth sailing all the way to Fair Park which lulled me into thinking that I might actually make it on time.  Suddenly, the road ahead was filled with red brake lights.  Almost simultaneously my bladder informed me that I needed to make a trip to the restroom and I needed to go as soon as I could.

Oh, and did I mention that I’d gotten a new GPS for the trip, because a map update for my old one was going to cost almost as much as a new one.  I knew how to get from my house to the Arts District, but I wanted to get familiar with the new instrument’s idiosyncrasies.  The GPS, which I named Nancy the Navigator, dumped me in the middle of downtown and then got mad when barricades wouldn’t let me follow her instructions.  I picked my way through the construction alone and made it to the museum.  My watch said I’d only be a minute or two late.  I just hoped they’d have a slow start so I could visit the facilities.

Let’s Park

I pulled into the appropriate parking lot, but chose the wrong lane.  Seconds ticked by as I held a frustrating conversation with the woman in the attendant’s booth.  Mechanical noises flooded out of the underground lot and the woman’s speech sounded like I would if I had my mouth full of pebbles.  She finally left her booth, walked over to the lane I should have entered, pulled a ticket for me and handed it to me.  Then she said the only thing I had understood in the whole exchange, “Park down on level six.”

The voyage to level six was excruciating.  I still needed to use the restroom in the worst way and the ramps were so steep and tight that if I’d gone any slower I would have been going in reverse.  I parked the car on six, hoped I didn’t look as manic as I felt and started searching for the elevators.  If they had any signs pointing to them, I didn’t see them, but then I hadn’t seen that I was entering the garage in an exit lane either, so who am I to complain.

On to the Museum

I rode up on the elevator, crossed the lobby to the mezzanine outside and then hurried down a set of stairs to the museum.  They’d move the door on me since I’d visited the museum last, but I finally made my way in.  I was less than ten minutes late, but the event was in full swing.  The artist and a curator were in the exhibit introducing it to the assembled members of the press.  I had hoped to fit right in with my peers, but I’m sure my hair was flying in all directions and I looked like a deer staring into headlights.  And I was dying to go to the restroom.

I bravely attempted to ignore my personal needs and pay attention to what the artist was saying, but my bladder was having none of that.  If coming in late wasn’t embarrassing enough, I had to wander away from the group and find a restroom.  While taking care of the necessities I practiced deep breathing exercises and then patted my hair into place.  I kept telling myself all of this frustration was not the end of the world, but right then it felt like it was.

The Day Continues

Though I felt as if I’d been wandering around down a rabbit hole, only a few moments had passed and the artist was still in the same corner he had been when I left the group.  I started taking notes and making pictures like a pro.  In spite of it all I had enough to write a good article – if I had a computer to write it on when I returned home.

No such luck.  I had a text from my bestie letting me know she could leave work early and the day had not exactly gone as planned, so I still had things I needed to do.  I resolved to focus on the trip and if the article was posted on Monday instead of Friday, then who but me was going to care.  It’s not like anyone was paying me for writing about the exhibition opening.  This blog is a labor of love.

I changed out of my member-of-the-press outfit and put on my traveling clothes.  I loaded up the car and had some lunch.  I fritzed around with my computer some more, hoping beyond hope that it would just miraculously fix itself, but in the end it didn’t and I had to start Norton again.  I gave it up and left the house.

Is it any surprise that when I got to the 7-11 to fill up my car the 7Rewards app wouldn’t open up, so I had to pay for what should have been my free soda?  Are you at all surprised that traffic was awful and even though I’d left with time to spare I barely got to my friend’s office at the appointed time?  Or that I turned on the wrong street even though I actually knew where to go?  Or that my friend had fallen the night before while packing and was barely ambulating?

The Trip With No Name hadn’t even begun and I already had a few choice appellations for it!  Come by on Wednesday and we’ll head off towards Oklahoma City.

ART, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States, WRITING

Starting Off on the Wrong Foot


It’s not unusual for someone to go on a long weekend to brighten their outlook on life, but along with failing to inspire me to come up with a better name than The Trip With No Name, things seemed destined to get more frustrating for this recent road trip.

Booking a Room

After I ordered tickets for Living Proof in Wichita, KS, I sort of ignored the hotel information in my confirmation packet.  I’m such a huge fan of Expedia and Trip Advisor that I assumed I’d be able to get a great room at a bargain price which would blow away the conference’s negotiated deals.  I was wrong.

What’s worse is that my assumption led me to put off making my reservations.  I mean really, who was going to go all the way to Wichita for a Bible Study?  Well, it turns out thousands and thousands of ladies from all 50 States were going to make their way to the city and thousands more were going to watch on simulcast.

