Category Archives: Newsletter

The Great Texas Triffid Ranch Newsletter Subscription Drive

Two separate phenomena, seeking convergence:

One. Thirty years ago, I purchased an anthology written by one of my favorite authors at the time. The author was Harlan Ellison, the volume was Angry Candy, and the theme was death. Specifically, Ellison was 54 when I purchased my copy, and every story had been conceived and finished at a time when it seemed as if all of his friends and cohorts were dying. To look at the timeline he included with his introduction, he wasn’t kidding: childhood heroes, contemporaries, students…it was a horrendous chronicle of funerals and eulogies, and they seemed to concentrate within the previous three to four years. Three decades later, I understood the logic behind that pattern: when you’ve lived long enough to have a large assemblage of friends and acquaintances, you run into a convergence of demographics, mortality statistics, and confirmation bias that really appears to be an active effort to kill off everyone you know.

Again, it took me three decades to understand the feeling, especially after losing several people I knew and admired at the time I was reading Angry Candy. Harlan’s death this year just added to the sensation of feeling big chunks of your old life peeling off like old scabs, with twinges of pain and interesting new scars. One of the big messages the scars leave is that once you get to a certain age, if you’ve made an active effort to go in a different direction, you can look back and mark the exact year and month that your life diverges from Before to After. A lot of people never do: these are the people on Facebook desperately nagging about high school class reunions and how “you really need to be

there, because you’ll regret not getting back in touch.”

Two. For the most part, I love living in the future. The thought of going back to where things were in 1998 or 1988 (much less 1978) brings on waves of nausea instead of nostalgia. Every once in a while, though, reviving a nearly-dead concept has its merits. In the case of the eternal Port-o-John fire that is Facebook, it works less and less at what it was originally intended to do: stay in touch. Between the ever-changing algorithms determining what users may and may not see, the ever-increasing push for businesses to pay for willing subscribers to see posts (and then watching as those posts are buried in the main timeline under idiot memes and political diatribes), and Facebook’s lackadaisical attitude toward personal privacy, it’s once again time to back off and consider the brevity and efficiency of email newsletters. The reader opts in, the writer provides regular updates, and no interruption from that grade school classmate who sees messages to and from the reptile men from Arcturus in contrail patterns.

The phenomena converge:

About a decade ago, a big scab came free when I sold off the majority of my writing library on eBay. This was a matter of getting rid of reference materials, review copies (you’d be amazed at how many critics will hang onto advance reading copies of books because of that one neckbeard who claimed “you never actually read it!”, just to recite line and verse as to passages that justified a particular review), magazines containing published articles, and the innumerable books read, or that should be read, while building a voice. The vast majority went out early, only to discover that particular books are only valuable if someone is willing to pay the price, and that there’s a huge disconnect in perceived value between a book that can stay on a shelf or in a bookseller’s transport box until it finds a buyer, and a book that has to move within a week in an online auction.

In a subsequent evaluation of current library needs, though, I came across a cross-section of Harlan Ellison collections that escaped the original slaughter. It already was time to find them new homes, as I already know the stories by heart, and rereading them just doesn’t work when too much new reading keeps intruding. This came at a time when younger friends complained about the unavailability of much of Ellison’s work, both between earlier books being out of print and later books being snapped up from used bookstores and hoarded until the inevitable estate sale. That gave me an idea directly involving a much-needed relaunch of the Texas Triffid Ranch newsletter, and one where everyone wins.

In essence, here’s the deal. I’m looking for subscribers, and I have a big pile of Harlan Ellison books that need new homes. For the next nine weeks, this is the scenario that runs every week:

Numero Uno: Subscribe to the Texas Triffid Ranch email newsletter. It’s free, it’s going to come out once per month or so, you can unsubscribe at any time, and none of your personal information will be shared with ANYONE. (That’s why I’m putting out word about the subscriptions here. As easy as it would be to sign up friends and acquaintances, I refuse to do so without their permission and prior knowledge.)

Numero Two-O: Every Sunday starting on August 12, five lucky subscribers will be picked from the general subscriber pool, contacted for a mailing address, and given a randomly selected book from the pile. Said book will come with various magazines, flyers, stickers, and other cultural detritus to be determined, and the recipient gets it all delivered for free. This will run every week while supplies last. (Incidentally, signing up early means a better chance of winning at the beginning of the giveaway, so jump in now while you have the chance.) This applies worldwide, so anyone reading this from Antarctica is in for a serious surprise.

Number Three-O: You get a new (to you) book, including the possibility of rare volumes, I get more bookshelf space, and everyone wins.

