Category Archives: Events

State of the Gallery: April 2018

Nearly a third of the way through the year, and April 2018 is already shaping up to be a lot less exciting than April 2017. Of course, this time last year involved frantic shelf-installing and box-unpacking after the move from the old gallery space at Valley View Center, so it’s all a matter of perspective. (And if anybody had any doubts about not getting involved with the Rock Candy Mountain promises of artist spaces opening up at the Midtown project allegedly replacing Valley View, they’re gone now.) Yes, the weather keeps fluctuating between “typical” and “too cold to get out of bed right now,” but we haven’t actually gone below freezing…yet.

As far as last weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show was concerned, April follows in the tradition of last February: announce a gallery event, get everything ready to go, and then watch the weather feeds for impending catastrophe as a sudden atmospheric fewmet comes to visit for a while. Last February, it was a last-minute ice storm that hit north and west of Dallas, making a lot of potential attendees understandably reconsider a trip into Dallas if the roads were going to be frozen over by the time they attempted to return home. This time, Friday festivities were greeted with tornado sirens going off over most of North Texas: we got a bit of heavy rain for about an hour, but a friend coming in from Chicago found shelter with a multitude of others in a furniture store north of here, and folks to the south and the west had their own issues with hail and lightning. What issues Friday brought were mitigated on Saturday, where chilly but otherwise excellent weather brought out lots of first-time visitors and Valley View regulars. If nothing else, the weather caused reevaluations of having an outdoor event in spring, because any tents set up in the parking lot would have been blown to Oz and back. Maybe next year.

And on that note, further events in April will be restricted due to the need to get ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 4 through 6, and then things get interesting. It’s too early to discuss particulars, but everything leads to a gallery show on June 30, just in time for everyone uninterested in traveling out of town for the July 4 weekend. The subject of that show is a secret, too, but let’s just say that anyone attending can say with authority that they’ve never been to an art show like this one.

Lateral shift to go back to talking about Texas Frightmare Weekend: the vendor map and listings arrived yesterday, and we’re back on our favorite row. As for most of the decade, the epicenter of Frightmare is at the Hyatt Regency DFW in DFW Airport, thus making the entire wing of DFW Airport by the hotel available parking for the convention. As in previous years, the Triffid Ranch and Tawanda! Jewelry tables will be in the back of the Made In Texas Hall in the hotel basement, right next to the signing lines. Since this coincides with the first-ever Triffid Ranch show a decade ago, those already taking advantage of the Shirt Price discounts have an extra incentive to wear their Triffid Ranch T-shirts to the show: while supplies last, everyone showing up in a Triffid Ranch shirt or purchasing a shirt at the show gets a special present, no additional purchase necessary or needed. It’s just an extra bit of thanks to those who have not only made Texas Frightmare Weekend one of my favorite shows, but who have made the previous nine shows so much fun.

One ancillary note about Frightmare, not for this year but for next year: I’m regularly asked about getting vendor space at Fan Expo, the local convention that inspired the “Malcolm Rule” mentioned a few weeks back. I’ve balked for many reasons, and now my refusal became personal. Ever since the old Dallas Comicon was purchased by out-of-town convention accumulators and turned into Fan Expo, it and its associated Fan Days events always conveniently scheduled themselves against other similar events so that local attendees could do one or the other but not both. (Longtime fans may remember when the Dallas Fantasy Fairs did the same thing in the early Nineties, stunting or killing up-and-coming conventions that simply couldn’t compete against the Flimsy Fair hype machine and guest lists. Those fans who aren’t longtime fans might not be familiar with the name “Dallas Fantasy Fair,” as the Flimsy Fairs blew up very spectacularly in 1996 after choking out all other competition, just in time for the big comics speculation bust that caused Marvel Comics to file for bankruptcy at the end of the year.) Five years back, Fan Expo’s parent company offered to buy Texas Frightmare Weekend for a pittance, and when told no, attempted to run a horror convention within the main show that was an unrelenting disaster. Since then, Fan Expo management concentrated on scheduling opposite the A-Kon anime convention, ultimately causing it to move out of Dallas entirely, and then settled for running two weeks after All-Con.

Well, that was 2018. You can imagine the surprise vendors at Fan Expo 2018 had when they received advance registration forms for 2019, and discovered that Fan Expo had moved its date to the first weekend of May. Not only does this directly conflict with Texas Frightmare Weekend, forcing attendees and vendors to choose one and only one, but May 4 is also Free Comic Book Day across the US and Canada. Frightmare never competed against the many comic shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex participating in Free Comic Book Day, but Fan Expo’s list of comic artist and comic adaptation film and TV star guests does, and not just with comics dealers and stores having to man a booth at Fan Expo during their stores’ busiest day of the year. Fan Expo management hasn’t released a statement as to why the schedule suddenly needed switching, but I’ll bet $10 that when it’s finally released, the statement will bray something along the lines of “this is a pure coincidence.”

I’m sure it is. Of COURSE it is. Likewise, it’ll be a pure coincidence that everyone involved with Frightmare, from staff to vendors to guests to attendees, will spend the next year doing nothing but amping their games so Frightmare isn’t just the biggest show in Dallas on that weekend, but the must-attend show of its kind in all of North America. It’ll also be pure coincidence that so many of us involved in Frightmare will do our utmost to have the backs of our comic shop brethren when May 4, 2019 comes around. Refusing to advertise with venues that continue to do business with Fan Expo, for instance, or otherwise demonstrating with dollars or shoe leather that scheduling opposite established events with the attempt to create a monopoly may not turn out the way everyone expected. After all, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs attempted to create a similar monopoly, and a little voice should have told their organizers what Fan Expo management really needs to hear:

And now on a purely friendly note. It’s been about three years since the last Cat Monday event on this site, mostly due to the time taken by the gallery, but its main subject, Leiber, is still going strong. As of Friday the 13, Leiber turns 16: he’s still the so-dopy-he’s-cute FreakBeast he was when we adopted him in August of 2002, but he’s a little stiffer today. Aren’t we all. Those who have met him are welcome to wish him a happy birthday, although he’ll probably only care if the person offering the wishes brings cat treats as well. And so it goes.

Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries

One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)

This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.

After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)

And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.

And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…

The State of the Gallery: March 2018

As regular readers might note, you didn’t get a state of the gallery update for February, mostly due to gallery-related distractions. Of course, February also didn’t get a full moon falling anywhere within it, either, which just meant one more good thing about March. Considering how fast March is moving, sliding through February was probably for the best.

As far as past and future events are concerned, February’s Date Night event was a mixed bag. The event itself was very successful, but as is the normal state of affairs with local weather, Date Night coincided with a nasty ice storm spreading through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex that kept a lot of potential participants off the roads, and encouraged a lot of those who attended to leave early before the roads were impassable. This just means having to hold more events and showings during more clement conditions. This leads to:

Numero uno, things on the site are going to be extremely quiet through the end of next week, all due to the first external Triffid Ranch show of the year: All-Con in Addison. As in previous years, All-Con is a four-day show, running from Thursday to Sunday, with Thursday offering “try before you buy a weekend pass” free admission all day Thursday. Combine this with the already huge spring break contingent, and everyone is VERY glad the convention is running at a new, larger, and much more conveniently located hotel. Easy access to the hotel via DART buses, a wide range of restaurants within walking distance, a tremendous lineup of lectures and workshops…my only regret is that All-Con has that many activities scheduled through the weekend, but getting out from behind the table is pretty much an impossibility. This, of course, is a good thing.

Numero two-o, the next big show is seven weeks later, and if Texas Frightmare Weekend didn’t already exceed everyone’s expectations every year, people might be surprised to hear about plans for the next Triffid Ranch booth in May. Let’s just say that when running a booth in a convention already so packed that the convention announced that it has no more room for further guests, and that the host hotel has been booked solid since last year and attendees spill into FOUR more overflow hotels, getting away with a merely average display is unacceptable. In addition, not only is this the tenth Frightmare Weekend with a Triffid Ranch booth, but the end of the show falls on the tenth anniversary of the first-ever Triffid Ranch show, at the late and much-missed CAPE comic event off Lemmon Avenue in 2008. This, of course, demands a suitable anniversary celebration, so let’s see if everyone can pull it off.