But I didn’t know that, so I waited until about a month before the conference before I finally sat down and researched rooms in Wichita.  I quickly found out that the conference had negotiated some pretty amazing deals, but I also found out most of them were already booked.  My first inclination was to find a room within walking distance of the arena.  Total fail.  Then I cast my net further.  I ended up getting the conference rates, but they were at a DoubleTree at the airport.  Not the end of the world, but not exactly my vision for the weekend either.

An Exciting Invitation

As I continued my planning for Wichita, I received an invitation to a media event from one of the local museums.  I’ve been blogging about local attractions for quite awhile now, but until recently I hadn’t made it to their media list.  I have a few publicist in New York and Chicago who send me invitations from time to time, but my budget doesn’t exactly cover flights to the Big Apple or the Windy City.  Gas to the Dallas Arts District is much more affordable.  Since Deb and I weren’t leaving until after she got off from work, I’d have plenty of time to pop by the museum and write the article, right?  Well, not exactly.

A Mixed Up Week

I don’t exactly live in a rut, but I do seem to get along better when things happen according to routine.  The week of the trip had nothing routine about it.  Monday was a holiday and my videographer client was having a picnic for all of us who work for him.  It was just the beginning of a strange week.  Tuesdays are the day I usually go into the videographer’s office, but Bill was having dental surgery, so I went in on Wednesday instead.  As I pulled into the garage Wednesday afternoon I had the realization that in a mere 24 hours I’d be picking up my bestie and we’d be heading north.  I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to wear and I hadn’t done the laundry either.  It was going to be a long evening.  At least I’d picked up sushi on the way home, so I didn’t have to fix dinner.

Dinner was easy, but other things challenged me. Things like my dog, who chose that particular day to have gooped up eyes.  And things like the certified letter notification that had been in the mail.  Those never have good news, so I promised Bill I would go by the post office on the way to the museum.  It should have been easy.  The media event didn’t start until ten.  It would be a cakewalk – right?

Good Morning Meltdown

I’m an early riser.  On the morning of the trip I was in my office about 5:30, even though I’d been up late getting ready to leave.  The first thing I did was open up my email.  As I perused the inbox, it seemed as if an email from my husband was the most important item, so I clicked on it.  Suddenly, a weird article about some celebrity opened up.  At first, I assumed I had just clicked the wrong thing, but it was quickly apparent that something was seriously wrong.

My husband is not an early riser.  At 5:45 he would not have welcomed a hysterical bedside visit, so I ran Norton while I tried to work around the fact that I had no computer.  I did have the laptop from work, but it’s not optimized for all of my sites and passwords, nor is it synched to my printer.  So I limped along hoping everything would be alright.

Norton got through at just about the same time my husband woke up, but I had a sneaky suspicion Norton had not killed the beast on my drive.  A few clicks confirmed my fears.  Then, I broke one of the sacred laws of our house.  I told Bill about my problem before he had his coffee.  Then I spent the next hour or so trying to get ready to leave while I coached Bill through saving my computer.

Things only got more interesting, but I’ll tell you more about it next week.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, WRITING

Win Free Tickets to the Dallas Arboretum

Win free tickets to the Dallas Arboretum for Twelve Days of Christmas
Win free tickets to the Dallas Arboretum for Twelve Days of Christmas


Three lucky people will win a pair of tickets to the Dallas Arboretum.  Read more to find out how!

So, it was blogger day at the Arboretum and they gave me free passes with with parking included.  I was ever so grateful, but I’m a member so I always have free entry and parking at the Arboretum.  As I walked through the gardens, I saw them putting up the Twelve Days of Christmas gazebos and I knew what I was going to do with the tickets.  I was going to share them with my blogging friends.

How to Win

The more social media love you give me, the more chances you’ll have to win a pair of tickets to DABS.  Each of the activities below will get you an entry:

  • Like this blog post
  • Share this blog post on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Google+ or Pinterest (1 entry for each share)
  • Comment on this post
  • Follow this blog (if you don’t already)

I’ll collect entries all week.  I will give one pair of tickets to whoever gives me the most social media love (in the case of a tie, there will be a drawing).  Then I’ll put all the entries in a hat to draw the other two winners.  I’ll announce the winners right here on October 26th.  I hope it is you!!


