As writers, our craft constantly takes us to parts of the human experience we, personally, know little about. Sometimes, these are niches of the modern world, the lifestyles of cops, convicts, hackers, or aviators. Others are hard to be had under circumstances in 2019: black powder weapons, Renaissance etiquette, or gathering food from nature.
Writers in the Field (WitF) is a two-day event dedicated to giving us the hands-on, personal experience we need to bring these things vividly and credibly to life on the printed page.
I sat down with the unstoppable Arianne “Tex” Thompson, writer extraordinaire and one of WitF’s “associate instigators,” for a Q&A about the event.
SPOILER ALERT: WitF is next weekend, October 12 & 13. So, if I’ve piqued your interest, don’t say “I’ll come back and read this later.” There is no “later.” If you need the TLDR, jump to the event’s schedule and ticket info.
And, in case you’re wondering, I’ll see you there.
Q: Paint us a picture of what the event looks like when it’s in full swing.
At any given moment, there will be projectiles of some sort being lobbed or shot across the back meadow (bullets, arrows, atlatls, etc.) Over in the garden grounds, our dyer will have her students shouting ‘gardy-loo!’ as they heave a few dozen gallons of water into the ditch during their mordanting lesson. Someone will be leading a craft demo with small, fiddly bits – leatherworking or jewelry-making or the like – over in the Saloon, while someone else demonstrates bullet fragmentation or GPS tracking or bone analysis in the Mead Hall, and a small foraging expedition goes in search of edible plants in the trees behind it.
Somewhere on the grounds, a lone writer will have lost the plot entirely, and be squatting down to take pictures of a flower, or maybe some kind of larva. That is always our favorite person, because we were all ‘that kid’ on the field trip.
Q: What is the idea behind WitF and how did it came to be?
Well, it started when my friend Bud Humble introduced me to Shane Richmond, a professional stuntman, bladed combat maestro, and the mastermind behind Steampunk November.
“Honestly,” Shane said, “I’m not a writer. I’m a reader. But I read things like ‘and then Conan hefted his ten-pound broadsword up over his head’ and the thing is… he didn’t. Because broadswords top out at 2.9 pounds. So I was wondering if writers might like to come over and handle some swords, so they can write about them more effectively.”
“You know, that would be a pretty neat idea,” I said.
“Oh, and we could also do wine tastings,” Shane said. “Do writers like wine?”
“Sir, I believe we have ourselves an event,” I said.
And the rest is history.
Q: What were some highlights from last year’s event?
For me, the highlight was the tornado. There was a massive ‘run for cover’ operation to herd everyone to safety in the Mead Hall, about twenty minutes worth of impromptu ‘networking session’ while we all wrestled with the life-choices that had led us there, and then – JUST as the tornado warning lifted – the margarita machine was delivered. A ragged cheer went up from all assembled as we gave thanks for life, health, and ‘ritas. Honestly, it was like Christmas in October.
Q: Tell us about some of the presenters and activities on offer for this year.
This year, we are really excited to have Larry Enmon and Sam Simon coming out to join us. Larry has retired from the Secret Service, and Sam is a former FBI agent with extensive experience in counterterrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It is always a treat to bring out folks with the kind of life experience most of us only ever see in the movies!
On the other side of the grounds, we’re also really psyched about Becky Burkheart and Tamara Woodcock, who are bringing their horses and MANY years of award-winning riding and driving experience to share with us. Becky is the author of The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About Horses, and a writer herself. We love it when an expert knows what it’s like to be the one behind the keyboard, too!
Q: How does WitF benefit writers?
Well, writers tend to worry a lot about the “one wrong detail” that will expose them as a total fraud. (Your credibility can go out the window pretty fast if you have a character cock a Glock, for example.) And those are a real concern. But even more than that, we like to provide our attendees with the one RIGHT detail – the smell of black powder fired from a musket, the warmth of your palms after you start a fire with a hand-drill, the way the last pin tumbler feels right before the lock picks open – that will utterly convince, amaze, and enthrall the reader. And you can’t get that from a YouTube video.
Q: Give us a bit of background on you.
Okay, but we can skip over most of my priors, right? 🙂
Arianne “Tex” Thompson demonstrates “Practical Locksmithing for Authors,” also on offer at Writers in the Field.
The short story is that I started in the traditional writing world. I am tremendously proud to have an agent and three beautiful fantasy-Western novels published by Solaris. These days, I am much more in the business of organizing literary events and working to build up the North Texas writing community at large. And for some reason, I have lately been turning into a passionate apprentice locksmith, with a concentration in investigative locksmithing. I figure it’s important to be able to get into AND out of trouble with equal facility!
Q: Tell us about your favorite publication credits and current projects you’re excited about.
Now that’s an easy one! My great ‘passion project’ was the Children of the Drought trilogy – the aforementioned epic fantasy Western series from Solaris. It is a dense story, beautiful and strange, and I’m not sure it will be everyone’s cup of tea. But I am terribly proud of it, and I hope it will continue to find its way in the world. I also have a short story coming out next year in Baen’s Straight Outta Dodge City anthology – I’m looking forward to that!
Q: What is your position within the event?
Hmm, that’s a good one. “Associate instigator”, I suppose. We kind of have a triumvirate going. I have the local writers’ network we need and a good-sized literary megaphone to promote with. Shane has the world-class venue and a HUGE Rolodex of performers and instructors. And Bud is the one truly ambidextrous person who could bring us together – the ever-patient master of both pen and sword who engineered this unlikely union to begin with!
Q: Anything else you want people to know about WitF?
Dearest reader, if you can’t make it out to Writers in the Field this year, but want to cast your vote for this event and others like it – please say so with your outside-voice! The good news is that we are young and hungry for absolutely everything – ticket sales, yes, but also sponsorships, references, publicity, likes, comments, shares, the whole nine yards. The default setting for EVERY new-thing-maker is “cosmic yawning indifference” – and anything more than that is manna from heaven. Thank you so much for helping us take our Field game to the next level!
Also, for those from beyond DFW, improved camping is available onsite and there are several hotels in the vicinity.
AT A GLANCE: WRITES IN THE FIELD
WHAT: Two days of hands-on activities and demonstrations on topics handled (and often mishandled) in fiction.
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, October 12 & 13, 2019.
WHERE: The Steampunk November Grounds, 492 Cordes Dr., Mansfield, TX 76084
WHY: Because it’s awesome (have you not been reading all this?)
INFO: WitF Website