Numero three-o: in between these two, don’t assume that the intervening six weeks will just be full of the usual panic about potting, casting, gluing, and painting, along with the usual snot-bubble crying of “I suck! I suck! I wanna go back to the mall!” in the corner. Since last year’s move preempted plans for a 2017 event, the Triffid Ranch proudly announces a return of a wildly popular event from the old ArtWalk and presents the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show on April 6 and 7 from 6:00 to 10:00. Yes, it coincides with all sorts of other events in the Dallas area, including the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, but that happens all through the city in the weeks before the weather really heats up. Besides, where else are you going to go in the Dallas area to view carnivorous plant blooms and bracts and the plants that produce them?

Oh, to close up, and for the barest hint of what else to expect at the Manchester United Flower Show, here’s a sample of the centerpiece to a new enclosure:

Yes, this is a Cryolophosaurus skull, so anyone familiar with previous discussions on my fascination with the flora of pre-Pliocene Antarctica has an idea of what to expect. It and other enclosures premiere in April, so make plans to see the final enclosure after it’s planted and ready. See you then.

Show Advice: Priorities

(Note: with Triffid Ranch show season getting ready to start, a lot of bystanders and longtime customers interested in starting their own small businesses ask for advice and recommendations about attending and selling at shows. While asking me for business advice is comparable to asking Jeffrey Dahmer for tips on vegan recipes, these ruminations might be of some entertainment value, especially among those thinking about jumping into the show circuit.)

So you’ve made the big leap from talking about starting a small art retail business to doing it, a feat roughly as terrifying and as awesome as finishing flight school and starting the solo flight. The fear never goes away, nor should it, but that’s combined with increasing confidence in your abilities and skills. This is where you get to discover whether you’re suited for selling your work or if you’re better off putting it on consignment elsewhere. It’s also the point where, like not watching for that flock of geese or filling your auxiliary tanks with black-strap molasses, you’re going to have a whole new set of worries as you evict the old ones.

Right now, the small retail show or vendor’s room is facing stresses and trends that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. Living in the future means having plenty of options to take payments that don’t involve cash. The same technology, though, means having to focus on uniqueness, which really affects niche events such as science fiction conventions: the days where a vendor could clear out the local Walmart of Star Wars figures and sell them at a 200 percent markup are as dead as Y2k panic, and for as long. Smartphones mean that if you’re selling a commercially available product of any sort and it isn’t perishable or otherwise in immediate need, customers can and will stand right in front of you, price-compare, and make same-day-delivery purchases right then and there. Alternately, one quick picture send out via Instagram or Twitter might mean having a crowd in front of your table in an hour. For those of us who remember having to lug cash registers and halogen lighting to shows, it’s a strange and terrible and wonderful time.

Even with that, it’s always nice to know what concerns are worth worrying about and which ones aren’t and when they switch. For instance, most beginners worry about custom bags and packaging with their contact information emblazoned on it, which should never be a concern to anyone making less than six figures’ worth of sales per year. Even with those who do, a well-placed business card has more of an impact and is less likely to be used as an emergency cat litter box liner. Likewise, the things to worry about can look a lot like the things that should be kicked down the road or kicked off a cliff. While this isn’t a comprehensive or even a coherent list, it hits on the important notes of a decade of Triffid Ranch shows, and here’s hoping my pain is someone else’s enlightenment.

Things Not to Worry About:

Your neighbors selling more than you. A very common fallacy among hubristic vendors at shows is the assumption that any money going to any other vendor is money that’s being stolen from them. It’s a slightly understandable feeling, aggravated by that feeling when you’ve sold maybe three items over a three-day weekend and the vendor next to you has completely sold out of inventory by Friday night. Sometimes that fallacy gets poisonous enough to say something completely inappropriate in public, such as the vintage bookseller who comes to shows and badmouths anybody not selling books before he and his brother set up. Sometimes it gets even worse, where those vendors throw tantrums to the show staff about having to play well with others and threatening never to come back unless the offender is banned forever. (This is one of the reasons why I no longer bother with being a vendor at literary science fiction conventions, especially the big industry events such as World Fantasy or World Horror: the official excuse as to why new vendors aren’t admitted is that “the previous year’s vendors already reserved their spaces for the next event,” and the conventions are very careful not to rent vendor’s room space big enough to expand because they don’t want to deal with the bookseller tantrums.) On a much smaller scale, there’s the grumbling and snide remarks made in passing, which make the event a lot less fun that it could have been.

Instead, here’s what you should do as a vendor when someone else is cleaning up: celebrate it. don’t grumble about your poor sales, especially since you don’t know how long that may last at that show, and the situation may be reversed by the end of the show. Instead, congratulate them when they come up for breath. If your neighbor has a crowd five people deep in front of the booth, use that time to spruce up your own display or otherwise be productive instead of sulking behind your phone. If this continues through the whole show, just break down, pack up, congratulate them again, and acknowledge that you just didn’t find your audience at that show. (If you have several shows in a row with similar experiences, then either you’re picking the wrong shows or your inventory just isn’t clicking, but that’s a subject for a different essay.)

Yeah, you’re tired and you’re disappointed, but you WANT your neighbors to do well. Firstly, the better you treat your show neighbors, the more likely they’ll reciprocate at the next show, and that sort of goodwill is infectious. Secondly, as anyone who has ever worked a carnival or fair will tell you, attendees who see someone else with a new purchase and a big smile are much more likely to buy something themselves, so by cheerleading for the currently hot vendors, you’re increasing your own odds of the show becoming something great.

People “stealing your ideas”. Anybody familiar with publishing knows the ongoing schtick about beginners afraid of someone “stealing my ideas”. Based on the very occasional publicized lawsuit involving a movie or television production company stealing source material from published fiction, the assumption is that every writer with some vague idea of a short story had best go to extreme and legally unsound ideas to keep unethical editors and publishers from swiping that vague concept and making money from it themselves. There’s no need to go into the fallacy of mailing story ideas to yourself as a “poor man’s copyright” or how those lawsuits are based on someone high-grading a creator’s already-completed work, with the emphasis on “work,” and how the plagiarism prevents the original creator from being able to leverage their own work. The main thing to take away is that if you have a truly innovative item or concept that you wish to sell, get it copyrighted, trademarked, or patented, right now.

The reason why I bring this up is because with nearly 8 billion people on the planet, the odds are pretty good that at least two people with the same exposure to the same influences might come up with the same general concept. What turns this from daydream to a marketable concept is the work necessary to implement it. Patent and copyright law in most countries is intended to protect the work, not just the idea. Everything else…well, as tempting as it would be to assume that you’re the only person in the history of humanity to make little wooden chests decoupaged with old comic book pages, you’re probably not. If you’re showing your little chunks of your heart and soul in public and they’re not something that can be protected under the law, there’s not a whole lot you can do to keep someone from seeing it, thinking “Hey, I can do this!”, and trying it themselves. If that weren’t the case, we’d probably still be paying royalties to the Neanderthals for use and development of flintknapping techniques.

So how do you keep someone from walking up to your booth, looking over the items you lovingly knitted, sewed, forged, sintered, potted, or 3-D printed, and getting the same gleam in their eye that some Denisovian had about Mousterian hand-axe construction? You get passionate about your work. The moment somebody planning on hitching themselves to your wagon asks “Is there a lot of money in this?”, tell them, honestly and truthfully, “that isn’t why I’m doing this.” Instead of making lots and lots of the same exact item, continue to expand your range, so that the wannabes see that they need the same level of dedication to catch up. Take the time to explain to customers why your inventory is so special, so even if someone else offers a product roughly similar to yours, they want to buy from YOU. You don’t need some alternate persona or some schtick: be yourself. However, that passion is infectious, and the passion also implies that you’ve put so much more work into your work. If you inspire someone to find that same level of passion, just run with it and welcome them. If they don’t, then they’ll drop it and move to something easier. Either way, your work stands out, and anyone attempting a half-assed knockoff will stand out as such.