ART, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL, WRITING

The Gong Show and more

I gathered more than writing tips at the recent DFW Writers' Workshop
I gathered more than writing tips at the recent DFW Writers’ Workshop

TRAVEL HERE: DFW WRITER’S CONFERENCE The DFW Writers’ Conference has a lot more than great classes.  There are luncheons, networking and of course, The Gong Show. The Rest of the Story The evening before the conference, after my first vounteering stint, I attended a little soiree for members of DFWWW and the VIP’s. I didn’t have my big-girl-networking-panties on yet, so I didn’t get much networking done, but I was better at it by the time the conference was over. I missed the Opening Remarks the next morning, because I was still volunteering out in the foyer. That meant I also missed the first hour of classes. At ten I tried to get into Chantelle Ozman’s “Quick Pitch” class, but it was full.  I’d met her the night before and wanted to hear what she had to say about pitches.  Too bad for me. After the classes were over, I walked over to Abuelo’s to have some dinner. I was at a table alone when Nan Amir recognized me as a conference attendee – like because I had on the badge. We, of course, started talking about the conference and I got the equivalent of a free consultation by a very savvy writing coach. Though it was not on the agenda, it was by far one of the most valuable sessions I attended at the conference. To supplement what I learned, I later picked up two of her books, How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual. I’m looking forward to reading them.  If she can impart so much information over dinner, I can only imagine what kind of goodies are in the books. After dinner, we returned to the conference cent for the now-famous Gong Show. That’s when a group of editors with gongs listen to query letters being read anonymouslyand bang their gong at the point they’d hit the reject button. Here’s my notes: What they didn’t like: • too stylized • laughing for all the wrong reasons • first person • cliche “man becomes monster” • too many ghosts, demoness, heaven & angels • magical objects or artifacts • toddler with an uzzi • boading school, “The One”, expected direction • mermaids • too much in the soup • far fetched plot motivation • oversell • build-up of phrases, conversational • cliches Things they did like: • the concept of “Watchers” in a YA dystopian future • Art Pirates • Paranomal Volleyball Team • Diversity, if done right Lunch on Sunday was a Networking Lunch where the writers were supposed to select a table based on our genre and agents were supposed to come by and visit. There’s that old genre thing again. There was no general or commercial fiction table. I got as close as I could by selecting women’s fiction, but for most of the time, all we had was an agent who’d already rejected me. I didn’t win a door prize either. Not my favorite meal. Then there were the vendors.  I felt good buying a cool quilted shoulder bag from Rapha House, because they fight sex traffiking.  I bought a cover for small legal pads from a vendor who uses fabrics woven in jungles of Guatemala by natives my husband helped by building wood stoves.  That vendor didn’t have marketing materials and I forgot to ask who she was.  My friend Tui Snider was selling her travel guide, Unexpected Texas – a book I love.  Then I found two other books that I ate up like candy.  One was I Once Knew Vincent by Michelle Renee.  The other was Heather Webb’s Becoming Josephine, which I’ve already mentioned. And now, I’ve probably told you more than you were interested in the DFW Writer’s Conference – unless you’re a writer.  Next week, I’ll begin a series on a my latest trip to California.  You’ll want to read about it!

ART, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL, WRITING

Cross Genre & Bookcovers

I gathered more than writing tips at the recent DFW Writers' Workshop
I gathered more than writing tips at the recent DFW Writers’ Workshop


There’s so much to the DFW Writers’ Conference I could probably write twice as many posts about it as I already have, but here’s the last of my classes.

Cross Genre with Jonathon Maberry

Jonathon Maberry was the Keynote speaker of the event and he taught a few seminars.  Lots of folks seemed thrilled to death by his willingness to come, but I have to confess, I’d never read anything by him.  I felt a little less guilty about that when I discovered he was a horror/thriller/suspense guy.  That’s not a genre I’ve done much exploration in.  However, when I found out he knew Ray Bradbury, I did get very impressed.  Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine are two of my favorite books.

However, Maberry quickly won my heart when he said genre is a construct of marketing people.  He said our goal was to get in the Fiction and Literature department.  He’s absolutely right, but the marketing people have been very successful, so the first thing everyone wants to know is what genre I write.  He also said that you can’s take risks (and the marketing people can’t take risks on you) if you don’t write well.  He charged us to keep studying the craft.  He said a whole lot more, but that captures the gist of it.

Since we’re talking about the Keynote speaker, let me tell you about his address, which was quite interesting.  He gave a run down of his early life and then his introduction into writing, which included Ray Bradbury – lucky guy.  What he learned from Bradbry was that the greatest joy of successful writing was the success you could help others have.  So that’s how Maberry has tried to live his writing career.  I laughed at some of the things he did to put food on the table while he worked his way to becoming a famous author.  Writing instructions for seed packets was one of them.  Now he writes whatever he wants and people line up to buy it.  You go, Jonathon!