Now, as to what is involved, the photos list most of it, but I’d like to point out a few extras. Among others is an autographed copy of one of Ellison’s early novels, Spider Kiss, when it was first published under the title “Rockabilly!” There’s also a copy of Six Science Fiction Plays edited by Roger Elwood, containing what was the only publication of Ellison’s original screenplay for the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever” for twenty years. Likewise, the paperback edition of Wandering Stars contains Ellison’s classic short story “I’m Looking For Kadak,” still one of my favorite stories. While Ellison’s recounting of the nightmare of being the story editor for the Canadian television series The Starlost is well-known, Ben Bova’s The Starcrossed was a barely fictionalized comedy about his involvement as the science advisor for The Starlost, with Ellison slightly fictionalized as “Ron Gabriel” and included on the front cover. A rare copy of From the Land of Fear contains what may be the cigarette ad that inspired his essay “Driving In the Spikes” on personal revenge. (For those unfamiliar with the situation, the ad was a violation of Ellison’s contract with the publisher, and when the publisher ignored the contract, things culminated with Ellison mailing the publishing company’s comptroller a dead gopher, sent Fourth Class Mail.) This includes several copies of The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, including the first printing of The Other Glass Teat published only after Spiro Agnew left the White House. (And that was a story in itself.) Finally, the collection includes a limited-edition slipcased hardcover of A Lit Fuse, the Ellison biography published two years ago. What’s not to like about this?

So again, subscribe and get free stuff. Better, feel free to let friends and cohorts know, so they can get free stuff as well. Best of all, if I really hate you, if I really, really loathe you and want you to suffer, you could get the booby prize: one of two volumes from a notorious fourth-rate Harlan Ellison impersonator from the 1990s. If that doesn’t clean out your lower GI tract all at once, I don’t know what will.

Electronic Rubberbands and Other Extravagances

Back in the 1980s, a regular joke among political science majors was that every major advance in weapons technology was sold as a way to make us all safe from the previous advance, culminating with what the Texas comedian Bill Hicks referred to as “Musket repellent!” Mass media work much the same way, but sometimes they go a bit backwards, like a river in flood seeking a new path. The original evolutionary progression from cave paintings was supposed to run from print to Web site to blog to social media posting, all forgetting that the gatekeepers in charge of each new medium had control until they were either supplanted or bypassed. Every single time, they were supplanted and bypassed by what seemed like a fad or frippery until it was far too late to do anything, and many of those fads and fripperies were misidentified as backwards. From that decay grew new verdance, covering the wreckage of the institutions that assumed they would survive it all. Evening newspapers, video rental stores, CD-ROM magazines, GeoCities, MySpace: the vast majority of those wrecks are ones that could have kept going if they hadn’t either assumed that they could tell customers how information was to be consumed or didn’t think this made a difference. Every single time, it didn’t seem like a pushback so much as a gradual retreat: tsunamis generally aren’t big overwhelming waves but a sudden rise in the ocean, and by the time you notice the water on previously dry land rising up to your knees, you’re probably already dead without knowing it.

Right now, that’s the situation with social media: Facebook has done an excellent job at choking off or assimilating any competitors, but it was already a mess for businesses that couldn’t afford the incessant boosts necessary for their followers to know about new developments. Twitter is turning into a specialist’s dream and nightmare, where it’s possible to cross-pollinate with a thousand experts AND leave in disgust because of one Cat Piss Man with nothing better to do that day. As for small businesses such as the Triffid Ranch that just want to pass on new developments without being drowned by algorithms that assume your Uncle Malvert’s contrail ravings are more important to you, it’s already time to look for something new. Or, in our case, something retro.

There’s a lot to be said about E-mail newsletters: a full quarter-century after people stopped asking “what’s that weird thing under your phone number on your business card?”, they’ve become the postcard of electronica. They’re dependable, they’re viewable in just about any environment and on just about any device, and so long as it has actual content as opposed to incessant “BUY MY BOOK” salesflummery, they’re the only form of push media that people actually want. That’s why the Triffid Ranch is proud to announce the opportunity to go back to the Twentieth Century in the hope of riding out the inevitable Facebook crash, and possibly get in some entertainment as well.

So here’s the situation. Sign up for the new Triffid Ranch newsletter either via the link below or via the “Newsletter” page in the main site menu, and you’ll get at least four notices about upcoming developments per year. This includes upcoming Triffid Ranch events and gallery shows, news related to carnivorous plants, and other developments, and will NOT be an excuse for ads. The standard privacy notice applies: your E-mail address or personal information will not be given or sold to any third party under any circumstances without specific written permission. If you like what you read, feel free to pass it along to others. If you decide that you’re done, feel free to unsubscribe without any hard feelings. Any way you look at it, it certainly beats having to sidestep Uncle Malvert to find out what’s going on, doesn’t it?

Make with the clicky

(A quick notice: if you sign up and don’t receive a confirmation email, you didn’t do anything wrong. Between the number of individuals of dubious ethics signing up everyone in their contact lists without permission, and the number of individuals of equally dubious ethics getting mailing lists from elsewhere and spamming everyone in sight, a lack of response may be less due to any error with signup and more with mail servers that have reason to assume any MailChimp mailings are spam. If you don’t get a confirmation within 24 hours, try again, but after checking any spam or junk email folders for the lost wayward confirmation. It’ll be a little traumatized and shocked from being trapped with Bitcoin and Russian dating site spam for so long, but it’ll eventually recover and thank you for saving it from that electronic Lagerstatten. One day, it might return the favor.)