Non-customers poking about your sources. It sounds insulting, and it definitely feels insulting: that person coming up to your booth who has no interest in buying anything, but who has to know where you get your materials or components. Note that you as a creator are under no obligation to reveal your sources on anything that isn’t affected by state or federal law, although it’s definitely in your best interests to be completely upfront about materials and components that might be dangerous if misused, especially if it might come into contact with food or drink. However, the vast majority of these non-customers aren’t interested in competing with you or even in trying to get an in with your sources: they’re exactly like the people who have no intention of becoming stage illusionists but who obsess about how to replicate every one of Penn & Teller’s illusions. They don’t want to compete against you: they want to know how you do what you do so they can brag to their friends about this supposed inside knowledge, “direct from the artist,” and be able to provide references if they’re called on it.

Want proof? Respond to a poker with something along the lines of “Oh, the supplier went out of business about five years ago” or the completely honest “I make my own,” go into a little bit of detail, and watch their eyes glaze. Expect the same who want to know about your techniques or who ask if you teach classes: they’re more interested in knowing that you’ll share your knowledge than in partaking of it.

The “You Should Just” crowd. A subset of the pokers are those who have just enough knowledge of your field of expertise that they’ll drop the most esoteric and exotic fact they can find. In the case of carnivorous plants, it’s always a very rare and very hard-to-grow plant that only a couple of people in the United States have the room or the time to give the proper care, such as demanding to see a Nepenthes rajah up close. Upon hearing that you don’t have one, no matter the reason as to why it makes no sense to have one available right then, they’ll cluck their tongues and exclaim “Well, you SHOULD.” This isn’t about a customer with a particular need. If you say “I have X, but it’s back at my shop/in my gallery/in the inventory I haven’t unpacked because I don’t have the room,” they’ll wander off, because it’s all about claiming superiority. If you simply don’t have it, they’ll keep fussing “Well, you should just carry one…” until either you shoo them off or they find another bright shiny object to chase.

If three or four potential customers ask about an item, this suggests a legitimate demand among the community, and you should cater to their needs as quickly as you can. However, if it’s one person who keeps insisting that you really NEED to carry one obscure and expensive item, and doesn’t want to put down a deposit or otherwise confirm an actual interest, ignore them. If you succumb and get that one item just for them, they’ll cluck their tongues, rush off, and make absolutely certain never to see you again.

The $5 crowd. Do enough shows, and most vendors can recognize the people who are only there to snag as much free stuff as they can carry off. (I want to emphasize that a huge distance lies between those who may not have money now but who are interested in your inventory, and those whose sole interest is in getting everything they can for free. The secret here is to treat everyone with respect and consideration unless they prove they don’t deserve it, because that 8-year-old who is in awe of your stuff but who is dead broke usually grows up into an 18-year-old with disposable income who remembers treatment from a decade earlier, even if you don’t.) The more insidious ones are those who somehow get it into their heads that your items should be at some magical price that’s usually way below your cost. I refer to them as “the $5 crowd,” because they get upset that everything isn’t priced at $5US. I’m not sure if this derives from memories of some magical time in the early 1970s when anything short of cars, houses, and nuclear weapons could be purchased for less than $5, or from some strange mental default that sets this value to everything.

Either way, this leads to pointing at an item that incorporates $40 in materials and sneering “I’ll give you $5 for it,” or scoffing “I wouldn’t pay $5 for that.” Sometimes it extends into blatant lies, such as claiming “I saw something JUST LIKE THAT last night on Home Shopping Network that was selling for $5,” or insisting that some magical store three timezones away has something exactly like your handmade and hand-designed item “and THEY only sell it for $5!” It all comes down, though, to the Euclidean idea of the issue, and that was demonstrated to me last year by an East Texas goofball who crashed an art show and harangued every artist there with the same question: “Do y’all know someone who makes something EXACTLY LIKE THIS, but just not for so much?”

The important thing to remember, with these and the people who offer to trade your handmade items for “exposure,” is that your work is important. Your time is important, even if you horribly undercharge for it. You aren’t doing yourself or anybody else any favors by conceding to the $5 Crowd, because not only will they not appreciate the favor, but they’ll then use that as a cudgel against other artists and vendors by screaming “Well, THEY let me have it for $5!” These people are not your customers, and you want to know how you’ll know this? You’ll know when they wander off and then contact you six months later after buying some cheap bootleg knockoff for $5 from Amazon or Walmart or Etsy and demanding that you help them get their money back. (Oh, and don’t even bother to respond to those requests. Just tell them “You might need to bring that up with the person you bought the item from,” because that’s all you owe them.)

Things to Worry About:

Having Enough inventory. Yes, I understand. You work a horrible 40-hour-per-week job for a control freak who clocks your bathroom breaks and collects urine samples every week as a cheap alternative to Budweiser. The commute to and from work makes you wonder if some of your fellow commuters have to be kicked in the chest to be reminded to breathe. You drag yourself home after ten hours of nightmare seemingly designed to bring out your worst misanthropist impulses, and instead of sitting on the couch or bed and crying yourself to sleep, you’re hard at work on making the items that make you live. You subsist on ramen and assorted captured insects so you have money for metal or fabric or glue, and you risk hallucinations from sleep deprivation in order to work way past a normal bedtime. You hear about an upcoming show, further risk rickets and night blindness by spending your grocery money on the booth fee, and gather your available inventory together. You’ve got enough to present yourself at the show, right?

Seriously, and with as much kindness and as much love as I can muster, if you haven’t been a vendor at a show before, look at your existing inventory. If you can put everything you have on one six-foot table and not have anything else on standby, cancel that show and don’t sign up for another one until you have three times that amount. And don’t settle for three times of the same items, either. Increase the variety as well, so that every potential customer that walks by your table will see SOMEthing that catches the eye. If you’re doing clothing, focus on a strong line of items instead of a little bit of kid’s clothes and a little bit of men’s clothes. If you’re doing jewelry, offer options other than just necklaces or rings. While you’re at it, offer items at multiple price points, because the crowds interested in high-end items and penne-ante pieces change between shows. My wife refers to the small items as “bread and butter,” because you can make your booth fee on 40 $5 sales as you can on one $200 sale, and those $5 sales increase the likelihood of those customers coming back, either at that show or at subsequent ones, and buying a lot more.

If any advice to new vendors was the most important, it’s this: too much is better than not enough. Bring out too much inventory, and you’ll have to pack it up and haul it back home when the event ends. That’s a lot better than selling most of your stuff in the first few hours and then having to sit at an empty booth for the rest of a weekend. Much more importantly, even if a potential customer goes over your table and checks out every last item without finding anything, it’s still an opportunity to engage, to ask “So what are you looking for?” and even talk about custom assignments. If the table is mostly empty, odds are that the attendee won’t even get that close: s/he will do a quick driveby, see nothing of import, and scoot out and never return.

For us veteran vendors, nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing someone with undeniable talent and skill who didn’t make a single sale because every last item had to be spread out in an attempt to fill the space. The table doesn’t have to groan and threaten to buckle from the load, but it should always have a reason for a show attendee to stop and give it a chance.

Another reason to have more inventory than you have room to display? Accidents and emergencies. You get to a show and discover that the entire contents of a box or tub are damaged or otherwise unsellable, which happens more often than you’d think, or you realize that the one remaining tub is sitting on your kitchen table. The last thing you want to have is a massive hole where a big item was supposed to be, and sometimes a lot of smaller items can fill the space in both table and sales just as well.