Bookcovers with Russell C. Conner

I went to DFWcon with the agenda of finding everything I could about self-publishing, but I hadn’t been there long, when I figured out that there was a reason I’d resisted self-publishing up until now and that I really didn’t want to do it that way.  Still, at ten o’clock on Sunday morning, Bookcovers looked pretty interesting – and it was.  Russell, an independent author and publisher showed us the evolution of his self-pubbed bookcovers.  I did get some information that was pertinent, however.  KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.  That little smaller than a postage stamp icon isn’t going to convey much unless the artwork is very clean.  I didn’t stay for the photography part of the seminar, I had other places to be.

One more post and I think we’ll have this conference wrapped up.


ART, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL, WRITING

Critique Groups

Movie Poster from IMDb.
Movie Poster from IMDb.


I started the second day of DFWcon with a panel discussion about Critique Groups, one of  the necessities of writing.

My Experience with Critique Groups

Truth be told, if I had a critique group every day I’d probably get more writing done.  On a critique group day I can ignore all the other things that usually demand my attention and focus on polishing my pages.  I’ve been known to come home from a group and cry my heart out after a stinging critique, but after I get up off the floor and dust myself off, I always realize I needed it.

I belong to DFW Writers’ Workshop who puts on the  DFW Writers’ Conference , but during my care-giving days, I just couldn’t get there.  They go until ten o’clock on Wednesday nights smack dab in the middle of the Mid-Cities.  I’d be all wound up after the critiques and the drive, so I couldn’t get to sleep early enough to do a good job of care-giving the next day.  I’ve promised myself to get back over there and I plan to, I’m just a little intimidated.  Those guys don’t mince words, but the best thing is that they meet weekly, giving you more opportunities to read.

The critique group I usually attend is Dallas Christian Writers’ Guild.  It’s not just for writers of Christian literature, but for writers of all stripes who are Christians.  They’re every bit as critical as the DFW Writers’ Workshop, it just seems to come out a little more gently.  Problem is, the Guild only meets once a month and I need a kick in the pants more frequently than that.  They have an offshoot in Denton that I go to, but since I’m moving to Heath soon, I’ll be checking out Rockwall Christian Writers’ Group. But I know I need more.

The workshops only allow you to read a few pages at a time and it’s easy to sound good for short bites.  It’s when those bits are strung together that the flaws really show.  And then there’s the whole waiting until it’s critique group day.  I’d heard of online critique groups, but I wasn’t sure of how they worked.  Hence, my interest in the critique group seminar.

The Care and Feeding of Critique Groups by Heather Webb and Friends

One of the first things I learned in the seminar was that I’d somehow wandered into the cream of the crop when it came to critique groups.  At DFW, Dallas and Denton, things are very structured.  I had no idea the messes some groups got themselves into. But Heather and her critique group are an online group and that’s what I was interested in.

I went in thinking the biggest hurdle was finding online buddies to critique with and now that I’m home, it’s still the most challenging aspect of the situation.  They said conferences were the best place to find writing partners, but I didn’t find my dream date there. The next thing to try was Googling and there are supposed to be thousands of possibilities out there in various forums and groups.  There’s enough out there that you’ll be able to find what you need, but so many it will be a little scary and intimidating.

Good searches are: “writing groups” and “writing center”.  They mentioned Savvy Authors and Scribophile.  I think the best source for me is Kristen Lamb’s WANA groups, but I’m still a little bit chicken.  I’m wishing my next email was from some wonderful critique group wanting me to join. (It could happen!) If you can’t find an already formed group, then you can gather up the new friends you find from conferences and searches to form your own group.  The best number for an online group is between 3-10 people.

Someone has to be in charge and you have to find a format.  Some possible formats are email, yahoo groups and facebook secret groups.  Set up the rules and let the person in charge handle all the tough stuff.  Figure out the vetting process for new members, when you’re going to meet and set the rules for reading work.  And play fair.  If you want people to read and critique your work, then you’re going to need to do the same for them.

If someone needs to be fired, Heather recommended probation first.  It’s so hard to find the right people, you don’t want to have to repeat the process too frequently. If you’re a writer, you may not have thought of this – one critique group is not enough.  Hooking up with the DFW, Dallas and Denton was a good way to start, but I do need to get an online group.

When your manuscript does become a book, Heather and her panel pointed out that your critique groups are a great source of cross-promoting.  The final bit of advice we got in the seminar was to go see the movie Authors Anonymous.  Seems like that was particularly good advice.