Having your own space and display in order. After a little while, every vendor doing events and shows has at least one story about a particular folly in displays and signage that almost made sense at the time it was first used. The big wooden rack that held paintings but that kept catching the wind and going airborne. The glass display case that looked oh-so-impressive but that required three people to move it into a vehicle and threatened to decapitate the driver during sudden stops. The backlit sign just marginally longer than the available truck bed, causing it to disassemble from road vibration on longer trips. The aspect that nobody wants to talk about: the displays and signage that the business outgrew but couldn’t be pitched because “I paid good money/this was a gift when I started out/I really like it”.

Your display space reflects upon your business as much as the inventory, which means that regular maintenance and upgrading is necessary. With wood furniture, paint or stain the inevitable travel scrapes, and seal the wood to prevent staining from rain or hands. (April Winchell of the much-missed site Regretsy was absolutely right about how bare wood was hipster catnip, and the individuals who go on and on about the authenticity of unfinished wood in displays obviously haven’t been around long enough to see the grodiness of a display after five or six shows, what with Cheeto-covered hands, spilled drinks, and the occasional sneeze.) With metal, carry polishing cloths or bottles of Brasso, and don’t put off fixing broken welds or popped rivets. Plastic? Invest in any number of plastics-safe polishes, and be prepared for the inevitability of plastic and resin eventually going yellow and/or brittle, a lot sooner if you do a lot of outdoor shows. If something breaks to the point where the repair is more noticeable than the rest of the display, replace it with a new one, because if it breaks again, it’ll most likely be on the existing damage.

(Sidenote: If you can possibly help it, set aside a separate fund in your show budget for display upgrades and maintenance, and go through a regular brutal assessment of your displays, lights, and accessories about every six months. Ask friends and family to assist, and ask for their honest opinions on your final arrangement. Are you making contemporary jewelry, but still using New Kids on the Block sheets as a tablecloth? Are your shelves and racks so patched and duct-taped that they could be props on The Red Green Show? Are you still using incandescent or halogen bulbs that were purchased back in the Twentieth Century? Does your assembled display suggest “Fun Shopping Experience” or “Telethon for Tetanus”? If you see issues, that’s what the display upgrade budget is for. At the very least, take advice from professional retailers and upgrade your displays every couple of years just to spark new interest. Yes, it’s money that could be used for inventory or transportation, and that’s why it’s usually severely neglected.)

(Sidenote two: unless you’re struck by lightning at the end of a show and wake up six months later in a body cast, clean up your damn messes when you leave. Yes, shows have either volunteers or paid personnel whose final responsibility is to sweep the floor and dump the garbage after you leave, but dumping your detritus all over and chuckling “Job security” to the poor person having to do final cleanup is a jerk move. That behavior comes back to bite you, especially if it gets back to the show organizer that your area looked as if Hunter S. Thompson had camped there for a month. I know two vendors who somehow managed to leave more junk at the end of every show than they’d packed in at the beginning, and they’re only now starting to realize that the only shows willing to take them are ones desperate for ANY vendors. These are usually shows where the vendors outnumber the attendees, so you understand the importance of cleaning up after your filthy self.)

Timewasters and parasites. As you continue in your small retailer career, you’ll find people who, to be nice, want to be involved but who don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart. This includes people who nag endlessly about “any room for an assistant?”, but who can’t do anything besides sit behind the table and text all day. You’ll be hit up by alleged organizers of big shows who want you to sign up and pay the booth fee RIGHT THEN, and who refuse to go away when you decline. You’ll get the people who work for other shows and come to yours to badmouth their competition. Expect the guy who camps out next to your table and creeps out potential customers with his very loud reviews of his very extensive hentai collection. You’ll get the ones who comment “Gee, you have a nice table here” and either ask if they can have “just a corner” to sell their own items or ask to put a big fat stack of flyers for a direct competitor right out in front. And it’s nearly a rite of passage to get that one seemingly enthusiastic customer who swears on four grandmothers’ graves that s/he will be “right back with the money if you put that item in reserve for me” and then disappears forever. Being a retailer, in any capacity, is an immersion in the human condition, and that includes lots of mixes of stupidity, arrogance, cluelessness, greed, and/or delusion that parade around in skin suits. If you think you might have it bad, just consider what anyone working the front counter at a comic shop or a movie theater has to deal with every day.

Sadly, since nobody has developed a surefire jerkwad repellent (and that person would be the richest person on the planet within weeks of developing it), you’ll have to deal with these people and more, and one technique works well in 97 of 100 cases. The moment someone pops up to try to take advantage of your basic human compassion, just tell them “I’m not in a position to do so right now: could you come around after the show is over?” Well, this works on everyone but the hentai creep: in his case, ask him nicely to move elsewhere and call loudly for security if he refuses.

Always remember that you can say “NO” at any time, and also remember that your ultimate responsibility is to customers, as in “people who exchange money for your inventory.” If that Etsy trunk show organizer shoves one of your customers aside to tell you all about her event next week and doesn’t respond to “could you come by after the show?”, you have no responsibility to be nice or even civil afterwards.

(Sidenote: Many shows and events are sufficiently large or of enough specific interest that they may get bands of roving reporters and photographers wandering around for reaction shots. If your inventory or your backstory has enough of a hook to attract further interest, you might even get a followup from one of those reporters, either asking for a few words and a quick photo of your display or for contact information for a more formal interview. Without fail, they’ll come around right at a time when your booth is completely overwhelmed by curious attendees and returning customers. A quick and easy way to spot the difference between real writers and wannabes is to see how they respond upon seeing a crowd around your booth. Anyone with any actual experience in reportage, or at least any without a major “You, OF COURSE, know who I am, don’t you?” hubris infection, might pop in during a lull between four separate conversations, make a quick introduction, and ask “Mind if I ask some questions when you’re not so busy?” It’s the frauds and incompetents that literally shove people aside and demand that you pay attention to them RIGHT THEN, and blowing them off in order to take care of customers won’t affect you in the slightest.

Last year, I had one such charlatan not only interrupt two people with serious questions, but who huffily asked me “could you get an assistant to take over so I can interview you,” his words, right then and there. He sulked off when I explained that an interview might be better after the show, only to come back when the crowds abated somewhat. Not only has that interview never appeared in any publication, print or online, but the only subsequent contact from him was a solicitation to write blog posts at truly entitled prices.)

Getting enough sleep. No matter how much practice or preparation, the last week before a big show is a cascade of sleep deprivation. If you aren’t staring at the ceiling wondering if you took care of that last-minute thing or coming up with a new concept right when you should be unconscious, you’ll be getting up extra-early to get everything to the show in time. There’s always the joy of thinking “I can get this last thing done in an hour,” getting to work, and looking up to realize that you’ve worked the whole night through. If you work a day job, you have the joys of balancing the last-minute emergencies that always happen as you’re trying to get out the door with show prep.

If the show is far enough away that you have to stay in a hotel, there’s the aggravation of late-night searches for a 24-hour grocery or drugstore because you packed the cat instead of the toothbrush, or discovering that the night manager already gave your hotel room away and the only option is to pay $500 per night for the last room or go to another hotel. If the show has food vendors, those carrying coffee or high-caffeine soft drinks are the angels to incoming vendors, especially in the last few hours before breakdown. I won’t even start with the well-meaning friends who assume that because you’re in town and have a whole six hours between the end of one show day and the beginning of the next, you have to get together with them for dinner or a party. If you’re smart, you’ll bow out on those invitations unless you know you can get enough sleep, because you’re no good to any of your customers if you’re so sleep-deprived and hallucinating that you alternate between extolling the virtues of your work and waving a marlin spike around while yelling about reptiles.

I don’t have any personal stories to relate about particular sleep horrors, although I discovered last September that I can go approximately 40 hours without sleep before I encounter my inner William Burroughs. However, I was neighbor to a vendor at one big show in Fort Worth who ran into everything that might interfere with a good night’s rest. He came in on Sunday morning about a half-hour before the show opened to the public, uncovered his table, told everyone about how he’d driven three hours to be there because his wife had to work that day, sat down in a little folding chair, and promptly passed out. Customers coming by his table couldn’t ask him questions because he was insensate, and his snoring started drowning out sales pitches from other vendors and announcements over the hall intercom. Finally, as the show ended and the rest of us started breaking down our displays, he nodded, stretched, and complained loudly about how he hadn’t sold a thing all day and how he hoped his wife had done better the day before. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that she did the same exact thing, and hoped he’d do better when his turn came. I haven’t seen them at any shows in a while: I hope they’re getting enough rest…

State of the Gallery: January 2018

Doom and Gloom (mostly gloom) in Dallas in JanuaryAnd the holiday season is over. Well, that’s not completely true: we can’t forget the importance of February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down for his shadow, and learns if he has to wait six more weeks until spring. The decorations are down, the last of the leftovers are dispatched (unless your grandmother is like mine and wants to see if she can make turkey-flavored Jell-O out of the carcass residue left in the refrigerator), the more gothically inclined are building dinosaur skeletons with the chunks Grandma couldn’t use, and everyone in retail can get rid of that twitch from overplay of the mandatory Christmas radio station. True, you don’t want to go anywhere near a gym for the rest of the month, especially in the parking lot as everyone fights for the closest space to the door, and we’re all keeping an eye on the skies for that one falling snowflake that convinces the worst drivers on the road that they need to switch things up by driving with their buttocks. All things considered, though, things are good.

Out here at the Triffid Ranch, it’s time for introspection, renovation, negotiation, and potential amputation. We may have 295 days until that happiest holiday of the year, but the work starts now. This includes cleaning and prepping new glassware, potting new plants, scoping out new shows and new venues, and trying to limit nervous breakdowns to every other Tuesday. In other words, just like every year since the gallery first opened. The highlights:

First and foremost, the emphasis in 2018 is finishing new enclosures, and that starts with getting commissioned enclosures out now. (A friendly reminder for those who purchased Nepenthes pitcher plants at Triffid Ranch shows in the past: now’s the time to ask about upgrades to give your plants more room.) This includes getting more photos with those enclosures, in order to enter enclosures in regional and national art shows and inform local media outlets of those shows. Right now, everything is being kept on a winter lighting schedule to encourage growth later, but when the timers switch to spring hours in March, the fun really begins. It’s not just a matter of viewing Nepenthes blooms, but trying some luck with pollinating flowers in order to develop a few new hybrids.

On the subject of shows, it’s no surprise that the first big Triffid Ranch show of the year is All-Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The surprise was discovering the new venue for the 2018 event. For years, All-Con ran at the increasingly cramped Crowne Plaza hotel, but size limitations required a move to a larger venue. Two years ago, it moved to a much larger space with a bit of a parking problem: hotel management promised to augment its tiny parking area with access to the parking garages of the office buildings around it, which was a surprise to the owners of said office buildings. A majority of attendees discovering that parking options consisted of a muddy field across from the hotel wasn’t enough to kill the convention, and last year’s All-Con returned to the Crowne Plaza, which was now charging for parking when it wasn’t hosting meth labs. This year, though, All-Con moves to a MUCH larger venue, the Hotel InterContinental in Addison, right along Dallas North Tollway.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, for starters, the InterContinental, formerly the Grand Kempinski, is a legacy of Dallas’s great oil and development boom of the 1980s, back from the days when it was the tallest building in the area. Because the old Grand Kempinski was intended to compete for convention and conference business with the Anatole and Fairmont hotels near downtown, this meant having an absolutely gigantic ballroom on the second floor and an equally expansive ground floor atrium. This means that instead of fighting crowds in the artist’s alley section to get to the main dealer’s room, we have room to stretch out. Even better, this is one hotel where the promise of “multiple restaurants within walking distance” is quite actually true, and more than just a McDonald’s or Jack In The Box. (The hotel is just off Addison’s impressive Restaurant Row, which includes pubs, novelty venues such as the world-famous Magic Time Machine, and even a Whole Foods within a ten-minute walk.) A convention with food options other than the hotel restaurant and a convenience store? The mind boggles.

For vendors, the situation gets even better. The Hotel Intercontinental features two large entrances, big enough to allow two-way traffic while loading and unloading, and a large elevator sits right by the escalator leading to the second floor. (Those familiar with the absolute mess at the Crowne Royal can understand why this is a big deal.) With most of the club and Artist Alley tables on the ground floor, all groups involved won’t be fighting for room, especially close to opening hours. Parking is voluminous, and the loading lanes are big enough for small aircraft. Miss this one at your peril, because with the convention running during Spring Break for most of the high schools and colleges in the greater Dallas area, we’re going to see crowds at sizes we could have only dream about seeing at previous shows…and they’ll all have elbow room.

Not that All-Con and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the only shows outside of the gallery for 2018: these are just the only ones that can be discussed at the moment. Right now, the greater Dallas area has an excess of riches as far as art shows are concerned, and while the Deep Ellum Arts Fest isn’t an option this year, a lot of other events are going on at the same time. Right now, it’s all about confirmation, as well as making sure that schedules don’t conflict. Keep checking back for more details.

With the carnivores, the biggest change in the Triffid Ranch involves an expansion into Mexican butterworts and terrestrial bladderworts, two traditionally neglected groups of carnivorous plant. As mentioned before, this is just a continuation of plans set for last year before the gallery move, but with the advantage of many of the new species of butterwort exploding with new plantlets over the winter. Even better, both butterworts and bladderworts are now big and sassy enough to bloom in spring, adding an extra angle to the planned Manchester United Flower Show showing in April. Again, details as the date gets closer.

In hot pepper news, it’s time to start the new year’s first batch of pepper seedlings, and it’s time to make an admission. Namely, Carolina Reaper peppers are the Venus flytraps of the Capsicum world. Want to thrill me? start a discussion on comparing the colors and flavors of Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers both ripe and green. Compare the dishes best using Uba Tubas versus Trinidad Scorpions. Share a flavor combination for salsa with Bhut Jolokias that works even better than mango. (This may not be possible, but I’m always open to argument.) Carolina Reapers, though, are a one-trick pony. They grow to an impressive size in cultivation, but nothing about their foliage nor their shape distinguishes them from other peppers. The fruit, ripe or green, is only marginally more interesting than a standard green bell pepper, and once you get past the “you’ll pee fire!” heat, they taste like tomb dust. Aside from the subjective and often dubious Scoville Scale ranking, the Carolina Reaper has precious little distinction in growth, flavor, or idiosyncrasy. But what’s the one pepper EVERYONE asks if I’m growing? Ah well.

And if this is a roundabout way of hyping up the ZestFest 2018 spicy foods convention (https://zestfest.net/) at the Irving Convention Center at the end of January, so be it. ZestFest has a grand supply of salsa and barbecue sauce vendors pushing “no pepper is too hot for ME to eat!” neural overloads, but its main emphasis is on flavor, and the danger isn’t in not finding anything that tempts enough to buy a case or two. The danger is in not bringing a basket with wheels, because it WILL fill up by the time you reach the end, and all of those glass bottles and jars are heavy.

In any case, it’s time to get back to the linen mines. The plants won’t water themselves, and one of the new enclosure elements requires lots and lots of tumbled glass shards for the proper effect. Pictures will follow: I promise.

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fifth

For everyone else, it’s nearing the end of the holiday season. It’s now just cold enough in Dallas that coats in the morning are a necessity instead of an affectation, and we just might see sub-freezing temperatures by Christmas Day. Schools and universities are out for the year, and everyone not finishing up Christmas plans has a week to make plans for New Year’s Eve. Everyone at a job with use-it-or-lose-it vacation time is out and away, leaving the roads relatively clear of the worst drivers for those who still have to clock in. Next week will be more of the same: for all intents and purposes, the world returns to the eternal slog on January 8.

Well, that’s how it works everywhere else. The last four Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are memories, albeit good ones, Now it’s time for one last Nightmare Weekend on December 23 from noon until 6:00. For those still seeking solstice gifts, Saturday gives plausible deniability to the idea that you just wanted to come by to look around, and it helps pay the rent, too. For those seeking solace from the madness of mall or big-box store crowds, it’s a safe harbor. For everyone else, if the newly updated Enclosure Gallery section doesn’t give you an idea as to what to expect, then come in and be surprised.

Not that things slow down after the holidays: far from it. It’s just that a lot of plans put off since the move from the old gallery space get to start up again. First and foremost is getting hot pepper seedlings established: the las Nightmare Weekend attracted several people asking about Bhut Jolokia and Carolina Reaper plants for bonsai, and last year’s batch were lost in a freeze the weekend of the final gallery move. This is in addition to getting ready for next year’s shows, starting with All-Con in mid-March, and finishing up commissioned enclosures. Want to have a hint as to what 2018 has in store? Check out the centerpiece for a new enclosure for an old friend and longtime customer, and consider that this is just the work in progress.

And for some additional fun, it’s time to remind everyone of Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells and introduce them to adoptee Benger the Avenger, who came out of the womb more goth than any of us will ever be. If he isn’t a natural Nightmare Before Christmas stocking stuffer, I don’t know what is:

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 3

And as far as the Dallas Comic Show is concerned in the future? That’s a very interesting question. The experiment in two shows in two weekends was a relative success, as in it didn’t kill me, even if the heat in the middle of September nearly did. The crew running it is professional, the fellow vendors were a lot of fun to have as neighbors, and the attendees are enthusiastic and very, very curious. These are all things to consider when the convention starts soliciting vendors for next fall.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 2

In an area where the the trend has been toward huge media convention extravaganzas in the last ten years, the Dallas Comic Show is an outlier. It’s still in the same venue as it was when I first encountered it in the early 2000s, and the only big change is the number of costume enthusiasts attending. It’s held at the Richardson Convention Center, which also holds the Richardson City Hall offices, so the loooooooooong hallway at the entrance is a bit surprising, but it works very nicely for both attendees and comics pros in the tables lining the hallway. The main dealer’s room is spacious and much easier to access than many at other conventions (having two separated doors that allow inflow and egress makes a huge difference), and said room blessedly has enough light that setting up lamps isn’t required. Best of all, since it’s not associated with a hotel, the convention only runs for two days, which means plenty of time on Friday to set up.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 1


It’s always good to remember your roots, and the Triffid Ranch got its start with little science fiction and comic conventions oh so long ago. That’s why, in a blast of inspiration partly fueled by sleep deprivation, it was time for an experiment: was it possible to run two shows on adjoining weekends? Part of the idea was to test logistics: with the gallery nearly open, was it possible to pot up, haul out, and set up enough plants for two shows? The other part involved friends asking if setting up a Triffid Ranch booth at the Dallas Comic Show was reasonable or sane. The experiment turned out pretty well, especially since the DCS locale was literally up Central Expressway from the gallery, and it answered a lot of questions about conducting more shows in the Dallas area. The biggest question: has anyone developed an antidote for sleep, and where can I buy it in bulk?

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fourth

Coming into the fourth Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas at the gallery (and, as before, the gallery is open to one and all on December 16, from noon until 6:00), a little explanation about the lack of traditional holiday viewing on the monitor in the gallery. Listening to friends fight over whether or not Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie (which is like arguing that Near Dark is a Fourth of July film because it features summer sun and explosions), I just remind people of a forgotten holiday classic. Oh, it may not be listed as such, but anyone who has ever had to work retail in a shopping mall during the holidays knows the film, even if they’ve never seen it. As a last tribute to the old gallery space at Valley View Center, which STILL hasn’t been demolished, I’d like to encourage everyone to take some time this holiday season to watch the best documentary about Dallas in the 1980s ever made:

Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 3

Plans for next year’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show: more comfortable van seats. Finding a more regular source for Lava Lamp bottles. Explaining to the cats that we won’t be gone forever and ever and ever. Other than that, don’t change a thing.

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Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 2

Because the only thing better than a Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show is a festive screening of the Alien Holiday Special

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Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath -1

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It’s a one-day show. At top speed, the commute between Dallas and Austin is still over three hours. Highway I-35, the only artery offering a direct route between two cities, has been under perpetual expansion and repair since I first moved to Texas 38 years ago. Oh, and Austinites apparently consider allowing fellow drivers to merge into traffic to be a mortal sin. With all that, not only is the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show an essential event, but I have only one complaint about it: it’s ONLY a one-day show. Two or three days with the sort of people attracted to a horror-themed gift market? Where do I sign up, and where was this 30 years ago?

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SmallCon 2017: The Aftermath -1

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September and October in the Dallas area are a little magical: it’s still hot compared to other parts of the world, but it’s not the mind-numbing blast furnace of August, so people brave starting to go outside without air conditioning support around the middle of September. If the first adventurers don’t burst into flames or scream as their lungs sizzle, everyone else follows, and the weekend social calendar is packed until the holiday season. Food, music, art, information: we have so many things to do before the end of November, and nowhere near enough weekends in which to see it all.

In a roundabout way, that’s how the Triffid Ranch ended up at SmallCon, a one-day event in Addison dedicated to encouraging girls to enter the STEM fields. As usual, attending any of the events required leaving the table, but considering the enthusiastic attendees, I picked up enough by osmosis. So…when is vendor registration for the 2018 event?

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Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: 2

The second Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas starts at the gallery this weekend, but this is also a very important anniversary. This week marks the twentieth anniversary of crossing the Siskyou Pass at the California/Oregon border (laden with a now-ex, three cats, a hatchling savannah monitor, and a grapefruit tree) and escaping Portland once and for all. This wasn’t the first time I’d returned to Dallas, and it wasn’t the last, but it was the most formative. A toast to Portland, and a toast to the neat, interesting, and helpful people from the Portland area I met after leaving.

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas – 1

With the first Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas commencing (and you might want to read the details if you haven’t already), it’s time for a tribute to post-Thanksgiving television, for one very specific reason. Back in the 1970s, when cable television was a rarity for those living in valleys inaccessible to standard television broadcasts, the FCC could blank out programming on any independent cable channel in order to encourage viewing of news programming on the Big Three (which somehow always managed to black out Star Trek and The Outer Limits in syndication but guaranteed at least five showings of The Dick Van Dyke Show per day), and most of the watchable content came from TV stations hundreds or thousands of miles away, one of the stalwarts that made suburban living tolerable was the monster movie. We GenXers went completely MAD for monsters back then, both contemporary and classic, because of the promise of the Late Night Movie.

Some background. Since television transmitters of the time were fragile, tetchy beasts that had a tendency not to come back on after being turned off, station managers had an incentive to keep them on as long as possible, and the best way to do that was to run something, anything, into the wee hours when most people were asleep. Running old movies all night long offered more profit in advertising than simply running a station ID notice, and running horror movies from the 1930s through the 1950s was cheaper than trying to run contemporary movies. Since the studios and distributors of those horror and science fiction movies looked at their product as ephemeral material for kids, they could be rented for television at ridiculously low prices, which meant they were concentrated on Friday and Saturday nights, when most adults would be out and around and very unlikely to be watching late-night television. Since this coincided with the use of the television as the Great Babysitter, suddenly a whole generation of American kids, of all demographics, were exposed to good, bad, and surreal horror films while their parents were out doing whatever parents did. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been as fun as getting caught up on cultural neuroses and anxieties turned into kids’ entertainment. It’s no surprise that the film The Nightmare Before Christmas became such a classic: the entire post-Boomer generation had been taught for decades before that the monsters were more interesting and honest than the “normal” people around them. (I regularly get tongue-clicking from “respectable” people about how inappropriate it is for me to tell kids I still get teary-eyed at the end of Alien, when the most interesting and well-developed character in the whole movie gets blown out the airlock. It’s no surprise: I got plenty of practice for mourning the monster after a childhood of bawling at the end of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Valley of Gwangi. You should see the friends who grew up immunized to a life of MBAs and IRAs thanks to years and years of late-night Hammer vampire movies.)

And the El Dorado of all of this very selective counter programming? Godzilla. Kaiju films were the special treat, usually reserved for special events or weekly series, and the biggest event was what was then only referred to as “the day after Thanksgiving.” Parents took off and dealt with the Christmas shopping crowds: the unlucky kids dragged along are the reason why George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead became one of the greatest holiday movies of them all. Those of us lucky enough to stay home while the grownups shivved each other over ornaments and sweaters? We turned on the 19-inch babysitter and fed on hour after hour of badly-dubbed Japanese angst. Godzilla, Gamera, Gigan, Rodan, Mothra…it all tapped into a deep craving we didn’t know we had, so we obsessively collated it and made it our own. Then, when school started again the next week, we all had a common language, except for the kids who didn’t watch because “that’s for kids.” Those kids were the ones who grew up to successful careers as mid-level managers, who still can’t figure out why their own children don’t call and why their co-workers all feign bouts of explosive diarrhea as an excuse for avoiding the company Christmas party.

So this season, while everyone else is drowning each other in false holiday cheer, remember the strange and the wonderful. Most importantly, if Christmas music were judged solely by the emotions engendered by its playing, this collection would be very near the top of the list, for reasons the listeners can’t quite explain. Meanwhile, the Triffid Ranch will be open on both Friday and Saturday, noon until 6:00 and later hours by appointment, and you can imagine the playlist

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas -Introduction


A week from today, it begins. Even those who cut the cord years ago have email boxes full of notices about Black Friday specials. UPS trucks outnumber everything else on the road by three to one. If people aren’t driving like maniacs to get to the mall, they’re driving like maniacs to get home before the football game starts. For those who love and adore the holiday season, it’s absolute heaven. For the poor retail employees stuck in front of a display playing “Santa Baby” in blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, they’re considering a career change or at least a pencil up the nose to kill those chunks of brain that hurt so much. And then there’s the Texas Triffid Ranch’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas run on a particular premise. For those of us who don’t know every line in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas by heart, the film ended with Jack Skellington conceding that his version of Christmas wasn’t working, and Santa works overtime to replace the horrific toys left by Jack around the world. When that film premiered in 1993, nobody at Disney understood the draw of those horrific toys, nor ever even considered a scene with a little goth kid crying and desperately begging Santa to leave Jack’s toys and decorations right where they were. Considering some of my friends’ responses, it wouldn’t be hard to picture Santa dragging himself back to Christmastown, a still-burning sleigh to go with his two black eyes and broken nose, asking one of the shop elves to grab a pair of pliers to pull the innumerable sharp teeth broken off in his butt. And when those kids had kids themselves, the cookies and milk were contingent upon the understanding that not only were the vampire bat tree toppers and Dawn of the Dead action playsets welcome, but they’d best not be replaced.

The Nightmare Weekends concept continues this. It’s not anti-Christmas or even anti-holiday. Instead, it runs on the reasonable premise that it’s possible to overdose on holiday cheer, and that some people may need to catch their breath before once more into the breach, once more. It’s for the people who love peppermint but who can’t handle the taste of it by December 20. It’s for those stuck in a workplace where the boss insists upon turning on the intercom and pumping in the local Christmas radio station all day, or the ones that charge employees for the mandatory-attendance holiday party. It’s for those who appreciate the history of those live Norfolk Island pines in the grocery store predates that of the dinosaurs, the parasitic nature of mistletoe, or the use of cinnamon as a fungicide. It’s for those who didn’t complain when Christmas lights and decorations started crowding out the Halloween stuff mid-September, but who want a little bit of Halloween to hang around during the longest nights of the year.

So here’s the plan. The Triffid Ranch has extended hours every Saturday between now and Christmas, with extra time on November 24 as well. No overplayed Christmas carols played far too loudly to hear anybody talk. No overcrowded mall parking lots. For those who missed the previous gallery openings, it’s an opportunity to visit. For those attending in the past at the old Valley View Center location, it’s a chance to see the new space. And for those already familiar with the gallery, it’s a nice nondenominational respite from the outside. With carnivorous plants.

As for questions:

What are the dates and hours for the Nightmare Weekends?

All times for Nightmare Weekend openings are from noon to 6:00 p.m., but these may be adjusted on request. The dates include:

  • Friday, November 24, 2017 (Friday)
  • Saturday, November 25, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 2, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 9, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 16, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 23, 2017 (Saturday)

Are you open at other times?

The Triffid Ranch is always open by appointment, but the Nightmare Weekends are for when everyone is free. During the week, the Day Job prevents being able to keep the gallery open all day, but consultation appointments are always available in the evenings and on Sundays. Also, the hours on the Nightmare Weekends aren’t absolute: if work schedule or other logistics prevent you from getting to the gallery by the normal hours, give us a call and we’ll accommodate you.

Do you have accommodations for children?

Parents attended by their children are always welcome, but any unattended parents will be given six shots of espresso and an American Express Card application. (Unfortunately, because of the sudden nature of the gallery’s move to its new location earlier this year, the Triffid Ranch entrance is not ADA-compliant. However, we’re looking at rectifying that in the future, as new locales in our neighborhood open up closer to the end of our lease.)

Are you working with other galleries and stores in the area?

That’s a very good question, because one of the disadvantages of having a separate gallery is not having the community that those who attended the late, lamented ARTwalk events at Valley View Center may remember. At the bare minimum, Tawanda! Jewelry will be set up in the front of the gallery, but that’s the advantage to being married to the proprietor. Other venues wanting to participate in the Nightmare Weekends are encouraged to get in touch, and additions will be shared before the actual date.

Will you have Venus flytraps?

Sadly, no. Like the vast majority of carnivorous plants from temperate climes, Venus flytraps have to undergo a dormancy over the winter, and all of the flytraps here are in a cold frame awaiting spring. They’ll bring themselves out of dormancy around the middle of March, but until then they HAVE to stay dormant, because forcing them out of dormancy early could kill them. This also applies to North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) as well: not only do they require the same sort of cooling off period as flytraps, but that dormancy is necessary for the huge display of blooms around St. Patrick’s Day. The gallery has a lot of tropical plants on display, though, and those don’t require a dormancy, so those are the stars this time of the year.

Suppose I’m looking for something other than the enclosures already available. What are my options?

That depends upon what you’re seeking. Are you looking for a whole new unique enclosure? Are you wanting to convert an existing reptile enclosure or aquarium into a carnivorous plant display? Do you want specific elements, such as a rock sample with sentimental attachments or a specific lighting arrangement? Come in during a Nightmare Weekend for a consultation. Depending upon its elements and construction, as well as the date in which it’s commissioned, the final enclosure may not be ready by the end of the holidays, but there’s always the surprise of getting a gift during the post-holiday doldrums.

Can I come by to watch the plants eat something?

Well, that’s problematic. With the plants that aren’t dormant for the winter, most either capture prey too small to see without a microscope, or they have passive traps that don’t move. However, that said, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, getting a bug’s-eye view of the inside of an Asian pitcher plant is now both possible and easy, so expect a viewing schedule soon.

Will Shirt Prices still apply?

That’s just silly. Of COURSE they do. The gallery has a limited number of Triffid Ranch shirts for sale, but if you want to order one online, come out to the gallery while wearing it and take advantage of the lower prices.

And that’s about it. Keep an eye out for specific attractions on specific days, as well as notices about new enclosures constructed in between weekends. To quote one of Dallas’s greatest culture writers, you’ll boogie ‘til you puke.

State of the Gallery: November


Another month, another expansion. The official opening of the gallery on October 13 went without any serious hitches, and subsequent group appointments went even better, including one group that came out from Memphis just to view the new enclosures. The school lecture schedule started last month, and my experiences just confirm that no matter what teachers are paid, it’s never enough. (The art teacher at one lecture in Fort Worth was responsible for the Nepenthes hemsleyana portrait at the top of this post: this is going up in a place of honor on the gallery’s art wall.) Other than that, it’s the usual October rush: getting the gallery ready for the holiday season, doing everything that needs to be done outside before it’s too cold to do so, and prepping the Sarracenia and other temperate carnivores for their winter dormancy. Even Halloween was a surprise, with considerably more trick-or-treaters out, with regular threats of rain, than at any other time in the last decade. I won’t even start with the plans for next spring, because the last two years imparted that lesson over and over.

And what does that mean for November? Well, it means that the first two weekends of the month are going to be ridiculously busy, because it’s time to focus on the now-annual road trip to Austin. This year, the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show runs on November 19, so it’s a matter of loading the van on Saturday, driving down, recuperating for a few hours, setting up on Sunday morning, breaking down on Sunday evening, and driving back on Monday. The advantage of the new date isn’t just a lack of conflict with events at the University of Texas, but an opportunity to say hello to people starting an early holiday vacation that weekend. This is important because…

…the rest of November and December are going to be just as busy. As with last year, the Triffid Ranch will be open both for the Friday after Thanksgiving and for Small Business Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. CST: the difference between this year and last is, of course, having a much more central location. After that, the gallery will be open every Saturday from noon until 6 CST until Christmas (which works out to December 2, 9, 16, and 23), with earlier or later hours by appointment. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment during the week, but the holiday hours facilitate drop-by visits, especially from people desperately wanting to get away from the malls. For those seeking custom enclosures by Christmas, get your specifications in early, and we can even facilitate special deliveries and premieres at the gallery if you’re planning a special surprise.

After that? As a particularly influential television show noted nearly two decades ago, it’s a matter of going back to the end of the beginning. December 2002 was an especially rough time, and a 15th wedding anniversary party should celebrate how far you’ve come from those early days, right? Details will follow, because it’s been a very long strange trip over the intervening decade-and-a-half. Until then, see you in the future.

The Hour That Stretches

Whew. October 13. Nearly four months since the soft opening of the gallery, and now it’s showtime. I could go on about experiments with new materials not working out the way they were expected, or whole enclosures being held up based on how one component finished, or the simple fact that paint takes at least six times much time to dry as expected, but you know what? The work speaks for itself, and it all goes live this weekend. Relics: A Carnivorous Plant Enclosure Exhibition starts at 6:00 CST on Friday, October 13 until midnight, and reopens on Saturday, October 14 from 5:00 CST until midnight. After that, a day or two to recuperate, and then back to the sphagnum moss and silicone molds until the end of November. 

As an additional note, many regular Triffid Ranch customers are familiar with the concept of Shirt Price on the larger enclosures: attend an event wearing a Triffid Ranch shirt, and so long as you’re wearing the shirt, the listed discount “Shirt Price” applies. Since October 13 is a Friday, and it’s a little over six months until the 2018 Texas Frightmare Weekend starts, Shirt Price discounts at the Relics show apply to anybody in a Frightmare T-shirt as well. The individual Frightmare year doesn’t matter: if it’s a Frightmare shirt, it qualifies. This isn’t authorized by or endorsed by anyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend: this is just a return for all of the kindnesses and considerations I’ve received from Frightmare staff, guests, and attendees over the last decade. You lot have earned it. (He said, frantically collecting caches of glassware in anticipation of next year’s Frightmare. The 2009 Frightmare was small enough that just about everything I had fit into a PT Cruiser: next year, I might have to move to a 15-foot truck to haul enough plants to the show to keep everyone happy.)

For those who can’t make it this weekend, this definitely isn’t the last gallery event of the year. It’s a little too late to get involved directly in the Ricochet 17 art event through the Arts Incubator of Richardson on October 21, but next year’s Ricochet is on the agenda. Instead, after the Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays show in Austin on November 19, we’ll be open all day for casual wander-arounds (and wooing dates) for Small Business Saturday on November 25. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment, and now’s the time to discuss custom enclosures in time for the holidays.

And after that? Let’s just say that everything for the first half of next year pivots on getting a special confirmation in November, but I’m not going to say anything until said confirmation comes through. When it does, though, the Triffid Ranch moves to a whole new life stage and a whole new location. Until then, you’ll just have to wait.

State of the Gallery: September

Six months after the emergency move, and everything is coming together. New plants are adapting quite nicely to the new gallery conditions (including the honestly impressive bladderwort Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite”, which threatens to take over the place), and every enclosure that leaves gives an opportunity to try a new species or genus. Combine this with a flood of new shows and events, and it’s hard to believe how far everything has come from that little Deep Ellum booth ten years ago. 


On that note, the first serious gallery exhibition of the year, “Relics,” is still running on October 13 and 14, with the gallery opening on subsequent weekends by appointment. This includes a series of never-seen enclosures created specifically for this exhibition, ranging the gamut of carnivorous plant genera. For those who haven’t been to the gallery yet, this will probably be the perfect opportunity, so make plans now.

Before going into upcoming shows, a little note about Houston. It’s absolutely impossible to avoid discussion of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s particularly heartbreaking because of the number of longtime customers and good friends (and the Venn diagram of the two is pretty much one circle) from Houston who are having to pick up the pieces. Instead of publicly pledging a certain amount of Triffid Ranch sales going to Houston relief, which usually falls apart with a bad show or two, I’m instead going to do what the rest of us do: making contributions from sales and from Day Job wages as often as possible, to the folks who can do the most good. I’m also not stating how much, because that isn’t the point, and instead I’ll just let you know that the good folks at Operation BBQ Relief are probably some of the best morale boosters this side of the Cajun Navy, and for the same reasons. The people of Houston have shown me incredible support and love over the last ten years (one of my first sales was to a Houston native who was in Dallas for the weekend, and I honestly want to run numbers on how many Texas Frightmare Weekend regulars are Houstonians), and I for one won’t stop until the whole city is back on its feet. I owe all of them that much.

With that in mind, the show schedule over the next few months became considerably more complex, due to events throughout southeast Texas. September 9, of course, is Small-Con, a one-day event in Addison dedicated to furthering interest in STEM careers, and there’s always more room in the next couple of generations for botanists. The very next week, gears switch slightly and the Triffid Ranch sets up in the two-day Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, literally two exits on Central Expressway north of the gallery. After that, things go quiet on the show front until after the gallery exhibition, and we’re still awaiting word on a show in Oak Cliff on the last weekend of October. And then…

November will be a very busy month at the gallery, and not just from getting ready for holiday sales and events. November is when several big shows in 2018 approve or decline a vendor space, and it’s also the month in which the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show runs in Austin. Even with it running right after Halloween, last year’s show was an absolute joy, and the BOT crew was happy to take my booth fee, er, I mean, welcome back a returning vendor. The love is reciprocated: a great central location in a very funky venue, and while I can’t drink, the Bloody Mary bar was very appreciated by everyone else attending. With its improved date on November 19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, it serves that part of the population that would otherwise spend that Sunday alternating between Halloween withdrawal and dread of the subsequent shopping weekend. Either way, this year, I’m getting set up extra-early so I can visit the other vendors, because I saw a lot of interesting items that I couldn’t view because of the crowds. (And yes, there are crowds. Great crowds.)

After that, it’s back to Dallas, with the gallery open on Thanksgiving weekend and subsequent weekends until the end of the year. (New Year’s Eve Weekend is especially important, because it marks 15 years of marriage to a very special someone, and you can never have too many people at a crystal anniversary. Now I just need to find good copies of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Crystal Palace dinosaurs for the anniversary cake.) With scheduled shows in the first half of 2018, I just have to quote the comics artist Matt Howarth: it may stop, but it never ends.